The Catholic Moment Revisited

Luis Tellez

October 24, 2022


Today, we are experiencing a crisis as a consequence of the long march of Cultural Marxism through our elite academic, legal, corporate, and financial institutions, as well as the hollowing out of the classical model of liberal arts education. As we read in the news and observe in our own lives daily, we’re experiencing the aftershocks of what happens when CEOs, professors, public servants, journalists, and other leaders march from the elite university, which incubates radical and destructive ideas, into the elite institutions that govern culture. Moral relativism, careerism, and a rejection of classical intellectual traditions rule the day. Meanwhile, those who defend traditional ideas about free and open inquiry, human flourishing, and the common good are increasingly marginalized by this new orthodoxy.

Within the context of this cultural disorder, I believe that it is important to reevaluate what may be achievable at the university and, more broadly, to reevaluate what the Catholic project might or should be in the years ahead. In this talk I will suggest that, now more than ever, we must put the Catholic intellectual tradition at the service of humanity, and that one condition of this project must be to overcome the entrenched clericalism of the Catholic Church. This will require lay men and women to immerse themselves in the stream of society, carrying out the great work of cultural renewal and reform. It will also require patience, humility, and a spirit of generosity and equality, recognizing that we are united as equals to everyone else.

In this talk, I will present my comments in four parts. First, I will discuss Richard Neuhaus’s call for the Catholic intellectual tradition to be directed at the service of all. Second, I will outline the intellectual forces that have contributed to our cultural crisis. Third, I will highlight the importance of de-clericalization in any project that seeks to renew Catholic engagement in public life, with particular reference to the prophetic insights of St. Josemaría Escrivá, who called for all Catholics to attain holiness and to carry out apostolate in the midst of the temporal world. Finally, I will suggest that the FEHE strategy, which has achieved considerable success in its first decade, offers one promising way forward as part of this project of cultural reform.

Richard Neuhaus on the Promise and Possibility of The Catholic Moment

In 2003, Richard John Neuhaus, founder and editor of First Things, revisited his call for Catholicism to be fully and confidently the public community that is the Catholic Church. For Neuhaus, the recognition that being Catholic is not just a private matter, but carries the responsibility to order oneself towards the public communal reality of the Church, offers the promise of cultural renewal in light of the serious unraveling we’ve seen in recent decades:[1]

In 1987, while I was still a Lutheran, I published a book titled The Catholic Moment: The Paradox of the Church in the Postmodern World. There I argued that the Catholic Church is the leading and indispensable community in advancing the Christian movement in world history. In evangelization, in furthering the Christian intellectual tradition, in the quest for Christian unity, in advocating the culture of life, and in every other aspect of the Christian mission, this was, I contended, the Catholic Moment. I am frequently asked whether I still believe that, or whether the Moment has been missed, or derailed, or simply delayed. The short answer is: If the Catholic Church is what she claims to be—and about that I have no doubt—then every moment from Pentecost to Our Lord’s return in glory is the Catholic Moment. But the degree to which that Moment is realized in the little span of time that is ours depends on whether contemporary Catholicism has the nerve to be fully and distinctively Catholic.

Since the original publication of Neuhaus’s The Catholic Moment—and even since this reappraisal in First Things—our cultural crisis has deepened still further, with the acceleration of moral relativism, radical individualism, and a rejection of classical intellectual traditions. As a Lutheran minister who was received into the Catholic Church in 1990 and subsequently ordained as a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, Neuhaus appreciated the leadership role that Catholicism needed to play in the battle to defeat the relentless march through our institutions of Cultural Marxism. I believe that Neuhaus’s core insight is correct and urgently relevant today: the Catholic intellectual tradition must lead on behalf of all, Catholic or not.

Here, I should clarify that I am not calling for the creation of a utopia that is in any event impossible to bring about in our imperfect world. As Neuhaus reminds us, while Catholicism is a corporate reality—what we used to call a “perfect society”—we nevertheless exist as finite beings within the imperfect societies of the world. Rather, I submit that the measure of our success will be a return to a society where God’s ways are neither difficult to learn nor fraught with obstacles to receive. Though we live in a vale of tears, we can still aspire to a life where men and women are free to pursue lives ordered towards true flourishing and the common good.

It is with Neuhaus’s compelling vision in mind that I devote the remainder of my remarks to Catholicism and how its intellectual tradition might be directed at the service of humanity.

Understanding Our Cultural Crisis

To respond to the cultural disaster that is evident all around us—from the sexual revolution to the decline of morality to the polarization and dysfunction endemic in our politics—we must first understand the forces that have led us to this point. In the past century, there has been a long march of Cultural Marxism through the elite institutions of society, particularly the elite university, which has exerted a dehumanizing effect on the political, legal, scientific, and economic foundations of our culture.

What do I mean by Cultural Marxism? It is not straightforward to define, since it refers not to a coherent set of ideas, principles, or goals, but rather describes a broad range of destructive notions and postures that feed on victimhood and grievances, held together more by revolutionary spirit than internal logic. Cultural Marxism is often associated with other terms such as “woke ideology,” “social justice,” or “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” While largely opportunistic and incoherent, we can identify within this ideology some common doctrines.

First, it sees often sees truth and ethics as situational, and reduces social dynamics to crude power relations. Second, it sees history as an ongoing struggle between the oppressor and the oppressed, with individuals evaluated on narrowly defined identity groups, with certain minorities given privileges on account of their historical oppression. Third, it proposes that the final ends of society are equity, liberation, and utopia, all of which can be achieved through a kind of totalizing politics. Together, these ideas have essentially become a new religion. Cultural Marxism explains the Fall and original sin by means of a scapegoat (the oppressor), offers a means of reform (social activism), creates a community of true believers (minorities and other marginalized groups), and promises a future redemption (utopia, liberation, equity).

As the twentieth century unfolded, the influence of radical and postmodern academic theorists, often Continental in origin, significantly influenced the elite American university. I note the ongoing influence of Antonio Gramsci, the Italian philosopher, socialist, and politician, whose theory of “cultural hegemony” helped form the basis of Cultural Marxism. This theory holds that the ruling class maintains power by controlling the means of cultural and intellectual production through which they indoctrinate the working class in a false consciousness that keeps them from overthrowing the capitalist system. According to Gramsci’s deeply influential vision, revolution therefore requires a long march through the institutions, particularly the university, to bring about cultural change.

But the long march of Cultural Marxism through elite institutions is only partly responsible for our cultural crisis; an equally important aspect is how liberal arts education has been hollowed out by credentialism, scientism, and social activism. Today, elite university education is no longer primarily seen as a way of shaping the moral and intellectual character of young people, forming them in the best that has been thought and said in classical philosophical and religious traditions. Instead, education is presented as a way to promote economic gain, technological power, or value-free models of “efficiency” or “skills.” This failure to view education as reflection on living a good life has created a vacuum that a new “woke” secular creed has filled.

The liberal arts model—which originated with the ancient Platonic view of education as the movement of the soul toward the true, the good, and the beautiful—was promoted in the modern university by John Henry Newman, who saw education as way to develop character through the pursuit of truth. However, during the twentieth century, several trends eroded this understanding of the purpose of higher education. First, the growth of the research university means that professors at elite universities often see themselves as researchers first and teachers second, with the moral formation of students rarely in view. Second, the hegemony of the natural sciences has adversely impacted study of the humanities, traditionally the core of the liberal arts curriculum. In our increasingly scientific age, many humanities disciplines have traded philosophical or historical narratives for “scientific” approaches to their fields. Third, elite universities have largely abandoned their traditional commitment to offering students a serious moral and civic education in values ordered towards the flourishing of both the individual and broader society. And finally, the professionalization and medicalization of student mental health has left professors ill-equipped and unwilling to form mentoring relationships with students.

The rise of Cultural Marxism and the concurrent hollowing out of liberal arts education have resulted in the corrosion of traditional values.As liberal learning becomes ordered toward careerist ends, the university curriculum has eroded its own ability to combat highly partisan or culturally destructive ideas with powerful and morally compelling historical narratives. Values once central to Western culture—the pursuit of truth, the cultivation of virtue, the contemplation of beauty, the protection of local communities—are falling out of our shared vocabulary.

Responding to our Cultural Crisis: The Importance of De-Clericalization

To respond to the cultural crisis that I have just outlined, I believe that it will be necessary for the goodness, beauty, and truth of the Catholic intellectual tradition to be offered fully and confidently to all. But for this vision to be realized, it will be necessary in the first instance for the Catholic Church to overcome its entrenched clericalism—a clericalism that Vatican II sought to counter, and that regrettably has not yet been achieved. In fact, the inability of the Church to implement an effective project of what I would call “de-clericalization” has meant that the promise and possibility of what Neuhaus referred to as the Catholic Moment remains unfulfilled. Our broader cultural challenge can be met if the specific challenge of de-clericalization is taken up by lay men and women in the Catholic Church.

To help clarify what I mean by de-clericalization, it might be useful here to offer a definition of clericalism. In 2018, Pope Francis suggested that it “arises from an elitist and exclusivist vision of vocation that interprets the ministry received as a power to be exercised rather than as a free and generous service to be given. This leads us to believe that we belong to a group that has all the answers and no longer needs to listen or learn anything. Clericalism is a perversion and is the root of many evils in the Church.”[2] This clericalism is one of the problems that Vatican II strived to challenge, with seminal works such as Nostra Aetate, which encouraged Catholics to pursue “dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life,”[3] as well as Dignitatis Humanae, which supported religious liberty and clarified that the “right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.”[4]

Unfortunately, sixty years after Vatican II, little progress has been made in terms of reversing clericalism. As such, I believe that the Catholic project still requires a commitment to de-clericalization, whereby lay men and women are taught, encouraged, and supported in leading the evangelization and administration of Church life that can and ought to be carried out by lay people. I am motivated in this consideration by the legacy of St. Josemaría Escrivá, who founded and guided the worldwide development of Opus Dei, which St. John Paul II established as a personal prelature in 1982. Not only did St. Josemaría, as early as the 1930s, accurately predict the cultural disaster ahead, but his work is also significant for its energetic call for de-clericalization. In many ways, his work anticipated the spirit of Vatican II, which made clear that the laity carry out their apostolic work precisely because they are part of the Church.

From the beginning of Opus Dei, St. Josemaría preached the universal call to holiness and apostolate, with all Christians called by Christ to become holy in the realities of everyday life. In 1932, he explained why he rejected the “mistaken view” that governed the ecclesial role of the laity at the time, which was based on excessive clericalism:[5]

There is no reason for the laity’s apostolate to be always a simple participation in the apostolate of the hierarchy. The laity, and especially the children of God in his Work, have a duty to do apostolate because they have a divine call as members of the people of God. And this is so, not because they have received a canonical mission, but because they are part of the Church. They carry out this mission through their profession, their job, their family, their colleagues, their friends.

Throughout St. Josemaría’s writings, he addresses our cultural challenge in a way that should resonate not only with members of Opus Dei, but with all Christians, particularly in terms of the necessity of service to the common good in public and social affairs. Just as Neuhaus insisted that Catholicism is not and cannot be simply a private affair, St. Josemaría is very clear that all Christians are called to play an active role in public life, not on the basis of a canonical command but in virtue of their baptismal vocation. He observes that a loyal and consistent presence in public life “offers immense opportunities to do good and to serve. Catholics cannot abandon this field in the hands of people who do not know or observe God’s law or who are clearly hostile to his holy Church.”[6]

In this sense, we can see how St. Josemaría’s call for de-clericalization relates to the cultural challenge confronting us today. As he notes, even apparently responsible and virtuous Catholics can easily fall into “the error of thinking that they are obliged only to fulfil their family and religious duties.”[7] This is a function not necessarily of selfishness, but simply a lack of formation. If Catholics do not take part in the life of society and try to solve the problems that affect the whole community—if they subcontract this duty to the hierarchy of the Church—then temporal questions will fall into the hands of those who do not consider natural law, human flourishing, or the common good. Indeed, the story of the past century is that these questions have fallen into the hands of people who are actively hostile to these principles, and who seek to replace them with something along the lines of the Cultural Marxist views I described earlier. As St. Josemaría puts it, without the participation of the laity in public spheres, including educational and political arenas, “there can be no peace, or freedom, or justice in society.”[8]

Although St. Josemaría called for the laity to carry out their apostolic work in public life—through their profession, their family, their colleagues, and their friends—he also insisted that this mission should not lead Catholics to separate themselves from others. Anticipating the spirit of common humanity and equality that underpins Nostra Aetate in particular, he argued that a properly Catholic mission will lead us “to unite ourselves to everyone, because we are the equals of the other citizens in our country… we share all the ordinary civic concerns, and those pertaining to professional work and other activities.”[9]

Following biblical language,[10] St. Josemaría compared the Catholic mission to “the action of leaven working away in a mass of dough, until it is all turned into wholesome bread.”[11] As he explains:

Our hearts should be filled with joy when we consider that what we are is just this: the leaven that transforms the dough. Our life is not self-centered; it is a battle on the front line. It is to immerse ourselves in the stream of society, passing unnoticed and to reach all hearts, carrying out in all of them the great work of transforming them into wholesome bread, so that it be the peace of all families, of all peoples; justice, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

With this memorable imagery of Catholics as leaven in the dough, the core themes of St. Josemaría’s call to action come into view: the need for all Catholics—lay men and women—to join the front lines of the cultural battle, the importance of immersing ourselves in the key public debates of our time, and the goal of bringing about transformative change for all. At the same time, he emphasizes that we do this work as equals of other citizens, allowing ourselves to disperse in the multitude of society thereby giving it quality and goodness, and working with humility to pass unnoticed as we complete this work and reach all hearts. After all, “leaven does not produce any effect if it is not buried in the dough, if it is not mixed in to become one with it.”[12]

The Catholic Intellectual Tradition at the Service of All: The FEHE Strategy

In light of Neuhaus’s call for a renewal of purpose and mission for Catholicism, and given the cultural crisis we confront—with the long march of Cultural Marxism and the hollowing out of liberal arts education—I propose that it is more important than ever for the Catholic intellectual tradition be presented at the service of humanity. But for this Catholic project to be successful and to bring about enduring cultural reform, it must be implemented carefully and strategically within the context of the post-Vatican II failure to overcome clericalism and to address the root causes of our current crisis. As part of this project, I believe that the FEHE strategy offers one promising way forward because it addresses the role of the elite university in our cultural crisis, it offers a truly catholic, or universal, perspective on education and moral formation, and it presents a broad network of truth-seekers immersed in the stream of society and dedicated to the quiet but fundamental work of enduring cultural change.

In essence, FEHE focuses not on restructuring or replacing the elite university, but on leveraging the elite university to create a network of truth-seeking people who are renewing culture from within. FEHE is distinctive because it serves this mission by building research and teaching centers in or near elite college campuses; forming exceptional students at these schools through intellectual friendship; networking these students with leading professionals and with each other; positioning them at key levers of cultural influence; and multiplying their impact through a broad network. Since 2012, FEHE has built a network of 26 independent institutes and academic programs at 14 elite universities in the United States and United Kingdom, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Chicago, Stanford, Berkeley, and Oxford.

Earlier I mentioned John Henry Newman, who was a key figure in the development of the modern university. On the crucial question of moral formation of students, Newman acknowledged that, to a certain degree, the university can inform the moral life of students by introducing them to the complexity of the human condition and helping them to develop analytic and sympathetic capacities. However, as John Doherty notes in a recent Public Discourse essay on Newman, “this limited and indirect type of moral formation does not mean that the university will be truly effective or reliable in forming moral conscience… To be moral is to choose well, and choice is the act of the will, not just the intellect.”[13] In recent years, efforts to reform the university have had limited impact because they fail to form students effectively. Internal initiatives, such as free-speech networks or programs that host controversial speakers, often deepen partisan rifts at the expense of students’ moral formation, while external initiatives, such as online skills-training, offer no character- or culture-forming alternative to the hollowed-out liberal arts.

Unlike other academic reform initiatives, FEHE focuses directly on the moral formation of students. In the past decade, FEHE has achieved considerable success in forming students as part of its work to renew the university from within and, by extension, the broader culture. To that end, FEHE’s programs and institutes form students as whole human persons, capable of seeking the truth, practicing the good, celebrating the beautiful, and developing friendships across difference in their chosen fields. FEHE scholars prioritize the student-teacher relationship, mentoring students and encouraging them to reflect constructively on life’s fundamental questions for themselves. FEHE also helps students to learn the value of leisure, friendship, cultural literacy, and other non-instrumental goods that have mostly disappeared from the elite university’s achievement culture. In addition, FEHE programs constructively engage a wide range of Western and non-Western history, religion, literature, art, and philosophy. These traditions give students new perspectives from which to evaluate and critique the default partisan and careerist values they find in the academy and the broader culture. FEHE programs help students embrace their responsibility as free moral agents to discern their callings and decide how best to lead lives of service and meaning. To this extent, it could be said that FEHE embodies a catholic vision, broadly understood: that is, it draws mainstream learning into conversation with the Christian and Catholic intellectual tradition and cultivates reflection on the catholic, or universal, questions that animate every human life.


With the rise of Cultural Marxism and the decline of authentic liberal learning, our own cultural moment calls for the Catholic Moment that Neuhaus and many others have long advocated. This project would confidently and productively bring the Catholic intellectual tradition into the reach of all; it would focus on the moral formation of young people according to the principles of truth-seeking, generosity, curiosity, and intellectual friendship; it would promote true human flourishing and the common good; and it would encourage all Catholics, regardless of status or position, to contribute to this critical work.

For the reasons I have discussed here, I believe that the FEHE strategy opens one way forward to help advance this vision. FEHE focuses on working within—and reforming—the elite university, which is the key leverage point for cultural change today; it focuses directly on the moral formation of students and bringing them into dialogue with the best that has been written and spoken; and it nurtures a broad network of friends that is dispersed throughout society, working diligently and quietly to bring about change. FEHE is one part of the front line of the cultural battle in which we must all participate; there are of course many others, and I hope that what I have shared today might encourage others to reflect on their own contributions to fulfilling the promise of the Catholic Moment.

[1] Richard Neuhaus, “The Persistence of the Catholic Moment,” First Things, February 2003.

[2] Pope Francis, “Address to the Synod Fathers at Opening of Synod 2018 on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment,” October 2018.

[3] Nostra Aetate, October 1965.

[4] Dignitatis Humanae, December 1965.

[5] St. Josemaría Escrivá, The Collected Letters: Volume 1 (Hounslow, Scepter), p. 167.

[6] Ibid, p. 177.

[7] Ibid, p. 181.

[8] Ibid, p. 185.

[9] Ibid, p. 45.

[10] “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” (Matt 13:33)

[11] St. Josemaría Escrivá, The Collected Letters: Volume 1, pp. 45-46.

[12] Ibid, pp. 46.

[13] John Doherty, “Moral Education and the University,” Public Discourse, August 22, 2022.

The ‘What’ of faith is the ‘I’ of the Believer

What Does the Church Believe? : The Catechism of the Catholic Church


 Pope Benedict XVI


December 11, 2015

 Permit me to translate the article below into(for me) intelligible shorthand: In Christian Revelation, the What of the Faith is the “I” of the Believer.” This means that the believing “I” of the protagonist of the act of faith, by the very act of conversion away from self to receive the revealing Person of the Son, mimicks the Son as Relation to the Father, and therefore becomes conscious of the Son by the very act of converting.The assumption, of course, is that “Like is known by Like” (the received Greek epistemology). It must also be said (to understand this) that the only person I experience is myself since the only person who can exercise my free will is “I” myself. Therefore, what I believe is my self believing powered by the divine Love.

The circle is not vicious as tautological since the subject and the predicate, although ontologically identical are not intellectually identical since

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An address delivered by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger on 18 January 1993 to the diocesan pastoral synod in Rome.

Let me begin with an incident which took place soon after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). The Council had opened for the Church and for theology large areas for dialogue, particularly by its Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, but also by its decrees on ecumenism, the missions, non-Christian religions, and religious freedom. New areas arose, and new methods became necessary. For a theologian eager to keep up with the times and have an accurate view of his mandate, it seemed necessary to put aside themes of the past in order to concentrate on issues of the moment that were coming at him from all sides. I had at that time sent a small work to [the Swiss theologian] Hans Urs von Balthasar who, as always, immediately sent me a word of thanks, adding a sentence so exactly right that I never forgot it: “Do not presuppose the faith; propose it.” I was struck by this directive. The movement into new domains was good and necessary, but only in so far as it arose out of a presupposition which itself comes from the central light of faith and is transmitted in that light.

Faith is not something static. One can never presuppose that it is already accomplished. It must be continually re-lived. And, because it is an act that embraces all the dimensions of our existence, it must always be rethought and always witnessed to afresh. That is why the great themes of the faith—God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, grace and sin, the sacraments and the Church, death and eternal life—are never old. These themes always touch us profoundly. As they are at the centre of proclamation, so they ought also to be at the centre of theological thinking. The bishops of the 1985 synod, in asking for a general catechism for the whole Church, truly knew what Balthasar had earlier expressed to me. Pastoral experience had shown them that many new activities had no firm basis because they were not the effulgence and the application of the message of the faith. Faith cannot be presupposed; it must be proposed. That is the ultimate reason for the Catechism: to propose the faith in its fullness and its richness, but also in its unity and simplicity.

What does the Church believe? This question includes others: who believes and how? The Catechism treats these two fundamental questions of the faith, the what and the who, as an interior unity. That is to say, it demonstrates that the act of faith and the content of the faith are inseparable. Lest this statement seem abstract, let us seek to develop a little what one understands by it. In professions of faith one finds “I believe” as well as “we believe.” We speak of the faith of the Church, we speak of the personal character of faith, and we speak, finally, of faith as a gift of God, as a “theological act” according to current theological usage. What does all this signify? That faith is an orientation of our existence taken in its entirety. It is a profound decision which affects all the areas of our existence and which realizes itself only when it is supported at every level of our being.

Faith is not a process of the intellect, nor of the will; nor is it simply emotional. It is all these at once. It is an act of all of me, of my whole person taken in its unity. In this sense, faith is defined by the Bible as an act of the “heart” (Rom 10.9). It is a supremely personal action. But it is precisely for this reason that it goes beyond the ego, the limits of the individual. “Nothing pertains to us less than our ego,” as Saint Augustine said. Where the human being is fully engaged he goes beyond himself, for an act of my entire self will always be an opening up to others, an act of “being with.” There is more. An act is not fully realized until we touch our deepest essence, the living God, present in the depths of our existence, which he sustains. This indicates that, in such an act, the purely personal domain is transcended. A human being, precisely as created, is at his most profound level when he is not only acting but is also acted upon, not only a being that gives but also a being that receives. The Catechism expresses it thus: “No one can believe all alone any more than anyone can live all alone. No one gives himself the faith just as no one gave himself existence” (§166). Saint Paul expressed this radical character of faith when he described his experience of conversion and baptism with the formula, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2.20). Faith, as the disappearance of the mere me, is a resurgence of the true me, a becoming myself across a liberation of the mere me for that communion with God which comes only through communion with Christ.

I have thus far tried to analyze in light of the Catechism “who” believes, and thus to discern the structure of the act of faith. But in so doing I have already been led to sketch the essential content of the faith. Christian faith is, in its essence, a meeting with the living God. God is the true and ultimate content of our faith. In this sense, the content of the faith is very simple: I believe in God. But the simplest reality will always be the most profound reality that embraces all things. We can believe in God because God touches us, because he is in us, but also because he approaches us from without. We can believe in him because there is one whom he has sent: “he has seen the Father” (Jn 6.46) says the Catechism. He is the only one who knows God and who can reveal him (§151). We can say that faith is a participation in Jesus’s seeing the Father. In faith we are allowed to see with him what he has seen. The divinity of Jesus is included in this statement, and so is his humanity. Because he is the Son, he continually sees the Father. Because he is man, we can look at the Father with him. Because he is at once God and man, he is never a person of the past, and he is never outside time and only in eternity; he is always at the centre of time, always living, always present. Thus we come to the mystery of the Trinity. The Lord becomes present for us by the Holy Spirit. Let us turn again to the Catechism: “One cannot believe in Jesus Christ if one has no share in his Spirit. . . . God alone completely knows God. We believe in the Holy Spirit because he is God” (§152).

When anyone seriously considers the act of believing, he will soon recognize that this very act determines what is believed. God becomes concrete for us in Christ. Thus is the mystery of the Trinity revealed, and precisely at the point in history that the Son became man and sent us the Spirit from the Father. The Incarnation contains equally the mystery of the Church since Christ truly came to “gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (Jn 11.52): the “we” of the Church is the new, vast community into which Christ draws us (cf. Jn 12.32). The Church is thus implicit in the first beginnings of the act of faith. The Church cannot believe simply as an institution that attaches itself to the faith from outside by creating a functional framework for the common activities of the faithful. No, she belongs to the act of faith itself. The “I believe” is always also “we believe,” as the Catechism states: “‘I believe’: it is also the Church, our mother, who responds to God by her faith and who teaches us to say ‘I believe,’ ‘we believe’” (§167).

As we have just said, an analysis of the act of faith immediately shows its essential content: faith responds to the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We can now add that the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, his human-divine mystery, and indeed all of salvation history are contained in the act of faith; it therefore becomes evident that the People of God, the Church as the human basis for the history of salvation, is implicit in the very act of believing. It would be easy to demonstrate in the same way that the entire content of the faith is the necessary development of the fundamental and unique act of our meeting with the living God. A relationship with God is, by its nature, suggestive of eternal life in that it transcends the merely human. God would not really be God if he were not Lord of all things. Thus creation, the history of salvation, and eternal life are themes which flow immediately from the question of God. Similarly, in speaking of the history of God with mankind, one approaches the question of sin and of grace. It is the same with the question of our manner of meeting God, and thus of the liturgy, the sacraments, prayer, morality. I am not going to develop these particular aspects here; what I desire is to consider the interior unity of faith, not as an accumulation of propositions but as a single, intense act in the simplicity of which are contained the depths and the range of existence. Who speaks of God speaks of all things; he learns to distinguish what is essential from what is not; and he discovers something of the interior logic of the unity of all reality, even if he must always do so by fragments and enigmas (1 Cor 13.12) in this temporal realm where faith has not yet become vision.

To close, I would touch simply upon question raised at the beginning of our reflection: the “how” of faith. About this, one finds a remarkably helpful phrase in Saint Paul. He says that faith is obedience from the heart to the standard of teaching to which we have been committed (Rom 6.17). The sacramental character of the act of faith, i.e., the intimate link between our profession of faith and the sacraments, is here expressed as a principle. There is, says the Apostle, a “standard of teaching” proper to the faith. It is not our invention but, in a certain way, a word of the Word. We are committed to this word that indicates new ways of thinking and gives form to our lives. This “being committed” to a word before us is made real through the symbolic death of our immersion in the baptismal font, which recalls the sentence cited above: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me”; it also reminds me that the act of faith accomplishes my death and restoration. The symbol of death in baptism unites our restoration to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. To be committed to the word that teaches draws us back to being committed to Christ. But we cannot receive his word as we receive some theory, mathematical formula, or philosophical opinion. We can grasp it only to the extent that we accept a common destiny with Christ, and we can attain the word only where it is linked in a permanent fashion to people who share a common destiny in the Church. In the Church we call this manner of being committed “sacrament.” The act of faith is unthinkable without the sacraments.

From this starting point, we can understand the arrangement of the Catechism. Faith, we have said, consists of being committed to a standard of teaching. In another passage, Paul identifies this standard of teaching as the profession of faith (Rom 10.9). Emerging here is another aspect of the faith event: faith that comes to us as word ought to be re-expressed as our new life expresses itself, for to believe also signifies to profess. Faith is therefore not private but public and communal. From word it becomes concept, and then moves on to become word and action.

The Catechism draws upon diverse statements of belief found in the Church: baptismal professions of faith, professions of faith formulated by councils, professions of faith formulated by popes (§192). Each of these professions has its specific setting, but the archetype on which they are all based is the baptismal profession of faith. In discussing the Catechism—an introduction to the faith and to a life of communion in the Church—one must start with the baptismal profession of faith, as has been done from apostolic times. This is the only path open to the Catechism, which unfolds the faith starting with the baptismal profession. The manner it wishes to teach is thus clear: catechesis and catechumenate. Envisaged is not some class in religion, but the giving of oneself and the letting go of oneself in surrender to the word of faith in a common destiny with Jesus Christ. An interior journey toward God is the characteristic mark of catechesis. As Saint Irenaeus said, we ought to accommodate ourselves to God since God has accommodated himself to us in the Incarnation. We have to familiarize ourselves with the divine method in order to learn to bear his presence in ourselves. In theological terms: the image of Good in us must be liberated to render us capable of a communion of life with him. A traditional image is that of a sculptor who, with his chisel, chips away at the stone until he makes visible the form he had imagined.

Catechesis simply must be a process by which we assimilate ourselves to God, since we can only recognize those things that correspond to something within us. “If the eyes were not somehow solar, it could not recognize the sun,” wrote Goethe, commenting on Plotinus. The vital process of acquaintance is really a process of assimilation. The “we,” the “what,” and the “how” of faith are tightly tied together. The moral dimension of the act of faith, too, becomes visible because the act implies a type of human existence that we do not make up for ourselves but which we learn slowly by immersing ourselves in our condition of being baptized. The sacrament of penance is also a sign of this baptismal immersion renewed as God continually draws us to himself. Morality is part of Christianity, but it is a morality that participates in the sacramental process of becoming Christians. In it we are not primarily actors but receivers by a reception that points to transformation.

It is therefore not a fixation on the past that leads the Catechism to develop the content of the faith starting from the baptismal profession of the Church at Rome, i.e., from the Apostles’ Creed. In it is manifested the true nature of the act of faith and thus the true nature of catechesis as a training in existing with God. In the same way it is apparent that the Catechism is shaped by the principle of the hierarchy of truths as taught by Vatican II. Consequently, as we have said, the Creed is before all else a profession of faith in the triune God developed in the baptismal formula and tied to it. All the “truths of faith” are the developments of the unique truth that we discover in this single one. It is God we are concerned with. He alone can be the pearl for which we sell everything else: God alone suffices. Who finds God has found all. But we can find him only because he has first sought us out and found us. It is in the first instance he who acts, and that is why faith in God is inseparable from the mystery of the Incarnation, of the Church, of sacrament. Everything said in the Catechism is the development of the sole truth, which is God himself, “the love which moves the sun and the stars” (Dante, Paradiso, 33.145).

Benedict XVI on Irenaeus of Lyon


  On St. Irenaeus of Lyons
“The First Great Theologian of the Church”

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 28, 2007 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave at the general audience today in St. Peter’s Square. The reflection focused on St. Irenaeus of Lyons.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

In the catechesis on the great figures of the Church during the first centuries, today we reach the figure of an eminent personality, Irenaeus of Lyons. His biographical information comes from his own testimony, sent down to us by Eusebius in the fifth book of the “Storia Ecclesiastica.”

Irenaeus was most probably born in Smyrna (today Izmir, in Turkey) between the years 135 and 140. There, while still a youth, he attended the school of Bishop Polycarp, for his part, a disciple of the apostle John. We do not know when he moved from Asia Minor to Gaul, but the move must have coincided with the first developments of the Christian community in Lyons: There, in 177, we find Irenaeus mentioned among the college of presbyters.

That year he was sent to Rome, bearer of a letter from the community of Lyons to Pope Eleutherius. The Roman mission took Irenaeus away from the persecution by Marcus Aurelius, in which at least 48 martyrs died, among them the bishop of Lyons himself, the 90-year-old Pothinus, who died of mistreatment in jail. Thus, on his return, Irenaeus was elected bishop of the city. The new pastor dedicated himself entirely to his episcopal ministry, which ended around 202-203, perhaps by martyrdom.

Irenaeus is above all a man of faith and a pastor. Like the Good Shepherd, he has prudence, a richness of doctrine, and missionary zeal. As a writer, he aims for a twofold objective: to defend true doctrine from the attacks of the heretics, and to clearly expound the truth of the faith. His two works still in existence correspond exactly to the fulfillment of these two objectives: the five books “Against Heresies,” and the “Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching” (which could be called the oldest “catechism of Christian doctrine”). Without a doubt, Irenaeus is the champion in the fight against heresies.

The Church of the second century was threatened by so-called gnosticism, a doctrine which claimed that the faith taught by the Church was nothing more than symbolism for the simpleminded, those unable to grasp more difficult things. Instead, the initiated, the intellectuals — they called themselves gnostics — could understand what was behind the symbolism, and thus would form an elite, intellectual Christianity.

Obviously, this intellectual Christianity became more and more fragmented with different currents of thought, often strange and extravagant, yet attractive to many. A common element within these various currents was dualism, that is, a denial of faith in the only God, Father of all, creator and savior of humanity and of the world. To explain the evil in the world, they asserted the existence of a negative principle, next to the good God. This negative principle had created matter, material things.

Firmly rooted in the biblical doctrine of Creation, Irenaeus refuted dualism and the gnostic pessimism that devalued corporal realities. He decisively affirmed the original holiness of matter, of the body, of the flesh, as well as of the spirit. But his work goes far beyond the refutation of heresies: In fact, one can say that he presents himself as the first great theologian of the Church, who established systematic theology. He himself speaks about the system of theology, that is, the internal coherence of the faith.

The question of the “rule of faith” and its transmission lies at the heart of his doctrine. For Irenaeus, the “rule of faith” coincides in practice with the Apostles’ Creed, and gives us the key to interpret the Gospel, to interpret the creed in light of the Gospel. The apostolic symbol, a sort of synthesis of the Gospel, helps us understand what the Gospel means, how we must read the Gospel itself.

In fact, the Gospel preached by St. Irenaeus is the one he received from Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, and the Gospel of Polycarp goes back to the apostle John, Polycarp having been John’s disciple. Thus, the true teaching is not that invented by the intellectuals, rising above the simple faith of the Church. The true Gospel is preached by the bishops who have received it thanks to an uninterrupted chain from the apostles.

These men have taught nothing but the simple faith, which is also the true depth of the revelation of God. Thus, says Irenaeus, there is no secret doctrine behind the common creed of the Church. There is no superior Christianity for intellectuals. The faith publicly professed by the Church is the faith common to all. Only this faith is apostolic, coming from the apostles, that is, from Jesus and from God.

To adhere to this faith publicly taught by the apostles to their successors, Christians must observe what the bishops say. They must specifically consider the teaching of the Church of Rome, pre-eminent and ancient. This Church, because of its age, has the greatest apostolicity; in fact its origins come from the columns of the apostolic college, Peter and Paul. All the Churches must be in harmony with the Church of Rome, recognizing in it the measure of the true apostolic tradition and the only faith common to the Church.

With these arguments, very briefly summarized here, Irenaeus refutes the very foundation of the aims of the gnostics, of these intellectuals: First of all, they do not possess a truth that would be superior to the common faith, given that what they say is not of apostolic origin, but invented by them. Second, truth and salvation are not a privilege monopolized by a few, but something that everyone can reach through the preaching of the apostles’ successors, and, above all, that of the Bishop of Rome.

By taking issue with the “secret” character of the gnostic tradition and by contesting its multiple intrinsic contradictions, Irenaeus concerns himself with illustrating the genuine concept of Apostolic Tradition, that we could summarize in three points.

a) The Apostolic Tradition is “public,” not private or secret. For Irenaeus, there is no doubt that the content of the faith transmitted by the Church is that received from the apostles and from Jesus, the Son of God. There is no teaching aside from this. Therefore, for one who wishes to know the true doctrine, it is enough to know “the Tradition that comes from the Apostles and the faith announced to men”: tradition and faith that “have reached us through the succession of bishops” (“Adv. Haer.” 3,3,3-4). Thus, the succession of bishops, personal principle, Apostolic Tradition, and doctrinal principle all coincide.

b) The Apostolic Tradition is “one.” While gnosticism is divided into many sects, the Church’s Tradition is one in its fundamental contents, which — as we have seen — Irenaeus calls “regula fidei” or “veritatis.” And given that it is one, it creates unity among peoples, different cultures and different communities. It has a common content like that of truth, despite different languages and cultures.

There is a beautiful expression that Irenaeus uses in the book “Against Heresies”: “The Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points (of doctrine) just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world.”

We can already see at this time — we are in the year 200 — the universality of the Church, its catholicity and the unifying force of truth, which unites these so-very-different realities, from Germany, to Spain, to Italy, to Egypt, to Libya, in the common truth revealed to us by Christ.

c) Finally, the Apostolic Tradition is, as he says in Greek, the language in which he wrote his book, “pneumatic,” that is, spiritual, led by the Holy Spirit. In Greek, spirit is “pneuma.” It is not a transmission entrusted to the abilities of more or less educated men, but the Spirit of God who guarantees faithfulness in the transmission of the faith.

This is the “life” of the Church, that which makes the Church always young, that is, fruitful with many charisms. Church and Spirit are inseparable for Irenaeus. This faith, we read in the third book of “Against Heresies,” “which, having been received from the Church, we do preserve, and which always, by the Spirit of God, renewing its youth, as if it were some precious deposit in an excellent vessel, causes the vessel itself containing it to renew its youth also. � For where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church, and every kind of grace” (3,24,1).

As we can see, Irenaeus does not stop at defining the concept of Tradition. His tradition, uninterrupted Tradition, is not traditionalism, because this Tradition is always internally vivified by the Holy Spirit, which makes it alive again, allows it to be interpreted and understood in the vitality of the Church.

According to his teaching, the Church’s faith must be preached in such a way that it appears as it must appear, that is “public,” “one,” “pneumatic,” “spiritual.” From each of these characteristics, one can glean a fruitful discernment of the authentic transmission of the faith in the Church of today.

More generally, in the doctrine of Irenaeus, human dignity, body and soul, is firmly rooted in Divine Creation, in the image of Christ and in the permanent work of sanctification of the Spirit. This doctrine is like the “main road” to clarify to all people of good will, the object and the limits of dialogue on values, and to give an ever new impulse to the missionary activities of the Church, to the strength of truth which is the source of all the true values in the world.

The Way Forward from the Theological Concerns with the TLM Movement

[TLM: The Latin Mass]

  1.  John Cavadini, Mary Healy, Thomas WeinandyNovember 23, 2022

1900px Statua Di San Pietro Realizzata Da Giuseppe De Fabris Piazza Di San Pietro

Theological and Pastoral Concerns with the Tridentine Mass Movement

In this section, we will outline the concerns that Traditionis Custodes and Desiderio Desideravi attempt to address. It is important to note that while some of the pope’s doctrinal and liturgical criticisms apply to the Tridentine Mass and the movement itself, others pertain only to certain individuals or groups in the movement. We understand that many who participate in the Tridentine Mass are obedient to the regulations set by competent Church authority and do not intend to upend Vatican II or to boycott ordinary liturgies or question their value. The concerns stated here are not intended to call into question the sincerity of such people or to subject them to the same critique as those who are more determined to undermine Vatican II and who reject the reformed liturgy as an authentic expression of the Roman rite.

In his recent book, Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright: The Genius & Timeliness of the Traditional Latin Mass, Peter Kwasniewski implicitly reveals the distinction between the two. He not only describes the beauty of the Latin Mass but is dismissive of the liturgical reforms of Vatican II. Throughout the book, he speaks disparagingly of the reformed Mass, advising adherents of the traditional liturgy to avoid the Novus Ordo:

If at all possible, we should avoid participating in a form of prayer that deprives the Lord of the reverence that is due to Him. The Novus Ordo systematically does this by having removed hundreds of ways in which the Church showed her profound reverence for the Word of God and the holy mysteries of Christ.[1]

Such critiques presume that the reformed rite must be an occasion of significant irreverence; there is little appreciation of the many celebrations of the reformed liturgy with profound reverence, feeding the souls of countless members of the faithful in parishes throughout the world. Across the continent of Africa, for example, celebrations of the Mass that are both vibrant and reverent attract thousands of people to the Church. Critiques such as this also imply a rejection of the Council and its subsequent magisterial reception, which is to set oneself up as an alternative magisterium.  

Bearing this distinction in mind, a primary concern of the recent documents on the liturgy, following Vatican II itself, is the full expression of the baptismal priesthood of the faithful. There is an irony in the fact that many of those who participate in the Traditional Latin Mass today do so out of a postconciliar mindset. They are Vatican II Catholics who attend the Tridentine Mass. They want what Vatican II has taught them to want, an experience of active participation in something of surpassing beauty, namely, the Eucharistic sacrifice. Could it be that their experience of worshipping together, albeit with a self-selected group of enthusiasts who share the same ideal, is a large part of what it means to participate in the Traditional Latin Mass movement? But the liturgy, both the older form before the Council and the reformed rite now, is meant to accommodate all comers, no matter what their level of interest, faith, or attention span. There is bound to be a feeling of less intensely uniform participation. It can be easy to romanticize the celebration of the Tridentine Mass prior to the Council because of discontent over how the Novus Ordo has been celebrated. But those who remember know that generally, hardly anyone, including priests, thought in terms of participation, transcendent mystery, majestic rubrics, and reverential silence. Such may have been present to a degree because of the very nature of the Eucharist, but these aspects did not realize their full potential. The Mass had become very routinized and in many instances almost mechanically celebrated.

What was and still is absent in the Tridentine Mass is the full expression of the baptismal priesthood and its corresponding liturgical interaction with the ordained priesthood. The Tridentine Mass risks accentuating the ordained priesthood while undervaluing the priesthood of the faithful, so that neither the celebrant nor the laity fully enact their rightful liturgical roles in relationship to one another. The reforms of the Second Vatican Council must be understood as a retrieval of this common priesthood grounded in the single priesthood of Jesus Christ. In an ad limina address to bishops of the United States (1998), St. John Paul II stated, “The sharing of all the baptized in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ is the key to understanding the Council’s call for full, conscious and active participation in the liturgy.”[2] When the priest and the congregation offer together the one sacrifice of the Mass, both celebrate in accord with their distinct indelible priestly spiritual marks. This is what the entire liturgical movement fostered and what Vatican II, in its renewal of the liturgy, ardently sought to restore. Benedict XVI in his Sacramentum Caritatis certainly warned the Church about confusing lay participation with that of the priest, but he also forcefully emphasized the importance of greater involvement of the lay faithful in the sacrifice of the Mass.[3]

A second concern of the recent papal documents, especially Desiderio, is the nature of “mystery” when predicated of the Eucharistic liturgy.[4] The mysteries of the faith have been divinely revealed so that we are able to know them. For example, the mystery of the Incarnation is that the only begotten Son of God exists as man, and the mystery of the Trinity is that the one God exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. However, we do not fully comprehend the mysteries that we know; they infinitely transcend human understanding. The Mass is the sacramentally enacted mystery wherein Jesus’ once-for-all saving sacrifice is made present anew and we partake of its benefits.[5] The reform of the liturgy was intended to make this mystery more available to the people, more indelibly imprinted on their hearts through prayers they themselves say in their own language and prayers they can hear and understand as the sacrifice unfolds. It is by entering more deeply into that mystery that the faithful directly and actively exercise the priesthood proper to their baptism. Priest and faithful together come to an ever more intimate acquaintance with the depths of divine love that the sacramental re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary expresses and makes present. Without prejudice to other approved rites and forms of celebration, it nevertheless seems to us that by beholding the sacramental signs through which the mystery is enacted on the altarthe faithful are more effectually drawn into the mystery as it is enacted.

Liturgical rubrics, by their very nature, are intended to allow the mystery that is being enacted sacramentally to teach and inspire and to draw the faithful into participation and communion. It is true that a less-reverential celebration of the Eucharist can distract from this aim, but it is also true that one can confuse a reverential and highly aesthetic ceremonial for the transcendence and mystery that properly pertains to the sacrifice itself. It can happen that the ceremonial itself and its meticulous observance take on a life of their own, as though they were the focus and source of the feeling of transcendence. The rubrics then lose their inherent purpose—to highlight the mystery of salvation that Christ the Head of the Body is enacting and in which we, as his members, are participating, and to engender in the faithful a holy wonder and reverential awe, not at our ceremonial but at the actions of Christ. As Sacrosanctum Concilium noted, many of the rubrics in the Tridentine Mass were superfluous, dated, or overly repetitive, and thus unnecessarily distracted from the mystery of the Eucharist itself. In the Novus Ordo, the rubrics are simplified in a manner that better allows the Eucharistic mystery to be expressed and enhances the faithful’s meaningful participation in it.

A final and paramount concern has to do with ecclesial unity. No matter what “camp” one might be in, there can be a danger of loving a form of the Mass more than one loves Jesus, whose saving sacrifice is made present and whose risen body and blood we receive. It must be recalled that the very “res” of the Eucharist, the “thing” of which it is the efficacious sign when duly celebrated by a priest in communion with the local bishop, is the unity of the body of Christ: “The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being.”[6] This means that to love the Eucharist is to love that of which it is an efficacious sign, the unity of the Church—not the ideal Church as we might abstractly imagine it or wish it to be, or a self-selected group of like-minded people within the Church, but the concrete, hierarchically organized Church as it exists locally and universally. Love of the unity of the Church means submission to duly constituted authority, particularly the local bishop, and to his directives, liturgical and otherwise. If one loves a particular rite at the expense of the unity of the Church, one does not have the proper “disposition” that allows the grace of the sacrament to bear its proper fruit in one’s life (see CCC §1128).

Some Catholics have come to identify themselves by rite preference, as “Latin Mass goers” in opposition to “Novus Ordo Catholics,” often with the implication that the latter are lesser Catholics than those who identify with the traditionalist movement. They tend to offer the worst caricature of the reformed rites, blaming the adoption of the Novus Ordo for the decline in religious vocations, the prevalence of divorce, and the rise of disaffiliation. The documentary film The Mass of the Ages, for example, makes the case that the “Novus Ordo” is the source of the Church’s present decline. The implication from the documentary is clear: either come join the real Mass of the Ages or continue attending a liturgy that has contributed to the destruction of the Church and world alike.[7] The film shows little awareness of the actual state of liturgical practice prior to the Council, nor the vibrant Catholicism of the reformed liturgy existing in many parts of the world now, nor the vastly broader cultural, spiritual, pastoral and intellectual currents contributing to the present state of the Church in the West. The Savior, the cure for all that ails the contemporary Church and the world, is not a particular rite, but Jesus. 

For many of these Latin Mass-goers their entire persona is constituted by this distinguishing characteristic, which demarcates and separates them from their fellow Catholics. They become an idiosyncratic liturgical camp within the Church. Pope Francis is rightly concerned about this kind of division. John Paul II was also fearful of such a rupture and, although Pope Benedict generously accommodated the Tridentine Mass, he too hoped that it would not be divisive. By exploiting Pope Benedict’s benevolence for its own agenda of proselytizing others to their liturgical cause, the more radical elements in the movement have, unfortunately, undercut Benedict’s wish that there be no division in the Church. Benedict XVI wrote in Summorum Pontificum, art. 1:

The Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI is the ordinary expression of the lex orandi (rule of prayer) of the Catholic Church of the Latin rite. The Roman Missal promulgated by Saint Pius V and revised by Blessed John XXIII is nonetheless to be considered an extraordinary expression of the same lex orandi of the Church and duly honoured for its venerable and ancient usage. These two expressions of the Church’s lex orandi will in no way lead to a division in the Church’s lex credendi (rule of faith); for they are two usages of the one Roman rite.

Benedict XVI was clear: Those who celebrated the Extraordinary Form needed to recognize not only the legitimacy of the Missal of Paul VI but its “ordinary” status. Fidelity to Summorum Pontificum required that a Catholic who desired to attend the Latin Mass also give credence to the reformed rite. Further, those who participate in the Novus Ordo should also not see those who participate in the pre-1970 rite as separated from them. After all, Pope Francis himself allows for some limited use of the pre-conciliar Missal, provided that such groups recognize the validity of the liturgical reform.[8]

And yet, as the documentary Mass of the Ages shows, some who attend the Tridentine Mass regard themselves as separate from other Catholics, sometimes even to the point of thinking that they belong to a “different Church.” Thus, “Church” is now defined by which Eucharistic rite one attends. This has led to strange moments such as the ordination of Alcuin Reid, a traditionalist who once happily relied upon the papal authority of Benedict XVI, by an anonymous bishop in 2022 in disobedience to the local ordinary. The desire to celebrate the pre-conciliar rite led Reid to pursue ordination outside of canonical norms, in essence establishing his monastery as a church apart from the Church.  This act not only manifested a certain elitism, in which traditionalists possess a higher liturgical culture than those who, in their spiritual mediocrity and liturgical ignorance, participate in the “new vernacular Mass.” It was also an act of disunity, ripping apart the communion of the Church in order to celebrate the pre-conciliar rite.

Of course, none of this is to deny that a reverse elitism is also possible, when those who prefer the pre-1970 rite, without intending to disobey liturgical authority, are scorned as having no legitimate concerns about the way that the liturgy is often celebrated. At times, there is a very real banality to the celebration of the reformed rite. For this reason, in the final section, we turn to what needs to be done to respond to these concerns, bringing the entire faithful to a deeper sacramental maturity desired by the Second Vatican Council.[9]

The Way Forward

Given the present state of liturgical practice in the American Church, we would like to propose some positive ways forward. As our study has demonstrated, the initial implementation of Vatican II’s renewal of the liturgy was far from perfect. It had both positive and negative results. Perhaps it was impossible for the liturgical renewal to be implemented in an entirely satisfactory manner. The broader doctrinal and pastoral turmoil in the Church at the time, which reflected the social chaos in the world at large, did not provide an environment well disposed to facing the challenges that such a liturgical revival entailed. Some sixty years later, having grappled with the pastoral challenges, the American Church has matured in its approach to the liturgical reform. The time may now be ripe to make a new concerted attempt at implementing more fully the renewal that Vatican II so much desired. What would this new endeavor entail?

First, the liturgical revival ought to be set within the broader context of Vatican II, for the Council sought the renewal of the entire Church. This goal is particularly found in the Council’s two dogmatic constitutions: on the Church, Lumen Gentium, and on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum. The major themes in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, should also be noted, for the renewal of the Church was for the purpose of enabling it to proclaim the gospel more effectively in the contemporary world. Thus, we suggest that dioceses, seminaries, bishops and pastors provide catechesis on Vatican II. The generation of faithful who were alive during Vatican II have aged or have died. The succeeding generations know little concerning the Council, its teaching, and what it hoped to achieve. In the absence of catechesis, many of them are being led astray by those who denigrate the Council or even deny its legitimacy. This ignorance is especially found among those of the younger generation who are tempted to join the Tridentine movement. This impulse is completely contrary to the Council, and to act upon it is to impugn, even if unintentionally, the universal and ecumenical authority of the Council and its reception in the magisterial teaching of every subsequent pope. If bishops and pastors do not reclaim and promote the authentic teaching of Vatican II, the theological and liturgical vacuum will continue to be filled by those who promote the Tridentine liturgy as a way of disparaging the Council.

Second, in the context of catechesis and the teaching of Vatican II, bishops and pastors need to call the faithful to a deeper conversion—a more whole-hearted commitment to and love for Jesus and his Church. Without this profound conversion, the goal of a more vital participation in the Eucharist will always remain elusive, for the revitalization of the liturgy is not merely a matter of “doing it right,” but is predicated on the spiritual renewal of the hearts and minds of all involved—clergy and laity alike. Thus, a mystagogical catechesis on the doctrines of the faith is necessary in conjunction with a mystagogical catechesis on the Eucharistic liturgy itself.[10] Yet even this will not suffice without a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the whole Church—the “new Pentecost” for which all the popes from John XXIII to Francis have ardently prayed. Only the Holy Spirit can awaken in the faithful the “Eucharistic amazement” that will enable them to enter fully into the liturgy and be transformed by it. The Eucharistic prayers themselves express this renewed descent of the Spirit in the epiclesis, by which the Holy Spirit is invoked not only on the elements of bread and wine but on the whole assembly, so that they may be transformed into Christ. “The Church therefore asks the Father to send the Holy Spirit to make the lives of the faithful a living sacrifice to God by their spiritual transformation into the image of Christ” (CCC §1109).

Third, this mystagogical catechesis should involve a presentation of the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the Eucharist in their relationship to one another. Particularly important is the fact that the Mass makes present Jesus’ one saving sacrifice, a mystery of inexhaustible depth and richness that is revealed through the whole of salvation history and made known to us in the Scriptures. In communion with Jesus the great high priest, priest and people together offer the one sacrifice that he himself is, and so reap its saving benefits—forgiveness of sins and new life in the Holy Spirit.[11] In this context, emphasis should be given to the priesthood of the faithful, for we have yet to appreciate fully the priesthood that was conferred upon us at baptism. Having participated in Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice of himself, the faithful are able to partake of his risen-given-up body and his risen-poured-out blood so as to abide in him and he in them [blogg er emphasis]. In this communion, the faithful are taken up into the very life of the Trinity itself as the Father’s Spirit-filled children. Equally, they must be taught that the present Eucharistic liturgy is a mystical participation in the liturgy of heaven and a foretaste of the wedding banquet of the Lamb that will one day be celebrated in the new Jerusalem (Rev 4–5; 21:1–7).[12] The faithful need to be reawakened to the eschatological orientation of the liturgy itself and of the Christian life—to the fact that we are not at home in this world but are only sojourners, eagerly awaiting the coming of our King and the transformation of the whole cosmos. On that day we will be fully in communion with him, and so share perfectly in his risen glory, and thus be conformed into his true likeness as the Father’s Spirit-transformed children. The Eucharistic Revival promoted by the bishops will have limited success if it focuses too narrowly on getting the faithful to believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, without grounding it in the liturgy as a whole and in the all-encompassing divine mystery into which the liturgy leads us. Sufficient time and theological preparation are needed for such mystagogical catechesis to be fruitful. We suggest that adult classes be offered in parishes and that Sunday homilies attend to this for a designated period of time each year, in conjunction with the Eucharistic Revival.[13]

Fourth, given the need for a deeper interior conversion, such conversion can be fostered by greater attention to the “ars celebrandi” (the art of celebrating) on the part of both ordained ministers and the laity.[14] Priests need to ensure that every aspect of the Sunday liturgy—from the music to the vestments to the comportment of clergy and lay ecclesial ministers—enables the faithful to experience the beauty of the liturgy. Clergy and laity alike should be encouraged to show appropriate acts of reverence for the Eucharist. Upon entering the Church prior to the sacred liturgy, all should be encouraged to genuflect reverently before the tabernacle and keep a respectful, prayerful silence before Mass begins and during the parts of the liturgy in which the rubrics call for silence. Welcoming chatter should be limited to the vestibule or to the outer gathering space. Communicants should be taught to receive the Eucharist not casually but reverently—bowing or genuflecting before receiving their Lord and Savior. The laity should also be urged to wear clothing that is in keeping with the sacred Eucharistic banquet, avoiding immodest or overly casual attire that would never be considered appropriate for a wedding reception or social banquet (there may be legitimate exceptions, for instance wearing sport clothes when on vacation at the beach or a resort). While clothing and gestures may appear to be minor in themselves, they express an interior attitude—whether of unthinking casualness or of solemn reverence for the most sacred act that one can perform here on earth. Both clergy and laity must take personal responsibility for the sacred ambiance that surrounds the Eucharistic celebration. The cumulative effect of all these small “rubrical” acts would be that the whole congregation bears witness to one another that they are presently engaged in what pertains to the heavenly realm, and not to the mundane activities of this world. At the same time, we need to guard against the perennial temptation to so focus on external gestures that they become a substitute for true reverence of heart that God desires (see Matt 23:5–7, 25–28).

Under this category, we should mention some specifics. Language about the Eucharist (for example, in hymns and homilies) that emphasizes its character as a banquet should be balanced by language that emphasizes its character as a sacrifice, and that the table of the Lord is also, and predominantly, an altar. A steady diet of hymns that emphasize table fellowship to the exclusion of language about offering the sacrifice erodes a sense of the priesthood, both of the ordained and of the baptized, since priesthood is not needed for table fellowship per se, but for sacrifice. The riches of the expanded lectionary are also too often squandered by allowing lectors to read who cannot be heard or understood, or who seemingly have no understanding themselves of the word they are proclaiming. The reading might as well be in a foreign language. The same goes for responsorial psalms, where often one cannot understand what is being sung. Pastors do not take responsibility often enough. Also, while the worst of the iconoclasm that followed Vatican II, displacing statues from the sanctuary and throwing out racks for devotional lamps, has ebbed away, we should be doing more to recover the iconography and devotional furnishings that nourish the devotional life and help to localize it in place and time. One can understand the impulse to leave behind the reformed liturgy if the very reasons for which it was reformed are continually subverted by bad hymnody, incomprehensible Scripture reading and psalmody, and the seeming negation of the possibility of devotion, especially to Mary, to which Lumen Gentium exhorted us.

Fifth, as the Eucharistic revival progresses in dioceses and parishes, we recommend a renewed emphasis on the relationship between the liturgy and evangelization.[15] As Vatican II taught, the Eucharist is “the source and culmination of evangelization.”[16] Understood rightly, the liturgy is inherently evangelistic, not in the superficial sense that unbelievers ought to be introduced immediately to the Mass, but in that the liturgy reveals and makes present the heart of the gospel, the saving passion and resurrection of Christ.[17] The faithful’s desire and ability to carry out their vocation of proclaiming Christ and imbuing the secular sphere with the spirit of the gospel springs from their active participation in the Eucharist, which conforms them to Christ in his self-emptying love. One way to foster this understanding would be by providing an opportunity for the faithful to bear public witness to their love for the Eucharist, perhaps in one or two brief testimonies after communion. While such testimonies may need to be monitored and even rehearsed, they would not only benefit the congregation but would also confirm more strongly in the speakers their own love for the Eucharist.

Finally, we hope that what we have suggested above contributes to the American bishops’ admirable initiative for fostering a greater Eucharistic faith. In light of the bishops’ proposals and Pope Francis’s Desiderio Desideravi, we hold that it is time for those who have become part of the Tridentine liturgical movement to reconsider their position, and time for those responsible for overseeing the celebration of the Eucharist to get much more serious about reforming the reform, about addressing the legitimate concerns of those attracted to the Tridentine rite instead of turning a deaf ear to their complaints. Their concerns are often shared by those who frequent the ordinary form of the liturgy. If it is incumbent on those in the Tridentine movement, for the well-being of the Body of Christ, to return to the Church’s ordinary liturgical form, it is also incumbent on those who would receive them to work constructively to address their legitimate concerns. Now is the time for them to make their own significant contributions to the present liturgical renewal, a renewal that has been inspired by the Holy Spirit throughout the past century and a half. Now is also the time for us to receive them. Bishops and pastors should encourage the return of those who have been attending the Tridentine liturgy and wholeheartedly welcome them back encouraging a shared determination to continue the movement to contribute to the ars celebrandi and the dignity of the Mass.

Although the Mass is always perfect in its sacramentality, it is never perfect in its earthly celebration, for it is celebrated by those who, though saved, continue to struggle in their frailty and sin. Nevertheless, the renewal of the liturgy starts not with someone else out there whom I can blame for its demise and for our divisions, but with myself. If I want reverence in the liturgy, I have to start by putting it there myself, by a deeper and more absolute dedication to Christ and by entering into the mystery at every Mass with all the faith, love, reverence, and devotion I can muster. Such witness is my responsibility first and foremost. This is how cultural change begins.

At the same time, it must be kept in mind that the sacred Eucharistic liturgy here on earth only finds its perfection in the heavenly liturgy. Then, all nations, peoples, and languages will together, in communion with the glorious Lamb who was slain, give perfect Spirit-imbued praise and glory to the Father, forever and ever, Amen!

EDITORIAL NOTE: This is the fifth installment of five on the renewal of the liturgy. You can find a link to the fourth installment at the bottom of this page.

[1] Peter Kwasniewski, Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright: The Genius & Timeliness of the Traditional Latin Mass (Brooklyn, NY: Angelico Press, 2020), 220.

[2] John Paul II, “Ad Limina Address to the Bishops of the United States,” no. 3.

[3] See Benedict XVI, Sacramentum caritatis, nos. 52–55.

[4] See Francis, Desiderio Desideravi 25: “The astonishment or wonder of which I speak is not some sort of being overcome in the face of an obscure reality or a mysterious rite. It is, on the contrary, marveling at the fact that the salvific plan of God has been revealed in the paschal deed of Jesus (cf. Eph 1:3–14), and the power of this paschal deed continues to reach us in the celebration of the ‘mysteries,’ of the sacraments.”

[5] See Jeremy Driscoll, What Happens at Mass, rev. ed. (Liturgy Training Publications, 2011), 1–7.

[6] CCC §1325, citing Congregation of Rites, Eucharisticum mysterium §6.

[7] See

[8] Pope Francis, Traditiones Custodes §3.

[9] Such maturity is the wish expressed by Pope Francis in Desiderio Desideravi, which calls for “a serious and vital liturgical formation” (see especially §27–47).

[10] In Desiderio Desideravi, Pope Francis calls for more comprehensive liturgical formation of the faithful in two senses, “formation for the Liturgy and formation by the Liturgy” (§34–47).

[11] See GIRM 78, 79, and 85.

[12] For attentive worshippers, the eschatological orientation of the liturgy is evident throughout: in the Creed (“He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead”), the Memorial Acclamation (“we proclaim your death, O Lord, until you come again”), the Our Father (“your kingdom come”), and the celebrant’s prayer after the Our Father (“as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ”).

[13] There are numerous excellent resources to aid in this endeavor. See, for instance, Driscoll, What Happens at Mass (LTP, 2011); Timothy O’Malley, Becoming Eucharistic People: The Hope and Promise of Parish Life (Ave Maria, 2022); Edward Sri, A Biblical Walk through the Mass (Ascension, 2011).

[14] See Francis, Desiderio Desideravi, §48–57.

[15] See Francis, Desiderio Desideravi §37: “A celebration that does not evangelize is not authentic, just as a proclamation that does not lead to an encounter with the risen Lord in the celebration is not authentic.”

[16] Presbyterorum Ordinis §5.

[17] See Jeremy Sienkiewicz and Celina Pinedo, “The Liturgy and the New Evangelization,” Homiletic and Pastoral Review (Sept. 25, 2014); and David L. Schindler, “Toward a Culture of life: The Eucharist, the ‘Restoration’ of Creation, and the ‘Worldly’ Task of the Laity in Liberal Societies,” Communio 29 (2002), 679­–90.

Trinitarian Provenance 0f Material Creation

Pope Francis: “Laudato Si” #233. 

The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face.[159] The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things. Saint Bonaventure teaches us that “contemplation deepens the more we feel the working of God’s grace within our hearts, and the better we learn to encounter God in creatures outside ourselves”.[160]

234. Saint John of the Cross taught that all the goodness present in the realities and experiences of this world “is present in God eminently and infinitely, or more properly, in each of these sublime realities is God”.[161] This is not because the finite things of this world are really divine, but because the mystic experiences the intimate connection between God and all beings, and thus feels that “all things are God”.[162] Standing awestruck before a mountain, he or she cannot separate this experience from God, and perceives that the interior awe being lived has to be entrusted to the Lord: “Mountains have heights and they are plentiful, vast, beautiful, graceful, bright and fragrant. These mountains are what my Beloved is to me. Lonely valleys are quiet, pleasant, cool, shady and flowing with fresh water; in the variety of their groves and in the sweet song of the birds, they afford abundant recreation and delight to the senses, and in their solitude and silence, they refresh us and give rest. These valleys are what my Beloved is to me”.[163]

6. Just as Christ was sent by the Father, so also He sent the apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit. This He did that, by preaching the gospel to every creature [14], they might proclaim that the Son of God, by His death and resurrection, had freed us from the power of Satan [15] and from death, and brought us into the kingdom of His Father. His purpose also was that they might accomplish the work of salvation which they had proclaimed, by means of sacrifice and sacraments, around which the entire liturgical life revolves. Thus by baptism men are plunged into the paschal mystery of Christ: they die with Him, are buried with Him, and rise with Him [16]; they receive the spirit of adoption as sons “in which we cry: Abba, Father” ( Rom. 8 :15), and thus become true adorers whom the Father seeks [17]. In like manner, as often as they eat the supper of the Lord they proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes [18]. For that reason, on the very day of Pentecost, when the Church appeared before the world, “those who received the word” of Peter “were baptized.” And “they continued steadfastly in the teaching of the apostles and in the communion of the breaking of bread and in prayers . . . praising God and being in favor with all the people” (Acts 2:41-47). From that time onwards the Church has never failed to come together to celebrate the paschal mystery: reading those things “which were in all the scriptures concerning him” (Luke 24:27), celebrating the eucharist in which “the victory and triumph of his death are again made present” [19], and at the same time giving thanks “to God for his unspeakable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15) in Christ Jesus, “in praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:12), through the power of the Holy Spirit.