Thursday, October 24, 2019

Lessons from the Sixties: Selective Synodality and Princely Protests

NLM is pleased to offer readers a translation of a thought-provoking article that appeared at the German site Motu-proprio: Summorum-Pontificum.

The Ottaviani Intervention

Clemens V. Oldendorf

It is actually astonishing how little of Paul VI’s liturgical reform, especially his Novus Ordo Missae, which he promulgated fifty years ago, is being commemorated this year. The isolated contributions and initiatives that remind us of it come from the criticizing corner. [1] But it is noticeable that yesterday, September 25th (as of the original writing), as far as we can see, passed completely unnoticed. [2]

On this date, Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci transmitted to Pope Paul VI the Brief Critical Examination of the “Novus Ordo Missae,” which had previously been prepared by a working group of tradition-oriented theologians. This was greatly enhanced by the signatures of the two princes of the Church who made this criticism their own, especially since Ottaviani was at the time the supreme guardian of the purity of the doctrine of faith, and could have been referred to as “the Panzerkardinal” far earlier than Joseph Ratzinger, who would later follow him in the same position.

If the advocates of liturgical reform and the representatives of university-based liturgical studies overlook and ignore this jubilee with almost complete silence, perhaps it is because they do not want to unnecessarily remind people today, in a time that is forgetful of history, that the liturgy of the Church was ever celebrated in a manner visibly different from what is now the common practice, and is, in principle, also prescribed in such a way as to be normative.

With the keyword “normative”, we are referring to the Missa normativa, which at the Synod of Bishops in 1967 was presented, as it were (not to say demonstrated) as the prototype of the Novus Ordo, and which was broadly rejected by the Synod Fathers. The votes and decisions of a Synod of Bishops do not bind the Pope in his decisions, and since the Novus Ordo, which came two years later, corresponded almost perfectly to this Missa normativa, one could already see back then what “synodality” means if its tendency does not actually fit in with the Holy Father’s agenda.

But back to the Brief Critical Examination. This document criticized above all a softening of the doctrine of the Eucharistic Real Presence and sacrificial character of the Mass as seen in the liturgical texts and gestures, both in details and in totality, of the rite as Paul VI had presented it. The Cardinals therefore implored the Pontiff not to deprive the Church of the possibility of offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass according to the former Missale Romanum. Looking at the ecclesiastical constellation at that time, this action was, in point of fact, much more explosive and massive than, for example, what the Dubia to Amoris laetitia represent today. Above all, the process was more remarkable than the interventions that Cardinal Burke and Bishop Schneider have been submitting at regular intervals, since the Dubia remained unanswered.

The investigation — later also called the Ottaviani Intervention — was, by the way, not momentous in effect, yet not completely without consequences, inasmuch as Paul VI had the entire first edition of the Novus Ordo Missae books pulped (!). Nevertheless, in the next edition, only the definition of the Holy Mass contained in [the introduction to] this Ordo was half-heartedly “improved” by the insertion of an addition [with Tridentine language]; nothing more changed in the rite itself.

What remains to be recorded, and what should one perhaps learn from the events of that time for today?

The critique mounted by the Brief Critical Examination did not hinge upon liturgical abuses. The object of criticism was a Novus Ordo in Latin, at the high altar, without altar girls or communion in the hand. In the eyes of the authors and signatories, this already deviated considerably from the doctrine of the Council of Trent on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and yet such a celebration today, in circles that were close to or still hope for the idea of a Reform of the Reform, would certainly already be regarded as an expression of the continuity of the contemporary liturgy with the traditional Roman practice. In theory, this form is probably also most likely to be the so-called usus ordinarius, which in purely theoretical terms is to be the reference point for liturgical celebrations according to the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. With this motu proprio in 2007, at least what Ottaviani and Bacci requested in 1969 — but did not then receive — was finally made possible.

And to be historically fair, it must be said that Ottaviani later celebrated exclusively in the Novus Ordo and even in Italian alone — despite the fact that, due to his position, and also on account of his blindness, he could undoubtedly have easily obtained the special indult to adhere to the earlier missal, an indult that was intended from the start for old, handicapped, and frail priests, as long as that they celebrated privately with one altar boy, and none other present. Later, Ottaviani never again spoke a word of criticism against what the liturgical scholar Klaus Gamber described as “the new papal rite,” to distinguish the Novus Ordo from the Ritus Romanus that had been passed down from Gregory the Great and Pius V to Paul VI.

After a footnote in Amoris laetitia and before the Amazon Synod [3], it is certainly instructive to remember Ottaviani’s silence, though whether it would be a model for Burke and Schneider to follow suit I leave open; but such silence would surely be more consistent for the circles of people who, at least under John Paul II and Benedict XVI, considered papalism to be, in principle, in conformity with tradition. Under Francis, of course, we experience a papolatry of emotions which is now completely uncoupled from theology, and that would have been utterly unthinkable even under Pius IX.


[1] See, e.g., “The Strange Birth of the Novus Ordo”; “The New Mass: Fifty Years of Problems”; “Hyperpapalism and Liturgical Mutation”; “Lament for the Liturgy”; “Critique of the Novus Ordo in Two Recent Books”; “A Half-Century of Novelty: Revisiting Paul VI’s Apologia for the New Mass.”

[2] See, however, this article: “The Ottaviani Intervention Turns 50: A Perceptive and Still Relevant Critique,” which was published on the date the study bears (June 5) rather than the date it was delivered to Paul VI (September 25).

[3] This article was published on September 26, prior to the opening of the current Synod.

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