Liturgical Disobedience -
The Rejection of the Liturgical Reforms of Pope Pius XII

Many traditional sedevacantist Catholics loudly condemn the SSPX (Society of St. Pius X, founded by Marcel Lefebrve) for “pope sifting.” That is, the SSPX, while publicly proclaiming Francis I to be the pope, “sifts” everything he teaches and then proceeds to declare it either orthodox or unorthodox. This of course makes the SSPX a doctrinal authority above the pope, which is a heretical notion.

While justifiably condemning such a heretical notion, many sedevacantists are guilty of the same practice when it comes to the liturgical reforms instituted by Pope Pius XII. They “sift” these laws and determine which ones they will accept and which ones they will reject. This is nothing more than a scaled-down version of the practice of the SSPX and condemnable as well.

Pius XII’s Liturgical Reforms

Between the years 1951 and 1958 Pope Pius XII enacted a number of liturgical reforms. The Commission he set up to advise him on these matters had two radical modernists in it, who after Pius XII’s death, successfully implemented their modernist reforms to such an extent that the new liturgy ceased to be Catholic.

Seeing the ultimate objective of these modernists, some traditional Catholics feel justified in rejecting the reforms of Pius XII altogether, particularly his Holy Week reforms, believing that these were the primal seeds of a bad tree.

This outline will examine their claimed justifications for rejecting these liturgical laws and demonstrate that in doing so they have committed grave error.

Is It a Big Deal?

Some Catholics believe that as long as they hold to Papal teachings, matters regarding the liturgy are of little consequence. But they are mistaken in this:

“Pius IX declared that it is insufficient to be united to the Holy See in faith and dogma, but that Catholics must be subject to the Roman Pontiff with regard to ‘rites and discipline.’ ” (The Sacred Congregation of Rites, Fr. McManus, 1954, p. 11)

So Catholics are bound to subject themselves to the Pope, not just in doctrine, but in the liturgy as well; this, of course, includes the liturgical reforms of Pope Pius XII, whom the entire Catholic world acknowledged as a true pope.

Refusal to render subjection to the pope in liturgical matters is a serious thing. Under Pope Pius XII, had any clergyman refused to implement his new liturgical reforms, a set of consequences would have followed. First, said clergyman would have been instructed and admonished in private. If this proved to be ineffectual, the next line of conduct would have been to remove said clergyman from all active duty followed by a canonical suspension. If said clergyman continued to publicly remain obstinate, an excommunication would in all probability have followed.

Now if one were to extract Pius XII from the picture and the consequent authority to punish canonical offenses, does that in any fashion lessen the gravity of these offenses? The answer is of course no, because the violation is not purely penal, but it is a violation of the moral order as well:

“A moral law binds directly in conscience so that its violation involves a sin. All ecclesiastical laws are moral laws saving the constitutions of certain religious which are purely penal.” (A Manual of Canon Law, Ramstein, 1948, p. 88)

So in the Catholic Church, one does not have the option of picking and choosing a liturgy according to personal preference. If we are to save our souls, the liturgy imposed by obedience must be followed to the exclusion of all others, however “superior” one may think one may be over the other.


Points Conceded by All

Everyone concedes the following points and therefore no time will be wasted proving them:

What is Not at Issue

What is not at issue are personal opinions and subjective speculation. Catholics are bound to deal with facts, not opinions; objective truth, not subjective speculation. Those who reject Pius XII’s reforms will often cite little snidbits here and there from modernist reformers which leaves the impression that these liturgical changes were in fact injurious to Catholic tradition. Rather than reading a few selected snidbits, I invite the reader to personally read the documents that Pius XII promulgated regarding his liturgical changes, especially the preamble to the Restored Order of Holy Week (AAS 47-838) and the Apostolic Constitution for the Communion Fast (AAS 45-15). Then the reader can decide for himself whether these reforms are an attack on tradition or not. 1

But even assuming arguendo, that the rejectionists’ opinions about Pius XII are correct, it is 100% irrelevant to the case at hand. If Pius XII was a certain pope, as all acknowledge he was, and if his reforms were certainly promulgated, as all acknowledge they were, then said reforms certainly bound all Latin Rite Catholics. So how is it then that some traditional Latin Rite Catholics claim that they are no longer bound by them?

They assert that Pius XII’s reforms have ceased to bind or exist by virtue of general principles of law. But before we examine their claims in this regard, it would first be well to note that for a papal law to cease to exist or bind, one of two things must happen: 1) either a pope himself revokes it, or 2) it ceases to exist by some principle of cessation of law approved by the popes. This is not controverted; all admit this.

Now it is by invoking #2, principles of cessation of law, that those who reject Pius XII’s reforms assert their justification for doing so:

“The laws promulgating the Pius XII liturgical reforms were human ecclesiastical laws, subject to the general principles of interpretation for all church laws. As such, they no long bind on two grounds: 1. Lack of Stability… 2. Cessation… (A traditional Catholic website)2

As well as by invoking the legal principle of epikeia:

“The legal justification for the rejection of these rites, which were promulgated by a true Roman Pontiff [Pius XII], is the principle of epicheia,” (A different traditional website)

What is at Issue

What is at issue are the justifications put forth by those who rejected Pius XII’s liturgical reforms. These may be summed up as follows:

1. Stability and Perpetuity. Pius XII’s liturgical reforms were transitory in nature, and therefore lacked the necessary stability or perpetuity required by law.

2. Harmfulness. Pius XII’s liturgical reforms were merely the first steps to what ultimately became a harmful liturgy. Since harmful laws cease to bind, Pius XII’s reforms cease to bind.

3. Epikeia. It would be contrary to the mind of the legislator (pope) to continue to observe Pius XII’s liturgical changes because the modern “catholic” church used them as a justification for enacting their non-Catholic liturgical reforms.


A couple of preliminary matters should be noted at the outset, these are:

A) As was just noted, there is no authority on earth capable of changing the Church’s liturgy except the Pope:

“[T]he 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.” (Mediator Dei, Pope Pius XII, 11/20/1947; Canon 1257)

Since there is no evidence that a certain pope has revoked Pius XII’s reforms, then the only manner, in which these reforms could have ceased to exist, as noted above, is by some valid principle of cessation of law.

B) Proving that a Church law has ceased to exist falls upon those asserting the claim:

“It is a fundamental principle that the general presumption is always in favor of an old law remaining unchanged.” (A Practical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, Woywod – Smith, 1948, p. 15)
“[I]f a law is certainly established and certainly promulgated, and thereafter there arises a doubt as to whether it is abrogated, revoked, or dispensed, it must be observed; because then the law is controlling.” (Theologia Moralis, Tract 1, Ch. 2, St. Alphonsus, p. 12)3

So those who claim Pius XII’s reforms have ceased to exist, have to do more than simply raise a personal or private doubt. Rather, they need to overcome, with real evidence, the presumption of validity Pius XII’s liturgical laws enjoy. This is the starting point for them.


Claim #1 – Lack of Stability (Perpetuity)

The rejectionists of Pius XII’s reforms often cite that his reforms, especially his Holy Week reforms, were transitory in nature and as a consequence lacked the necessary stability or perpetuity required by law.

Lack of Perpetuity Argument

“Such norms [1955 reforms] (as we now realize), thus lacked one of the essential qualities of a law — stability or perpetuity — and are therefore no longer binding.” (A Traditional Website, ibid.)
“All the foregoing is more than sufficient to establish that the laws introducing the Pius XII reforms lacked the essential quality of stability (or perpetuity), and for that reason must be considered no longer binding.” (Ibid.)

Stability and perpetuity should not be used together as though they are synonyms, they are not correlated terms:

Perpetuity – “1: eternity. 2: the quality or state of being perpetual.” (Marriam-Webster Online Dictionary)
Stability – “the quality or state of something that is not easily changed or likely to change.” (Ibid.)

So Stability is subject to change; perpetuity is not. Two different things.

Now if the quality of perpetuity was an essential element of liturgical law, then how can one explain the nearly two thousand years of various liturgical changes? The gentleman himself, who makes this perpetuity claim, follows the liturgical changes introduced by Pope St. Pius X, so how can he attack the liturgical changes introduced by Pope Pius XII on the grounds of lack of perpetuity when he himself doesn't follow liturgical laws established in perpetuity? This is a position of contradiction and I can only assume that it was published without serious consideration.

Lack of Stability - A Failed Argument

Their lack of stability argument stems from the claim that Pius XII’s reforms were transitory in nature and consequently lacked the necessary quality of stability required by Church law, which they claim, caused his reforms to cease to bind.

“Stability is an essential quality of a true law. The 1955 reforms were merely transitional norms; this is self-evident from subsequent legislation and contemporaneous comments by those responsible for creating them…Such norms (as we now realize), thus lacked one of the essential qualities of a law — stability or perpetuity — and are therefore no longer binding.” (A traditional website)
“[I]t is absolutely clear that the Pius XII himself regarded the 1950s liturgical legislation as transitory” (Ibid.)
“They formed a "Liturgy of transition" destined to last — as it in fact did last — for three or four years. It is a transition between the Catholic liturgy consecrated at the Council of Trent and that heterodox liturgy begun at Vatican II.” (Ibid.)

First off, it is worth noting that not all of Pius XII’s reforms were transitory in nature. If those putting forward the instability argument claim that they were all transitory, then they need to prove this, for “a fact is not presumed, unless proven” (St. Alphonsus, Doctor of the Church - Theologia Moralis, Tract 1, Ch. 2.).

Secondly, liturgical laws are Church laws, and the Church governs when her laws cease to bind or not. The Church’s rules governing cessation of law are found in the Codex of Canon Law (Canons 21, 22, 23); but one will look in vain in these Canons for anything even closely resembling the above claim. In fact, there is no mention of “stability” in these Canons at all.

Very much on topic here is renowned canonist Amleto Cicognani. While acknowledging that laws should be stable, he nevertheless bypasses the element of stability in law when he lists the conditions whereby a law ceases to exist:

“Here it is asked: ‘How is one to presume that the legislator revokes his law and that therefore the law ceases to exist?’
In treating of the elements of law, we saw that it is proper and fitting that a law should be stable and firm. However, every law has its element of uncertainty, for the reasons and the purpose for which the law was made can change, and consequently, since law is an ordinance in accordance with reason, it ought to be revoked if it becomes useless, harmful or unreasonable; and if it has not actually been revoked, it is to be reasonably presumed to be revoked” (Canon Law, 1934, Canon 21, p. 625, emphasis supplied)

Cicognani is not making this up; he is citing Church law. And the Church law he cites requires that at least one of three conditions be present before one can presume that a law no long binds, i.e., it must be established that the law in question has become either useless, harmful, or unreasonable. He does not mention stability as a necessary quality, but only that stability is “proper and fitting” to a law, which of course it is. There is a difference here.

It is also noteworthy that the liturgical rejectionists cite no Church authorities to support their claim that instability causes a law to cease to bind. As the old scholastic axiom runs – that which is gratuitously assumed may be gratuitously denied. Their basic premise, as presented, is purely gratuitous, and therefore, denied.

But even considering the element of stability purely from reason, we know that Pius XII’s liturgical reforms were extent for some 3½ to 5½ years before he died and yet no one challenged them on the grounds of instability during his life. Even though some of his liturgical laws were clearly intended to be transitional, nevertheless, that transitional quality did not prevent them from binding when they were promulgated. So if they were stable enough to bind when they were first promulgated, at what point in time did they become so unstable as to cease to exist or bind? At what time did they become so unstable that they became useless, harmful, or unreasonable? If Pius XII lived to be a centenarian and had made no further changes to the liturgy, would one have been free at some point in time to disregard his liturgical laws on the grounds of instability? Is there any legal reason why his liturgical reforms cannot remain in their present form for many centuries to come? Or even to the end of the world?

Moreover, Pius XII's reforms were certainly promulgated. I can state the date, the location, the subjects, the means of promulgation and the authority behind Pius XII’s liturgical reforms. Can the rejectionists do the same regarding the cessation of his reforms? Can they tell us the date, the location, the subjects for whom these reforms ceased and by what authority they ceased?

They need to answer these questions. They need to demonstrate to the Catholic world specifically when and how these reforms became unstable and consequently ceased to exist or bind. To date, no one has done that. A general allusion to a vague principle of cessation of law is no more than a legal hallucination, as Cicognani puts it:

“[O]ne can easily have hallucinations regarding the cessation of the end of the law...” (Ibid., p. 628)

Interpretation Free-For-All

Church law does not permit a free-for-all interpretation regarding her any of her legislation. An ordered society must have an ordered means of resolving legal issues. The Catholic Church, being a perfect society, has just that. In the absence of specific regulations regarding legal matters that may arise, and in the absence of one possessing the necessary authority to settle these matters, she has outlined clear and easily understood rules on how to deal with them:

“If there is no explicit provision concerning some affair either in the general or in the particular law, a norm of action is to be taken, unless there is a question of applying a penalty, 1) from laws given in similar cases, 2) from the general principles of law applied with the equity proper to Canon Law, 3) from the manner and practice of the Roman Curia, and 4) from the common and constant teaching of approved authors.” (Canon 20 – numerals supplied)

Now I challenge those making the claim of instability to cite one of authoritative source listed in Canon 20 that teaches that some preamble in some of Pius XII’s liturgical laws, noting that further changes were expected in the future, somehow caused the loss of stability to such an extent that the law ceased to bind or ceased to exist. Again, the burden of proof is on them. Presumption favors the law – they need to make their case. They need to show “from laws in similar cases,” or “from general principles of law,” or “from the manner and practice of the Roman Curia,” or “from the common and constant teaching of approved authors” that Pius XII’s liturgical reforms have ceased. Until such time as they do, their claims under this head must be rejected.

Claim #2 – Harmful Laws

Their second charge is that Pius XII’s liturgical reforms have become harmful and therefore no longer oblige:

“A human ecclesiastical law that was obligatory when promulgated can become harmful (nociva) through a change of circumstances after the passage of time. When this happens, such a law ceases to bind.” (A traditional website)
“The many parallels in principles and practices between the Missal of Paul VI and the 1955 reforms now render continued use of the latter harmful, because such a use promotes (at least implicitly) the dangerous error that Paul VI's "reform" was merely one more step in the organic development of the Catholic liturgy.”(Ibid.)

A harmful law certainly does cease to bind, but they are begging the question here. The question is a simple one: Did Pius XII’s liturgical reforms become harmful laws?

Admitted: Not Harmful When Promulgated

That they were not harmful when first promulgated is admitted by them:

“The 1950s liturgical legislation introduced these things here and there, and on a limited basis. Taken individually, none was evil in itself.” (Ibid.)

Then, “in itself” they did not cease to bind, because “in itself” they were not harmful laws. In fact, it is the common teaching of the Church that a true pope could not issue harmful liturgical laws to the universal Church:

“[A]s if the Church, which is ruled by the Spirit of God, could have established discipline which is not only useless and burdensome for Christian liberty to endure, but which is even dangerous and harmful… (Auctorem Fidei, Errors of the Synod of Pistoia, Pope Pius VI, Aug. 28, 1794)

The Evolution of Harm

Here the rejectionists start drifting into the ozone as they try to explain their rationale for how these safe reforms became “harmful law”:

“The changed circumstances that render the 1950s legislation harmful are not simply the modernists’ intentions, but principally the fact of the promulgation of the New Mass — a rite which all traditionalists regard as evil, harmful to the Catholic faith, sacrilegious and grossly irreverent, if not outright invalid.” (A traditional website, ibid. Emphasis in original)
“But fifty years later, we recognize that these principles and precedents were the foot in the door to the eventual destruction of the Mass. In the very document promulgating the Novus Ordo, in fact, Paul VI himself points to the Pius XII legislation as the beginning of the process.” (Ibid.)

This argument is a real head scratcher.

Paul VI made a lot of laws, yet these very people ignore them all based upon the fact that Paul VI was not a true pope. And if he was not a true pope, then he consequently had no authority whereby to enact laws. No pope = no authority = no laws. So how, I ask, can the non-existent laws (the New Mass) of a none-existent pope (Paul VI) retroactively nullify the true laws (‘50’s liturgical reforms) of a true pope (Pius XII)? Good grief! Are we really expected us to buy this stuff?

In fact, taking this line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, one would have to admit that Paul VI and ilk have effectively nullified not only nearly all of the laws of the true Catholic Church, but also many of the Church’s doctrines as well. This is so because the heretical and erroneous decrees of Vatican Council II cite hundreds of justification references which include the teachings of past Popes, past Councils, the Fathers, Doctors and Saints of the Church, and even of Christ Himself! Since these references were “the foot in the door to the eventual destruction of” these Catholic laws and truths, they too would necessary have to be rejected.

This is patent nonsense, for if the liturgical practices of false religions could destroy Catholic doctrine and law, then the Church would not be indefectible - Christ would have lost and the devil would have won.

Law and Its Entire Purpose

But even setting aside the acknowledged fact that Paul VI was not a pope, their argument still would not work, because for a harmful law to cease to bind in its entirety, its entire purpose has to become harmful. (Canon Law, Cicognani, 1934, p. 627-8; Moral Theology, Callan and McHugh, 1928, Vol. 1, p. 170-1) In other words, if only part of Pius XII’s reforms were demonstrated to have become harmful, the reform in toto would still bind, only the harmful parts would cease to bind. Now to completely toss out Pius XII’s reforms is to state that all of his reforms were entirely harmful. Not only have they not proven this, they haven’t even asserted it. So their argument fails here too.

Claim #3 – Epikeia

Thirdly, the rejectionists attempt to apply the legal principle of epikeia as a justification for setting aside Pius XII’s liturgical laws:

“The Seminary also rejects the reforms of the Missal and Breviary made in 1955 and thereafter… The legal justification for the rejection of these rites, which were promulgated by a true Roman Pontiff [Pius XII], is the principle of epicheia, since if there were a Pope reigning at the present time, it is reasonable to presume that he would not want these inchoative changes to be used by the Church.” (Another traditional website)

Before proceeding further, it would be beneficial to clarify epikeia (spelled many different ways).

1. The definition of epikeia:

“A correction or emendation of a law which in its expression is deficient by reason of its universality, a correction made by a subject who deviates from the clear words of the law, basing his action upon the presumption, at least probable, that the legislator intended not to include in his law the case at hand.” (History, Nature and Use of Epikeia in Moral Theology, Fr. Riley, 1948, pgs. 137, 459)
“Equity; the interpretation of a law whereby it is held not to bind in a particular case because some special hardship would result.” (A Catholic Dictionary, Attwater, 1957)
“Epiky is therefore defined: The benign application of the law according to what is good and equitable, which decides that the lawgiver does not intend that, because of some exceptional circumstances, some particular case be included under his general law…” (Canon Law, Cicognani, 1934, p. 15)

2. The purpose of epikeia is well explained by St. Thomas:

“[I]t was not possible to lay down rules of law that would apply to every single case. Legislators in framing laws attend to what commonly happens: although if the law be applied to certain cases it will frustrate the equality of justice and be injurious to the common good, which the law has in view. Thus the law requires deposits to be restored, because in the majority of cases this is just. Yet it happens sometimes to be injurious–for instance, if a madman were to put his sword in deposit, and demand its delivery while in a state of madness, or if a man were to seek the return of his deposit in order to fight against his country. On these and like cases it is bad to follow the law, and it is good to set aside the letter of the law and to follow the dictates of justice and the common good. This is the object of ‘epikeia’ which we call equity.” (Summa Theologica, 2nd of 2nd, 120,1,)

3. The lawful application of epikeia:

“Epikeia is an interpretation exempting one from the law contrary to the clear words of the law and in accordance with the mind of the legislator. It is evidently a very exception thing. It may be used with prudent discretion, and is justified, only in a particular case where: (a) the strict interpretation of the law would work great hardship; and (b) in view of the usual interpretation it may be prudently conjectured that, in this particular case, the legislator would not wish the law to be strictly applied.” (Canon Law, A Text and Commentary, Bouscaren and Ellis, 1957, p. 33)

All theologians agree that at the very least two elements must be jointly present before one can apply epikeia to any given law. These elements are:

    1. Epikeia applies only to particular cases,
    2. and the law in question obliges contrarily to the mind of the lawmaker.

The great plurality of theologians also require a third element, that:

3. the strict observance of the law would work a hardship.

Now let us apply these criteria that theologians require for the lawful use of epikeia and see if they are present in Pius XII’s liturgical laws.

Epikeia Criterion #1 – It Applies Only to Particular Cases

The opponents of Pius XII’s reforms have never demonstrated how in “their particular case” the lawgiver would not want them to follow the strict observance of the law. In fact, in reading their literature one finds that they always speak in terms of universal harm to the Church, never in terms of particular harm to them. Criterion #1 is not met, and therefore epikeia may not be used by them. There is no need to proceed further, epikeia doesn’t apply; but for the sake of completeness, the other two criteria will be examined as well.

Epikeia Criterion #2 – The Mind of the Lawgiver

The traditional website already quoted above stated that:

“[S]ince if there were a Pope reigning at the present time, it is reasonable to presume that he would not want these inchoative changes to be used by the Church.”

Firstly, if there were a “Pope reigning at the present time” then the use of epikeia would not be legal, for in such circumstances one may not presume the mind of the pope, but rather one would be obliged to find out from him directly was his intention is:

“[I]f the subject can make a soundly probably judgment that the circumstances of the particular case at hand are such that the legislator willed not to include it in his law, he may deviate from the words of the law on the strength of that presumed intention of the legislator – but only when recourse to a Superior in impossible, and when there cannot be a delay until such time as recourse becomes possible.” (Riley, ibid. at p. 460, emphasis supplied)

Secondly, the intention of some hypothetical future pope has no bearing on the present case at all. Theologians all agree that it is the mind of the actual lawgiver, who created the law in question, that controls, not some future successor:

“The mind of the legislator: the legislator is the founder of the law, not his successor; and hence we must seek to discover – what did the legislator mean?” (Cicognani, Ibid., p. 612)
“Epieikeia may be defined, therefore, as a correction... which correction must be made in the manner in which the lawgiver himself would have made it, had he thought of the case, or would make it now, were he consulted.” (Callan and McHugh Ibid., Epieikeia, 1929, para. 412)

So it boils down to the question of whether, under our present circumstances, Pope Pius XII would have wanted his liturgical reforms to be followed or not, not some future pope.

Thirdly, trying to discover Pius XII’s intention on this matter is not a free-for-all. It’s not whatever one wants it to be or think that it should be. That should be obvious. There are objective criteria that must be followed before one may ever presume the mind of the lawgiver.

The first consideration under this head is the law itself:

“The mind of the legislator must, of course, first and above all be deduced from the words in the law.” (A Commentary on the New Code of Canon Law, 2nd ed., Fr. Augustine, 1918, p. 97)

Well, Pius XII made his intentions quite clear when he issued his new liturgical laws – he demanded that the old liturgy stop being used and the new liturgy used instead. That’s the mind of the legislator “deduced from the words in the law” itself:

“Those who follow the Roman rite are bound in the future to follow the Restored Ordo for Holy Week… This new Ordo must be followed…” (S.C. Rit., General Decree and Instruction, 16 Nov. 1955 – AAS 47-838)

In Fr. Riley’s exhaustive dissertation on epikeia already referenced above, he devoted 58 pages to the topic of the legislator’s intention and cited the following relevant conclusion regarding it:

“The intention of the legislator not to include a particular case in his law is not a merely interpretative intention, but exists in the mind of the legislator at least virtually though perhaps only implicitly.” (Riley, ibid. p. 457)

Let’s turn to Fr. Riley for a clarification of terms he employed – interpretative and virtual intention:

Interpretative intention:
“An interpretative intention is that which never existed, which does not now exist, but which merely would have existed or would exist, if the matter had been brought to an individual’s attention. Thus, for example, a priest would wish to offer Mass for his father if he knew he were dead.” (Riley, Ibid. p. 164, emphasis in original)

Virtual intention:

“An intention if virtual if, previously elicited, it here and now perseveres, influences the act, but is not adverted to when the act is being performed. Thus, an individual has a virtual intention of baptizing if he confers the Sacrament, which previously he had actually decided to confer, but does so while distracted. (Riley, Ibid. p. 162, emphasis in original)

Now when Pius XII created his liturgical laws, he either did or did not foresee how the modernists would use his reforms as an excuse to destroy the liturgy. From this we may conclude one of two things:

    a) If he didn’t foresee it, as some traditionalists who reject his reforms openly state, then their contention that he wouldn’t want his reforms to be binding under the present circumstances is by definition their “interpretative intention” on the law. As just noted above, this cannot justify the use of epikeia in his regard. Epikeia fails.

    b) If he did foresee what the modernists would do, yet enacted his laws universally anyways, then he clearly intended for them to bind regardless. Epikeia fails here too.

Epikeia Criterion #3 – Following the Law Would Cause Hardship

What hardship? 500 million Catholics lived under Pius XII’s liturgical reforms and I have yet to see so much as a single case of a bishop complaining that the reforms caused hardship. If fact, just the opposite is true:

“Pope Pius XII restored the liturgy of the sacred vigil of Easter in 1951. The celebration was to be held at the discretion of the Ordinary and as an experiment. This experiment was highly successful everywhere, as many Ordinaries reported to the Holy See.” (AAS 47-838, 11/16/1955)

And among those traditional Catholic groups that hold to Pius XII’s reforms, I have yet to see so much as a single complaint posited anywhere that claimed hardship resulted from adhering to the reforms. There is no hardship – the use of epikeia fails again.

Epikeia Misc.

The liturgical rejectionists whom I’ve quoted above have been for decades rejecting Pius XII’s reforms habitually and this rejection is not based upon particular grounds, but upon general ones, i.e., the reforms harmfully affect the Church in general. There is no denying this as they themselves openly proclaim it. Now according to canonists Bouscaren and Ellis, this is not epikeia, but abuse:

“The general and habitual interpretation of a law contrary to its clear terms is not epikeia, but an evident abuse.” (Canon Law, A Text and Commentary, Bouscaren and Ellis, 1957, p. 33, emphasis in original)

The use of epikeia simply does not apply to Pius XII’s liturgical reforms. Period.


If those who rejected Pius XII’s liturgical reforms did so in toto, their position would be less grievous than it is. But in point of fact, many of them are “cherry pickers.” They pick and choose which liturgical laws to follow and which ones not to follow, and this causes me to think that their attempted legal justifications are not really believed by them at all. Below are some examples (many more are being left out):

First Saturday Mass

At the unanimous request of the bishops in the U.S., Pope Pius XII granted permission for what is commonly known as the First Saturday Mass:

“[T]he Sacred Congregation of Rites, by reason of very special faculties given to it by the Most Holy Father, on January 8, 1954 granted, for a period of five years, permission to celebrate one and only one votive Mass of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the First Saturday of each month…” (Handbook of Ceremonies, Mueller, 1958, p. 30-1, emphasis supplied)

Now if some preamble in Pius XII’s reforms, making reference to some possible changes in the future, could rob the law of its stability to such a degree that it no longer binds, as our rejectionists claim, then by what justification do these very same people continue to celebrate First Saturday Masses in which a very specific time of expiration is clearly and unequivocally spelled out? 4

Communion Fast

In 1953, Pope Pius XII in his Apostolic Constitution, Christus Dominus, relaxed the laws concerning the Communion fast. He further relaxed them again in 1957 in his Motu Proprio, Sacram Communionem, to just 3 hours for solid food, 1 hour for non-alcoholic liquids, and no time limit on water.

This was quite a novel change, since we know from St. Augustine that the traditional fast from all food and water from midnight was already the universal law of the Church since at least the early 400’s. Pius XII, in granting this historic change to the Communion fast, also “earnestly exhorted” those who were able, to continue to observe the traditional Communion fast. The new Communion fast introduced a relaxation that was permitted, but nevertheless, discouraged.

Now the rejectionists will often cite as a justification for rejecting Pius XII’s reforms the diminution or harm inflicted upon “tradition.” It would seem therefore, according to their line of reasoning, that there could be no better example of harm to tradition than these reforms of the Communion fast, since it altered a 1,500 year-old tradition of fasting from midnight. Furthermore, this new Communion fast would also fall into our rejectionists’ argument of instability, since it was changed twice in 4 years under Pius XII, and then again under Paul VI.

“To my way of thinking, it makes no sense whatsoever to preserve the liturgical “tradition” of Holy Week ceremonies invented in 1955, transitional Breviary rubrics, and “reforms” that lasted for all of five years.” (A traditional website)

So one would expect that such an “unstable” liturgical permission, that is binding upon no one as a positive law, further aggravated by the its diminution of 1,500 years of tradition, and further used as a launching pad by Paul VI to yet further relax the Communion fast, to be rejected by those who decry Pius XII’s reforms, right? You would expect them to hold fast to the tradition of fasting from midnight, wouldn’t you? You would, but you would be wrong. They all embrace this particular liturgical reform. Why is that?

Evening Mass

In the same Apostolic Constitution, Christus Dominus, in which Pius XII first relaxed the Communion fast, he also permitted for the first time the celebration of the evening Mass when certain conditions were met. The tradition of celebrating Mass at a time which corresponded with the rising of the sun goes back to the earliest centuries of the Church, which should make this a prime candidate for those who reject Pius XII's reforms on the ground of the diminution of tradition. Furthermore, not only did it lack “stability” as they define it, but it is also a classic case of a “foot in the door” change by which they justify discarding Pius XII’s other reforms:

“The evening Masses of the 1950’s gradually led to the changes that all parishes currently have with vigil (Sunday) Masses being permitted on Saturday evenings. (The Catholic Spirit, Newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J., 2013)

Add to this the fact that evening Masses were not mandated, simply permitted, once again you would think that you had found the poster-boy liturgical reform of Pius XII that should be rejected, but once again, you would be wrong. For evening Masses are celebrated, if not by all, certainly by a large number of those who otherwise reject the liturgical reforms of Pius XII.

Feast of St. Joseph the Worker

The institution of the feast of St. Joseph the Worker was promulgated on April 24, 1956 (AAS 48-226). The decree which promulgated this feast abolished the former feast of the Solemnity of St. Joseph (est. 1911) and established a new liturgy in his honor. Both the new feast and its accompanying liturgy bound all Latin Rite Catholics. But the rejectionist clergy ignore this lawful decree and continue to celebrate instead the Solemnity of St. Joseph. Why is that? One of them provided an answer:

“We don’t celebrate this feastday because it seems that it is part of the pre-conciliar movement of destruction and I think that finally they weren’t successful, the authorities in the Church were not successful in its [sic], hindsight can see that, in the supplanting of very wicked… a wickedly revolutionary and anti-Christian concept, the concept of socialism, the concept of revolution, and especially the teaching of Marx. This whole idea of the working class, labor is everything, all really false notions.
The Holy Father doubtless sincerely wanted to provide an antidote, just as in many times in history that had been done, the replacement of a pagan feast with a Christian feast, but it didn’t work…
Under Pope Pius XII you had the worker priest movement, which is a total perversion of what the priesthood is supposed to be, but it was some sort of desperate, you might say last minute effort, like this feastday of St. Joseph the Worker – a desperate, last minute effort to try to reverse things, but it was too late, it was too little, it was too late and it was wrong, wrong-headed. With the liturgical change, what happened was that St. Joseph, patron saint of the Catholic Church, and it is the Catholic Church’s goal, duty and responsibility, as it were, to sanctify work and save the working class, to get the right concepts back into peoples’ minds and into their lives. Instead of St. Joseph as patron saint of the Church, now it’s just abolished, it’s gone, and now this feastday instead becomes the feastday of labor. It’s too easily co-opted into this whole world, the pre-conciliar world of the revolution.” (A traditional “bishop’s” audio broadcast)

This poor gentleman has lost sight of the connection that exists between grace and obedience. Many Catholics are aware of the story of St. John the Dwarf, but for those who are not familiar with it, here it is:

"John the Dwarf is best known for his obedience. The most famous story about his obedience is that one day Saint Pambo gave him a piece of dry wood and ordered him to plant and water it. John obeyed and went on watering it twice a day even though the water was about 12 miles from where they lived. After three years, the piece of wood sprouted and grew into a fruitful tree. St. Pambo took some of this tree's fruits and went around to all the elder monks, saying ‘take, eat from the fruit of obedience.’ The tree of Saint John the Dwarf, known as the Tree of Obedience, still exists today in the deserted Monastery of Saint John the Dwarf in the Nitrian Desert.” (Saints and Angels, Catholic Online)

What if this monk, instead of obeying, complained that his superior’s command to plant a dead stick “was too little, it was too late and it was wrong, wrong-headed.” and tossed the stick aside. Do you think, dear reader, that it would have blossomed?

Further, this gentleman is incorrect that St. Joseph’s role as patron of the Universal Church “it’s just abolished, it’s gone…”

The decree promulgating the institution of the feast of St. Joseph the Worker directs that his patronage of the Universal Church is to be transferred to his more ancient feastday of March 19th. It was not abolished at all, it was simply transferred (Popes can do that).

“[T]he title, “Patron of the Universal Church,” which was attached to said Solemnity [of St. Joseph], in the future is to be joined to the principle feast of St. Joseph on March 19th.” (AAS 48-226)

Regarding the worker-priest movement, Pius XII abolished it in 1953; not that it was necessarily wrong in principle, but because it had been infiltrated by leftists. But he never abolished the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, so once again those claiming that this feast has ceased to exist or to bind have the burden of proving that this in fact happened. If publicly disparaging a true Pope by calling him “wrong-headed” or accusing him of being duped by revolutionaries, etc., is supposed to constitute this proof, then let them make their case. But let them make it according to the Church’s criteria, of which they themselves argue should be followed:

“[T]he writings of pre-Vatican II liturgists, canonists and theologians, as well as to various papal pronouncements and decrees. This is where we priests are supposed to look for answers, rather than just relying on gut, personal opinion and shooting from the hip.” (A traditional website, ibid.)

Exactly! Now do it. Show us the pre-Vatican II liturgists, canonists, theologians, papal pronouncements and decrees that support the proposition that when a pope’s law is deemed to be “wrong-headed” or enacted in political error, and this according to the personal opinions of those who openly professes to have no authority in the Church, that the law thereby ceases to exist or to bind. We are waiting.


Now if Pius XII was “wrong-headed” in establishing this liturgical feast of St. Joseph – such “wrong-headedness,” as has already been shown, would have no affect on the binding nature of this liturgical law whatsoever, unless it was proven to be useless, harmful, or unreasonable, as already noted. But far from being “wrong-headed,” it seems to me that the establishment of this feast actually shows a keen and providential foresight by the Holy Father into the conditions that would befall Catholic workers in the future. The dangers in the modern workplace today are legion. Never in the history of the Church have working Catholic men and women been exposed to so many and such grave spiritual dangers as they are exposed to today. If EVER in the history of the Church these men and women needed the power patronage of St. Joseph the Worker to watch over them at work, it is today. But instead of assisting the Holy Father in promoting St. Joseph under this title, as they are bound to do, they have chosen to hinder the Pope instead. Who knows how many countless Catholics, as a result of this, have failed to turn to St. Joseph for his much needed aid in their dangerous work environments? But the rejectionists have determined that they know better and consequently have, contrary to law, ripped St. Joseph the Worker from his place of honor and thereby diminished his patronage under this title. If there is harm to be found here, it is the harm of diminishing, contrary to the express wish and command of the Vicar of Jesus Christ, the patronage of St. Joseph so desperately needed by working people today.

The Reinstating of the Abolished Feast of the Solemnity of St. Joseph

The decree that established the feast of St. Joseph the Worker also abolished the former feast of the Solemnity of St. Joseph.

“But the Solemnity of St. Joseph, which hitherto was celebrated on the 4th Monday after the 2nd Sunday of Easter, shall be abolished.” (AAS 48-226, 4/24/1956)

So as of 1956, there is no such feast as the Solemnity of St. Joseph. It was abolished (Popes can do that). It has ceased to exist.

Now many of the rejectionists fail not only to observe the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, but have gone even further and re-established the feast of the Solemnity of St. Joseph on the 4th Monday after the 2nd Sunday after Easter. This goes beyond simply disobeying a papal command; this is assuming papal authority, at least in the arena of establishing liturgical feasts. This is truly egregious, because this is not a matter dealing with cessation of law (however vacuous their arguments); rather this is a matter of usurping the authority of a pope, for:

“The Holy See alone has the right to regulate the sacred liturgy…” (Canon 1257)

To presume the authority to reestablish a feast abolished by the Holy See is tantamount to saying that said persons have the same authority as does a pope. By doing so, said persons are not only drifting in schism, but into heresy as well.

I can say this because unlike Pius XII’s Holy Week liturgy, so much disparaged by the rejectionists, no argument whatsoever can be made that the feast of St. Joseph the Worker was “transitional.” It was certainly established without any suggestion of a future change regarding it. Neither has any evidence (an opinion is not evidence) been presented by the rejectionists that the establishment of the feast of St. Joseph the Worker was useless, harmful or unreasonable. In truth, they don’t even have a pretext for rejecting the liturgical law which established the feast of St. Joseph the Worker any more than they have a pretext for reestablishing the abolished feast of the Solemnity of St. Joseph. What we are witnessing here is the typical conduct, I’m sorry to say, of non-Catholics.


In language that is frighteningly reminiscent of the false ecumenism of Vatican II, we have this disturbing statement:

“Inevitably today, because there is no authority in the Church… it is in the spirit of appealing to the Common Father, the Pope, there is no pope today, so therefore, we presume, humbly, that the changed conditions would justify the non-observance of certain liturgical laws, which seem to us now to have been so changed, that they produce a bad effect. Nevertheless, there are others, who simply rest content with the then valid legislation of the Church, and we certainly shouldn’t condemn them, it shouldn’t be a cause of any bitterness, enmity or division between us.” [Note the admission of the "then valid legislation"] (A traditional “bishop’s” audio broadcast, ibid.)

The Catholic Church is one in authority, one in doctrine, and one in worship (liturgy). Whenever this unity is threatened, there must necessarily be a division between those inflicting the wound to her unity and those struggling to preserve her unity. It is to safeguard unity that popes have reserved to themselves the authority to regulate liturgical laws.

“The Church has further used her right of control over liturgical observance to protect the purity of divine worship against abuse from dangerous and imprudent innovations introduced by private individuals and particular churches… It follows from this that 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. Bishops, for their part, have the right and duty carefully to watch over the exact observance of the prescriptions of the sacred canons respecting divine worship. Private individuals, therefore, even though they be clerics [bishops are clerics], may not be left to decide for themselves in these holy and venerable matters, involving as they do the religious life of Christian society along with the exercise of the priesthood of Jesus Christ and worship of God… 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.” (Pius XII, Mediator Dei, ibid.)

Liturgical divisions will end when liturgical obedience reigns.


A prominent traditional website posted this:

“The Catholic liturgy we seek to restore should be the one redolent of the fragrance of antiquity — not the one reeking with the scent of Bugnini.” (A traditional Catholic website, ibid.)

No, it shouldn’t necessarily be redolent of the fragrance of antiquity; but it absolutely must be redolent of the fragrance of holy obedience, because without obedience we can neither please God nor save our souls. The scent that you smell in the 1950’s liturgical reforms is that of a true Vicar of Jesus Christ, because the reforms belong to him and to no other. This Vicar of Jesus Christ on earth had the power to bind in Heaven and on earth, and in fact, did so bind his liturgical reforms. It is for popes to command, it is for us to obey.

We must be careful not to lose sight of the fundamental purpose of liturgy - the worship of God. All of the religions of the world claim that they all worship God, but we Catholics know that God rejects these multiple forms of worship because they are done contrarily to His ordinances; they are the inventions of men. If one hopes to truly render worship to God, it must be done according to His dictates, and no other. Now it is of faith that the true worship of God can only be found in the Catholic Church. For nearly two thousand years, false teachers beyond number have tried to persuade Catholics that their own methods of worship were superior. Every tool in the trade has been employed to accomplish this objective, including references to tradition and antiquity; but we must not be fooled, especially in this era of modernism, where there is a tendency among traditional Catholics to view everything premised with “tradition” or “antiquity” as necessarily better and safer.

Our safety does not lie in tradition or antiquity, our safety lies in obedience to the Church. We have nothing to fear from God when we obey His Church. So when others attempt to lead us from the safe harbor of obedience, however enticing and persuasive their arguments may appear, we need to stand firm and tenaciously cling to the Church all the more firmly. Think of your final end, dear reader, and ask yourself - when you stand before the judgment seat of God, will you want to have been found obeying the laws of one of God’s chosen Vicars, or the rationalizations of "clergy" who proclaim that they know better?

Final Word Goes to Pope Pius XII

Let me conclude with Pius XII once again, who answers the liturgical rejectionists so insightfully:

“Clearly no sincere Catholic can refuse to accept the formulation of Christian doctrine more recently elaborated and proclaimed as dogmas by the Church, under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit with abundant fruit for souls, because it pleases him to hark back to the old formulas. No more can any Catholic in his right senses repudiate existing legislation of the Church to revert to prescriptions based on the earliest sources of canon law. Just as obviously unwise and mistaken is the zeal of one who in matters liturgical would go back to the rites and usage of antiquity, discarding the new patterns introduced by disposition of divine Providence to meet the changes of circumstances and situation.” (Pius XII, Mediator Dei, ibid.)








1 Pius XII’s liturgical reforms were in fact sound reforms (not that my opinion has any bearing on them). A clear example of this can be found in the Easter Vigil liturgy. Those rejecting his reforms celebrate their Easter Vigils early Saturday morning, but this makes little sense considering that Our Lord rose from the dead on the THIRD day, not on the SECOND day. On the second day, our Blessed Mother, the Apostles, and the Holy Women are still in mourning; the lifeless, lacerated and mangled Body of Christ still lies in the darkness of a cold tomb. And at this time of great sorrow, these traditionalists are celebrating - walking around in white, feasting and singing alleluias! This was one of the things Pius XII changed in his liturgical reforms; he outlawed such early Easter Vigil ceremonies because:
    “In the beginning these rites were performed on the same days of the week and at the same hours of the day that the sacred mysteries occurred… During the middle ages they began, for various pertinent reasons, to set an earlier time… This did not take place without detriment to the liturgical meaning, nor without causing some confusion between the Gospel narratives and the liturgical ceremonies attached to them. The solemn liturgy of the Easter vigil in particular lost its original clarity and the meaning of its words and symbols when it was torn from its proper nocturnal setting. Moreover, Holy Saturday, with too early a recollection of the Easter gladness intruding into it, lost its original character as a day of mourning for the burial of the Lord.” (AAS 47-838, Holy Week: Liturgical Order Definitely Restored, 11/16/55)
    This is just one example of not only the reasonableness of his reforms, but further, how much they were needed. This is mentioned only because I don’t want to leave the reader the impression that we must obey Pius XII’s reforms “even though they were bad.” They were not bad.

2 The purpose of this article is to attack erroneous doctrine, not erroneous people, therefore the names of those posting these websites have been intentionally excluded.

3 “Quod is lex est dubie condita, vel dubie promulgata, non obligat, quia possesio non stat pro ipsa… Contra vero, si lex est certe condita, et certe promulgata, et inde oritur dubium an sit abrogata, vel revocata, aut dispensata, est observanda; quia tunc ipsa possidet.”

4 I am not arguing against celebrating the First Saturday Mass, to the contrary - I am simply using this as one example of the double-standard employed by the rejectionists.

Bishop Joseph Marie @