The renowned liturgical scholar and historian Dr. Alcuin Reid has published a book review, at New Liturgical Movement, of the book by sedevacantist Father Anthony Cekada entitled, Work of Human Hands: a Theological Critique of the Mass of Paul VI. Dr. Ried’s bona fides to write such a review are impressive. And yet he correctly notes that while the sedevacantism of Fr. Cekada is not a point in his favor, one must examine the arguments themselves:

Some will dismiss this study because Father Cekada is canonically irregular and a sedevacantist. Whilst these are more than regrettable, ad hominem realities are not sufficient to dismiss this carefully argued and well researched work. We must attend to his arguments on their merits.

True enough. And in this review, examining the arguments, Dr. Reid persuasively maintains that the new Mass is valid, contrary to the claims of Fr. Cekada. As any reader of this blog knows, I believe that is not a conclusion that a Catholic may dispute. If the Church were able to promulgate an invalid rite, it would mean the gates of hell would have prevailed. And that is impossible.

What I found noteworthy in this review, however, is the way Dr. Reid states the matter. After giving credit to Cekada for certain criticisms, Dr. Reid writes (emphases mine):

What the book does not succeed in doing, however, is to demonstrate the invalidity of the Mass of Paul VI. For whilst there is certainly a theological difference between the two, it is by no means proven that in its Latin text the rite of Mass of Paul VI contradicts Catholic doctrine. It may be doctrinally weaker, it may be theologically different, but it is not heretical. Nor can it be successfully maintained, as does the book, that Paul VI had no authority to modify the formula for consecration in the Mass.

Given that, it is certain that a validly ordained priest who intends to “do what the Church does” in celebrating the Mass according to the modern rite, celebrates a valid Mass. Yes, it is possible, perhaps even more likely, that some priests with a formally defective liturgical and Eucharistic theology that may have been unintentionally encouraged by the liturgical reforms, may more easily celebrate invalidly; that too is an indictment of the rite. But Peter holds the Keys, and whatever prudential errors he may or may not have made in the liturgical reform following the Second Vatican Council, he cannot have committed the Church to an intrinsically invalid rite of Mass.

Given its theological deficiency, Father Cekada dismisses the efforts, led by Pope Benedict XVI, to celebrate the modern rites in more visible continuity with liturgical tradition. We disagree here: the Mass of Paul VI is a valid rite, and its better celebration is all to the good. One may even prefer it in good conscience―as do many generations who have known nothing else. We can argue (and I think quite convincingly) that we can and ought to do better that what is in the Missal of Paul VI, but to worship according to the modern rite is not of itself sinful.

Regardless, Father Cekada’s great service is to flag the big question that we have not widely, as yet, been prepared to face. Whilst it is certainly better to celebrate the modern liturgy in a traditional style using more accurate translations, that is not enough. For if the Missal of Paul VI is indeed in substantial discontinuity with the preceding liturgical and theological tradition, this is a serious flaw requiring correction. It is high time, then, that we not only recognise, but do something about the elephant in the liturgical living-room.

I think Dr. Reid has certainly identified the problem of the day in the Roman Rite, existing as it does now with two authorized “forms”. Given that the OF is intrinsically valid, and further given that it ought to be celebrated correctly and with more reverence than it typically is afforded, another question remains: If it is as inferior in its accidents as it obviously is, why shouldn’t it be changed to be brought into line with the traditional praxis of Holy Mother Church?

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