Saturday, July 07, 2007

Part I: Comments upon the Explanatory Letter

I am going to try to spend some time today and tomorrow breaking down some of these matters. As you've probably noticed, I haven't been "quick on the draw" in this regard. But I am also trying to take my own advice or reading patiently and intelligently -- and hopefully, analyzing and commenting accordingly!

(As a point of note, our good Latinist friend Fr. Zuhlsdorf has noted that some sections of the original Latin document are much stronger than the translation here. Watch for updates upon that story. Indeed, if such is the case, one hopes that, as with Sacramentum Caritatis, changes to the official translation can be effected to reflect the official document itself. That being said, we can proceed with what we have.)

Let's begin with the Explanatory Letter to the Bishops, which can help establish some "interpretative keys" for the Motu Proprio itself.

I. The Council

The Pope of course begins by addressing the fear, even claim, of some that this represents a rejection of the Second Vatican Council. Indeed, this is something that some of our more radical traditionalist adherents might call a hope. However, as the Pope says, "this is unfounded."

Anyone with familiarity of Benedict's thought of course knows that he is not about the rejection of the Council, but rather about its proper implementation in a hermeneutic of continuity.

II. The Pre and Post-Conciliar Missals and a clarification upon how we are to think of them

Three points come out here. One is the confirmation of the idea of "ordinary" and "extraordinary" forms of the Roman rite. This has been discussed for some time of course.

Perhaps the most significant point in this section in this statement however: "It is not appropriate to speak of these two versions of the Roman Missal as if they were “two Rites”. Rather, it is a matter of a twofold use of one and the same rite."

In this regard then, however we personally refer to the 1962 Missale Romanum and the Pauline, we should probably change our terminology from that of "rite" (e.g. classical Roman rite/modern Roman rite/Tridentine rite etc.) to speak rather of a "use" - 'classical Roman use' or 'classical use of the Roman rite' and so forth.

III. The Status of the 1962 Missale Romanum

In another very important clarification, the Holy Father has confirmed and closed the debate on the issue of the abrogation of the 1962 Missale Romanum:

"...the 1962 Missal... was never juridically abrogated and, consequently, in principle, was always permitted."

(Defintion: Abrogation = the total abolition of a law)

"...the Missal published by Paul VI... is and continues to be the normal Form – the Forma ordinaria – of the Eucharistic Liturgy."

"The last version of the Missale Romanum prior to the Council, which was published with the authority of Pope John XXIII in 1962 and used during the Council, will now be able to be used as a Forma extraordinaria of the liturgical celebration."

IV. The SSPX and Other Groups Attached to the Classical Use of the Roman Rite

"Many people who clearly accepted the binding character of the Second Vatican Council, and were faithful to the Pope and the Bishops, nonetheless also desired to recover the form of the sacred liturgy that was dear to them. This occurred above all because in many places celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal, but the latter actually was understood as authorizing or even requiring creativity, which frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear. I am speaking from experience, since I too lived through that period with all its hopes and its confusion. And I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church."

The Pope is here distinguishing, of course, between the SSPX, who broke full communion and other groups who remain in full communion. But it should be noted that he is making a distiction first off.

Two reasons are presented for this attachment, and I think this is worth noting, even though it is a small point.

One is critique of the way in which much post-conciliar liturgy has been characterized, which the Pope speaks of "from experience" as "arbitrary deformations". This reasoning pertains very much to a need for a reform of the reform.

The other reason, however, is that there are those attached to the classical use, not simply because of the way in which the post-conciliar liturgy manifested itself in practice, but because "...the liturgical movement had provided many people with a notable liturgical formation and a deep, personal familiarity with the earlier Form of the liturgical celebration."

I see this as important because it is recognizing two important streams. On the one hand, the necessity of a reform of the reform and the harm that has been caused by the post-conciliar implementation of the liturgical reform - particularly as manifested in parish practice which affects the vast majority of the laity most directly.

The second, however is that this is not the sole reason for attachment and value to be assigned to the classical use of the Roman rite. Indeed, with "notable liturgical formation" that classical expression is valued in its own right by many people. In other words, it is not simply a "negative" attachment limited to the problem of abuses.

V. The Previous Motu Proprio: Ecclesia Dei adflicta

"...the lack of precise juridical norms, particularly because Bishops, in such cases, frequently feared that the authority of the Council would be called into question. Immediately after the Second Vatican Council it was presumed that requests for the use of the 1962 Missal would be limited to the older generation which had grown up with it, but in the meantime it has clearly been demonstrated that young persons too have discovered this liturgical form, felt its attraction and found in it a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, particularly suited to them. Thus the need has arisen for a clearer juridical regulation which had not been foreseen at the time of the 1988 Motu Proprio. The present Norms are also meant to free Bishops from constantly having to evaluate anew how they are to respond to various situations."

VI. The Question of Division

"In the second place, the fear was expressed in discussions about the awaited Motu Proprio, that the possibility of a wider use of the 1962 Missal would lead to disarray or even divisions within parish communities. This fear also strikes me as quite unfounded."

VII. The Missal of 1962 Unfrozen

"...the two Forms of the usage of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching: new Saints and some of the new Prefaces can and should be inserted in the old Missal. The “Ecclesia Dei” Commission, in contact with various bodies devoted to the usus antiquior, will study the practical possibilities in this regard."

First, we gain another new term: usus antiquior for the classical or ancient use.

Some traditionalists will be very wary, or even oppose this, but it must be said that this is a very desireable development and perhaps more than anything is what helps ensure that the 1962 Missale Romanum is not thought of, or indeed in fact to be, a simple liturgical museum piece that remains without organic developments since 1962.

That such will now be studied more than anything ensures its future as a point of significant influence for a reform of the reform.

Immediately following that statement comes this one:

"The celebration of the Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI will be able to demonstrate, more powerfully than has been the case hitherto, the sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage. The most sure guarantee that the Missal of Paul VI can unite parish communities and be loved by them consists in its being celebrated with great reverence in harmony with the liturgical directives. This will bring out the spiritual richness and the theological depth of this Missal."

The Holy Father again touches upon co-existence and how that co-existence can see the reform of the reform aided and advanced. What is clear in this statement, and what the Holy Father continues to drive home, is the need to pursue a hermeneutic of continuity with regard to the celebration of the liturgy of Paul VI; one faithful to its rubrics.

VIII. Organic Development and Co-existence

It must be said that there is something of a challenge to all parties in this document, to pursue a path of co-existence.

"There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal. In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. [In short, the Pope refers to the fact that there should not be rupture, but rather continuity, organic development and so on.] What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place. [Many will recognize this sentiment from his writings as a Cardinal. It is an important point. The liturgical tradition is not to be marginalized. Rupture is not our hermeneutic. We do not simply devalue or throw away our received tradtion.]

This next point is important as well.

"Needless to say, in order to experience full communion, the priests of the communities adhering to the former usage cannot, as a matter of principle, exclude celebrating according to the new books. The total exclusion of the new rite would not in fact be consistent with the recognition of its value and holiness."

Evidently, this paragraph will gain some strong reaction from some traditionalists, however, let's look at what is being said. The Pope is not suggesting that groups like the ICRSS and FSSP cannot be primarily dedicated to the classical use of the Roman rite. What he is stating is, as others have wrongly "leper-ized" the 1962 liturgical books, it is also wrong to do likewise in the inverse direction.

A key statement, as I see it in this statement is the issue of "a matter of principle". The FSSP and ICRSS will indeed continue on primarily celebrating the classical use, but the Holy Father is clearly saying that no one should, whatever they do in fact, take an attitude or principle of absolute rejection of the new rite -- to the point that they won't even celebrate it!

This seems to tie in as well to the issue that came up in the famed "protocol 1411" affair, and would certainly tie into events like Chrism masses and so forth. There's nothing wrong with being primarily dedicated to the classical use, and indeed, the reasoned critiques of the liturgical reform are not also excluded from this. The issue is simply about an absolute principle of rejection as though the modern Roman use wasn't a Catholic missal.

IX. The Role of the Bishop

The following is very important and serves to clarify the role of the Bishop. Too often, the idea of the Bishop as Chief liturgist is employed in a way which would make him able to exercise that authority in an arbitrary way; or one that might suggest he is master of the liturgy -- which even the Pope is not.

"Nothing is taken away, then, from the authority of the Bishop, whose role remains that of being watchful that all is done in peace and serenity. Should some problem arise which the parish priest cannot resolve, the local Ordinary will always be able to intervene, in full harmony, however, with all that has been laid down by the new norms of the Motu Proprio."

In short, the bishop's role as chief liturgist in his diocese does not give him the ability to absolve himself from these norms. His role is that of a caretaker and of ensuring that the norms are respected and followed in a peaceable way.

One cannot underestimate the importance of this clarification.

X. The 3 Year Period

We've heard of a three year period. However, this clarifies what that means:

"Furthermore, I invite you, dear Brothers, to send to the Holy See an account of your experiences, three years after this Motu Proprio has taken effect. If truly serious difficulties come to light, ways to remedy them can be sought."

"Ways to remedy" suggests that the norms are not possibly going to be revoked, but rather that workarounds might be sought and found. "Tweaks" if you will.

A Concluding Thought

Themes strong in this letter upon my initial reading:

a. Co-existence as important and non-divisive
b. The hermeneutic of continuity to be respected and that of rupture avoided.
c. The liturgical tradition is to be respected, but the new is not be rejected as a point of principle; the good to be recognized.
d. Need for a reform of the reform

Important clarifications/developments:

a. These are not separate rites, but uses of the one Roman rite.
b. After study by the Ecclesia Dei commission, the 1962 Missale Romanum can now be unfrozen; organic development can now continue.
c. Confirmation that the Pope sees this as also helping toward a reform of the reform and a more proper celebration of the modern books in parish life.
d. The 1962 Missal is not abrogated and thus, always permitted.
e. The role of the bishop as chief liturgist is as a servant and caretaker, not a master, and cannot exempt from these regulations.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: