Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Dom Christopher Lazowski on Summorum Pontificum

[Dom Christopher Lawzoski was scheduled to give the homily on the weekend in which the Motu Proprio was being released. Here is his homily:]

by Dom Christopher Lazowski

In the 1950s and 1960s, a monk of Downside, writing under the nom-de-guerre of Brother Choleric, published a series of books of caricatures entitled “Cracks in the Cloister.” These delightful works, which could only have been written by someone who had himself experienced religious life, are concluded by a volume called “Cracks in the Curia,” dealing with some of the more idiotic aspects of the application of the Second Vatican Council. One page shows two priests languishing in irons in a dungeon. The gaoler explains to a distinguished-looking visitor, “The one on the right for saying Mass in English before the decree, the one on the left for saying Mass in Latin after the decree.”

Brother Choleric thus highlights a grave problem, one that has caused untold harm within the Church over the last forty years. This problem is composed of two opposite errors, each of which exacerbates the other. The first consists of thinking that before Vatican II the Church slumbered in obscurantist darkness, but that since the Council she has awakened to the light of the truth of the Gospel, a truth that she had somehow forgotten. The other consists of thinking that the Church has somehow lost her way since the Council, that Vatican II has introduced errors into her teaching, and that the post-conciliar liturgical reform is worthless. In both cases, the Council is considered to be a rupture, with a clearly differentiated before and after, one good, the other bad. Such an interpretation is not only absurd, it is gravely harmful.

One area in particular has been a particularly visible arena of conflict: the Church's public worship. The opposition to the Council's authentic teaching has tended to crystallize around the liturgy. An attachment to what has been called the “Mass of St. Pius V” or the “Tridentine Mass” has unfortunately, but all to often, become a rallying-point for those who reject the Council's teaching on religious liberty and the Church's engagement in ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue. The late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, in the hope of easing the return to full communion with the Church of those Catholics who had followed Archbishop Lefebvre, had already permitted bishops to allow the celebration of Mass according to the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal. Yesterday, the Holy See published Pope Benedict XVI's apostolic letter, Summorum Pontificum,” a document which goes much further, both in its scope and its intentions. In practice, it recognizes the right of every Roman Catholic priest to use all the liturgical books that were in force before the liturgical reform. The faithful may assist freely at such celebrations, and parish priests may accept requests for the celebration of Mass and the sacraments according to these rites ; if they feel unable to do so, they may then address the request to their bishop.

It is above all in his intentions that the Holy Father goes further. According to his explanatory letter sent to the bishops, he is not merely concerned with extending a hand to integrists, even though this is one of his motivations. He says:

“Looking back over the past, to the divisions which in the course of the centuries have rent the Body of Christ, one continually has the impression that, at critical moments when divisions were coming about, not enough was done by the Church’s leaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity. One has the impression that omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were able to harden. This glance at the past imposes an obligation on us today: to make every effort to unable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew.”

But the aims of the Apostolic Letter go beyond this concern, important though it is. The Holy father says that “It is a matter of coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church.” It is a reconciliation not only with the disciples of Archbishop Lefebvre, but also with our own past. For the most certain means of making one's self a prisoner of the past is to deny it. This is as true for individuals as for societies. It is the height of absurdity to say that a from of the Roman Rite that has borne countless fruits of holiness over so many centuries has suddenly become an object of condemnation. It is just as unacceptable to claim that the reformed rite is incapable of nourishing holiness; the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta should suffice to dispel such an error. Near the beginning of his pontificate, the Holy Father spoke of the necessity of reading the conciliar documents according to a hermeneutic of continuity, and not according to a hermeneutic of rupture. The liturgical decisions that he has just announced are simply an application of this rule. The Pope says:

“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. 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.”

Two main objections have been made to these measures. One claims to be founded on liturgical principles, the other is of a practical and pastoral nature. Some have claimed that permitting such a widened use of the 1962 editions of the Roman liturgical books would harm the unity of the Roman Rite. This objection is worthless. The unity of the Roman Rite, understood as a monolithic uniformity, is a mirage born of 19th century polemics against the Neo-Gallican liturgies; those who chase after mirages die of thirst in the desert. The Roman Rite has always known a certain pluralism, in the different uses of various dioceses and religious orders. Even the local rite of the Roman Church has not always been uniform, as it once comprised two distinct forms, one for the use of the pope, contained in what we call the “Gregorian Sacramentary” the other for the use of simple priests, contained in what we call the “Gelasian Sacramentary.” What is an innovation is the possibility of choosing between two forms of the Roman Rite according to one's personal preference. However, the unwonted nature of a liturgical reform that appears to have attempted to cram into the space of a few years what organic development might have accomplished over many centuries, and the sufferings that this situation has caused, surely suffice to justify the deeply merciful and genuinely pastoral nature of the decisions that the Pope has just announced. Moreover, these measures are founded on a truth that he mentions in his apostolic letter when he refers to the “Roman Missal promulgated by Blessed John XXIII in 1962 and never abrogated.” For if a Catholic liturgical Rite can fall into disuse, it cannot be suppressed by a legislative decision; the sacred liturgy isn't a Highway Code that a legislator can modify or even abolish as he sees fit. The liturgy is an expression of the Church's faith, a living testimony of her Tradition. The Church's authority is its servant, never its master. If it can regulate its use with a view to promoting the common good, it is utterly incapable of deciding that what was once a Catholic Rite no longer is one.

The second objection is more practical. A number of the Church's pastors seem to fear that requests for the use of the classical liturgical books screen opposition to the teaching of the Church's authentic magisterium, in particular that of Vatican II, or an outright refusal to accept the legitimacy of the liturgical reform. Some dread the formation of pressure groups and loud-mouthed lobbies. These fears are not necessarily unfounded. Even though they do not directly concern us, contemplative monks and lay faithful, we should not be indifferent to these fears. We all have the duty to pray for the Church's pastors, that God may grant them the spiritual wisdom they need to find appropriate solutions to often intractable problems. But above all, we must realize that Catholics who are attached to what the Holy Father invites us to call the “extraordinary form” of the one Roman Rite are not to be considered to be second-class citizens, marginal members of the Mystical Body. These fellow-Catholics have already overflowed the narrow boundaries of the integrist movement, and many, perhaps most of them have had nothing to do with the sometimes politicised confrontations of the past. Many of them are young. The Pope himself remarks 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.” All of us called to live the unity of the Faith within a legitimate liturgical diversity, in communion with one another and with the successor of St. Peter.

Towards the end of his letter, Pope Benedict remarks that “the two forms of the usage of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching.” This is certainly not the sign of a desire to turn back the clock. On the contrary, it is a call to advance. In his Apostolic Letter, the Holy Father evokes St. Gregory the Great, the pope who sent the monk St. Augustine to evangelize the English. A letter of St. Gregory to St. Augustine, answering liturgical questions that the missionary had asked, may help us understand what Pope Benedict means by “mutually enriching.” St. Gregory says that St. Augustine should choose from among the different Rites he has experienced those things that are the most pleasing to God, and that we should not love things because of a place, but places because of the good things that are to be found there. The rediscovery of the treasures of the past cannot but enrich the present, and the insights of the present can shed new light on the past, and help us to understand and appreciate it better. It can thus become possible to advance beyond sterile dialectics and sacristy quarrels, in order to live a new liturgical movement which, God willing, will herald a new springtime of holiness, making all Christians true workmen in the Lord's harvest.

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