Wednesday, September 12, 2007

To Restore All Things in Christ

[The following piece was written by Dr. Laurence Hemming of the Society of St. Catherine of Siena on the occasion of the motu proprio. It was published in the August edition of the Mass of Ages. I am pleased to present it here, particularly as we approach Sept. 14th.]

On the occasion of the publication of the motu proprio
of the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI
Summorum Pontificum, July 7th 2007

Rev’d. Dr. Laurence Paul Hemming

Not only those already attached to or familiar with the traditional or ‘preconciliar’ rites should rejoice at the long-awaited publication of the Holy Father’s motu proprio Summorum Pontificum (‘Of The Supreme Pontiffs’) on Saturday 7th July 2007. For after nearly forty years an unnecessary injury to the health of the Church’s liturgical life (and this life is the font and summit of every other kind of life She has) has been healed. In a move that went well beyond what almost all of us could have hoped for, the Holy Father freed in the daily life of the Church all the former liturgical books whose use had been hitherto inhibited or restricted. What we have become accustomed to referring to as the ‘old’ or ‘Traditional’ rite of the Roman Liturgy has now become the ‘extraordinary form’ of the rite – the ordinary form remaining (as it has been since the publication of all the reformed liturgical books between 1968 and 2001) what we have become accustomed to calling the ‘novus ordo’. In reality the Holy Father has done no more than he has argued (since he was Archbishop of Munich, and then as Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith) should have pertained from the outset – that alongside the reformed rites ushered in by Pope Paul VI, the older rites should also be available for use.

Of greatest significance – even before we consider what rights will now been granted to priests – is that the motu proprio has conceded to the ordinary lay faithful the right reasonably to request the use of all the forms of the traditional liturgy: not only Holy Mass, but also the sacraments of penance, baptism, marriage, and unction ‘if the good of souls would seem to require it’ (art. 9 §1). Moreover it is conceded that it is not those who were perhaps brought up with the former rites who may have good reason to make these requests. With the motu proprio came a letter to the bishops explaining both the background to its publication, and laying out the encouragement to them to be generous and assiduous in ensuring its implementation. This letter gave as one of the principal reasons for the motu proprio that ‘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’. The Holy Father explains what any who have witnessed the Chartres pilgrimages or Juventutum events would confirm – the young in their thousands – of all stamps, backgrounds and kinds – continue to discover and be attracted in ever-increasing numbers to the traditional liturgy. What this means is that the numbers of lay faithful who know and love the traditional rites – many of whom will also be attached in some ways to the new rite – will continue to increase. They – we – also have a right to be nurtured in, and sanctified by, these forms of the Latin liturgy. If the motu proprio and the Pope’s explanatory letter speaks of the traditional rites as ‘extraordinary’ forms of the roman Rite and the new rite as ‘ordinary forms’, it is clear that Benedict XVI’s hope is that these ‘extraordinary’ forms will become an ordinary part of the Church’s life. There is considerable evidence – not least from the numbers registering to attend the Society’s liturgical training conference in August, and the many enquiries received in the Society’s office, to suggest that many younger priests especially are keen to familiarise themselves with, and understand, the Church’s traditional or ‘extraordinary’ rites.

What, then, are the main issues raised both by the document itself and its accompanying letter? In the first instance, from the Feast of the Invention of the Holy Cross onwards, any priest who wishes to celebrate the traditional mass privately may do so without further recourse for permission: article 4 gives the faithful the right to attend these celebrations if they desire. This means that any mass not specifically scheduled in a parish cursus to be in the new rite may be said in the traditional rite.

The document comments that this permission for private masses is granted ‘with the exception of the Easter Triduum’. This does not mean (as has been suggested) that the Triduum may not be celebrated in the form found in the 1962 missal – rather that there can be no ‘private’ celebration of the Triduum liturgies (which is only what the rubrics actually say), because of their special character. There is no reason why permission cannot be granted by bishops or religious superiors for the 1962 Triduum rites to take place – which is the current situation.

The document specifies that ‘stable groups’ of the lay faithful in a parish may request – and should be granted – celebrations of Holy Mass in the traditional rites, and that parish priests should also consider requests for the other sacraments as well. Two further provisions are made – one, that in cases where permission is not granted recourse can be had to the bishop and also where necessary the Ecclesia Dei commission (which contradicts the rumour at one time circulating, that the Commission was to be suppressed); and second, that bishops may erect ‘personal parishes’ (as some bishops in the United States have already done) or chaplaincies, to ensure that the traditional rites are offered to the faithful who seek them. It is believed that at least one English bishop is considering erecting a personal parish under this provision.

Without doubt the motu proprio transforms the situation of the traditional Mass, and that of all the other traditional rites, moving the traditional liturgy from the margin of the Church’s life to – at least potentially – its place at the centre. Here it is necessary to understand the underlying justification that the Holy Father offers in the accompanying letter.

It was Professor Eamon Duffy of Cambridge University who noted in several places in 2005 that the paradox of the election of Benedict XVI meant that the one man who understood that much damage had been done in the preceding century to the character and status of the Church’s sacred liturgy by the exercise of Papal fiat had himself become pope. Dr. Alcuin Reid has made the same point in relation to the decisions that began the whole process of liturgical reform (when the Breviary and Calendar were reformed by Pope St. Pius X in 1911), commenting ‘that a pope could discard ancient liturgical Tradition by sole virtue of his own authority is found nowhere in liturgical history before’. In the ferment that preceded the issuing of this motu proprio (where huge opposition was expressed both publicly and behind the scenes by the French, German, and – we believe – even the English hierarchies) it seems that the Holy Father has sought not to continue the tradition using papal authority alone in the freeing-up of the traditional liturgy.

If a motu proprio is a ‘personal motion’ of the pope, it is important to understand that Benedict XVI has in the expanations around the motu proprio conceded a point long argued by those who love the traditional rites and that was rumoured (but never confirmed) to have been decided by the special commission of cardinals appointed to consider the matter in some secrecy by Pope John Paul II (of which the present pope was a member). The matter in question was the exact status of the traditional liturgical books. Benedict XVI’s explanatory letter tells us ‘as for the use of the 1962 Missal . . . I would like to draw attention to the fact that this Missal was never juridically abrogated and, consequently, in principle, was always permitted’. In this sense the motu proprio has not freed up the liturgical books at all, it has simply defined and clarified a freedom they already possessed in their own right. The importance of this cannot be understated: a future motu proprio could not therefore revoke the freedom of the traditional liturgical books – or put another way, strictly speaking the motu proprio has only defined the character of the freedom of the former liturgical books, it has not been the act whereby there are freed.

The pope confirms this when he says ‘at the time of the introduction of the new Missal, it did not seem necessary to issue specific norms for the possible use of the earlier Missal’ – now it does seem necessary, and that is what the document has done. Understanding the motu proprio in this way also demonstrates the delicacy of the pope’s concern that individual bishops are the guarantors of the liturgical life of the Church. This is the reason why the explanatory letter is addressed to the bishops, so that despite making the framework a personal act of the Holy Father’s, he makes clear that it devolves to the bishops to ensure that the motu proprio is in fact effected. The letter released by Cardinal Murphy O’Connor on the occasion of the motu proprio says that ‘I am confident that the Bishops of England and Wales are well placed to implement this timely Letter and the Norms which clarify the universal discipline of the Church’, and (despite the interventions of at least one of the bishops in the press about the dangers of division) we can only hope he speaks for all the bishops and that there will now be very generous provision for adherents of the traditional rites.

All of us who are attached to the former rites of the Church have wearied of the accusation that in seeking to preserve the traditional rites we have been somehow ‘disobedient’ to the spirit of the Second Vatican Council (and no doubt those who have accused us of disobedience will now want to demonstrate their own good obedience to what the pope seeks to bring about). Never mind that we have patiently pointed out that much of what the Second Vatican Council actually said concerning liturgical reform has never itself fully been implemented – that (for instance) study of the liturgical texts and forms should inform every other kind of theological study in seminaries and Catholic institutes of formation; that plainchant and the Latin language are in every case to be retained, and so forth. The Pope specifically, and again in stronger terms than perhaps ever before, speaks of the period of liturgical reform as one characterised by ‘deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear’ and repeats this phrase saying ‘arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain’.

At the heart of the decision to issue this document has been a concern of Benedict XVI’s that he drew attention to as early as December 2005. In a speech to the whole Roman curia, now famous, he suggested that the division in the Church is not between liberal and conservative, left and right, but between those who interpreted the Second Vatican Council within a ‘hermeneutic of rupture’, by which he meant that they interpret Vatican II as having made a conscious break with the whole past tradition of the Church, and those who seek a ‘hermeneutic of continuity’, whereby Vatican II can only be understood and implemented in continuity with the whole of the Church’s past history and tradition. On this occasion he spoke of how for those who stressed the “spirit of the Council”, ‘a vast margin was left open for the question on how this spirit should subsequently be defined, and room was consequently made for every whim’. The motu proprio corrects that ‘misunderstanding’. At its heart is the claim in the supporting letter to the motu proprio that ‘there is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal’ – meaning that the ‘law of prayer’ as the ‘law of belief’ (lex orandi, lex credendi) contained in the Missal of 1962 is identical with that of the Missal of 1970.

In truth this is only partially the case. Dr. Lauren Pristas, whose work has ben quoted in this journal on more than one occasion, has shown countless examples of where the language of the 1962 missal and the former rites – which in reality is that much of the language of the prayers and rubrics that often date back to the very origins of the written texts of the Church – was edited for the 1970 Missal in such a way that it could be interpreted ambiguously. One small example – the Collect for the feast of St. Albert the Great (Nov. 15th) in the 1962 Missal speaks of how God made ‘thy bishop and doctor great by his subordinating human wisdom to divine faith’. The 1970 Missal edited this to read ‘you endowed St. Albert with the talent of combining human wisdom with divine faith’. The 1970 text is susceptible of an orthodox interpretation, but contains an ambiguity – it fails to clarify what the relation between divine faith and human wisdom is: the older text requires the orthodox understanding that human wisdom is subordinate to, and so completed and fulfilled by, divine faith.

When the Pope speaks in the supporting letter of there being ‘no rupture’ between the two forms of the Roman Rite he asserts a truth which the whole Church has yet to discover – that when the 1970 missal and the other reformed rites are understood in the context of the former rites, then their orthodox interpretation is assured, and all ambiguity is removed. What the motu proprio does is make possible in the ordinary life of the Church that the ‘rupture’ proposed by adherents of the ‘spirit of the council’ can only be healed through the Church’s sacred activity of prayer and administration of the sacraments. What he announces as a ‘fact’ – that there is no rupture between the two forms of the rite will then become an actual truth, one which will have effects in every aspect of the Church’s life. In fact what he proposes is that the living presence of the former rites – as themselves active vehicles of the Holy Spirit and of divine grace – will ensure the freedom and health of the future Church. What he announces as a fact is really a task to be carried out over the next decades of the Church's life – in prayer (the liturgical life that is the life of the Church), in charity, and through the Church’s sacred actions.

Catholics attached to the former rites have tended to distrust all mention of the Liturgical Movement of the twentieth century, and yet any of us who use people’s missals printed during that century (as I do) will know how full they are of catechetical instruction and information, a direct result of the Liturgical Movement’s work. Benedict XVI is all too aware of what he himself gained from the Liturgical Movement, especially in that it sought to foster a love of all the rites and an understanding of them (this is the real meaning of participatio actuosa). He is not wrong in his assessment that an unacknowledged fruit of that movement has been the drive by traditionally minded Catholics who were well schooled in the meaning of the sacred liturgy to preserve and adhere to the former rites, knowing that they contain many riches and the treasury of the Tradition for the future of the Church. He is not alone in believing (as Dom Odo Casel OSB, a leading light in the Movement did himself) that the Liturgical Movement was derailed, something which became increasingly clear after the Council.

What the motu proprio makes possible is the recovery of the spirit of that movement, that it should take up again the task to make the sacred liturgy the living heart of the Church. It is too early to see what the effects will be, and much remains for the future. Much of the froth of the opposition to the motu proprio will die down, no doubt (together with the absurd suggestion that the traditional rites are ‘antisemitic’). Many in the Church will seek out and come to know and understand the former rites. We can but hope that the rift with the Society of St. Pius X can now be healed. We must hope that a period of serious historical study begins. The rites as they were left in 1962 were already much altered and pared down. One bishop has already said to me ‘who will want to take up saying the 1962 breviary?’ – as by 1962 the breviary had been badly truncated and distorted (a deformation of a truly ancient tradition if ever there was one). For one thing we must give thanks, and now strive earnestly to make a reality – that the most ancient rites of the Church can now live again in Her heart, and inform Her every heartbeat.

'Reprinted with permission from Mass of Ages, the magazine of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales. For details of membership and publications see their website:

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