New Sherwood

Canon Gregory Hesse on Quo Primum

On this feast of Pope St. Pius V, it is fitting to celebrate his document Quo Primum, the Apostolic Constitution which established the Catholic liturgy in the western rite for all time. Canon Gregory Hesse, former secretary to Cardinal Alfons Stickler, explains why he believes that Quo Primum is legally binding today and why the Novus Ordo Missae is a violation.

But first, it is interesting to note some superficial similarities between Pius V and the image Pope Francis is cultivating for himself:

He began his pontificate by giving large alms to the poor, instead of distributing his bounty at haphazard like his predecessors. As pontiff he practiced the virtues he had displayed as a monk and a bishop. His piety was not diminished, and, in spite of the heavy labours and anxieties of his office, he made at least two meditations a day on bended knees in presence of the Blessed Sacrament. In his charity he visited the hospitals, and sat by the bedside of the sick, consoling them and preparing them to die. He washed the feet of the poor, and embraced the lepers. It is related that an English nobleman was converted on seeing him kiss the feet of a beggar covered with ulcers. He was very austere and banished luxury from his court …

Well then! It would seem that a humble pope who loves the poor isn’t such a novelty after all!

But back to the topic of this post, this wide-ranging interview with Canon Hesse is brought to you courtesy of The Remnant:

 

 

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May 5, 2014 - Posted by | The Catholic Crisis, Traditional Latin Mass

11 Comments »

  1. I think he has a few good points, but obviously I would think he also goes too far in certain respects.

    That Quo Primum deals with a matter of faith and morals is a claim that I think is not ultimately supportable. We can say as much as we like that the essence of the Tridentine Missal has remained substantially the same, but the fact that it has undergone any change in itself whatsoever shows that it cannot be faith and morals in and of itself – i.e. part of the intrinsic deposit of faith. The liturgy really did change a great deal – organically, but still real change – before Pius V. Which means that the deposit of revelation must have changed. Things were being added to the rite; it would have to have been new revelation, of which there is none after the death of St. John the Evangelist (according to Catholic dogma). Therefore Quo Primum cannot be a dogmatic declaration.

    Comment by The Maestro | May 6, 2014 | Reply

  2. “… the fact that it has undergone any change in itself whatsoever shows that it cannot be faith and morals in and of itself …”

    True, but is that really Canon Hesse’s position? If so, then he’s either wrong or using rhetorical overkill. Nevertheless I think his main point was that the link between liturgy and the Faith is so strong, unlike any other “discipline”, that any change to it necessarily alters the beliefs of the people. In the matter of liturgical changes due to doctrinal development (e.g., the Immaculate Conception), which Quo Primum has not been interpreted as addressing, the essence of the Faith remains untouched and, it is hoped, the beliefs of the people become more clear with respect to a particular dogma. Obviously that’s not what happened with the Novus Ordo Missae.

    Comment by Blogmaster | May 6, 2014 | Reply

  3. I got the impression he was certainly leaning in the direction of saying that because it was not just a matter of Church government, therefore it was of faith and morals. His whole detailed discussion of the distinction between matters of faith or morals and matters of discipline culminates around 9:05 when he emphasizes “But to change the missal is NOT just a question of Church government,” as if the only other option is faith and morals. Certainly we can say that the connection between liturgy and faith is very close and puts serious limits on liturgical change, but the force of those limits is not ensured by or even proclaimed, in my opinion, by Quo Primum itself, but by tradition. Quo Primum was, rather, a needed practical measure in a time of liturgical chaos, putting a needed break on the anarchy and ensuring a needed stability. If we take it to be a doctrinal teaching about the nature of the liturgy, we would find it to be actually quite contrary to the history of liturgical development (considering his very absolute prohibition of any change whatever to the Missal).

    Comment by The Maestro | May 6, 2014 | Reply

    • “I got the impression he was certainly leaning in the direction of saying that because it was not just a matter of Church government, therefore it was of faith and morals. His whole detailed discussion of the distinction between matters of faith or morals and matters of discipline culminates around 9:05 when he emphasizes ‘But to change the missal is NOT just a question of Church government,’ as if the only other option is faith and morals.”

      OK, but here’s the thing: there is no Catholic Faith without liturgy, and there is no liturgy without the Faith. They may be distinct things, but they are also inseparable things. So to touch one is to touch the other, for good or ill. Agreed? Or am I missing something? That’s what I take away from Canon Hesse’s argument. The liturgy is not a disciplinary act like abolishing the Jesuits or reducing the eucharistic fast.

      Nevertheless, I agree that to say that all liturgical acts by a pope are part of the papal teaching magisterium creates difficulties. The Novus Ordo being Exhibit A.

      “Certainly we can say that the connection between liturgy and faith is very close and puts serious limits on liturgical change, but the force of those limits is not ensured by or even proclaimed, in my opinion, by Quo Primum itself, but by tradition.”

      Quo Primum may not proclaim or explain a liturgical theology, but I think we can look at Quo Primum, which is legislation after all and not an encyclical, as being fundamentally based upon certain unarticulated assumptions about liturgy, most of which I think you would agree with.

      “Quo Primum was, rather, a needed practical measure in a time of liturgical chaos, putting a needed break on the anarchy and ensuring a needed stability.”

      Perhaps, but that time of liturgical chaos and the need for stability has not yet come to an end. Therefore we should not interpret “in perpetuity” to mean “until 1969″, or even 1955, or what have you.

      “If we take it to be a doctrinal teaching about the nature of the liturgy, we would find it to be actually quite contrary to the history of liturgical development (considering his very absolute prohibition of any change whatever to the Missal).”

      I remain open to the argument that Catholic liturgical development had reached its apex by that time, and all that lay ahead was disintegration unless a spirit of change could be arrested. Perhaps “organic development” is only a useful concept looking backwards; going forward, it’s too convenient a pretext.

      Comment by Blogmaster | May 6, 2014 | Reply

      • I agree that there is no faith without liturgy or the other way around. It’s just that I don’t think that’s the point Quo Primum is making, or that that is established by Quo Primum, or that Quo Primum is the reason that that principle must be followed. The theological assumptions about the liturgy do not call in principle for so complete a break on development as Pius V made. So I don’t see an appeal to Quo Primum as being a very strong support for condemning the sort of change that happened with the Novus Ordo, because Quo Primum forbade all change whatsoever, but for practical purposes of the time. And so establishing a principle directly from Quo Primum would have to also condemn organic development in principle, which would be contrary to the Church’s history and indeed, her tradition. Basically I think that Canon Hesse is interpreting Quo Primum in a way that Pius V did not intend it to be interpreted, and in a way that just doesn’t fit in with history or even the theology of liturgical development.

        As to whether the situation of liturgical chaos has not come to an end, that may be the case, but to make that argument could then only go so far as to say that the invention of the Novus Ordo was imprudent given the circumstances. But we want to say more than that: we want to say it was a bad change in principle, that that sort of change could never be good. My opinion is that that argument cannot be established from Quo Primum, because Quo Primum was not condemning liturgical change in principle, but it did condemn all liturgical change for practical reasons.

        About the theory that Catholic liturgical development had reached its apex by the time of Trent, my studies in liturgy – admittedly shallow thus far – do cause me to strongly doubt that claim. I know that certain voices in the SSPX have taken that position – Bishop Tissier de Mallerais, for example, in the article “The True Notion of Tradition.” But that would require establishing some sort of principle or objective standard by which we could judge what a liturgy fully developed and complete should look like, and I have never seen such an argument. In any case, if such an argument were to be made, it would not be the basis for calling the Tridentine liturgy traditional, because that tradition extends much farther back in history than Trent, even throughout significant growth and development.

        Comment by The Maestro | May 6, 2014

  4. “I agree that there is no faith without liturgy or the other way around. It’s just that I don’t think that’s the point Quo Primum is making, or that that is established by Quo Primum, or that Quo Primum is the reason that that principle must be followed.”

    Quo Primum, once again, is merely legislation and not a theological treatise. But it is legislation clearly based upon the principle that Faith and liturgy are inseparable. “Lex orandi, lex credendi” is the necessary backdrop for understanding Quo Primum. Otherwise the practical discipline it imposes seems rather pointless. We don’t adhere to liturgical principles because of Quo Primum, but Quo Primum is law founded on liturgical principles. Even if Quo Primum were not a necessary fruit of those principles, which I will grant, it doesn’t follow that it must be in conflict with those principles.

    “So I don’t see an appeal to Quo Primum as being a very strong support for condemning the sort of change that happened with the Novus Ordo, because Quo Primum forbade all change whatsoever, but for practical purposes of the time. And so establishing a principle directly from Quo Primum would have to also condemn organic development in principle, which would be contrary to the Church’s history and indeed, her tradition.”

    Well, to appeal to Quo Primum is to appeal to ecclesiastical law and the underlying principles of the law. The value of Quo Primum is that, by protecting the liturgy in law, it directly safeguards the Faith and for that reason is worthy of greater deference than other “disciplines”. Canon Hesse makes the point that Pius V’s successors all understood Quo Primum as legally binding until, perhaps, the reign of Pius XII.

    I am not saying that we derive any liturgical principles directly from Quo Primum, nor do I think that was Canon Hesse’s point (unless I missed something). But insofar as Quo Primum is founded on the principle of “lex orandi, lex credendi” – and the liturgy it seeks to protect is a worthy expression of the Faith – it is liturgically sound legislation given the threats to the liturgy at the time (and which continue to this day).

    As to the liturgical principle of organic development, I am not sure that Quo Primum should be understood as being in conflict with it. Certainly it is possible – at least in theory – that organic development may come to an end. “Organic” is a metaphor for that which is alive, but even living things reach a peak of life and health. Furthermore the metaphor is limiting because living things also decay and decline, and we do not want to speak this way of the liturgy and certainly not of the Faith. St. Thomas speculated that the perfect age of the human body in heaven is 33 years, if I remember correctly: heaven arrests the body at its peak. Might we say the same for the Catholic liturgy?

    (As an aside, do you know whether there has been significant “organic development” in the last 1000 years in any of the other ancient liturgies? Such as the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom?)

    I agree that we don’t have an objective standard by which to judge what a “perfect” and complete liturgy would look like, but I’m not sure that’s even possible this side of the beatific vision. It could be that Pius V gave us the answer.

    Comment by Blogmaster | May 6, 2014 | Reply

  5. Okay, yes it can be said that Quo Primum is ultimately aiming at protecting the connection between faith and liturgy, which was violated, for example, by the Protestant revolution. But Quo Primum goes beyond just that theological connection and takes practical measures called for by the circumstances. So it still isn’t established that the problem with the Novus Ordo IN PRINCIPLE was that it violated Quo Primum per se, but that it violated that connection between faith and liturgy. In that sense, perhaps, it violated Quo Primum, but again Quo Primum goes beyond just that connection. Those measures it took over and beyond protecting the theology of the liturgy did not establish any PRINCIPLES which condemn the Novus Ordo. For example, that no change whatsoever could be made to the Missal by anyone of any authority – that can never be an absolute principle, and so it doesn’t make sense to say that Paul VI’s reform was wrong in principle because it violated that rule.

    Maybe we can make the argument that there was indeed a problem with violating that rule because it was necessary for the circumstances, but that doesn’t amount to much. It only amounts to saying that the Novus Ordo was imprudent. Canon Hesse and I both want to say that the Pauline reform was wrong because it violated a theological PRINCIPLE of the liturgy, but Canon Hesse seeks to establish that by appealing to Quo Primum’s mandate not to change the missal, and I say that Quo Primum’s mandate not to change the missal was not the expression of a liturgical principle but a prudent and practical decision; so it doesn’t serve as a basis to condemn the Pauline reform in principle.

    I don’t know if I’m making myself much clearer here… Basically, the Novus Ordo isn’t wrong because it violates Quo Primum’s mandate not to change the missal, but it is wrong for a different reason – even if that reason is, granted, what Quo Primum rightly sought to protect. The mandate not to change the missal is not an absolute PRINCIPLE that would bind future Popes, as Hesse seems to think it was.

    Comment by The Maestro | May 6, 2014 | Reply

    • And yes, I suppose it is theoretically possible for development to come to an end; and certainly in history it has had its moments of pause. But I sincerely doubt that is the case with the Tridentine rite; Pius V’s reform was very good, on the whole, but still not perfect in a few ways. Also, because the Tridentine use is really only one variant out of many variants of the same Roman Rite, I don’t think it is historically accurate to choose it as the sole representative of the “complete” Roman Rite. As to the Eastern rites, I think they tend in general to change less frequently than the Roman Rite, although they too have undergone significant development. But I am not as closely acquainted with their history.

      Comment by The Maestro | May 6, 2014 | Reply

  6. To understand Quo primum one must understand its sister bull, Quod a nobis, which promulgated the 1568 Breviarium Romanum. It uses the exact same language, legal formulas, threats, punishments, and injunctions as Quo primum and Pius X abrogated this bull in Divino Afflatu without so much as batting an eyelash. The popes after Pius V kept Quo primum because they were modifying the Missal and not creating something new. Pius X created a new Office based on the old one, hence he removed Quod a nobis just as Paul VI removed Quo primum in 1969.

    Fr Hesse did actually believe Quo primum to be dogmatic in nature because its language parallels that of infallible declarations. This interpretation, although logical, is difficult to support because that sort of language (“we declare and decree….”) prior to Vatican I was used for most all things in which the pope wanted people to agree, be those things theological, legal, political, or disciplinary.

    Comment by The Rad Trad | May 6, 2014 | Reply

  7. Hey blogmaster, the Maestro’s got a head on his shoulders.

    Comment by William Luse | May 7, 2014 | Reply

    • Ya’ think?

      I don’t get away with much anymore!

      Comment by Blogmaster | May 7, 2014 | Reply


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