Book Review: The Once and Future Roman Rite by Dr. Peter Kwasniewski

Dr. Peter Kwasnieski has been widely praised as one of the most important theologians and historians of Catholic liturgy in our time. His recent book, The Once and Future Roman Rite (TAN Books, 2022), is being called his magnum opus.
Indeed, in my estimation, the book is the definitive study on the question of the legitimacy of the Classical Rite. The book is at once as scholarly and engaging as it is edifying. It is a profound collection of the author's thoughts from the vast corpus of his studies and published articles over a period of many years. Dr. K is the man to write such a book. He is an essential teacher on the subject of the Roman Rite and the modern liturgy and whence it came. His judgments about the subject of sacred liturgy and liturgical reform are always on the mark. 

Reading the book and thinking of the liturgical "renewal" of recent decades brought to my mind an old Latin adage: "Hic funis nihil attraxit" (this line has taken no fish). In other words, this scheme has failed, in reference to the revolutionary utopia of liturgical reform. The energies and toxins of the revolutionary spirit have infected the Universal Church on many levels already for many decades. In a fit of modernization, the liturgy of the West was dismantled and rebuilt by committee at a time of radicalization that saw a raging torrent of change and revolt. Despite all that has happened, in reality, there is only one Roman Rite. Dr. K writes: "I argue that we have to restore the traditional Latin Mass as the proper and normative Eucharistic rite of the Church of Rome." After years of rupture and mutation, it is a breath of fresh air for us all to finally hear a second opinion on the matter. The author is a shining beacon of clarity in a world of change and liturgical egalitarianism. He continues, "The profound and permanent solution is to maintain continuity with the living liturgical tradition found in the usus antiquior."

Dr. K is a quotable scholar and the book has a great many gems that stand out. For example, he writes of the decades-old modernist movement to banalize the liturgy with mundane ceremonies, canceling the majestic tremendum and fascinans of the Roman liturgy. He explains: "It was precisely the movement of desacralization in the name of modernization — with 'modernity' conceived of in rationalistic, utilitarian terms, crowding out the sensuous, the poetic, the intuitive, and the mystical dimensions of Catholicism — that characterized the liturgical and ecclesial reforms of the 1960s!" But it was too late in many ways until now. The Church had been infected by the spirit of the world, the Zeitgeist of sixties revolution, that had the momentum of a freight train. Today, many people are waking up and rediscovering their liturgical patrimony. 

One of the greatest contributions of the book is its emphasis on tradition as the norm.  Also, its study of the laws of organic development are immensely insightful in the face of the rupture. Chapter six raises interesting questions on how much can a pope change rites and the question of why would he? Additionally, there is a helpful chapter on the Roman Canon and another that sizes things up with the New Mass alongside the Classical Rite and the Byzantine Rite. The author further makes an interesting distinction between papal "power" and "authority." He writes: 
"Power refers to the ability to bring about some effect and to enforce it once effected. Authority (sometimes called 'moral authority') refers to the right to do something, and may imply a duty to do it. Pope Paul VI used the power of his papal office to impose a new liturgy on Catholics, but he lacked true authority to enforce such a rupture from tradition; the act was ultra vires. He was, not surprisingly able to leverage the power of his office and take advantage of habits of ultramontanist obedience, but he had no moral right to lay hands on the inherited sacred liturgy as he did and to substitute another rite for it, and, a fortiori, no capacity to require others to accept what he did. One might put it this way: it was not so much a use of his papal power as it was an abuse of it." (p. 250). 
Thus the reader, many for the first time, will grasp the stupendous truth that there is only one Roman Rite. And that Christ, as the everlasting victor, will safeguard it. We are like people waking from a deep sleep, who cannot collect their thoughts all at once or understand where we are after such a slumber. We are gradually waking to a knowledge of ourselves, of the present reality of the liturgy, and of our cherished past and historical roots. This book helps readers to gain a real apprehension of where we are at, even as we see liturgical sanity in many places still in a temporary state of abeyance. And even though modernist liturgies still abound all around us, still seeming to be about to reach their apogee. Of the Novus Ordo we might say, in the words of Pascal, "It is in vain, O men, that you seek within yourselves the cure of all your miseries." As an alternative, let us look to the once and future Roman Rite, what the Church preserves in her maternal heart for all generations, especially during the most difficult of times. 

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