B. Conspiracies and “Falsified” Texts
Another story which has recently gained currency in traditionalist circles alleges that the St. Michael prayer is a “falsified” version of a longer prayer Leo XIII wrote. The longer prayer, we are told, warned that Judaeo-Masonic infiltrators would achieve their long-time goal of usurping the papal chair, so conspirators “censored” it twice after Leo’s death.
This is the sort of juicy tale that certain types on the traditional Catholic scene really love to promote. It incorporates some familiar elements: private revelations, infiltrators, altered documents, a deceived pontiff, and prophecies of an evil intruder sitting on the Chair of Peter. For those who understand how the enemies of the Church operate, parts of the account may sound plausible at first. It also (as contemporary book reviewers like to say) makes for “a rollicking good read.”
Unfortunately, it’s the type of conspiracy story which exposes traditional Catholics to ridicule — because when you look closely at the facts adduced as “proof” for a conspiracy, you discover that the story’s originators managed to get just about everything wrong.
To understand how, we turn first to the background of the prayer which — the story goes — is the “original” version of prayer to St. Michael recited after Low Mass.
On 25 September 1888 Pope Leo XIII approved a prayer to St. Michael the Archangel and granted an indulgence of 300 days for its recitation. By this time, of course, the text of the prayer to St. Michael we know from the Prayers after Low Mass had already been in use for two years. The text Leo approved in 1888 was, in fact, a completely new prayer.
Like the 1886 text, the 1888 prayer also invokes St. Michael’s aid us in our warfare against the devil. But it is a very lengthy text, filled with line after line of vivid and striking imagery about the devil and his minions.
The prayer describes the devil as one who pours out on “men of depraved mind and corrupt heart, the spirit of lying, of impiety, of blasphemy, and the pestilent breath of impurity, and of every vice and iniquity.” Of these servants of Satan, the prayer adds:
These most crafty enemies have filled and inebriated with gall and bitterness the Church, the spouse of the Immaculate Lamb, and have laid impious hands on her most sacred possessions.
The prayer then expands upon this description with the following:
In the Holy Place itself, where has been set up the See of the most holy Peter and the Chair of Truth for the light of the world, they have raised the throne of the abominable impiety, with the iniquitous design that when the Pastor has been struck, the sheep may be scattered.
These two passages, needless to say, are the ones which the censored text theorists claim “predict” the effects of Vatican II.
After its approval, the 1888 text was at some point included in The Raccolta (the Church’s official collection of indulgenced prayers).
In an audience two years later, moreover, Leo XIII approved a new and lengthy “Exorcism against Satan and Apostate Angels,” intended to be used by bishops and by priests who received special permission from their ordinaries. This rite employed the 1888 prayer to St. Michael, including the two passages quoted above, as sort of a preface to a series of prayers of exorcism. The rite was then incorporated into the Appendix of The Roman Ritual (the book containing the official texts for sacramental rites and various blessings) among the more recent blessings (Benedictiones Novissimae).
Later editions of The Raccolta omitted the conclusion of the 1888 prayer, beginning with the passage which spoke of the “throne of abominable impiety” raised where the See of Peter stood. Later editions of The Roman Ritual went even further: they omitted not only that passage, but also the one referring those who have laid impious hands on the Church’s most sacred possessions. Other passages were deleted as well, leaving only about one-third of the 1888 text. (See the Appendix below.)
Now, having misidentified an 1888 prayer as the antecedent to an 1886 prayer, the proponents of the censored text theory contend that unnamed infiltrators in the Vatican, fearing exposure of their plot to seize control of the See of Peter, stealthily deleted these passages from the Raccolta and the Ritual after Leo’s death.
All of it is nonsense.
First, the passages were not removed after Leo XIII’s death. They were already suppressed in 1902 — a year and a half before the pontiff died.
Second, this suppression was not, as we are told, an “ambiguous forgery” perpetrated “mysteriously” by some “unnamed Vatican official.” The Sacred Congregation of Rites, in consultation with the Congregation for Indulgences, revised the 1888 prayer and issued a new edition. This was printed in 1902, bearing the seal of the Congregation’s Prefect, Cardinal Ferrata, and the signature of the Congregation’s Secretary, Archbishop D. Panici.
Third, the passages in question, please note, were not written in the future tense, as one would expect for a prophecy. They were written in the past tense, and thus referred to events which had already taken place in 1888.
To whom, then, do the passages refer? One has but to look to the situation the Pope faced in Italy in the late 1880s.
The “crafty enemies” of the Church who “laid impious hands on her most sacred possessions” were none other than the revolutionaries who (as we have seen above) invaded the Papal States and despoiled the Church’s properties.
And the “throne of abominable impiety“ raised up in “the Holy Place itself, where there has been set up the See of the most holy Peter and the Chair of truth for the light of the world”? This was the throne of the King of Italy, set up in the Quirinale Palace.
Prior to its seizure 1870 by the excommunicated King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel, the Quirinale was the principal papal palace in Rome. It was the customary location for papal conclaves. It was also one of the places where the pope had held court, sitting, of course, on a throne — the “Chair of truth for the light of the world.” When the 1888 prayer was composed, the throne of a usurping and excommunicated monarch then stood in this palace which had been stolen from the the pope.
Why, finally, were the texts altered toward the end of the Leo’s reign? Again, we look to historical situation.
By 1902 Leo XIII had been carrying on secret negotiations for years with the new King, Umberto. The King at one point appeared willing to return a substantial part of the city of Rome to the Pope’s control — a proposal that could have infuriated Parliament enough to call for the King’s deposition. Had Umberto made such a risky concession, he would have expected (and received) official recognition of his status from the Pope. Further references to the King in the Church’s Ritual as occupying “a throne of abominable impiety,” needless to say, would have been at odds with papal acknowledgement of the King’s legitimacy. The prayer also linked the establishment of the King’s throne with the devil, who pours out on “men of depraved mind and corrupt heart, the spirit of lying, of impiety, of blasphemy, and the pestilent breath of impurity, and of every vice and iniquity.” Since the King gave signs of wanting to make amends, it probably seemed appropriate to alter the prayer.
To sum up, then: The lengthy 1888 prayer to St. Michael was composed after the St. Michael prayer in the Leonine Prayers appeared. The passages in the 1888 text which are supposedly “prophetic” refer in fact to the Italian government’s seizure of Church property. Once the King of Italy appeared willing to arrive at a settlement of the Roman Question, the Vatican dropped from the prayer passages which he and the Italian government would have found offensive.
IV. LAW AND THE LEONINE PRAYERS
Apologists for the New Mass sometimes make the false claim that various popes introduced substantial “changes” into the Mass of St. Pius V.
When Leo XIII ordered the recitation of the Leonine Prayers, however, he did not legislate a “change” in the Mass. The prayers, unlike, say, the Ite Missa Est or the Last Gospel, are not part of the Ordinary of the Mass. They are always referred to as prayers recited after Mass. The rubrics in the front of the priest’s altar Missal remained unchanged, and do not mention the Leonine Prayers at all.
In this section we will consider subsequent legislation on the Leonine Prayers, and, in light of the recent achievement of the object for these prayers, discuss the consequent cessation of the law regarding them.
A. Subsequent Legislation
The original legislation prescribing the Leonine Prayers says they are to be recited after every Low Mass (i.e., Mass without singing), while subsequent decrees speak rather of reciting the prayers after Private Mass. Over the years, a number of questions arose over the issue of when it would be lawful to omit the prayers. The Sacred Congregation of Rites issued a number of decrees on the subject. The meaning of some of the decrees is not absolutely clear, and rubricists (experts in liturgical law) were not able to reach complete agreement in interpreting them.
The Leonine Prayers may be omitted after a Low Mass which:
• Takes the place of a Solemn Mass (e.g., an ordination or a funeral Mass).
• Has the privileges of a Solemn Votive Mass pro re gravi (e.g., the Sacred Heart Votive Mass on First Friday).
• Is celebrated with a certain solemnity (e.g., a Nuptial Mass, the Mass following the Blessing of Ashes on Ash Wednesday).
• Takes the place of the main (“parochial”) Mass on Sunday and is “celebrated with a certain solemnity” (e.g., Asperges beforehand, prayer for the government afterwards, etc.).
• Is followed by a sacred function or pious excercise, without the celebrant departing from the sanctuary (e.g., Benediction, Novena, etc. after Mass).
The foregoing list is not exhaustive, and is taken from a classic work written in 1941 by the great English rubricist O’Connell. Subsequently, the Congregation of Rites granted an Indult to the clergy of the Archdiocese of Bologna, allowing them to omit the prayers at Masses where a homily was given. A 1960 decree clarified some previous decisions on the matter, and gave permission to priests everywhere to omit the Leonine Prayers at a “Dialogue” Mass, or at a Mass where a homily was given.
Vatican II (1962–1965), of course, had refused to condemn Communism, while Paul VI after his election in 1963 began to take the first tentative steps toward building what would come to be known as the “Vatican-Moscow Axis.” Since the Leonine Prayers were a reminder that Moscow was conducting a persecution, they were among the first things to go.
In 1964, even before the Council closed, the Vatican issued a liturgical instruction which contained the memorably brutal phrase: “The Last Gospel is omitted; the Leonine Prayers are suppressed.” Under the circumstances, a more appropriate verb would have been “liquidated” or “purged.”
Only a handful of priests resisted the post-Vatican II liturgical changes at first, but not everyone retained the Leonine Prayers. I suspect this was the case in France, since at the St. Pius X Seminary in Ecône in the 1970s we never said the prayers publicly. (I recited them publicly after my first Mass in 1977, an act considered rather daring at the time.)
Most priests in America who first resisted the changes were well-known as dedicated patriots and vocal anti-Communists. These few stalwart men kept the Leonine Prayers alive when no one else in America did. It is to their eternal credit that they handed down the practice to a future generation which would see the prayers at long last bear fruit.
B. Recent Developments in Russia
The intention Pope Pius XI decreed in 1930 for the Leonine Prayers, as we noted above, was the freedom of the Church in Russia — that “tranquility and freedom to profess the faith,” as he said, “be restored to the afflicted people of Russia.”
The people of Russia are indeed afflicted by many things these days — corrupt politicians, scarce goods, Western immorality, socialism, international bankers, and the “New World Order.” But it seems certain that they do enjoy at least one thing: “the tranquility and freedom to profess the faith.”
On 1 October 1990 the Soviet Union enacted a law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations. It was a lengthy and detailed statute, running in translation to nearly 500 lines of miniscule print.
The law’s stated purpose was to guarantee the rights of citizens “to determine and express their attitude toward religion, to hold corresponding convictions and to profess a religion and perform religious rites without hindrance.”
Article 3 of the law is of particular interest to us here:
In accordance with the right to freedom of conscience, every citizen independently determines his attitude toward religion and has the right, individually or in conjunction with others, to profess any religion or not to profess any, and to express and disseminate convictions associated with his attitude toward religion.
We note, for the sake of emphasis, the phrase “the right… to profess any religion.”
In Article 4, the law creates legal liability for restricting this right:
Any direct or indirect restriction of rights or the establishment of any advantages for citizens depending on their attitude toward religion, as well as the incitement of hostility and hatred in this connection or any insulting of citizens’ feelings, entails liability as established by law.
This would forbid persecuting someone for his religious beliefs.
The statute deals exhaustively with the manner in which these rights are exercised in practice. It guarantees the right to form religious organizations (Art. 7), religious congregations (Art. , religious associations (Art. 9), religious orders (Art. 10), and religious educational institutions (Art. 11). It allows a religious group to formulate its own statutes (Art. 12), to acquire civil/legal existence, (Arts. 13, 14), to terminate voluntarily its own existence (Art. 16), to use state properties (Art. 17), to own property (Art. 18), to dispose of property (Art. 20), to establish and maintain places of worship (Art. 21), to conduct worship services without hindrance (Art. 21), to acquire and produce religious literature and objects (Art. 22), to create charitable organizations (Art. 23) and to maintain ties with international religious organizations (Art. 24).
Given the Communists’ track record, we looked at all this from afar and took it with a grain (if not a pillar) of salt.
To be continued below....
Others more familiar with current affairs in Russia, however, say that the status of believers underwent a real change. In an exhaustive commentary on the new law, one Western legal scholar noted that a comparison of past Soviet legislation with the 1990 law reveals that “there is no doubt about the intent of the legislator to endow freedom of conscience with a content quite different from that of the past.” Professor Jerry G. Pankhurst, a Russian-speaking American who actually spent some time in the Soviet Union after the law was passed, assured me that Catholics were indeed then quite free to profess their religion and that they suffered no persecution.
In 1991 events took an even more dramatic turn. Gorbachev fell, the Communist Party was dissolved and the Soviet Union broke up. The new Russian Republic adopted a law on religious freedom similar to the 1990 Soviet law. Professor Parkhurst believes that the new law “while totally compatible, is even more tolerant in the freedoms it grants.”
But is it put into practice? For well over a year now, the conservative Catholic press has been carrying extensive reports on the changed situation for Catholics in Russia. A seminary has been founded. Members of the intelligentisia have converted. Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, appointed Apostolic Administrator of the European part of the Russian Republic by John Paul II, now resides in Moscow and ministers to a growing flock. Bishop Joseph Werth, a Jesuit, now travels around Siberia seeking out scattered groups of Catholics. Some church properties have been returned, and new religious publications have sprung up.
Nor are the adepts of the Novus Ordo the only ones to benefit from the new climate: Two Russians are now studying for the priesthood at the Society of St. Pius X’s seminary in Ecône, Switzerland. And one of the Ecône seminary professors, Father Rulleau, now travels to Moscow several times a year to offer the traditional Mass for a group of Catholics.
Another Russian-speaking academic — a graduate student in Russian history — told me how she had recently spent time with Catholics in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Their numbers, she noted, are small. But like everyone else, she said, Catholics are entirely free to profess their religion and now suffer no persecution.
All this leads one to conclude that Catholics in Russia are now free to profess the faith. The object for which the Leonine Prayers were prescribed for all these years, therefore, has been obtained.
C. Cessation of the Law
Immediately, however, we are confronted by a practical question: What then of the Leonine Prayers? If their object has been obtained, should they continue to be recited after Low Mass?
Strictly speaking — according to the principles of Church law — no.
First, we should recall the classic definition theologians and canonists give for the word “law”: An ordinance of reason for the common good promulgated by the person who has care of the community.
The canonist (and later cardinal) Giovanni Cicognani points out that, while laws are normally stable, the reasons or purposes for which a law was promulgated can later change. A law then becomes useless, harmful or — the very antithesis of what a law is supposed to be — unreasonable.
Obviously, the superior should revoke a law that has become unreasonable. But what if a superior has not done so? Cicognani adds:
f [such a law] has not actually been revoked, it is to be reasonably presumed to be revoked. For its purpose is the soul of law, and a law without a soul lapses, ceases to exist, dies.
The technical term for the “death” of a law which loses its purpose is intrinsic cessation of the law (cessatio legis ab intrinseco). Intrinsic here simply means, as Cicognani put it, that “the law ceases of itself.”
The Bouscaren-Ellis commentary on the Code of Canon Law notes that this is common doctrine. Indeed, Prümmer, Beste, Coronata, Cappello, Lanza, McHugh-Callan, Regatillo, and Wernz-Vidal speak of a law whose “purpose,” “end,” or “total cause” ceases, “loses its force” or “falls.” By that very fact, it is then no longer a “rational norm,” having lost the purpose for which it was promulgated. Such a law, as the Wernz-Vidal commentary on the Code of Canon Law says, then “has fallen without a special act of a legislator.” Or as Regatillo put it, the law “ceases ipso facto without a legislator’s declaration.”
To be continued below....