On his blogsite, Spirit of Vatican II, Fr. Joseph O’Leary has posted an insightful commentary concerning the new Motu Proprio (i.e., “papal rescript” or response to queries and/or petitions).
Entitled Summorum Pontificum and issued today by Pope Benedict XVI, this new Motu Proprio allows for the wider use of the Tridentine Mass (also known as the Latin Mass) within the Catholic Church - a move that some traditionalist-minded Catholics believe will herald a new (and improved) era in the Church’s liturgical life.
Yet for O’Leary, Summorum Pontificum is a “divisive document” - one that will “create nothing but headaches for bishops, priests and laity.”
Following are excerpts from Joseph O’Leary’s commentary, “Motu Proprio Madness.”
Benedict . . . dismisses as “quite unfounded” the fear that the new arrangement “would lead to disarray or even divisions within parish communities.” One reason he gives is a very poor one: that only a few people will avail of it. “The use of the old Missal presupposes a certain degree of liturgical formation and some knowledge of the Latin language. Neither of these is found very often.” Well, it would be wonderful if the vocal traditionalists would acquire such formation and learn some Latin, but ignorance of Latin has never been an obstacle to their divisive crusading. “It is clearly seen that the new Missal will certainly remain the ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, not only on account of the juridical norms, but also because of the actual situation of the communities of the faithful.” A situation that the traditionalist will labor mightily to overturn. They want the Tridentine Rite and none other to be the ordinary Form.
What Benedict is restoring is an old form of the Roman Rite, to be celebrated alongside the newer form. “The two Forms of the usage of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching”; “celebration of the Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI will be able to demonstrate, more powerfully than has been the case hitherto, the sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage. The most sure guarantee that the Missal of Paul VI can unite parish communities and be loved by them consists in its being celebrated with great reverence in harmony with the liturgical directives. This will bring out the spiritual richness and the theological depth of this Missal.” Somehow the Tridentine Mass is supposed to have an aura of holiness that will spread to the Novus Ordo as well. This is weak and illogical thinking.
There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal. In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. 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. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place. Needless to say, in order to experience full communion, the priests of the communities adhering to the former usage cannot, as a matter of principle, exclude celebrating according to the new books. The total exclusion of the new rite would not in fact be consistent with the recognition of its value and holiness.
I am no liturgical historian, but I wonder if there has ever been a case in history where older and newer forms of the same rite are maintained in the same church. The faithful will be choosing between a Tridentine Mass at 9 and a Novus Ordo Mass at 10. This is a troubling scenario. Meanwhile the chances the traditionalists will now embrace the Novus Ordo seem very slim, given that so much has been conceded to their pressure here.
This new arrangement will create nothing but headaches for bishops, priests and laity. Happily there will be a review after three years, and if the experiment turns out to be entirely counter-productive it may be abandoned. Most probably, the affair will turn out to be much ado about nothing; a huge expense of time, money and energy will have given birth, once more, to a pathetic little mouse – Rome again fiddling while the world burns.
To read Fr. Joseph O’Leary’s “Motu Proprio Madness” in its entirety, along with some interesting responses to it, click here.
Elsewhere on the web, J. Peter Nixon, writing for Commonweal, notes that:
Much has been written (this is an understatement!) on the topic of how removing barriers to the celebration of the 1962 rite would help reconnect the Church with its liturgical tradition. Fr. Joseph Fesso, S.J., for example, recently stated that the document would be “a major step toward the genuine renewal of the Mass, and therefore the genuine renewal of the Church, which the Council so ardently desired.” Similar themes are struck by Pope Benedict in his letter of transmittal.
It will be interesting to see if this happens, but I’ll admit that I remain a bit skeptical. It’s not as if I don’t have concerns about how the liturgy is currently celebrated. . . . In recent years, I’ve endured Pentecosts where the church was decorated like it was a children’s birthday party, Halloween masses where the celebrant wore a clown wig, and various other exercises in liturgical creativity that ended badly. The more I study what those involved in the liturgical movement of the 20th century were trying to accomplish, the more that significant gaps between our current practice and that vision emerge.
I’m still not clear, however, on how liberalizing access to the 1962 rite is going to help solve these problems. Much of the mainstream criticism of contemporary liturgy focuses more on how the Roman Rite is celebrated than the rite itself. . . .
There are times when I think what many critics of contemporary liturgy want is not so much the 1962 rite but the 1962 rubrics. They want an end to what Cardinal Arinze once termed the “do-it-yourself Mass.” They want a liturgy that their parish community receives as gift rather than as a vehicle for their collective self-expression. . . . [Actually, I think when a liturgy is developed by a believing community to serve as a meaningful expression of this community’s life and collective experience of the sacred within and beyond its midst, then it is experienced as both vehicle and gift. I don’t think these two experiences of liturgy have to be mutually exclusive.]
While the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum is not keeping me up nights, I remain convinced that the Mass we are called to celebrate can be found within the rite as it exists today. We have what we need there to worship God in a way that is “right and just.” If we have failed to do that, it is not primarily because the rite is deficient but because we have been deficient in excavating and bringing forth its riches. Whatever the impact of Summorum Pontificum, that task remains.
To read J. Peter Nixon’s commentary, “Get Your Motu Running . . .”, in its entirety, click here.
Catholics About to Breathe New Life Into Latin Mass by Jeff Shelman (Star Tribune, 07/06/07).
Motu Proprio: Benedict’s Decisive Compromise by Rocco Palmo.
Well, the Pope Done Did It by Fr. Martin Fox.
Image: Montgomery Clift in the 1953 Alfred Hitchcock film, I Confess.