Unity, Charismatic Masses, and Africa

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

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The third essay in this series reviewed some of the difficulties attendant upon the genesis of the Novus Ordo (NO). It also challenged that claim of Cavadini, Healy, and Weinandy (CHW) that the traditional Latin Mass (TLM) was theologically flawed and that the Holy Spirit has clearly shown a preference for the NO. This essay shows the flaws in the claims of CHW that the NO (which adopts the non-unifying feature of using the vernacular of all nations and allows many interior options) works as a unifying force in the Church. It raises the question of why CHW do not make the same objections they make against the TLM against other legitimate rites. It shows that some of the objections made by CHW against the TLM are truer of some celebrations of the NO, especially those of the Charismatic movement. It challenges the claim that the NO has been the cause of the lively faith in some parts of Africa.

The view that abrogation of the TLM and exclusive adoption of the NO is the path to unity is prima facie a claim hard to defend. The fact is that the NO by its very nature works against unity in that all language groups have their own vernacular liturgy—whereas having Latin be the universal language of the Church is a powerful unifying feature of the Mass.

The fact that the NO has many approved Eucharistic prayers, a variety of options, and even opportunities in the rubrics for extemporized comments makes the content of Masses different from Mass to Mass. And, of course, the “styles” of the priests who say the NO can be radically different, from devout adherence to the rubrics and a dignified and reverent demeanor, to the master of ceremony of an event, who ad libs as he considers suitable. Yes, the second is a regrettable deviation from what the NO should be, but it is not an uncommon reality, and one wonders if such deviations can ever be eliminated.

The Church, in fact, tolerates and even welcomes different liturgies. The Latin-rite in the Western Church has seen multiple liturgical rites (such as Roman, Ambrosian, Mozarabic) and “uses” (such as Dominican, Carthusian, Praemonstratensian, Cistercian) and has had them for centuries; for some reason it is only the TLM—the most ancient and most distinguished of all Western rites—that CHW deems divisive.

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The Church permits diversity of many kinds—there are a large number of “spiritualities” and communities—Dominican, Franciscan, Carmelite, etc., and such diversity is celebrated as meeting the various needs of Catholics. And many of those, “arrogantly” but “humanly,” think their spirituality is the best. Should they be suppressed for that reason? Do CHW not want diversity? Or is it only the diversity provided by the TLM that they find unacceptable? It shares many features with other liturgies; consistency would require that they be discarded, too. Have CHW really thought through the full implications of their position?

Other Rites

CHW readily and rightfully acknowledge that the experience of the NO has been chaotic and, in fact, full of abuses. Nonetheless, there is the sense throughout the articles that the NO is a product of the movement of the Holy Spirit and that the demise of the TLM is something that the Holy Spirit desires. Indeed, CHW makes this claim: “The liturgical movement thus needs to be acknowledged as an authentic work of the Spirit for the benefit of Christ’s Church. It was not free from weaknesses and errors, as Pius XII acknowledged, yet it cannot be denied that the Holy Spirit was guiding sinful and fallible people—the only kind he had to work with—to undertake this renewal that was desperately needed for the good of the Catholic faithful.” I find nothing in the article that warrants such a high estimation of the liturgical movement or that the renewal was “desperately needed for the good of the Catholic faithful.”

When CHW state: “The Church’s tradition, of which the liturgy is a constitutive element, is not frozen in time but is a living tradition that develops with the help of the Holy Spirit, in fidelity to the deposit of faith,” they imply that the TLM has been frozen in time. That is a completely insupportable claim. Indeed, as we saw above, Mediator Dei presents a long list of changes that have been made to the TLM over the ages, and it is still undergoing changes; after all, very recently new prefaces have been added as well as rules governing the honoring of saints more recently canonized.1

Alexander Battista’s thoughtful response to the CHW series2 does not deny that the NO is the work of the Holy Spirit, but he expresses disbelief that CHW can suggest that the Holy Spirit could allow a “less adequate ecclesiology,” as they put it, and “a rite [which] undermines the doctrine that the ordained priesthood is ordered to the service of the baptismal priesthood of the faithful,” to develop and be utilized for over a millennium? To hold such an opinion of the supposed deleterious effects of the TLM upon the faithful is in direct contradiction of the orthodox teaching of Pope Pius XII. As we have seen before, in his 1947 encyclical Mediator Dei, the Holy Father states the following:

The more recent liturgical rites [i.e., the Gregorian/Tridentine Rite, as compared with the ancient rites prized by the antiquarians about whom Pius XII is speaking here] 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 the resources used by the majestic Spouse of Jesus Christ to promote and procure the sanctity of man. (§61)

The author also finds the position of CHW to be an insult to Eastern Catholic liturgies which share so many fundamental features of the TLM, the very features CHW disparage, such as use of a sacred language, a one-year cycle of Biblical readings, worship ad orientem, and the prominence of the priest in the liturgy, to the exclusion of lay ministries. Moreover, the confection of the Eucharist in some rites takes place in a sanctuary altogether closed off from the laity’s view (and, a fortiori, from their entrance into it). Again, do CHW want these liturgies abolished also? If not, why not?

Idiosyncratic: More So Than Charismatics?

CHW repeatedly express a dislike of the attitude of some of those who attend the TLM and believe it to be a major source of disunity in the Church. Undoubtedly some few are arrogant, but newcomers rarely find such individuals to be representative of the congregation. Even if that were the case, however, it is hard to believe that the authors would deny everyone the TLM, both now and in the future, because of the faults of some of the current attendees, who are a small percentage of the small percentage that attend the TLM. It has often been said that Vatican II’s Nostra Aetate once and for all eliminated the concept of “collective guilt” from the Church’s mentality, but sadly it seems to have reappeared in the treatment of TLM-loving Catholics, who are to be held collectively responsible for their weaker brethren.

One of the several uncharitable characterizations of the TLM attendees is that they have chosen the TLM because this allows them to worship with a “self-selected group of enthusiasts who share the same ideal.” CHW observe: “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.”

These are painfully judgmental statements. Most people have strong preferences in liturgy and want to worship with like-minded individuals in a church which has the pastor, music, and fellowship they prefer—few like to attend even neighboring parishes. A Charismatic parish in Ann Arbor has tremendous allegiance among its attendees. Charismatics are definitely a “self-selected group of like-minded” individuals in the Church. The members have often moved their families from distant places to be close to the Mass and community. But to other devout Catholics, the Charismatic liturgies are often off-putting.

For instance, Charismatics break out into “tongues” during the liturgy and wave their arms in the air. (Do the rubrics permit that?) Are not those practices divisive? Do Charismatics love the Charismatic Mass more than they love Jesus? More than the Church? Some Charismatics take as their a priori that whatever advances the Charismatic movement is good and whatever impedes it is bad. They are confident that the Holy Spirit is behind all things Charismatic. So confident that they feel no need to acquaint themselves with the meaning of the TLM through reading qualified scholars or by attending the TLM over a period of time with an open mind to experiencing what it has to offer. 

Not all Charismatics are hostile to the TLM: many, who found a safe haven in the Charismatic movement from the doctrinal madness that the Catholic Church has experienced for decades, have discovered the TLM. They continue to find orthodoxy, but now in worship as well as in doctrine.3

CHW observe “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.” Yet, can’t the same be said of some Charismatics who often identify as just that—“Charismatics,” and some of those even feel a greater affinity for Pentecostalism than for Catholicism?

Some Charismatics give the impression that those who have been “baptized” in the Spirit are more fully Christian than those who have not—indeed, that they have special access to the Holy Spirit. CHW state that “[Latin Mass goers] become an idiosyncratic liturgical camp within the Church.” Some would certainly characterize Charismatics as such, as well as other groups such as the Neocatechumate movement.

CHW suggest that the TLM community does not sufficiently submit to “duly constituted authority,” which has been a problem of other groups in the Church; indeed, several Charismatic communities have had to be reined in by local authorities. 

As the old saying has it, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Either the Holy Spirit desires a diversity of charisms in the Church to the enrichment of all—in which case there is plenty of room for both Charismatics and traditionalists—or we all need to adopt one monolithically uniform program of life and worship.

African Exceptionalism?

CHW also draw dubious conclusions from their observations: “Across the continent of Africa, for example, celebrations of the Mass that are both vibrant and reverent attract thousands of people to the Church.” The assessment of Mass in Africa as “vibrant and reverent” matches my very limited experience of worship in Africa, but I am not at all certain that it is these celebrations rather than Christ Himself who draws people to the Church or that their claim is true “across the continent of Africa.”4 

We must note that before the imposition of the NO, it was the TLM that served marvelously to convert Africans to Catholicism in the first place. I suspect anyone visiting their Masses then would have found them full of reverence and joy.5

It seems fair to note that Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre was a missionary in Africa from 1932–1959 and oversaw an astonishing spread of Catholicism in the regions of Africa for which he was responsible, which came to include twelve archdioceses, thirty-six dioceses, and thirteen Italian Apostolic Prefectures. Africans, just like everyone else on the globe, have been denied something that had already been an appreciated part of their Catholic heritage. The several flourishing TLM parishes currently in Africa, especially in Nigeria and Gabon, suggest that African Catholics too, like so many in the West, might flock to the TLM were it made more available to them. 

Here it is not inopportune to mention that the notion of an “inculturated” African-style liturgy was not the work of Africans themselves but of European experts who imagined in their classrooms how their southern brethren might best be served.6

Lastly, any honest examination of the state of Catholicism in the “global south” must include reference to the fact that, while Catholicism is growing in absolute numbers due to population growth, Protestant and Pentecostal sects are experiencing much higher rates of growth—and tragically, attracting fallen-away Catholics into their numbers. This does not sound like an unmitigated “success story.”7

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. See Peter Kwasniewski, “Vatican Issues Two Decrees: More Prefaces and Recent Saints in the TLM,” OnePeterFive, March 25, 2020.
  2. See Alexander Battista, “Church Life Journal Insults Eastern Liturgies with Amateur Scholarship,” OnePeterFive, November 19, 2022.
  3. On why some Charismatics now attend the TLM and see its benefits, see Clement J. Harrold, “Tradismatic Trentecostalism,” First Things, March 2022, and Peter Kwasniewski’s lecture at Steubenville, “Why Charismatic Catholics Should Love the Traditional Latin Mass,” Rorate Caeli, October 7, 2020.
  4. This somewhat dated report shows that although the number of Catholics is growing across Africa (very unevenly), it is not doing so at the same rate as the population as a whole. It also shows that the reception of the sacraments is falling off. Cathy Lynn Grossman, “More Catholics, Fewer Receiving Sacraments, a New Report Maps a Changing Church,” Religion News Service, June 1, 2015.
  5. For a fuller response to the claim that Vatican II is the cause of the vibrancy of Catholic worship in some places in Africa, see Peter Kwasniewski, “Mythbusting: ‘African Catholicism is a Vatican II Success Story,” New Liturgical Movement, January 23, 2023.
  6. See the exhaustive research presented in the article “Inculturation: A Wrong Turn,” New Liturgical Movement, published in five parts, August–September 2022 and available in a single PDF here.
  7. Interestingly, the growth rate of Catholicism in Africa was proportionately much higher prior to 1970—that is, at the tail end of the much-maligned “Tridentine” period: see the Pew Research Center, “Overview: Pentecostalism in Africa.”

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