Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness

by Peter Kwasniewski, Angelico, 317pp, £16

Why are Catholic churches becoming empty? I have spent years trying to find an answer. Then, while reading this book, I realised that it is actually very simple: it is just a matter of liturgy. The Old Mass puts God at the centre; the modern Mass puts man in His place. Our liturgy today is not beautiful enough to attract souls.

Peter Kwasniewski is not one of those hate-filled traditionalists who spends his time insulting Pope Francis. “The love of the Latin liturgical traditions,” he writes, “can never, in principle, be opposed to communion with and rightful obedience to the Sovereign Pontiff, the successor of St Peter.” He doesn’t invoke Archbishop Lefebvre and instead quotes liberally from Paul VI, John XXIII, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Kwasniewski, an American professor of philosophy and music, writes with real love of the beauty of the traditional Mass. This is evident in every word. “The ancient liturgy,” he notes, “is truly ancient: it breathes the spirit of the martyrs and confessors, Fathers and Doctors, monks and hermits, mystics and ascetics.” The ancient Mass, he says, implies a process of kenosis (“self-emptying”) of the priest to the Tradition. The celebrant is not the main character: he is only handling, with great care, the Sacred Mysteries.

I’m 38 and, like most Catholics of my generation, for me a “normal Mass” is celebrated in the vernacular by a priest who faces the people. He is usually surrounded by altar girls. Lay men and women distribute Holy Communion to people who receive the Host in their hands in a standing position. We then sing a kind of pop song.

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