Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Cardinal Cañizares Writes About Usus Antiquior and Liturgical Reform

The Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has written a preface to the Spanish edition of a recent book by Fr. Nicola Bux, The Reform of Benedict XVI, which will be presented in Toledo this Thursday. In this outstanding preface, the Prefect of the dicastery charged with the sacred liturgy quite frankly recognizes that the liturgical reforms after the Second Vatican Council have often not been completely successful, that a false spirit of rupture was at work. While this may seem obvious to most NLM readers, it should be considered that until a rather short time ago, to express such a view was still anathema. Thus, to have it puclicly stated by the man given he highest authority in matters liturgical by the Holy Father is quite significant. What we see here, then, surely is the "setting of the tone", the "laying of the foundations" for an actual reform of the reform, in the cautious and gentle, yet determined manner which clearly is the modus operandi of our Holy Father.

The Cardinal again stresses - like Cardinal Castrillón has often done - that Pope Benedict's intention in issuing Summorum Pontificum was above all to open up the treasure of the traditional liturgy to all the faithful. He makes concrete suggestions how the usus antiquior might be integrated into the life even of parishes and communities which do not regularly celebrate it, and among these suggestions is also, very significantly, Holy Week and the Sacred Triduum, when many had (wrongly) claimed that Summorum Pontificum did not allow for the rites of the Sacred Triduum to be celebrated according to the usus antiquior outside of personal parishes and the like. He asserts that the traditional form of the Roman rite - as well as other Western and Eastern rites in the extent possible - should be part of theoretical and practical seminary education. Cardinal Cañizares also finds strong words of comfort for the priests and faithful who after the reforms were being vilified either for being attached to the usus antiquior or for celebrating the reformed liturgy in a spirit of continuity.

All in all a very remarkable text. Here is the preface in my translation:


Only a few months have passed from the publication of this book until this present Spanish edition. However, the significance of certain events which occurred during this time has greatly changed the "climate" around its theme, especially due to the atmosphere of controversy that has been created following the lifting of the excommunication of the four bishops consecrated twenty years ago by Monsignor Lefebvre. This gesture of gratuitous mercy by the Holy Father in order to aid their full integration into the Church, which shows by deeds that the Church does not renounce its tradition, has led to the "traditional Mass" being linked to a disciplinary problem and, worse still, a political one.

Consequently, there is a risk of distortion of the deeper meaning of the Motu Proprio of 7 July 2007, a gesture of extraordinary ecclesial common sense with which has been recognised the full validity of a rite that has nourished spiritually the Church in the West for centuries.

Undoubtedly, a deepening and a renewal of the liturgy were necessary. But often, this has not been a perfectly successful operation. The first part of the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium has not entered into the heart of the Christian people. There was a change in the forms, a reform, but not a genuine renewal, as called for by the conciliar Fathers. Sometimes changes have been made simply because of a desire for change with respect to a past perceived as totally negative and obsolete, conceiving the reform as a rupture and not as an organic development of the tradition. This created reactions and resistance from the beginning, which in some cases crystallized in positions and attitudes that led to extreme solutions, and even to concrete actions which meant canonical penalties. It is urgent, however, to distinguish the disciplinary problem arisen from attitudes of disobedience of one group form the doctrinal and liturgical problem.

If we truly believe that the Eucharist is really the "source and summit of Christian life" – as the Second Vatican Council reminds us – we cannot admit that it is celebrated in an unworthy manner. For many, accepting the conciliar reform has meant celebrating a Mass which in one way or another had to be "desacralised". How many priests have been called "backward" or "anticonciliar" because of the mere fact of celebrating in a solemn or pious manner or simply for fully obeying the rubrics! It is imperative to get out of this dialectic.

The reform has been implemented and it has mainly been experienced as an absolute change, as if an abyss should be created between the "before" and the "after" the Council, in a context where the term "preconciliar" was used like an insult. Here also the phenomenon occurred which the Pope notes in his recent letter to the bishops of 10 March 2009: "Sometimes one has the impression that our society needs at least one group for which there need not be any tolerance; which one can unperturbedly set upon with hatred." For years this was the case in good measure with the priests and faithful attached to the form of Mass inherited throughout the centuries, who were often treated "like lepers", as the then Cardinal Ratzinger bluntly put it.

Today, thanks to the Motu Proprio, this situation is changing notably. And it is doing so in large part because the intention of the Pope has not only been to satisfy the followers of Monsignor Lefevbre, nor to confine himself to respond to the just wishes of the faithful who feel attached, for various reasons, to the liturgical heritage represented by the Roman rite, but also, and in a special way, to open the liturgical richness of the Church to all the faithful, thus making possible the discovery of the treasures of the liturgical patrimony of the Church to those who still do not know it. How many times is the attitude of those who disdain them not due to anything other than this ignorance! Therefore, considered from this last aspect, the Motu Proprio makes sense beyond the presence or absence of conflicts: even if there were not a single "traditionalist" whom to satisfy, this "discovery" would have been enough to justify the provisions of the Pope.

It has also been said that these dispositions were an "attack" against the Council, but this shows an ignorance of the Council itself, whose intention to give all the faithful the opportunity to get to know and appreciate the multiple treasures of the liturgy of the Church is precisely what this great assembly ardently desired: "In faithful obedience to Tradition, the Sacred Council declares that holy Mother Church holds all lawfully acknowledged rites to be of equal right and dignity; that she wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way." (SC, 4).

Moreover, these dispositions are not a novelty; the Church has always maintained them, and when occasionally this has not been the case, the consequences have been tragic. Not only have the rites of the East been respected, but in the West dioceses such as Milan, Lyon, Cologne, Braga and various religious orders have preserved their various rites peacefully through the centuries. But the clearest precedent of the current situation is undoubtedly the archdiocese of Toledo. Cardinal Cisneros put up every means to preserve as "extraordinary" in the archdiocese the Mozarabic rite which was about to become extinct. Not only did he make print the Missal and Breviary, but he created a special chapel in the Cathedral, where still today this rite is celebrated daily.

This variety did not ever mean, nor can it mean, doctrinal differences, but on the contrary, it highlights a profound fundamental identity. Among the rites presently in use it is necessary that there also be this same unity. The current task, as this book of Don Nicola Bux tells us, is to show the theological identity between the liturgy of the various rites that have been celebrated over the centuries and the new liturgy, fruit of the reform, or else, if this identity has been blurred, to recover it.

The reform of Benedict XVI, then, is a book rich in data, reflections and ideas, and from among the many topics treated in it, I would like to emphasize some points:

The first is about the name by which to call this Mass. The author proposes to call it in the oriental manner "Liturgy of St. Gregory the Great." That is perhaps better than to say simply say "Gregorian", as this can lead to a twofold ambiguity (which could be avoided in any case with the designation "Damaso-Gregorian“). It is also more convenient than "traditional Mass", where the adjective is in danger of being contaminated by a burden of either controversy or "folklore"; or more convenient than "extraordinary form", which is a too extrinsic denomination. "Usus antiquior" has the defect of being a merely chronological reference. On the other hand, "usus receptus" would be too technical. "Missal of St. Pius V" or "Blessed John XXIII" are too limited terms. The only drawback is that in the Byzantine rite there already is a liturgy of St. Gregory, Pope of Rome: that of the presanctified gifts used in Lent.

Secondly, the fact that the use is "extraordinary" must not mean that it should be used only by priests and faithful who adhere to the extraordinary form. As Father Bux proposes, it would be very positive if someone who usually celebrates in the "ordinary" form would also, "extraordinarily", do so in the "extraordinary" form. This is a treasure that is the heritage of all and to which, in one way or another, everyone should have access. Therefore one could propose it especially for occasions when there is some particular richness of the old missal of which one could benefit (especially if in the other calendar there is nothing special foreseen): for example, for the time of Septuagesima, for the four Embertides or for the Vigil of Pentecost, and maybe even in the case of certain special communities, both of consecrated life and of brotherhoods or fraternities. Celebrations in the "extraordinary" form would also be of great usefulness for the offices of Holy Week, at least some of them, because all the rites preserve during the Sacred Triduum ceremonies and prayers that go back to the most ancient times of the Church.

Another point which it is necessary to emphasise is the attitude of Benedict XVI: it is not so much a novelty or change of direction of government; rather it brings to its concretisation what John Paul II had already launched with initiatives such as the papal document Quattuor abhinc annos, the consultation of the committee of Cardinals, the Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei and the creation of the Commission of the same name, or the words addressed to the Congregation for Divine Worship (2003).

Something which it is urgent to take into account is the ecumenical impact of these discussions: the criticism directed toward the rite received from the Roman tradition also extends to the other traditions and above all to that of the Orthodox brethren. Almost all the attacks of those opposed to the reintroduction of the old missal are precisely against the places we have in common with the Eastern! A sign that confirms this fact are the positive expressions of the recently deceased patriarch of Moscow on the publication of the Motu Proprio.

It is not one of the least important aspects of this book that it helps us become aware of the various aspects of the situation in which we currently find ourselves. Our generation is faced great challenges in liturgical matters: to help the whole Church to fully follow what the Second Vatican Council has indicated in the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium and what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about the liturgy; to treasure what the Holy Father – when he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – has written on the subject, especially in his most beautiful book The Spirit of the Liturgy; to enrich oneself by the way in which the Holy Father – assisted by the Office of Liturgical Celebrations, which is presided over by Monsignor Guido Marini, and a consultor of which is the author of this book – celebrates the liturgy. These papal liturgies are exemplary for the whole Catholic world.

Finally, I add that it would be of great importance that all this be expounded profoundly in the seminars as an integral part of the formation for the priesthood, to provide a theoretical and practical knowledge of the liturgical riches, not only of the Roman rite, but also, in the extent possible, of the various rites of East and West, and thus create a new generation of priests free of dialectic prejudices.

Hopefully this valuable book by Don Nicola Bux may serve to know better the intentions of the Holy Father and to discover the riches of the inheritance received and, at the same time, to enlighten us in our action. Let us ask the Lord to know how to interpret, as Paul VI said, the "signs of the times".


+ Antonio Cardinal Cañizares
Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments
Archbishop Apostolic Administrator of Toledo
8 April 2009


Thanks to Secretum meum mihi for the Spanish original. A PDF of the original can also be found on the Spanish website of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, which collaborated in producing this edition.