Tuesday, December 14, 2010

An African Bishop on Summorum Pontificum, Mutual Enrichment, and the Reform of the Reform

As you know, all bishops are required to report their experiences after three years of application of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. Here is one such report, and a quite remarkable one, too (even though not all of us may agree with every point), by the bishop of Natitingou, Benin, H.E. Most Rev. Pascal N'Koué, which was published in that diocese's newspaper, Vie diocésaine de Natitingou (source: summorum-pontificum.fr; translation: NLM; the images below are from an usus antiquior Mass which Msgr. N'Koué celebrated in the choir chapel of St. Peter's Basilica for the 2006 Rome conference of CIEL).

Natitingou, June 15, 2010

Your Eminence,

It is with joy that, upon request of the Apostolic Nunciature to Benin, I inform you of our experience concerning the Motu Proprio of Pope Benedict XVI, "Summorum Pontificum".

At the outset I would like to say that the Extraordinary Form of Roman Rite has been introduced in my diocese in October 2003, i.e. before the Motu Proprio. My conviction that these two forms can coexist peacefully and enrich each other is beyond doubt and long held. In my humble opinion, the two forms have no problem (sc. with each other). The conflicts come from our sick and intoxicated hearts or our ideologies arising from the narrowness of our minds and our formation courses which are too set in their ways.

As you will read in the report - delivered herewith, prepared by Father Denis Le Pivain, parish priest of St. John the Baptist - there have been no waves in Natitingou, but still a little turbulence ... The priest does not undertake anything without consulting the bishop. This is one of his great merits. The unity of the Church obliges. In fact, there is a remarkable sympathy and harmony among all the priests on this subject.

Personally, I must profess that the celebration in the old form is an opportunity for my young clergy and the entire diocese. It allows one to value more highly the altar (prayer at the foot of the altar), the sacred silence, the secrets, the multiple signs of the cross and genuflections and even the fact that we are all turned towards the Cross (ad orientem position). In short, the Tridentine rite offers us an opportunity to better understand and better appreciate the rite of Paul VI.

Several of my priests, without any pressure from my part, have spontaneously begun to learn to celebrate the Mass of St. Pius V or more exactly the mass of Pope John XXIII. Obviously the more one emphasizes the "ars celebrandi", the more both forms influence each other positively. When the rubrics are internalised, the liturgy touches the faithful with its beauty and depth; and one no longer needs to quarrel about the mystery, the sacred, adoration, the majesty of God and active participation. It goes without saying. In addition, the Roman Canon and the liturgical gestures in the old rite are closer to our African religiosity and sensibility. I speak only for my diocese.

My wish is that one day every priest is able to celebrate in both forms. It is not impossible, especially if they are introduced in our seminaries. But here in Natitingou, we cannot apply the old rite pure and simple, ignoring the light of "Sacrosanctum Concilium". Everything is there. The extraordinary form cannot ignore the Second Vatican Council, just as the ordinary form cannot ignore the ancient rite without being impoverished. There is a balance to be kept. The Commission "Ecclesia Dei" seems to encourage us to continue in this direction.

I close by invoking the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary on all priests. It is God's love which will save the world and not the rites as such. Let us work to awaken that passion for the Crucified who loved us and gave Himself for us.

In hopes of having answered somewhat according to your request, I assure you, Your Eminence, of my faithful cooperation in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Pascal N'KOUE

In the same edition of his diocesan paper, Msgr. N'Koué offers some thoughts on how mutual enrichment of the two forms could work towards a reform of the reform (NLM translation):

Specifically, how the extraordinary form may help us to better celebrate the ordinary form? Here are some points:

1) Revaluate the sacrificial moment or second part of the Mass. The celebrant and choir should disappear before God, eliminating the fabricated and pernicious creativities that draw the eyes on man. The Eucharist is Christ who offers Himself to His Father. During the climaxes of the liturgical year such as Advent and Lent, why not celebrate all turned towards the Cross, "versus Dominum," or "ad orientem". This encourages recollection, draws our attention to the mystery of the Cross (our East), which now orients every life of a disciple of Christ. Truth be told, the rubrics prescribee that the position for the sacrificial part of the Mass be not face to face.

2) Give a little more room to Latin in our celebrations. Remember that Gregorian chant is the singing proper to the Roman liturgy. The songs which are just good to stir our senses would benefit from being reworked in order to deserve to be called sacred music. Let us avoid the din of musical instruments, the banality of lyrics and the shallowness of beats too profane in our liturgies.

3) Do not put the seats of celebrants before the altar of the Holy Sacrifice anymore. The liturgy is not a place for exhibition.

For Priests:

4) Give Holy Communion, making the sign of the cross with the consecrated Host. The faithful may receive it standing or kneeling.

5) In silence, prepare before the start of the Mass; which presupposes the non-concelebration of priests who are late, when Mass has already begun.

6) Reintroduce sacred silence in our celebrations, for example by suppressing the refrains sung at the elevation of the Body and Blood of Christ.

7) Use the Roman Canon or Eucharistic Prayer No. 1 on Sundays or Holy Days. It is more solemn and more "inculturated".

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