A reply to Phyllis Zagano

Phyllis Zagano of Hofstra University published an opinion piece in the online pages of the National Catholic Reporter last week (dateline July 13, 2016), addressing what she perceives to be a “schism” open and joined, between “Pre-Vatican II” and “Post-Vatican II” Catholics.

I saw the piece on social media, but did not address it beyond calling it “nonsense” – the most charitable term I could discover – and moving on – much as I have in most of my life as a Catholic when it has come to matters liturgico-political. Truth be told, I do not much care which way priests face (ad orientem is objectively better), or which language they adopt, or which books they use (the prayers in the ’62 books are objectively better: theologically precise and usually beautiful); I simply want priests to say Mass reverently (say the BLACK and do the RED, rev’d and dear Fathers), and I want them to have beautiful spaces in which to say it.

If this makes me any sort of unreconstructed antediluvian and/or anti-Conciliar reactionary in Prof. Zagano’s eyes, well, I can live with that.

A pointed word from a very dear friend, whom I greatly admire and love devotedly, however, brought me back to Zagano’s piece, which, I now realize, calls for a more fulsome reply.

I admit that “nonsense” is polemical.

Nevertheless, I chose the term because the piece is, at best, nonsense: the author’s central contention is that there is a schism – the author’s word, on which she doubles down and to which she is committed – between a small coterie of disgruntled antiquarians and “the rest of us”.

This contention is quite simply wrong on its face, and risibly so:

The supporting idea she puts forward, according to which, “[O]lder church [sic] professionals [sic] who adjusted to vernacular liturgies and who incorporate mercy into their understandings of justice are retiring daily [and] are being replaced, where they are replaced, by people whose theological education is complemented by self-appointed Internet theo-bloggers whose opinions grow from the conviction that anything that happened since 1965 is anathema,” is wrong in so many ways that one is embarrassed when one looks for a point from which to begin an address of its inadequacies, errors, and outright stupidities.

Benedict XVI himself described the liturgical books promulgated by Paul VI as:

[T]he ordinary expression of the lex orandi (rule of prayer) of the Catholic Church of the Latin rite.


The Roman Missal promulgated by Saint Pius V and revised by Blessed John XXIII is nonetheless to be considered an extraordinary expression of the same lex orandi of the Church and duly honoured for its venerable and ancient usage.

Just in case there were any concern about Benedict’s intentions:

These two expressions of the Church’s lex orandi will in no way lead to a division in the Church’s lex credendi (rule of faith); for they are two usages of the one Roman rite.

Zagano’s piece is also tendentious (the kindest descriptor I could find to deploy), viz. its strong suggestion that mercy is something the “post-Vatican II Church” discovered and for the presence of which in Church life they alone are to be credited: any such suggestion is not only counter-factual: it is an act of historical vandalism committed against the memoria Dei preserved in the living Tradition and traditions of the Church, from Apostolic times down to the present.

The “slow and steady recovery of church [sic] life during the papacy of Francis,” which Zagano unproblematically and merely asserts (ostensibly to laud it), offers another egregious example of irresponsible and ill-informed opinion rooted in a pestiferous hermeneutic of discontinuity and opposition between Benedict XVI and Francis, which had hitherto remained in the subtext of her piece – a discontinuity which both bishops have consistently eschewed and even publicly and explicitly disavowed, as recently as their joint public appearance for the celebration of Benedict’s 65th Jubilee of priestly ordination at the end of June.

As for the much-maligned and even more greatly misunderstood “reform of the reform” of the liturgy, which seems somehow to be at the center of Zagano’s gripe: Pope Francis, upon appointing a new Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, explicitly enjoined the man he chose for the office, Robert Card. Sarah: “[T]o continue to implement the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council … and … to continue the good work in the liturgy begun by Pope Benedict XVI[.]”

So, let me inquire of Zagano: was the Pope being disingenuous, or was Cardinal Sarah putting words in Peter’s mouth? Which is it? It must be one or the other. If we assume that you have the requisite cognitio causae, and that you are not lacking in candor (horribile cogitatu) –  There is no third way.


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