Saturday, May 24, 2008

Abbé Claude Barthe surveys Catholic France nearly one year after the Motu Proprio

I came across this interview in Monde et Vie via Le Forum Catholique, where M. l’abbé Claude Barthe speaks about his view of the situation in Catholic France nearly one year after the release of the text of the motu proprio.

Fr. Barthe is known to the English speaking world by virtue of his work, Beyond Vatican II: The Church at a New Crossroads (published in English by Roman Catholic Books) as well as his presence at the 2006 CIEL Conference in Oxford where he delivered a paper on the subject of liturgical allegory.

As we approach the one year anniversary of the release of the text of the motu proprio you can expect to see more such accounts and opinions of the past year. The NLM will try to document some of the more significant of these for you as we begin to see them.

Here is the interview in an NLM translation:

Monde et Vie, May 17, 2008

On July 7, 2007, in a solemn motu proprio, Benedict XVI acknowledged that the traditional rite was never repealed. The Pope ensured that every priest has the right to celebrate it and that the faithful organized into stable groups can enact this right for themselves.

But what about the bishops, how have they received the will of the pope, particularly in France? After a year, the time has come for an initial assessment. M. l’abbé Barthe, analyses...

French Catholics were the first and strongest to take to the defence of the traditional liturgy since the early 1960's. Fourty years later, the delay in the issuance of the motu proprio that rehabilitates the liturgy was due to the resistance of the French clergy. Nine months after its release, how has it been received in France?

Abbé Barthe:
Historically, one notes that France has often been the preferred venue of the great religious battles (Jansenism, infallibility, modernism, and even Americanism). So there was, and there is still the one for the Tridentine Mass and for what it represents in terms of doctrine. The reception by the French Episcopate of the Motu proprio of 2007 has generally consisted in "dragging their feet". As for the reaction of the clergy, it is very diverse. It is still impossible to draw an exact balance of a situation still very much evolving. Grosso modo, one can say that there has been, not this tidal wave feared by its opponents, who played the game of scaring themselves to cause fear, but a deep shock: very numerous requests all together, priests in fairly important quantities learning to celebrate the "extraordinary form", an increase, certainly relatively modest, but "gnawing away", of Sunday celebrations. Very specifically, the bishops have tried to set up fire lines, i.e. they have granted more Masses under the indult of 1988, in order to avoid that their priests are obliged to grant Masses according to the indult of 2007. The essential thing is that the number of Tridentine Masses have increased. There were 300 places of Sunday worship of [the missal of] Saint Pius V before the motu proprio of 2007. There are 30 more, 10%? On the other hand, the number of requests not yet satisfied is really considerable.

Many groups of faithful were formed to ask for the application [of the motu proprio] to their bishops. Can we identify their origin (FSSP, FSSPX, 1962 rite)?

The Motu proprio creates a paradoxical legal situation: it asserts a radical right for all the faithful of the Latin rite to the ancient form, but instead of requiring (for the moment) that the clergy should ensure this right in its application, it stipulates that those who wish it to apply must ask for it in the form of "groups". In a sense, one could say that the papal text acknowledges that the Tridentine Mass stood for 40 years as a result of the pressure of the faithful, and it institutionalizes that pressure. In these (legal) "pressure" groups, there are those who take the initiative, those who are members by their signing to such initiatives, and then those who attend the Masses obtained. According to my surveys, the first two groups are composed of faithful of the FSSPX and the faithful of Ecclesia Dei. On the other hand, the great surprise is that a minor but notable share of those faithful attending the traditional masses newly celebrated (or which already existed, but which become even more “legal” since the motu proprio) are members of the faithful ones who worshipped before according to the Missal of Paul VI. And if the masses which were newly proposed were in convenient places and times, which is not always the case (in Paris, in any case), this category of faithful grew substantially, perhaps even dramatically.

What impact have the requests for the Extraordinary form had on the ordinary clergy? Are they able to face these requests or give recourse to priests already formed in the traditional liturgy? In the long term will this be sufficient?

Your expression of "ordinary clergy" is not in the motu proprio… Some diocesan priests are very happy and learn to celebrate according to the "extraordinary form". Some are very hostile. The most interesting cases, from the point of view of religious psychology, is that of the hostile priests who accept the requests however: I know some cases of conversion, and conversely a case of depression (not yet of [infarction?]!) Concerning the celebration of the "extraordinary form" in the mid term, one has to also call upon the priests trained in the traditional Mass: they will make up, across the board, 10% to 20% of active French priests in ten years. But more broadly, in these ten years, very many things will change: the number of active priests will fall dramatically, acertain number of French dioceses will practically cease to exist (and in Rome? If God grants life to the pope, he will, in ten years, be 91 years old). In short, all the priests of all bents and nuances will have to respond to a situation in which it is likely that Catholicism is passing into marginality. With everyone, traditionalists and "officials", inevitably many things will necessarily be upset.

The French bishops may adopt radically different attitudes. What are the arguments that can justify the refusal?

The recalcitrant bishops invoke one or all of the three following reasons: 1. The opportunity to attend the "extraordinary form" already exists sufficiently in the diocese, 2 . The celebration in such and such parish will "divide" the faithful; 3. We are making a big effort to have a worthy [celebration of the] Paul VI [missal]. Specifically, it is in the dioceses where already the most Tridentine Masses are being celebrated that the number of groups asking for celebrations in parishes is the largest. So I return to my idea (do not see any irreverence therein!): There is a kind of using the democratic principle in the liturgical reversal (or at least the balancing) that the pope wants to establish; and therefore, as in the field of dominant capitalism, in the field of "on demand" traditional liturgy, wealth calls for wealth… But to continue to turn this pleasant metaphor: one must seek to eliminate ever more the liturgical misery!

-- Interview conducted by Thierry Bouzard

A quick note. Early on in the interview, Fr. Barthe uses the term "indult" in relation to Summorum Pontificum though it seems he may have done this with the intent of literary effect, pairing it with the former indult. Just for the record, what occured in 2007 was not in fact an indult, which is an exception to the law. It was rather a clarification that the usus antiquior is within the law, and therefore not an exception requiring permission. In short, it isn't an indult. Again, this is not a critique of Fr. Barthe as I believe he is using this for literary effect.

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