Thursday, September 21, 2017

Archbishop Pozzo on Summorum Pontificum: Hope for the Future of the Church

We are extremely grateful to Archbishop Guido Pozzo, Secretary of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, for sharing with our readers the talk which he delivered last week to the Fifth Summorum Pontificum Conference in Rome. In the first part, His Excellency gives his appraisal of what has been achieved in the last ten years since the motu proprio became legally active, and in the second looks forward to prospects for the future. I would especially call your attention to these words, considering them in the light of some unfortunate polemical statements recently made against the traditional liturgy. “The restoration of the ancient Gregorian liturgy is not ... a step back, but looks to the future of the Church, which can never build itself by destroying or hiding the spiritual, liturgical and doctrinal richness of its past. ... To celebrate the old rite means to look with hope to the future of the Church.”

Abp Pozzo joins in the opening prayers of the conference, with Dom Jean Pateau, the Abbot of Fontgombault, and Cardinals Burke and Müller. (Photo by Emanuele Capoferri for #sumpont2017)
Public opinion has seen the motu proprio as a concession to so-called traditionalist groups, and particularly as a way of bringing closer the Priestly Fraternity of St Pius X, and overcoming the break with it. Certainly, it cannot be denied that this motive was at the center of attention, since no Catholic can rejoice over a rift in the Church. However, it would be oversimplifying and completely insufficient to regard only this motive. In the letter that accompanied the motu proprio, Benedict XVI reaffirmed that the Second Vatican Council did not abrogate the old liturgical books, but wanted a revision of them, without rupture or the cancellation of the previous tradition. The motu proprio, therefore, does not aim for liturgical uniformity, but rather for reconciliation within the Church, bringing the two Forms, Ordinary and Extraordinary, to live together beside each other, respecting their specific characteristics, since in the history of the liturgy, there has always been a multiplicity of rites, and variants within the Roman Rite.

From this point of view, we can calmly state that our appraisal of this decade has been mostly positive, since, recognition of this has grown within many individual dioceses, and mutual distrust has progressively decreased, albeit slowly, and not without some initial difficulties. Especially in France and the United States, where celebrations of the Mass in the Extraordinary Form are more numerous, the result can be considered fruitful and encouraging, thanks also to the apostolic work of the institutes under the jurisdiction of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei. In France particularly, in a great many dioceses, at least one place is found where the Mass is celebrated in the usus antiquior. The interest in the ancient liturgy has been a positive surprise also in the Far East and Eastern Europe. The reception has been fair in Italy, although more so in some regions than others. Some statistics may be of interest, comparing the situation of ten years ago with that of today.

In France, there were 104 Sunday celebrations of the old rite in 2007; today there are 221 (more than double); if those of the Society of St Pius X are included, the number reaches 430.

In Germany, there were 35 Sunday celebrations in 2007; today there are 54, 153 if monthly Masses are included, and those celebrated only on weekdays.

In Great Britain, there were 18 Sunday celebrations in 2007; in 2017, 40.

In Italy, there were 30 in 2007; in 2017, 56 on Sundays, 107 if monthly and weekday Masses are included.

In the United States, there were 230 in 2007, while today there are 480, not including those of the Society of St Pius X.

In Poland, there were only 5, while in 2017 there are 40.

Despite these encouraging statistics, this does not mean that all the problems have been substantially resolved. There exist problems of a practical nature, as for example, the scarcity of priests available or suitable for celebrating the Mass in the Vetus Ordo. This often prevents the local Ordinary from satisfying the requests of a stable group of the faithful. There are also problems linked to ideological prejudices, and others of a more pastoral character. Some bishops complain that individual groups of the faithful within a stable group are not always properly integrated into the pastoral life of the local Church, with the risk of a certain isolation. This isolation, however, is not due to the use of the Extraordinary Form, but to other factors which the local Church must examine specifically. It is the duty of the Ordinary, obviously, to guarantee harmony and active participation in the life of the diocese, in conformity with the universal law of the Church. The priest charged by the bishop to celebrate the usus antiquior should have an important role in encouraging such harmony and participation on the part of the faithful who members of a stable group attached to the Extraordinary Form.

From the qualitative point of view, I consider it very important to speak of the mental and spiritual attitude of most of the faithful who follow the ancient liturgy. It is not the attitude of people oriented towards the past, but an expression of their will and desire to anchor the spirit in something perennial, to the treasury of grace preserved in the liturgical patrimony of the tradition. Precisely because this patrimony is perennial, even in its liturgical form, it is always current. As Pope Benedict XVI declared in the letter that accompanied the motu proprio, “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.

The fact that many of the faithful who participate in the rite of the Vetus Ordo are young, and come from young families, shows that it is not “nostalgia” for the past that motivates their choice. In this regard, it is very promising that young priests are more available for and open to (celebration of the old rite.) It is clear that their preparation for it is taking place already during their seminary formation. In this regard, we must take note of the delay or negligence on the part of most seminaries in teaching the Extraordinary Form of the liturgy for those seminarians who are interested in it, which obviously includes places where there exist pastoral needs for celebration of the ancient Roman Rite.

We certainly must also mention the constant increase in priestly vocations in the institutes under the jurisdiction of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, in particular the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter, the Institute of Christ the King, and the Institute of the Good Shepherd.

In an appraisal that seeks to be precise, but not superficial or polemical, we cannot ignore that fact that in some places, and in specific cases, there are still difficulties in the application and reception of the teaching and norms of the motu proprio and the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei follow-up instruction Universae Ecclesiae. This should certainly not surprise us, since these difficulties are part of a broader context, and regard more generally the common understanding of the Second Vatican Council, spread by the reception and application of the Council’s teaching, and a certain way of understanding it. This common understanding is based on rupture and discontinuity with Tradition, and with the integrity and fullness of the Catholic Faith handed down by the Church’s constant Magisterium. However, we must also recognize that in the years following the publication of the motu proprio, many difficulties have been overcome, and there is in general on the part of the bishops and clergy a greater favorability towards those who prefer the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Often, the Ordinary’s inability to satisfy the request of the faithful who ask for the celebration of the Mass in the old liturgy arises, as I mentioned earlier, from the lack of priests who are not only willing, but also suitable (i.e., truly capable) of celebrating the sacred rite in the Extraordinary Form. 

To conclude this brief appraisal, I believe we can recognize that since Summorum Pontificum has become legally active, there has been a large recovery, on the part of many of the faithful, and especially of young priests and laity, of this patrimony of the Church. This patrimony is a treasure to guard, and pass on in all its beauty and holiness, without ideological interference from any party. This will surely be to the benefit of all, even those who follow the Ordinary Form of the liturgy.

In order to consider prospects for the future in a manner both sincere and thorough, I think it necessary to return to a fundamental aspect of Summorum Pontificum, namely, the desire to heal the rift, not just liturgical, but ecclesiological, between the old and the new. Instead of opposing the old rite to the new, I believe that the old rite, with its patrimony of faith and holiness, can greatly enrich the new; while the new, in its turn, can represent that rightful aspiration for theological and liturgical development in continuity and fidelity to tradition.

Precisely because the liturgical reform desired by Paul VI had the purpose of bringing about this development, ordered in continuity with Tradition, we can and must ask ourselves: what are the causes of the eclipse of the Sacred which overwhelmed the Church’s liturgy after the reform, and drove many Catholics to seek elsewhere, outside the Church, the answer to man’s irrepressible longing for God and mystery? It is more significant than ever that Benedict XVI, in the letter which accompanied the publication of the motu proprio, at one point states, “The reestablishment of the Vetus Ordo of the Roman Missal will help the celebration of the Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI to demonstrate, more powerfully than has been the case hitherto, that sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage.

Therefore, we see that the discussion of future prospects for the ancient use of the rite is not principally a discussion about quantity (the increase in the number of such celebrations, or the number of stable groups that request it, etc.) It is a discussion about quality and substance, which is to say, one that regards the destiny of the resurgence of the life of faith and the Church’s liturgical life. 
Here, then, lies the crucial point of the disputes about the old liturgy and the reformed one. The reestablishment of the Vetus Ordo, its great contribution, should be seen as the antidote to that arbitrary creativity (in liturgy) which causes mystery to disappear, and to the alarming tendencies which minimize the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist, especially in the name of a false idea of greater comprehension and accessibility to the Sacrament.

On the other hand, it is just as important to guarantee that the ancient liturgy not be seen as an element of disturbance or a threat to the unity of the Church, but rather as a gift in service to the building up of the body of Christ. The precious inheritance of the traditional liturgical patrimony must therefore not be anchored to the past, but made accessible also to the present and the future. Otherwise, the continuity of the Church through various eras and generations is endangered. This obviously does not exclude that in the future, there may arise a convergence in a single common form. However, this will be the result of a process of growth within the Church, not a bureaucratic or formal imposition from above. The current prospect is that this period should be one of mutual enrichment of the two forms, Ordinary and Extraordinary.

As has been stated authoritatively several times, this is not a matter of contrast between Summorum Pontificum and the reforms of the Council, but rather of promoting and preserving its identity, so that those same reforms of the Council may be carried out, understood and made fruitful in line with the Church’s tradition. The image which even today is put forth on many sides, of an alternative between a pre- and post-conciliar world, is totally false, and should therefore be rejected. According to this idea, before the liturgical reform the priest was responsible for the liturgy, whereas starting with Vatican II, it is the responsible of the assembled community. Thus, it is concluded, the community is the true subject of the liturgy, and determines what ought to happen in it. It is certainly true that in the old liturgy, the priest never had the right to decide for himself what ought to happen. It was not arranged by the will of the cleric, but rather, came before him as a sacred rite, the objective form of the Church’s common prayer. The “priest versus community” polemic is senseless. It destroys the authentic understanding of the liturgy and creates a chasm between pre- and post-conciliar which destroys the great bond of the living story of the Faith.

In contrast, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1069) clearly presents that which is permanently valid and preserved by the great tradition. Liturgy means “service of the people and for the people.” “Service of the people” presupposes the teaching that the people is not created from below, but in virtue of the Paschal ministry of Jesus Christ, and therefore is based on the ministry of another, namely, the Son of God. The People of God does not simply exist as the French, Italian, Spanish etc. exist. It arises continually anew in virtue of the Son of God, incarnate, dead and risen, and from the fact that He raises us up to communion with God, whom we can never reach by ourselves. In the Christian tradition, the term “liturgy” means that the people of God participates in the work of God.

The Catechism cites the Council’s constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, according to which every liturgical work is a work of Christ, who is the High Priest, and of His body, which is the Church.
This presents the matter in its true profundity. The liturgy presupposes that heaven is open; if heaven is not open, that the liturgy is belittled in its essence, everything is reduced to a matter of roles, the search for the community’s self-confirmation, in which the divine no longer exists. Against what Pope Francis calls the risk for Christians of self-referentiality, the decisive fact which must be emphasized is that the liturgy is either the work of God, or it does not exist. This primacy of God and of His action comes with a universal openness found in every liturgy, which cannot be understood as a matter of phenomenology or the community’s reference to itself, but only by the Christological and theology categories of the people of God and the Body of Christ.

Only in this context can one then understand the mutual relationship between the priest and the community of the faithful. The priest does and says in the liturgy his own part, but he can do and say nothing of his own; he acts in persona Christi. He is not the community’s delegate; rather, in his sacramental representation of Christ as the head of the Church, he expresses the primacy of Christ, which is the most basic condition of every Catholic liturgy. It is precisely because the priest represents this primacy of Christ, that he makes it possible for the entre assembly of the faithful to go beyond itself, heavenward, towards Him who eliminates every earthly barrier.

Benedict XVI, while still a cardinal, wrote that “The Church stands and falls with the Liturgy. When the adoration of the divine Trinity declines, when the faith no longer appears in its fullness in the liturgy of the Church, when man’s words, his thoughts, his intentions are suffocating him, the faith will have lost the place where it is expressed and where it dwells. For that reason, the true celebration of the sacred liturgy is the center of any renewal of the Church whatever.” (Introduction to The Spirit of the Liturgy)

The liturgy of the old rite reminds us, through its silence, its repeated genuflections, its reverence, of the infinite distance that separates heaven from earth; it reminds us that our horizon is not that of earth, but of heaven, that nothing is possible without the sacrifice of Christ, and that the supernatural life is a mystery. This is not, however, a matter of putting the old rite in competition with the reformed missal. It is rather a matter of understanding how the restored freedom to celebrate according to the old liturgical books erects a new barrier to advanced secularism, and a sociological conception which exalts the community, and hides the reality of the whole Christ, head and body. Therefore, we can say that the ancient Roman Rite forms a radical response to the challenge of secularization and “laicism”, to the anti-Christian and sociological humanism of our era. Certainly, it is not the only possible rite, but it faithfully expresses the Catholic Church’s ecclesiology, which is dogmatically one, but can be expressed by different rites or forms of the same rite.

The restoration of the ancient Gregorian liturgy is not therefore a step back, but looks to the future of the Church, which can never build itself by destroying or hiding the spiritual, liturgical and doctrinal richness of its past. Likewise, it can never close itself off from renewal and development, which must always be coherent with tradition. To celebrate the old rite means to look with hope to the future of the Church, at the center of which stands the cross of Christ, as it stands, (and should stand) at the center of the altar. Christ is the High priest to whom the Church turns its face, today, yesterday, and forever.

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