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Dialogue Mass - XXXVII

Progressivist ‘Simplification’ of the Mass
Inspired by Luther

Dr. Carol Byrne, Great Britain
When we study the history of the Liturgical Movement, which was heavily influenced by Fr. Josef Jungmann, we must marvel at the ease with which the 20th century progressivists were made to believe almost anything that reflected badly on the medieval Church. His fellow-Jesuit, Fr. (soon to be Cardinal) Avery Dulles neatly encapsulated in a few words the core of Jungmann’s circumlocutory treatment of medieval Catholics:

“In the Middle Ages the cult of the saints became exuberant to the point of falling into excesses [i.e. superstition]. A venal clergy, in combination with a gullible and largely illiterate populace, furnished a breeding ground for fanciful legends about apparitions, heavenly messages and miraculous cures…The fires of Hell and Purgatory were vividly imagined. Indulgences, pilgrimages, relics and Votive Masses became objects of a thriving business.” (1)

avery dulles

Progressivist Card. Avery Dulles takes Luther's position & labels Catholic teaching 'legends'

No 16th century Protestant propagandist could have put it more venomously or unfairly. And as the history of the “Reformation” has been largely written by Protestants, the idea that remains to this day is that the Catholic faithful were intimidated out of their money by a clergy whose main motivation was the accumulation of wealth. It was easy for Jungmann to capitalize on these polemical caricatures – after all, he too was strongly motivated to reject the thought and achievements of the Middle Ages.

Having demeaned the value of the Elevation for the amusement of modern liturgical reformers (here and here), Jungmann next turned his attention to another pillar of Catholic liturgy, the venerable tradition of Votive Masses. (2) These were most commonly said at the request of the faithful for their own special intentions (notably for the souls of deceased loved ones) (3) and were often accompanied by the voluntary payment of a stipend to the priest as a gift to the Church.

Jungmann & Luther slander the medieval faithful

The medieval Votive Mass was denounced by both the 16th century Protestants and 20th century liturgists, interestingly for the same spurious reasons: superstition, ignorance and clerical greed. According to this view, the clergy fleeced the gullible laity by filling their heads with superstitious ideas about the effects of the Mass, which would come to them in return for the requisite sum of money. Jungmann stated:

“The complaints raised by the Reformers, especially by Luther, were aimed accurately and quite relentlessly against questionable points in ecclesiastical praxis regarding the Mass; the fruits of the Mass, the Votive Masses with their various values, the commerce in stipends.” (4)

While no one denies that abuses exist in every era of Church history and that there were in the Middle Ages clerics who failed to live up to their calling and lay people of questionable orthodoxy, Jungmann was not justified in taking Luther’s criticisms at face value. For such opinions constituted a significant aspect of anti-clerical complaint in the 16th century and were fed not so much by factual evidence as by Protestant opposition to Catholic doctrine and liturgy.

The fruits of the Mass

The doctrine that the Mass produces “fruits” – that it brings both spiritual and temporal benefits to the faithful present and those for whom they pray – was rejected by the Protestant heretics as a superstitious fable. It was their way of attacking the Church’s role in the dispensation of grace. Instead of upholding the impetratory value of the Mass on the grounds that it is Christ Who acts in it and is unfailingly heard by the Father, Jungmann joined with the Protestants in ridiculing it.


Jungmann ridicules the efficacious value of the Mass

A whole section of his history of the Mass is devoted to a series of medieval caricatures in the form of anecdotal satire, i.e., “funny stories” intended to raise a few laughs at the expense of traditional Catholic piety. (5) Thus, according to Jungmann, it was popularly believed that “during the time one hears Mass one does not grow older… after hearing Mass one’s food tastes better” etc. (6)

But he made no attempt to put any of this into its proper context, ignoring the centuries-old tradition of Catholic piety, which has been in the Church since the time of the early Fathers but which has been jettisoned by the Liturgical Movement. For example, the mention of not growing any older was explained by St. Leonard of Port Maurice as a reference to a sort of spiritual youthfulness experienced by those who hear Mass devoutly. (7)

In short, Jungmann did not understand the inner logic and intellectual coherence of medieval Catholicism.

And he complained that the system of Votive Mass, with its emphasis on stipulated days, numbers of candles and pre-arranged stipends, lent itself to exploitation by Catholics as some sort of magic formula:

“What was really questionable in this practice of Mass series and Votive Masses was the assurance ‒ recurring time and again ‒ of unfailing results.” (8)

According to Jungmann, these ideas “were able to flourish unimpeded in homiletic and devotional literature of the day” (9) and were believed by the people because they “coincided with their own mania for miracles.” (10)

But there is no evidence to prove that superstition was a defining element in the corpus of medieval belief and practice, or that the faithful were trying to manipulate God into guaranteeing them instant favors. What is evident, however, from Jungmann’s remarks is that progressivists pay scant attention to miracles and look with uncomprehending eyes on the faith of our medieval ancestors.

Jungmann dismissed the Votive Mass contemptuously as the product of a pre-scientific mentality suitable only for people living in the “Dark Ages”: (11)


A Protestant woodcut mocking the selling of indulgences

“The low state of medicine and hygiene and in general the small knowledge of natural remedies, as well as the widespread uncertainty of legal rights in the early medieval states, to some extent explain the large number of external petitions in these Votive Masses and the strong appeal they had for the people.” (12)

This is simply an example of reductionist thinking; a fuller understanding of the medieval faithful would reveal that their motives for requesting Votive Masses were primarily spiritual and devotional, even in times of crisis and epidemic such as the Black Death.

It is not difficult to see why these Masses were rejected by Protestants who did not believe that the Mass is the supreme form of Christian worship, infinitely pleasing to God, or that the merits of the Holy Sacrifice could be applied to the living and the dead.

What is difficult to understand is that, as a Catholic priest, Jungmann should have adopted the two major themes of Protestants’ animosity towards the medieval Votive Mass: the alleged greed of the clergy for financial gain (the so-called “traffic in stipends”) and superstition of the faithful (their supposed belief in the “magical” effects of the Mass).

Luther inspired the progressivist ‘simplification’

He even went so far as to maintain that the status quo in the medieval Church – as painted by the Protestants – caused whole nations to revolt against the Mass, thus effectively vindicating Luther and the other heresiarchs who supported him:

devil indulgences

A vicious caricature of the Devil collecting indulgences

“In general, the evil [the Mass] continued to flourish… became an object of scorn and ridicule and was repudiated as a horrible idolatry by entire peoples… The reference to self-interest and superstition had made an impression. And considering the low state of religious training, this adverse criticism threatened to destroy in people’s minds not only the excess foliage, but the very branch and root. The Mass was disregarded, despised.” (13)

But the blame for this, in Jungmann’s estimation, was not to be attributed to Luther, but to the medieval liturgy, especially the Elevation, silent Canon, use of Latin, emphasis on priesthood and sacrifice, “non-participation” of the laity etc.:

“It was not hard for Luther to strike a destructive blow against such a system. At least at the outset, he and the other reforming influences already at work in the Church were undoubtedly moved by genuine religious concern. Luther demanded a return to a more simple Christianity.” (14) [emphasis added]

These words are illuminating. They show us that the much vaunted “simplification” of the liturgy, begun by Pope Pius XII and progressively imposed on the Church, was greatly desired not only by Luther but by Jungmann and other influential liturgists as a means of sweeping away all that was distinctively Catholic in the traditional Mass.


  1. J. Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite, vol. 1, p. 132
  2. Votive Masses have been in existence since the early centuries of the Church, and examples of them are contained in the earliest sources of the Roman Rite, i.e., in the Leonine Sacramentary (4th century) and also the Gelasian Sacramentary, which has a large collection of them. (Cf. Adrian Fortescue, The Mass: a Study of the Roman Liturgy, Longmans, Green, 1922, p. 120.) The intentions for these Masses reflected the great variety of human needs for which the faithful sought divine assistance, and had both a private and public character: for an increase in charity, a safe journey, in thanksgiving for a wedding, birthday or anniversary of ordination, for help in various afflictions such as illness or injustice, for protection against plague, drought or war etc.
  3. Another use of the Votive Mass is to celebrate one of the mysteries of God, such as the Holy Trinity, or in honor of Our Lady and the Saints.
  4. Avery Dulles, The New World of Faith, Huntington, IN.: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, 2000, p. 71.
  5. It is noteworthy that satire of the Votive Mass was a well established genre in Pseudo-Reformation times, providing a precedent for Jungmann’s parodies. A prime example is a work by the 16th century German Protestant theologian and preacher, Naogeorgius (the nom de plume of Thomas Kirchmayer). His satirical skit on the Votive Mass was originally written in Latin doggerel verse and entitled Regnum Papisticum before being translated by the English poet, Barnaby Googe, and published in 1570 under the title The Popish Kingdom, or Reign of Antichrist. Interestingly, this can be read in the Introduction to Fr. F.X. Lasance’s New Roman Missal (1945 edition) and is here presented with an ironic twist. As Fr. Lasance pointed out, although the poem set out to ridicule Catholic faith and practice, it unwittingly demonstrated just how important the Mass was to medieval Catholics, covering every aspect of their lives in this world and the next.
  6. J. Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite, vol. 1, p. 129.
  7. “One does not grow older in sin.” See The Hidden Treasure: or the Immense Excellence of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Dublin, James Duffy, 1861, p. 33. This idea is reinforced at the beginning of Mass when the priest declares his intention to approach the altar of God “qui laetificat juventutem meam”. As the point was considered by modern liturgists to be of no value, it was expunged together with the whole of the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar.
  8. J. Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite, vol. 1, p. 130. But he omitted to mention the essential proviso – known to all medieval Catholics – that the outcome of our prayers is entirely subject to God’s will and judgement. St. Leonard, quoting St. Jerome, explained as a certainty that “the Lord grants all the favours for which we petition Him in the Mass, provided they be suitable to us.” (Ibid., p. 31)
  9. Ibid., p. 129
  10. Ibid., p. 130. Here Jungmann confused miracles with superstition. He failed to point out that the medieval faithful were right to believe in the miraculous effects of the Mass. An example was given by St. Augustine, who related the cure of one of his neighbors as a result of a Votive Mass: “Hesperius, of a Tribunitian family, and a neighbor of our own, has a farm called Zubedi in the Fussalian district; and, finding that his family, his cattle, and his servants were suffering from the malice of evil spirits, he asked our presbyters, during my absence, that one of them would go with him and banish the spirits by his prayers. One went, offered there the sacrifice of the Body of Christ, praying with all his might that that vexation might cease. It did cease forthwith, through God’s mercy.” St. Augustine, The City of God, book 22, chapter 8 ‘Of Miracles Which Were Wrought that the World Might Believe in Christ, and Which Have Not Ceased Since the World Believed.’
  11. The term “Dark Ages” was coined by the Italian Renaissance scholar, Petrarch (1304-1374). From the modern perspective, the Middle Ages are described as “dark” because of a supposed lack of scientific progress.
  12. J. Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite, vol. 1, p. 220.
  13. Ibid., vol. 1, p. 132.
  14. J. Jungmann, J., ‘Liturgy on the Eve of the Reformation,’ Worship, 33, 1959, pp. 514


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Posted August 12, 2016

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