Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Old Mass Returns

After months of speculation, Pope Benedict XVI today issued a "motu proprio" allowing worldwide use of the old Latin Mass

by Dr. Robert Moynihan

VATICAN CITY, July 7, 2007 -- After months of anticipation and speculation, after numerous meetings with supporters and opponents, Pope Benedict XVI moved decisively today to issue a very brief, 4-page Latin text which may very well go down as one of the most important, and controversial, acts of his pontificate.

With little fanfare, with no press conference, on a quiet Saturday in July when many journalists away from the Vatican press office, Benedict issued his long-awaited motu proprio entitled Summorum Pontificum (the title comes from the first two words of the Latin text).

There is an intimate connection between worship and belief, so much so that theologians, and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) prominent among them, have repeatedly declared that the lex orandi (the law of prayer, the way one prays to God, the way one worships God) influences and indeed actually becomes the lex credendi (the law of believing, the way one believes, one's faith).

So, for Benedict to call for a wider celebration in the Church of the "old Mass," the old way of praying, is implicitly a call for a return to the old way of believing connected with that old way of praying.

The implications of this are, of course, many and profound. And only as this text is received and acted upon will those implications really become clear.

For the moment, all we can say is that "he did it." He published the text. Some in Rome had said it would appear a year ago, six months ago, three months ago. So, it began to seem that it might never appear. But it has appeared. That is the principal, first news in this matter.

But the second news is that this text, in its clear reaffirmation of the holiness and validity of the Church's old, pre-conciliar liturgy and its equally clear affirmation of the holiness and validity of the new, post-conciliar liturgy, may very well mark a watershed in the modern history of the Church. Why? Because that history has been marked by considerable, sometimes profound confusion about how Catholics should worship, and how they should believe. In essence, the decision to publish this text means a commitment on the Pope's part to try to begin a thorough-going renewal of the Church's faith and practice. He is beginning with the Mass, because that is where the Church's life begins, in the celebration of the Eucharist, in the celebration of the presence of the Risen Lord who is the sole reason for the Church's existence.

And so we can expect more in the weeks and months ahead.

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