Dr. Peter Kwasniewski’s newest book, Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness: Why the Modern Age Needs the Mass of Ages, is timely, necessary, and refreshing for traditional Catholics and those interested in the traditional teachings of the Church on liturgy in this ten-year anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s motu prorio Summorum Pontificum. The genius of the book is that it is not written for only one group of people. It is for the laity, for the ordained hierarchy, and for consecrated religious—even those who are new to the traditional movement can pick up this book and read it with understanding.
In a way, this book is a fulfillment of what Benedict wrote in the letter accompanying his motu proprio, that he sought to come “to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church.” Because of the damage done after the Second Vatican Council—even if it was not the Council Fathers’ original intention—with the insistence that the Mass of Paul VI was the only Mass that could be celebrated, many Catholics have been ostracized and even abused for their devotion to the Tridentine Rite. With Dr. Kwasniewski’s book, however, we find that, even if traditional Catholics are still in the minority, they have a voice and good reasons for holding to the traditional practices of the Catholic Church. Kwasniewski’s book affirms that the ancient Roman Rite is necessary for the Church, and he offers much-needed encouragement for traditional Catholics who may be feeling discouraged. The very fact that he writes this book from his personal experience in parishes and as a professor at Catholic schools should be enough to encourage traditional Catholics: the author himself is a living testament to the beauty and fruit of the ancient Rite.
This book consists of articles and essays surrounding the question, in the author’s words, “Why is the traditional understanding and practice of liturgical worship right in itself, and therefore crucial to recover in our day, when it has been largely abandoned?” In order to answer that question, Kwasniewski touches on a variety of subjects, including the Liturgical Movement for the New Evangelization, Marian attitudes in the Roman Rite, active participation in the liturgy, a comparison of the old and new calendars, and the way to move forward. Kwasniewski’s careful treatment of the history of the Mass and due attention to the mode of its celebration reveals not only his deep love for the Mass, but also the critical importance of the theology, spirituality, and culture embodied in the ancient Roman Rite. Each of these chapters in themselves are worth pondering over and meditating, in such a way that both our knowledge and our love increases for the ancient Rite.
First, how does Kwasniewski’s book increase our knowledge about the traditional Roman Rite? One of his great themes is that the ancient Roman Rite has slowly and organically developed over many centuries, whereas the Mass of Paul VI was a very quick change, and thus, we are now experiencing the problems associated with such a change. In the chapter entitled, “Different Visions, Contrary Paths,” on the differences between Benedictine and Jesuit theology of liturgy, Kwasniewski explains, “It is a fact of history that the liturgy changes over time, it develops, but this it usually does slowly, absorbing surrounding influences in an organic process” (p. 120). Furthermore,
The essence of the liturgy was there from the beginning, as the oak tree in the acorn, but the fullness of its expression, the richness of its meaning and beauty, took many centuries to unfold before the eyes of Christian man, until he could behold the tree in all its glory and majesty, and taste the sweetness of its fruits most abundantly (p. 121).
Liturgy is meant to develop slowly, and the Novus Ordo was a sudden change to a liturgy that remained practically unchanged for 500 years. This theme, which is spread throughout the book, helps readers to understand why it is so critical to the spiritual life to attend the ancient Roman Rite—not only because it offers the fullness of the Church’s liturgical tradition, but also because it is the Mass of Ages, for it is the Mass of the vast multitude of the saints.
Kwasniewski is not only concerned with increasing our knowledge about the liturgy. He also desires that our love for and commitment to the ancient Roman Rite increases. Citing what he calls “Mosebach’s Paradox,” he writes, “The more circumstances compel me to become an armchair expert in the nature, structure, and history of the sacred liturgy, the more inclined I am to become a spectator and critic when I assist at Mass” (p. 170). There are many traditionalists who have faced this problem before, most especially when attending the Novus Ordo Mass. For this reason, Kwasniewski says,
If we can do it, if the conditions of our life allow for it, we ought to make a decisive break with pluralism, excessive variety, options galore, speaking out of both sides of our mouths, juggling with both hands, and give ourselves simply, completely, and bravely to the traditional worship of the Catholic Church (p. 171).
If this prospect seemed frightening before reading Kwasniewski’s book, his words and wisdom reveal that it is certainly possible, and not just possible, but also the best option for a Catholic who desires to live in the fullness of the Church’s liturgical tradition.
What is the future of the traditional Roman Rite? Kwasniewski does not mince words when he writes,
As long as the Novus Ordo and the usus antiquior co-exist, they are a standing challenge to one another, and they could not not be…Either the philosophy of Summorum Pontificum will bridge the enormous abyss between the two forms by bringing the modern Roman Rite into a more obvious harmony with the preceding liturgical tradition, or we will see over time a dramatic intensification of internecine conflicts (p. 163).
Something that becomes obvious by reading Kwasniewski’s book is that there is a disconnect between the ancient Roman Rite and the Mass of Paul VI. These two forms cannot continue to exist as they are, and Kwasniewski is very much in favor of a return to the traditional liturgical practices of the Church—bringing back what we have lost. While in the final chapter he explains that we can never simply “go back,” but rather must continue to move forward, he firmly supports the revival of ancient Church practices in order to continue with the project of the New Evangelization. After all, if someone discovers he is walking in the wrong direction, the most sensible thing is for him to turn around, retrace his steps, and head in the right direction. Even since the publication of Benedict XVI’s motu proprio, the liturgy of the Church remains under attack—forces within the Church are insistent on driving people back to the celebration of the liturgy as it was in the 1970’s; they are even insistent on practices that are opposed to the Council Fathers themselves. With this continued attack on the liturgy, Kwasniewski’s words could not be timelier. We need to be constantly aware of the juxtaposition between the Old Rite and the New Rite, and how reconciliation and mutual enrichment of the two forms is still far from our reach.
In summary, Dr. Peter Kwasniewski’s book is for those who are passionate about the ancient traditions of the Church and for those who are desiring to learn more about them in a Church that is being removed more and more from her traditional practices and teachings. This book offers nourishment and encouragement for those who are becoming discouraged by the onslaught of attacks and opposition. Fundamentally, this book is for the “remnant,” as described by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger—the remnant of the Church that will adhere to her traditional teachings and continue to uphold them even when everyone else ignores them or persecutes those who adhere to them. May Kwasniewski’s book be a source of strength in continuing the fight for the Church’s ancient liturgy and in keeping the Faith.