The Stated Intent of Pope Pius XII Concerning the Liturgy

© Copyright 2010, T. Stanfill Benns (This text may be downloaded or printed out for private reading, but it may not be uploaded to another Internet site or published, electronically or otherwise, without express written permission from the author.)

Several years ago, I made a thorough study of the decrees and circumstances surrounding the liturgical “innovations” allowed by Pope Pius XII. I referred to numerous sources, among them all those decrees mentioned in articles on my website/message board at I also have undertaken a thorough study of Mediator Dei and available commentaries made on this encyclical in the late1940s, the annual reports on the National Liturgical weeks from 1940 to 1958, and other material available in the Canon Law Digests. To relate all that is pertinent in these sources would require lengthy research, which I cannot undertake at this time and others can conduct just as easily, and should, since they are making these allegations. So I will summarize the gist of what is contained in these works as best I can.

Mediator Dei was not “disastrous for the liturgy,” and it did NOT open the floodgates for the Vatican 2 changes and abrogation of the Latin rite Mass. Pope Pius XII carefully enumerates the various heresies he hopes to eradicate by issuing Mediator Dei, and provides the faithful with what THEY have indicated are tools to foster greater understanding of the Mass, the Liturgical Year and a more tender devotion to the Holy Eucharist. Pope Pius entertained a fervent devotion to the Sacrament himself and many of his allocutions are centered on this. Pope Pius XII was facing an epidemic of apathy and quietism among the faithful worldwide, a condition he mentions in Mystici Corporis and other decrees, addresses and encyclicals.  The ship was already slowly sinking and the captain broke out the lifeboats and the emergency rations. A good example of this apathy is contained in Peter Michaels’ This Perverse Generation, written in 1949.

Among those changes certain Trads consider innovations are the ceremonies of Holy Week in general, especially those of Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The other practice, the Dialogue Mass was not initiated, only continued, by Pope Pius XII. All of these changes are not actually changes at all, but a return to previous practices in the Church approved by the Holy See. This is well documented from numerous sources. The Dialogue Mass was first celebrated in the early Christian centuries. It was introduced once again by Pope Benedict XV personally, then was continued by Pope Pius XI and XII. So these cannot be referred to as actual changes, since reverting and changing are two separate words which are not synonymous.

As for the altar facing the people, Mass was said in this manner during the early centuries. Ten Roman basilicas have always celebrated Mass in this fashion. I do not favor it, most Traditionalists do not favor it, but Pope Pius XII allowed it under certain circumstances only because it brought more people into the churches. Around 25 percent of the churches in France set up altars in this fashion during the 1940s, apparently. This after Card. Suhard received permission, possibly from then-Nuncio Angelo Roncalli to celebrate Mass facing the people for special events. It was this same Card. Suhard who embarked on the experimental worker-priest project, later condemned by the Vatican, which alienated so many French Catholics, a project conducted under the supervision of both Montini and Roncalli. Pope Pius XII insisted that whether the altar faced the people or not, (and this, like the Dialogue Mass, was used optionally, and not by papal mandate) the tabernacle was to be permanently fixed to the altar, visible for all to see. If it could not be so done then the priest had to celebrate facing the altar.

Nor can it be said that there was not sufficient basis for these adjustments to the liturgy or that they in any way violated doctrine. It is clear that all these proposed practices were carefully studied and monitored before their implementation and were indeed requested by the faithful as well as their pastors in various parts of the world over a fairly lengthy time period. Cardinal Micara stated all of this in his Feb. 9, 1951 letter prefacing the return to the former observance. The Holy Week services were then conducted on a trial basis for four years before their promulgation. As regards the Eucharistic fast, all who were yet able to fast from midnight on are URGED BY POPE PIUS XII TO CONTINUE TO DO SO (Christus Dominus, 1953), since “only those who need these concessions can enjoy them according to the nature of their need.” Those who use the three-hour concession are urged to make up for the favor by performing acts of charity and increasing prayer and penance. The fast was never “REVOKED.” The controversy over omitting “perfidious Jews” in the Good Friday service and the Vatican interpretation of the Latin to English as “faithlessness,” sounds like a semantic affair to me. “Faithlessness” is precisely the first definition offered in Cassell’s Latin-English and English Latin Dictionary, (1923 edition) for “perfidi.”

The vernacular allowed in the administration of the Sacraments in France was negligible and favored the lay understanding of the Sacraments where it was allowed. The reading of the Gospel and Epistle was an indult allowed for Agar, India, a mission territory. It stipulated that the celebrant OR a “competent lay server” could read the Gospel and Epistle only after they had first been read in Latin by the priest. Pope Pius XII, in a separate monitum on altar servers, lays down strict rules for when a priest is allowed to celebrate Mass without a server. No “altar girls” are ever allowed; Pope Pius XII says the unanimous opinion of the theologians (held to a certain degree of infallibility) says this would be a mortal sin. Women are the last choice for “servers,” and must make the responses from afar, never stepping foot on the altar.  And as concerns the praise Pope Pius XII reportedly had for the liturgical innovators, this is proven false in an article written by Rev. Albert Kaiser in the December 1953 and January 1954 American Ecclesiastical Review. In his articles Kaiser clearly states that Mediator Dei was specifically aimed at the excesses of these very liturgists and names the heresies contained in their works that are condemned in the encyclical. Kaiser’s articles are a true revelation, since they shed much-needed light on the excesses in one direction that became the NOM and the excesses in the opposite direction that resisted even legitimate adjustment to those parts of the liturgy subject to ecclesiastical law, for reasons deemed serious by the lawgiver.

What would you say of what Tito Casini relates in his “The Torn Tunic” about Pope John VIII? Quoting from De Maistre, Casini writes: “In the ninth century Pope John VIII over-indulgently allowed the Slavs their own tongue in the celebration of the liturgy. But on reading a later letter of the Pontiff’s, the 95th, one hardly wonders at his admission of the many drawbacks of such a dispensation. In fact Gregory VII revoked it — but too late — too late to save the Russians — with what ultimate results only became evident in the course of time; Russia’s separation from Rome and the people falling under the sway of a succession of ‘popes’ all of whom, Stalin included, succeeded in being at the same time heads of state and heads of Church, despotically ruling Godless multitudes.” How much more concise and profound an explanation of all this is needed?!

Casini continues: “Schisms and heresies have always been against Latin — always pro-vernacular, nationalistic — except insofar as Latin has always at the same time been envied, for the evident barrenness of the branches cut off from the Vine compared with those that remained joined. National languages, national liturgies, are but the first step toward national churches, admitted, favored, fostered and desired, with enticements and threats…Cardinal Midszenty, Cardinal Beran, Cardinal Wyszinski and so many others …would not be impeded or in prison but free, honored and salaried, had their Catholicism not spoken Latin…” Pope Pius XI, as quoted by Casini wrote: “The Church, embracing all peoples and enduring until time shall have an end, by the very nature that is hers, has need of a language that is universal, immutable, non-vernacular…The Church, one in language in her universality and one in her worship, was thereby always seen by the world’s peoples — today more than ever weary of warring, more than ever hankering for union and peace — as anti-Babel.” It is prophesied that great Babble-on will fall in St. John’s Apocalypse, and this by necessity for the preservation of the Church. Of course in Mediator Dei itself, Pope Pius XII called Latin “a clear and noble mark of unity and an efficacious antidote to all corrupting influences on pure doctrine.”

And here we arrive at the entire heart of the matter. Once again I will state: show me where Pope Pius XII violated doctrine. Explain to me why his reservation to make adjustments to the liturgy was, in any way, harmful to the Church in themselves. Perhaps we should indict John VIII as well, and have done with the entire second millennia of popes; this the Feeneyites and certain individuals wishing to take control of the Church plot to do even now. If one teacher is able to keep my son Tommy from certain disciplinary disaster by bending the rules as far as possible yet keeping him in line, am I going to blame her when the next teacher allows him to run wild? Someone must give PERMISSION to relax the previous rules. If the faithful were so intent on getting what they wanted from Pope Pius XII, then those who objected to what he did to Holy Week et al should and could have been just as vocal. So where were they? Why was it up to Pope Pius XII to “turn things around” when he had done what he did at the request of the bishops and the faithful, it met with success, and all was doctrinally sound?

The Church does not forbid her Vicars to make changes to liturgical practices as long as they do not touch the substance of the Sacraments. This Cyril B. Andrade, M.D., using the words of the popes themselves outlined clearly in his “The New Mass Is Invalid” almost four decades ago:

“(1) In the letter Super quibusdam (Sept.29,1351), Pope Clement VI taught: “The

Roman Pontiff, regarding the administration of the Sacraments of the Church, can tolerate and even permit different rites of the Church of Christ….always without violating those things which pertain to the integrity and necessary parts of the Sacraments.”

“(2) Council of Trent, Session III, Chap.2 : “It (the Council) declared furthermore that this power has always been in the Church, that in the administration of the Sacraments, without violating their substance, she may determine or change whatever she may judge to be more expedient for the benefit of those who receive them or for the veneration of the Sacraments, according to the variety of circumstances, times and places.”

“(3) Pope St. Pius X in the letter, Ex quo nono (Dec.26, 1910): “It is well known that to the Church there belongs no right whatsoever to innovate anything touching on the substance of the Sacraments.”

“(4) On November 30, 1947, Pope Pius XII issued the apostolic constitution, Sacramentum Ordinis, which reiterates and clarifies the same principle. “As the Council of Trent teaches, the seven Sacraments of the New Law have been instituted by Jesus Christ, Our Lord, and the Church has no power over the substance of the Sacraments; i.e., over those things which, with the sources of divine revelation as witnesses, Christ the Lord Himself decreed to be preserved in a sacramental sign.”

And in Mediator Dei itself, Pope Pius XII stated that no one but the Pope may decide what elements in the liturgy are human and may be changed: “The Sacred Liturgy does include Divine as well as human elements. The former, instituted as they have been by God, cannot be changed in any way by men… The Sovereign Pontiff alone enjoys the right to recognize and establish any practice touching the worship of God, to introduce and approve new rites, as also to modify those he judges to require modification…No private person has any authority to regulate external practices of this kind, which are intimately bound up with Church discipline and with the order, unity and concord of the Mystical Body, and frequently even with the integrity of Catholic faith itself.”

So please explain how Pope Pius XII did anything whatsoever to touch on the substance of the Sacraments, even though he lawfully exercised his papal power to change minor details of the liturgy?

What in truth so many disagree with is not any “unlawful” changes, but the supreme jurisdiction of the papacy that allows a matter so dear to so many hearts to be reserved to the Pope alone for a decision. Some have dared to criticize Pope Pius XII for lack of any solid historical background for his Holy Week revision, when as the vicar of all he needed none. Those sharing this mindset paint the man as a reformer favorable to all the changes that went after him. In short, they set themselves up as a judge of this Pope when NO ONE CAN JUDGE THE POPE, unless he is clearly guilty of manifest heresy. These are the bitter fruits of the Great Revolt and Traditional unrest and discord.  Many now believe they have the right to scrutinize every word and action of past Popes, weigh them, then obey only what seems good to them. Gone is the respect and obedience, the reverence for the papacy. “The Church has said it and I believe it” is not an option when all must be sifted for error at personal discretion, be the sifters clergy or lay. This is the great chasm separating Traditionalists, not the liturgy, and it was one envisioned by Pope Pius XII at the time he wrote Mediator Dei and made these concessions. In my opinion this discussion should be continued under a new title: Doctrine and the liturgy. For as Pope Pius XII clearly taught in Mediator Dei, the liturgy is to reflect the doctrines of the Church but is not the sum total of Catholic existence; it is not just the “Mass that matters.” As Adrian Fortescue points out in the Catholic Encyclopedia, it was the Reformers who first advanced this phrase as a slogan, not Catholics, and we can see what happened to THEIR church. They nationalized their religion in all its heretical variations. Now we face the universalization of all these nationalized churches under a one-world church, a danger warned against by Pope Benedict XV.

The recent documents circulated by certain individuals claiming that Pius XII is said to have authorized additional changes have not been — and cannot be — authenticated. If they appear to run contrary to what he officially taught in the extraordinary or his ordinary magisterium we have every reason to believe that his official teachings on these matters stand as a clear manifestation of the mind of the Church. We have his orders in Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis that NOTHING is to be changed, adjusted, re-interpreted or adapted in any way during an interregnum, which has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt to exist. And if such changes are made, the pope uses his infallible authority to declare them null and void. This alone ends any controversy that he could possibly be said to approve what was introduced following his death. John VIII remained pope and was never censored and Pope Pius XII never allowed the vernacular liturgy far less the bastardized canon of the NOM mass. Do we destroy what is left of Catholicism by tearing down what little remains, condemning the “overindulgence” of Benedict XV, Pius XI and Pius XII as complicit, even heretical? Only at the price of judging these popes and forfeiting our membership in the very Church we profess to love.

(A list of complete quotes and references referred to in this article is available upon request.)


Print Friendly, PDF & Email