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The Heresy of Formlessness - The Roman Liturgy and Its Enemy

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Heresy of Formlessness

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Average Rating: This item received 5 stars overall.

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“Could be the most powerful and effective vindication of the old Latin Mass ever written.” writes Thomas E. Woods Jr., historian and N.Y. Times national best-selling author: “…One of the rare ‘must-read’ books about the Latin Mass. It lays bare the obtuseness of those who would treat the immemorial Roman rite as a text in need of editing.”


The Heresy of Formlessness
The Roman Liturgy and Its Enemy
By Martin Mosebach

German writer Martin Mosebach is as famous in his country as Tom Wolfe is in ours. So when he wrote a book about the destruction of the old Latin Mass, Church leaders and the secular world took note. His view of the new rite of Mass in force since Vatican II goes deeper than any other yet published. Mosebach sees the normative Mass today, precisely because it is at the core of Catholic life for most souls, as the tragic product of wholesale manipulation and compromise with the world, from its gestures and rubrics (or lack of them) to its bad translations and committee-invented prayers.

But he does not stop with his evaluation of the new Mass. He defends the old, and summons fellow Catholics to drop their prejudices against it, embrace it as their forefathers did, and restore it to its proper place in the Church.

Excerpts from the Mosebach tour de force:

On ‘refurbishing’ old churches: “No one who really believes in the power of…prayer would be so reckless as to scorn and wreck something that has been sanctified by prayer.”

On the net result of the changes at Mass: “To put it crudely, the liturgy disappeared, and what did the congregation see in its place? A ‘presider’ in billowing garments, his mouth opened in joyful song.”

On his rediscovery of the old Latin Mass after being away: “…I was fulfilling the most important duty of human existence…and I was doing this for all the others who did not want to, or could not, fulfill this duty. Forbidding people to participate in this Mass suddenly seemed childish, not to be taken seriously.”

On the Pope who changed things: “In the ancient world, if a ruler broke a tradition he was regarded as having committed an act of tyrannis. In this sense Paul VI, the modernizer with his eyes fixed on the future, acted as a tyrant in the Church.”

On Mass when you have to focus on the priest: “How can a man be made to see that he is leaving the present time behind if the space he enters is totally dominated by the presence of one particular individual? How wise the old liturgy was when it prescribed that the congregation should not see the priest’s face—his distractedness or coldness or (even more importantly) his devotion and emotion.”

On hymns at Mass: “In services that are governed by vernacular hymns, the believer is constantly being transported into new aesthetic worlds….He is moved and stirred—but not by the thing itself, liturgy; he is moved and stirred by the expressed sentiments of the commentary upon it. By contrast, the bond that Gregorian chant weaves between liturgical action and song is so close that it is impossible to separate form and content.”

On the suppression of the old Latin Mass: “This rite has been abandoned by the very hierarchy who were created to guard it. Priests who stay faithful to the liturgy are accused of disobedience and threatened with suspension; priests who want to remain obedient, but are not willing to relinquish the old rite, are gleefully ground down by what Carl Schmitt calls the ‘celibate bureaucracy’.”

On tampering with traditional rites: “Thus Basil the Great…regarded the Mass as a revelation that is just as great as Holy Scripture, and consequently he strictly forbade anyone to alter or refashion the liturgy.”

On attending today’s parish Mass: “The club meeting with its democratic order of business is the phenotype of the new liturgy.”

On clerical barbarians and the old Latin Mass: “The dean of a cathedral, very annoyed, asked me why on earth I wanted to go to the old Mass; after all, he said, very elaborate orchestral Masses were celebrated in the cathedral from time to time. I simply could not make him see that a low Mass in the old rite, read silently in a garage, is more solemn than the biggest church concert.”

On sacred art: “…the old liturgy was itself the greatest possible image;…if there is ever to be significant religious art again, this art will come from liturgy that expresses the sacred.”

On irreverence before the Eucharist: “…To me, it is exactly the same when I see people still on their feet in front of the elevated Host, when I see them entering a church without genuflecting, and receiving Communion in their outstretched hands. I, myself, see it as a degradation, a pointed, symbolic refusal to give honor.”

Published by Ignatius Press with a Foreword by its editor, Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ, who makes clear his own preferences on the Mass (they differ from the author’s, although the Jesuit shares basic areas of agreement as well), this book is bound to stimulate more honest discussion of the broken liturgy originally imposed in the name of Vatican II by the fathers of the Council.

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Review Provided By - THE Catholic Book Review Site

This item received 5 stars overall. A thorough Analysis of the Roman Catholic Mass, pre- and post-Conciliar


The Heresy of Formlessness, the Roman Liturgy and its Enemy, is not the kind of book I would ever pick up to read “just because.” Rather, my spiritual director told me to read it; so in obedience, I bought it. Then I laid it aside because the black cover itself put me off.

It needn’t have. Once I finally started reading, I could hardly put it down. Martin Mosebach, a German novelist, modestly says he is no theologian, but while not being formerly trained as one, he certainly has an understanding of the theology of the Catholic Mass. Mosebach, like many children of the 50s and 60s, was raised a Catholic and then left the Church in his late teens. He was old enough to have experienced the pre-conciliar Mass, and like many of his era, had served as an altar boy at the side of Full Review...

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