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A short review of ‘Work of Human Hands’ October 17, 2012

Posted by Tantumblogo in Basics, Bible, Dallas Diocese, error, General Catholic, Latin Mass, Liturgy, North Deanery, Papa, scandals, Tradition, Virtue.

It has been a while since I finished Work of Human Hands, A Theological Critique of the Mass of Paul VI by Fr. Anthony Cekada.  That book caused a great deal of controversy in my life, only a bit of which made it’s way into public, because of Cekada’s sedevacantist views and my desire to interview him on my radio show.  In the end, I decided to cancel the already-scheduled interview, for personal reasons.  I received much contradictory advice from priests and others, it was a classic case of controversy, with some thinking it was OK to do the interview with others vehemently opposed.  I’ve had some time to reflect on that experience, and what I’ve read, and feel it’s time for a review of this seminal book.  I can say with certainty that the subject of sedevacantism never comes up in the book, not even slightly.

It is a shame Fr. Cekada is a sedevacantist, because he is a funny, funny man.  I almost never laugh out loud reading a book -I cannot recall having done so in many years – and yet, Fr. Cekada had me busting out laughing almost every time I read it.  It was not only an extremely informative book, it was highly entertaining.  Turning ~450 pages of writing on the Liturgy into something entertaining and even hilarious is not an easy thing to do.  I also got the impression from my interaction with him that Fr. Cekada is a kind and concerned man.  It is much the shame, then, that he has come to accept the views he has.  What an incredible asset to the Church he would be if he were within the fold, so to speak.

As for the book……..it’s fantastic.  I agree with Fr. Cekada on almost all points save for his primary conclusion, which is that the Novus Ordo Mass is invalid.  His supports for this conclusion are, to me, by far the weakest part of the book.  Cekada’s belief is that the changes made to the words of Consecration in the Mass mean it is invalidated, and he has some proofs for this, but I found them unconvincing.  Given his sedevacantist views, I am afraid this portion of the book – which is really a very small part of it, overall – is a conclusion looking for evidence.

As for the rest, it’s the most complete critique of the Novus Ordo Mass, and the theological beliefs of those who created it, I’ve ever readThis book deserves, nay demands, to be very widely read.  Even though the Church has, in Her wisdom, promulgated this Mass and it is fully valid, it is not above critique and criticism, especially as regards the means by which the Mass was fabricated, and the ideas of those who fabricated it.  When I think of how the Mass developed over centuries, with minor changes here and there gradually becoming the Traditional Latin Mass we know today, and then how that Mass remained unchanged for many further centuries, after it had reached a degree of perfection at the limits of human cooperation with Grace, it makes me gape in wonder at how the Novus Ordo was literally cobbled together in a couple of years by men with a massive ideological axe to grind. The sheer arrogance of the enterprise was amazing, that men would assume their brilliance was so extreme that they could not only obliterate the product of centuries of Saints and martyrs and other brilliant lights of the Church, but that they could so easily “improve” it, make it more suitable for “modern man,” is simply incredible.  The audacity is stunning.

The book goes into great depth looking at the three theological concepts that drove the creation of the Novus Ordo. In fact, the main premise of the book is that it is these concepts that have led to the manifest decline in faith and practice, and not the very many abuses of the Novus Ordo which abound (in fact, Cekada believes that many of the abuses are actually implied within the Novus Ordo itself). These concepts were something called assembly theology, ecumenism, and modernism.  Assembly theology is the horizontal plane of the cross, the excessive focus on the people and material concerns.  Wrapped up in this concept was an additional idea of multiple “Real Presences” in the Mass, undermining belief in the true Real Presence of Jesus Christ, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Blessed Sacrament.  Other “real presences” include the presence of Jesus Christ in the Word of God, the presence of Christ in each of us (assuming, of course, that we’re in a state of Grace?), the “presence” of Christ in the community as a whole, etc., etc.  This idea has had massive consequences, as we have seen belief in the true Real Presence collapse, so that only about 1/3 of Catholics at most now accept this core belief of the Faith.  Many changes were made for the sake of ecumenism, in an attempt to fabricate a liturgy that would be less offensive – as if this great Gift of God could ever be offensive! – to protestants.  In doing so, the developers of the New Mass succeeded brilliantly – in antagonizing the Orthodox, who view the New Mass very, very dimly.  The Orthodox rightly understand that the Liturgy is something that can only develop organically, if at all, which means by slow movements of the Holy Spirit and gradual changes over time.  This is nothing radical – the Holy Father himself has lamented how the Novus Ordo was fabricated in a couple of years in the late 60s, completely, totally inorganically.

Ecumenism and modernism were responsible for the removal of so much of what is very prevalent in the TLM, which is our fallen nature, our constant sinfulness, our incredible need for God’s Grace, the reality of individual/general judgment and Purgatory and hell, and our dire need to constantly supplicate God for forgiveness, for Grace, and for mercy.  Such concepts were almost totally excised from the Novus Ordo, as they were offensive both to protestants and to modernists.  Cekada goes through the changes, especially to the Propers, or changeable prayers, with great detail, showing how the pre-existing Propers, many of which were extremely ancient, were obliterated in the New Mass and replaced with nebulous, feel good statements.  But nothing was so reduced to nonexistence as the sacrificial nature of the Mass.  The constantly prevalent sacrificial overtones of the TLM were very carefully, very thoroughly removed from the Novus Ordo, and even the very definition of “sacrifice” when it is included in the New Mass, such as in the Orate Fratres (reinserted at good Cardinal Ottaviani’s insistence, it was originally gone, too), is different. For modernists love to redefine words, so that when a modernist says “the Mass is a Sacrifice,” the “sacrifice” he may be referring to is the “sacrifice” of the people presenting their gifts at the altar, or our participation in the Mass, etc.


Another point strongly made is how the Novus Ordo was the product of a very small group of people.  The same names come up repeatedly – the change agents, Cekada calls them – Bugnini, of course, Bouyer, Jungmann, and a few others. These men all held some very strange ideas, were thoroughly modernist, and laid the groundwork for the radical changes made to the Mass after Vatican II as long back as the 1920s.  Cekada gives the history of the movement that resulted in the Novus Ordo, describing how modernist theologians were driven “underground” by the incredibly holy Pope St. Pius X and switched interests to liturgy, where no one paid much attention to them.  By the 1950s, they were already practicing many of their novelties in Masses of dubious licitness (and this includes Pope Paul VI, then Msgr. Montini), with things like vernacular, vocal participation by the laity, Mass facing the people, lay involvement in the Consecration, etc.  This group – or cabal, if you will – had been biding their time, waiting for an opportunity to bring their vision for the Mass to reality. Vatican II provided that opportunity.

There is so much more……the manifest problems caused by replacing Latin with vernacular, the didactic nature of the new Mass where the laity are assumed to be idiots needing constant, child-like “explanation,” the hostility towards traditional forms of piety like the Rosary and Marian devotion in general, the removal of so many Sacramentals like genuflections and the Sign of the Cross, the emphasis on making the Mass more literally Scriptural*….I could go on for quite some time. I think this book is very important for every serious Catholic to read. Even if you have no attraction to the Traditional Latin Mass, but you see many problems in the Novus Ordo and want to know why, this book will answer your questions. Even if you love the Novus Ordo, this book is still extremely valuable for its detailed analysis, analysis that can point out the theological background for some of the excesses taken with the Novus Ordo and how to refute them.

A final note. Included in the book is commentary by the great Dom Prosper Gueranger, writing well before any of events described in the book.  Gueranger formulated, as a response to Jansenist elements still remaining in 19th century France, the idea of the anti-liturgical heresy.  This a heresy held by those who would obliterate the Mass of All Ages in order to achieve some perceived good, and Gueranger expounded that those who desired this radical change almost invariably held other, heretical beliefs.  You can read about it here, but Gueranger’s listing of the elements of the anti-liturgical heresy it is like a foreshadowing of the changes made in the 60s, formulated 100 years earlier:

  1. The rejection of tradition and changing the liturgy to make it conform to doctrinal or theological principles or teaching.
  2. Replacing texts composed by the Church by texts from the Scriptures. For example, the Introit Salve Sancta Parens in the Masses of Our Lady was abolished for this reason.
  3. Composing new texts to replace biblical texts when it suited the purpose of making liturgy follow theology.
  4. The illogical character of these changes: The desire to return to a primitive simplicity in the liturgy would become impossible when respect for the Tradition had been lost.
  5. The desire to find a rational explanation for every liturgical action. This is just what is called pastoral pragmatism by Pope Benedict XVI, an excessive desire to simplify the liturgy, leading to a loss of the sense of mystery.
  6. The “extinction of the quality of unction“. Here he means what we call the sense of the sacred. He found that the Jansenists were hostile to notions of “giddy piety” or “the blessed mutter of the Mass”.
  7. The diminution of veneration of Our Lady and the Saints. The Sanctoral was severely pruned back in favour of the temporal cycle in some of the eighteenth century neo-Gallican missals.
  8. The use of the vernacular language. Most of the Jansenist-reformed rites continued to be celebrated in Latin, like, for example, the Vintimille missal of the Archdiocese of Paris. The parish priest of Asnières, Jacques Jubé (1674-1745), favoured the vernacular as well as many other proposed reforms that inspired Bugnini in the twentieth century.
  9. The desire to shorten the prayer of the Church: In the desire for simplicity and practical functionalism, the tendency was to shorten the lengthy and onerous parts of the liturgy.

There is much more at the link.

Sorry for the very long post, but I’ve only touched on the great scope and detail of this extremely important book.  I strongly recommend all to read Work of Human Hands: A Theological Critique of the Mass of Paul VI.  I believe it is “safe” for all to read, keeping in mind that Fr. Cekada, aside from his thorough analysis of the theological basis of the Novus Ordo, does hold some beliefs which are radical and, in effect, place him outside the Church.  This endorsement, then, is only of the work itself, and not of all the beliefs held by the author. And I should also clarify, that when Fr. Cekada makes claims about how the Mass affects the faithful, I don’t fully agree.  I believe the Novus Ordo badly undermines Catholic belief and practice (look at the evidence of the last 50 years), but I’m not certain I would say it “destroys” it.

*But only insofar as Scripture did not contradict modernist ideals. Many portions of Scripture present in the TLM were removed because they contained references to Sacrifice, judgment, etc.  Just as 1 Cor 11:26-29 have been removed from the Scripture readings in the New Mass.  Apparently, “modern” man is not compatible with the idea of being judged.


1. servo - October 17, 2012

Absolutely the best book on the New Mass, despite its flaws. Some of the most interesting material is the background on Concilium and the liturgical movement; the New Mass (I refuse to call it the ‘Ordinary Form’ ugh) is presented as the end of a process which began in the 40s. That’s why I wish more priests used a ’48 at least. I’d go there if it were available.

I’ve been seeing this a good portion of this movement get watered down as people get (too?) comfy with the local bishops and (what really scares me) the neo-cat Professional blogger/speaker/pundit establishment, which has suddenly decided to jump on their newly-christened ‘Extraordinary Form’ bandwagon for largely subjective reasons, and not a theological objection of the ecumenist and modernist principles behind the New Mass. The relatively muted reaction to the Good Friday prayer is evidence of this trend as far as I’m concerned. Boiling frogs, my man…

tantamergo - October 17, 2012

Wait till we get the non-option to use the New Mass Propers! It will be left at discretion of bishop’s conferences, and “optional” will be mandatory!

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