Misrepresentation of Mediator Dei, Sacrosanctum Concilium, and Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI

Part Two of a response to Cavadini, Healy, and Weinandy's critique of the traditional Latin Mass.

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...
Part I in this series identified several errors and misinterpretations made by Cavadini, Healy, and Weinandy (CHW) in their critique of the traditional Latin Mass (TLM). This second essay shows that CHW erroneously claim that Pope Pius XII’s encyclical Mediator Dei demonstrates that he would have supported the Novus Ordo (NO) and that they fail to show that the NO fails to follow the directives of Sacrosanctum Concilium and makes changes never called for by Vatican II. It also touches upon the meaning of “active participation.” Finally, CHW seem to have little knowledge of or appreciation of Cardinal Ratzinger’s defense of the TLM.

Very misleading is CHW’s claim that Pius XII’s encyclical Mediator Dei (1947) is “the highest magisterial endorsement of the liturgical renewal as found at that time.” The fact is it can hardly qualify at all as an endorsement of the whole of the Liturgical Movement; rather, it approves only a few recommendations of the Liturgical Movement (basically, a greater participation in the responses, prayers, and hymns) but overall is a vibrant endorsement of the TLM, which had regularly incorporated organic and appropriate changes. There is certainly no call in MD for a new rite of Mass. Indeed, for the most part, MD rejects the very changes the NO makes. 

Consider this early passage in MD: 

We observe with considerable anxiety and some misgiving, that elsewhere certain enthusiasts, over-eager in their search for novelty, are straying beyond the path of sound doctrine and prudence. Not seldom, in fact, they interlard their plans and hopes for a revival of the sacred liturgy with principles which compromise this holiest of causes in theory or practice, and sometimes even taint it with errors touching Catholic faith and ascetical doctrine. (§8)

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily

Email subscribe inline (#4)

Indeed, CHW seriously misinterpret MD in respect to the meaning of the following passage:

Ancient usage must not be esteemed more suitable and proper, either in its own right or in its significance for later times and new situations, on the simple ground that it carries the savor or aroma of antiquity. The more recent liturgical rites likewise deserve reverence and respect. They too owe their inspiration to the Holy Spirit, who assists the Church in every age even to the consummation of the world. They are equally resources used by the majestic Spouse of Jesus Christ to promote and procure the sanctity of men. (§61) 

On this, CHW comment: “Pius XII thus acknowledges the need to venerate the ancient liturgies. Yet he insists that contemporary rites likewise deserve respect and reverence, for they too are inspired by the Holy Spirit and so freshly foster the sanctity of the faithful.”

Pius XII’s reference to “ancient liturgies,” however, is not to the TLM, which had developed much in the Middle Ages and into the Baroque period, but rather to those who think we need to go back to the earliest days of the Church to discover true liturgy (a notable tendency of some in the liturgical movement).

His reference to “more recent liturgical rites” is to the so-called “Tridentine” form of the TLM, against which some antiquarians objected. Contra CHW, he is not (prospectively) endorsing the novelties of the NO. As mentioned, he wrote against many of the key elements of the NO (see below). While MD is open to modifications in the liturgy there is no hint that there is some “desperate” need for change. Rather it states:

From time immemorial the ecclesiastical hierarchy has exercised this right in matters liturgical. It has organized and regulated divine worship, enriching it constantly with new splendor and beauty, to the glory of God and the spiritual profit of Christians. What is more, it has not been slow—keeping the substance of the Mass and sacraments carefully intact—to modify what it deemed not altogether fitting, and to add what appeared more likely to increase the honor paid to Jesus Christ and the august Trinity, and to instruct and stimulate the Christian people to greater advantage. (§49, emphasis added)

Strikingly, several passages of MD speak disapprovingly of a whole host of practices, most of which are now a part of the NO: 

It has pained Us grievously to note, Venerable Brethren, that such innovations are actually being introduced, not merely in minor details but in matters of major importance as well. We instance, in point of fact, those who make use of the vernacular in the celebration of the august eucharistic sacrifice; those who transfer certain feast-days—which have been appointed and established after mature deliberation—to other dates; those, finally, who delete from the prayerbooks approved for public use the sacred texts of the Old Testament, deeming them little suited and inopportune for modern times. (§59, emphasis added)

And further: 

Thus, to cite some instances, one would be straying from the straight path were he to wish the altar restored to its primitive table form; were he to want black excluded as a color for the liturgical vestments; were he to forbid the use of sacred images and statues in churches; were he to order the crucifix so designed that the divine Redeemer’s body shows no trace of His cruel sufferings; and lastly were he to disdain and reject polyphonic music or singing in parts, even where it conforms to regulations issued by the Holy See. (§62, emphasis added) 

A complaint CHW make against the TLM is that they think it does not sufficiently reflect the participation of the laity in the priesthood of Christ. Pius XII in MD makes it very clear that he thinks the TLM very adequately gives full recognition to this truth. While the priest, as an ordained minister, is the principal celebrant of the Eucharistic sacrifice, he does so in communion with and on behalf of the faithful, for “they participate, according to their condition, in the priesthood of Christ” (§88; see also §92).

Pius is “very pleased to learn that this teaching, thanks to a more intense study of the liturgy on the part of many, especially in recent years, has been given full recognition” (§94). This passage is cited by CHW in service of stating that Pius XII found a need for serious changes in the liturgy. On the contrary, MD praises the existing liturgical rites of the Church, lists positive developments that had already occurred, and, as we shall see, speaks against changes that eventually do appear in the NO.

These remarks, taken together with many other statements of Pius XII on behalf of liturgical tradition (such as Musicam Sacram’s lavish praise of Gregorian chant), do not at all amount to a ringing endorsement of the “reform” of the Mass that CHW imagine they find in MD.

Pius XII and John Paul II on Active Participation

A major point raised in defense of the NO is that it requires more “active participation” on the part of the laity. The meaning of “active participation” has always been a matter of considerable controversy—there is a very respected line of interpretation that does not put the emphasis on exterior action or movement but which emphasizes complete internal concentration on the part of the worshippers whereby they internally unite themselves with Christ in His mysteries, above all in His redemptive sacrifice. MD describes active participation in this way:

It is therefore desirable, Venerable Brethren, that all the faithful should be aware that to participate in the eucharistic sacrifice is their chief duty and supreme dignity, and that not in an inert and negligent fashion, giving way to distractions and day-dreaming, but with such earnestness and concentration that they may be united as closely as possible with the High Priest, according to the Apostle, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” And together with Him and through Him let them make their oblation, and in union with Him let them offer up themselves. (§80)

As is clear from the adjacent paragraphs of MD, Pius XII finds nothing in the TLM that prohibits or discourages such active participation; rather, he is simply identifying the usual human frailties that impede active participation: a propensity to scattered thoughts, a sad lack of understanding about what is really happening on the altar, and an unworthiness to receive. It is by no means clear that these frailties will be or could be absent from any liturgy, no matter how “reformed”; how many of us have experienced the “in one ear, out the other” effect of the bland NO liturgies we attend?

There is no doubt that MD promotes a liturgy that involves a greater active participation of the congregation, but no indication is given that anything in the inherited liturgy needs to be significantly modified to bring that about. Rather, it asks priests to instruct the laity in the deeper meaning of the Mass and to invite them to give the responses to prayers and to sing the chants and hymns.

Of considerable interest is an ad limina address Pope John Paul II gave in 1998 on the meaning of “active participation,” which is cited selectively by CHW: 

Active participation certainly means that, in gesture, word, song and service, all the members of the community take part in an act of worship, which is anything but inert or passive. Yet active participation does not preclude the active passivity of silence, stillness and listening: indeed, it demands it. Worshippers are not passive, for instance, when listening to the readings or the homily, or following the prayers of the celebrant, and the chants and music of the liturgy. These are experiences of silence and stillness, but they are in their own way profoundly active. In a culture which neither favors nor fosters meditative quiet, the art of interior listening is learned only with difficulty. Here we see how the liturgy, though it must always be properly inculturated, must also be counter-cultural. 1

What is of interest is that Pope John Paul II clearly states that being silent and still, receptive to what the liturgy itself is presenting to us, can well be conducive to “active participation,” since those being silent can more easily have a consciousness of the meaning of what is happening in the Mass—which is at the heart of “active participation.” Testimonials published not only online but in major newspaper stories that followed Traditionis Custodes verify that this is in fact the lived experience of TLM attendees.2

Misrepresentation of Sacrosanctum Concilium

We saw previously that CHW make use of Pius XII’s Mediator Dei in a selective and misleading manner. Their treatment of Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium likewise involves numerous misrepresentations. Their insistence that the NO is what was called for by Vatican II, has repeatedly been shown to be demonstrably false.3  

Many Catholics are stunned to learn that Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC) did not call for a “new rite” and that much of what makes the NO distinctive was not called for by SC—elements that, as we saw above—were soundly rejected by Pius XII. Indeed, SC itself speaks of “preserving and fostering” all lawfully acknowledged rites: 

In faithful obedience to tradition, the sacred Council declares that holy Mother Church holds all lawfully acknowledged rites to be of equal right and dignity; that she wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way. The Council also desires that, where necessary, the rites be revised carefully in the light of sound tradition, and that they be given new vigor to meet the circumstances and needs of modern times. (§4, emphasis added)

Astonishingly, CHW acknowledge that the Council Fathers had no anticipation that the TLM would be replaced—on this point they are very right—it seems to undercut badly the claim that the NO is what SC wanted.

It is crucial to recognize that the Council Fathers never thought in terms of rescinding the Tridentine Mass, precisely because it was that rite that they were revising and rejuvenating. If they had suppressed the old rite, it would mean that they were creating an entirely new rite. They would then be employing a hermeneutic of discontinuity. Rather, they were engaging in a strong hermeneutic of continuity: the old rite was to continue in a revised form. Because of this hermeneutic of continuity, they never considered the possibility of the unrevised rite continuing to be celebrated. Such an option would have never entered their minds. For the Council, the revised Eucharistic liturgy would simply be the Roman rite of the Catholic Church. (my emphasis)

It is hard to maintain that the NO is what Vatican II called for when it never called for a new rite. Changes were to be made to the TLM, but the changes were to be relatively minor. Those familiar with the development of the TLM know that many changes had been made through the ages, but the changes were organic and never significantly changed the liturgy; for instance, prayers were added and removed (at one time there were 267 prefaces!). The NO, on the other hand, can hardly be described as a revision of the TLM; rather it is manifestly discontinuous with the previous liturgy, as numerous studies have shown.4

No one denies that there are aspects characteristic of the NO that were called for by SC—most importantly, the call for increased participation of the faithful: “…the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes. And at the proper times all should observe a reverent silence” (§30). But the fathers at Vatican II thought those changes could become a part of the TLM, with its existing content.

In fact, while an official “reform” of the TLM never happened, some of the reforms that were requested have spontaneously happened and others could be easily enough incorporated into the TLM. At most of the TLMs I attend, the congregation joins in many of the responses, sings the hymns, and usually the Gloria, the Creed, the Sanctus, the Agnus Dei, and the Asperges as well. Additional readings could be added to the missal for the unimpeded weekdays of Advent and Paschaltide.

(Oddly, in some of the NO Masses I attend, there is very little participation on the part of the congregation in the singing of the hymns, which I suspect is a product of the quality of the hymns and of the musicianship.) 

The claim that the NO is a legitimate instantiation of the reforms called for by VII in SC will not fool those who have compared the list of changes made in the NO with the TLM: the NO fails to include elements called for in SC, and has many elements never dreamed of by the fathers of Vatican II. For example, SC required that when Mass was partly offered in the vernacular, Latin would still be retained, and that Gregorian chant would be the norm as well as polyphony.

Elements that appear in the NO that were not called for in SC:

  1. Communion received while standing and in the hand 
  2. Mass offered versus populum
  3. No communion rail
  4. Lay readers (including children) and lay Eucharistic ministers
  5. Secularization of vessels, vestments, architecture, and music
  6. Disappearance of Latin
  7. Disappearance of Gregorian Chant and polyphony
  8. Significantly changed Mass Propers
  9. New calendar
  10. The omission of biblical texts believed to be offensive to moderns

Not only were many of these changes not called for by SC, many do not even appear in the sacramentary for the NO. For instance, no official mandate was given for the priest to say the Mass versus populum, for the removal of the communion rail, or for reception of the Eucharist in the hand. It seems the NO brings with it a spirit of novelty that invites even unmandated changes. 

The fact is that a “reform” of the TLM never happened. Instead, there was a chaotic period of time in the mid-sixties when a vernacular version of the old missal, essentially the word-by-word translation that was in the bilingual missals, appeared virtually overnight. Other changes were made in the years to follow, such as eliminating the prayers at the altar and the final gospel. And in 1969, with little to no warning, a new rite was imposed upon the faithful and the TLM was nearly completely suppressed.  The fact is that a “reform” of the TLM never happened…In 1969, with little to no warning, a new rite was imposed upon the faithful and the TLM was nearly completely suppressed. Tweet This

I occasionally ask attendees of the NO what they would do if the NO were suppressed overnight and the only liturgy made available to them were a radically different replacement, such as the TLM; would they readily accept that? The response I get is usually a stunned silence: they tend to think it is not possible.

But a brutal change like that happened in 1969. Millions left the Church since they believed not just a new rite but a new religion (in a way) had been imposed upon them. Paul VI’s description of what happened as representing a “new epoch” in the Church (address of November 19, 1969) as well as calls by theologians for changes in doctrine suggests their impressions were not completely unfounded.

We know that faithful, priests, and religious were already leaving the Church or their states in life before 1969, but the instability the Church was experiencing was not in any way steadied or reversed and, in fact, seem to have been exacerbated by major liturgical changes. Those who left often remarked poignantly that “The Church left me; I didn’t leave the Church.”

Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI on the Liturgy

CHW also attempt to enlist Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI as an ally in their attempt to promote the NO. But the evidence is overwhelming that he favored the TLM. He certainly did not believe that the guidance of the Holy Spirit was lacking in the composition of the TLM, and he never indicates that the TLM is theologically flawed; in fact, there is considerable evidence that he considered the TLM to be a superior liturgy.

He was greatly disturbed by the “man-made” origin of the NO and repeatedly over time expressed that it was wrong to suppress the TLM.5 Indeed, he expressed the desire that the TLM be offered wherever laity expressed a desire for it. He spoke of the TLM as a “juridical right,” not a privilege.6  

It is shocking that CHW never mention the extraordinary book The Spirit of the Liturgy, written in 1999 when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, let alone use the principles he identifies there as those that should guide our worship.7 The articles would be very different had the authors employed the principles of that text. For instance, he speaks very strongly against the priest praying versus populum

[A]fter the Council (which says nothing about “turning toward the people”) new altars were set up everywhere, and today celebration versus populum really does look like the characteristic fruit of Vatican II’s liturgical renewal. In fact it is the most conspicuous consequence of a reordering that not only signifies a new external arrangement of the places dedicated to the liturgy, but also brings with it a new idea of the essence of the liturgy—the liturgy as a communal meal. Ratzinger, Spirit of the Liturgy, 77

Ratzinger laments the results of this change: 

In reality what happened was that an unprecedented clericalization came on the scene. Now the priest—the “presider,” as they now prefer to call him—becomes the real point of reference for the whole liturgy. Everything depends on him. We have to see him, to respond to him, to be involved in what he is doing. His creativity sustains the whole thing. Not surprisingly, people try to reduce this newly created role by assigning all kinds of liturgical functions to different individuals and ​​entrusting the “creative” planning of the liturgy to groups of people who like to, and are supposed to, “make their own contribution.” Less and less is God in the picture. More and more important is what is done by the human beings who meet here and do not like to subject themselves to a “pre-determined pattern.” The turning of the priest toward the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle. In its outward form, it no longer opens out on what lies ahead and above, but is closed in on itself.8 Ratzinger, Spirit of the Liturgy, 79–80.

This is what Ratzinger says about having the altar, priest, and congregation, oriented toward the east:

[A] common turning to the east during the Eucharistic Prayer remains essential. This is not a case of something accidental, but of what is essential. Looking at the priest has no importance. What matters is looking together at the Lord. It is not now a question of dialogue but of common worship, of setting off toward the One who is to come. What corresponds with the reality of what is happening is not the closed circle but the common movement forward, expressed in a common direction for prayer. Ratzinger, Spirit of the Liturgy, 81.

CHW make mention of the appropriateness of the orientation of the priest but do not consider views such as those of Ratzinger. This is a serious omission since the orientation of the priest is one of the most distinctive differences between the TLM and the NO (indeed, its own rubrics, almost universally ignored, are favorable to the ad orientem orientation).9 Clearly Ratzinger thought it an issue of the greatest importance.

CHW speak of Benedict as “generously accommodat[ing]” the TLM and characterize those who welcomed the renewed availability of the TLM as “exploiting Pope Benedict’s benevolence for its own agenda of proselytizing others to their liturgical cause,” claiming that “the more radical elements in the movement have, unfortunately, undercut Benedict’s wish that there be no division in the Church.”

It is a serious distortion of the text and tone of Summorum Pontificum to speak of it as an “accommodation.” Rather, he is clearly restoring a liturgy that he maintains should never have been denied the faithful who find in it—as he says “young persons” do—“an encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist particularly suited to them.”10

Indeed, he says that “what earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.”11 Certainly he hoped there would be no division between devotees of the two forms of worship, but it is not at all clear he would hold the devotees of the TLM as responsible for whatever divisions have come to exist. Language used by CHW such as “exploiting Pope Benedict’s benevolence for its own agenda of proselytizing others to their liturgical cause” certainly does more to foment division than to overcome tensions.

Anyone familiar with The Spirit of the Liturgy would never characterize Benedict as an opponent of the TLM or an enthusiast for the NO as it was developed and implemented. What he said about the TLM and the NO made it likely that he would have been very unhappy with Traditionis Custodes, and we have some strong evidence that he was: Archbishop Gänswein, Pope Benedict’s assistant for decades, stated, “I believe it broke Pope Benedict’s heart to read [Traditionis Custodes]…”12

Articles in this Series:

Part I: Sacrificing Beauty and Other Errors (February 6, 2023)
Part II: Misrepresentation of Mediator DeiSacrosanctum Concilium, and Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI (February 13, 2023)
Part III: The Genesis of the Novus Ordo and “Theological and Spiritual Flaws” of the TLM (February 20, 2023)
Part IV: Unity, Charismatic Masses, and Africa (February 27, 2023)
Part V: Mischaracterization of the TLM, Then and Now (March 6, 2023)


  • Janet E. Smith

    Janet E. Smith, Ph.D., is a retired professor of moral theology.

  1. Interestingly, among other omissions, CHW fail to mention the pope’s assertion that attentive listening on the part of the faithful “are in their own way profoundly active.”
  2. For examples of testimonials, see “Teenager’s TLM Testimony (Part 1),” Unam Sanctam Catholicam; “‘O Beauty Ever Ancient Ever New!’ Teenager’s TLM Testimony (Part 2),” Unam Sanctam Catholicam; David Mills, “What I Saw When I Went to a Traditional Latin Mass,” National Catholic Register, September 22, 2021; Jeremiah Bannister, “Atheists Find God at the Latin Mass: A Review of Mass of the Ages”; “An Ex-Muslim’s Impressions of the Traditional Mass,” Rorate Caeli, September 2, 2022; Jim Graves, “Finding What Should Never Have Been Lost: Priests and the Extraordinary Form,” Catholic World Report, August 19, 2014; Ever Ancient, Ever New: Why Younger Generations Are Embracing Traditional Catholicism, ed. David Dashiell (Gastonia, NC: TAN Books, 2022). Similar articles have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Washington Times, among other major papers.
  3. There is copious literature on this subject. See, for some examples, Robert W. Shaffern, “The Mass According to Vatican II,” The Catholic Thing, July 10, 2022; Joseph Shaw, “Vatican II on Liturgical Preservation,” LMS Chairman, January 17, 2017; Cardinal Alfons Maria Stickler, “Recollections of a Vatican II Peritus,” New Liturgical Movement, June 29, 2022; Peter Kwasniewski, “Is Your Liturgy Like What Vatican II Intended?,” New Liturgical Movement, December 4, 2013; Alcuin Reid, “The Liturgy, Fifty Years after Sacrosanctum Concilium,” Catholic World Report, December 4, 2013; Alcuin Reid, “Does Traditionis Custodes Pass Liturgical History 101?,” Catholic World Report, December 18, 2021; Peter Kwasniewski, “Sacrosanctum Concilium: The Ultimate Trojan Horse,” Crisis Magazine, June 21, 2021.
  4. See, inter alia, Aidan Nichols, Looking at the Liturgy: A Critical View of Its Contemporary Form (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996); László Dobszay, The Restoration and Organic Development of the Roman Rite (London/New York: T&T Clark, 2010); Anthony Cekada, Work of Human Hands: A Theological Critique of the Mass of Paul VI (West Chester, OH: Philothea Press, 2010); Lauren Pristas, The Collects of the Roman Missals: A Comparative Study of the Sundays in Proper Seasons Before and After the Second Vatican Council (London/New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013); Matthew Hazell, Index Lectionum: A Comparative Table of Readings for the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite (N.p.: Lectionary Study Aids, 2016); Michael Fiedrowicz, The Traditional Mass: History, Form, and Theology of the Classical Roman Rite (Brooklyn: Angelico Press, 2020); Peter Kwasniewski, The Once and Future Roman Rite: Returning to the Traditional Latin Liturgy after Seventy Years of Exile (Gastonia, NC: TAN Books, 2022). This partial list covers a period of 28 years; CHW seem to be unaware of any of this relevant literature.
  5. For a list of statements by Ratzinger on the TLM and the NO, see Peter Kwasniewski, “Best Quotes on the Liturgy by Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI,” New Liturgical Movement, Tuesday, April 19, 2022.
  6.  Shawn Tribe, “Full text of Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos address to the Latin Mass Society,” New Liturgical Movement, June 16, 2008.
  7. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, trans. John Saward (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2014).
  8. It should be noted that Ratzinger quotes Bouyer at this point as one who adamantly supports ad orientem on the basis of all known records and for theological reasons.
  9. See Peter Kwasniewski, “The Normativity of Ad Orientem Worship According to the Ordinary Form’s Rubrics,” New Liturgical Movement, November 23, 2015.
  10. Benedict XVI, Con Grande Fiducia (letter to the bishops of the world on the occasion of the publication of Summorum Pontificum).
  11. Ibid.
  12. See the relevant passage from Archbishop Gänswein’s book, translated and posted at Rorate Caeli on January 10, 2023. For the video clip and a full translation of the pertinent section, see here.

Join the Conversation

in our Telegram Chat

Or find us on

Editor's picks

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Signup to receive new Crisis articles daily

Email subscribe stack
Share to...