Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

The Pope's Liturgical Liberalism

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

The Pope's Liturgical Liberalism

Article excerpt

One of the more deft moves in Benedict's apostolic letter motu proprio, tided Summorum Pontificum, is in referring to the 1962 form of the Roman Rite as the Missal of Blessed John XXIII. It is not the Tridentine Mass nor the Mass of Pius V but the Mass of John XXIII. It is the form of the Mass dial was celebrated daily at the Second Vatican Council.

Benedict notes that, over the many centuries of the Roman Rite, popes have from time to time made modest changes. Pius V did so in 1570, John XXIII did so in 1962, and Paul VI made some not-so-modest changes in 1970, the last producing what is called the Novus Ordo. Benedict notes that John Paul II also made small but important emendations regarding references to the Jews in the Good Friday Liturgy. (More on that below.)

By associating the Latin Mass that is now universally approved with John XXIII, Benedict steals a card from the deck of liberals and progressives, for whom John XXIII is always "good Pope John," in contrast to his successors. But this is much more than a deft rhetorical move. Summorum Pontificum is a dioroughly liberal document in substance and spirit, remembering that liberal means, as once was more commonly understood, generosity of spirit.

In his letter to the bishops, Benedict is directing them to be generous in embracing the fullness of the Cadiolic tradition and responding to the desires of the Cadiolic faithful. This is proposed in contrast to the rigidity, bordering sometimes on tyranny, of a liturgical guild that mistakenly drought that the Second Vatican Council gave them a mandate to impose their ideas of liturgical reform on the entire Church.

Benedict writes of the Mass of 1962 and that of 1970: "It is not appropriate to speak of these two versions of the Roman Missal as if they were 'two Rites.' Rather, it is a matter of a twofold use of one and the same rite." This is of a piece with Benedict's longstanding campaign against the idea that there is a "pre-Vatican II Church" and a "post-Vatican II Church." There is one Cadiolic Church, Benedict insists, and its liturgy is the Roman Rite. (I discuss Benedict's understanding of continuity in the December 2006 issue of FIRST THINGS in connection with Klaus Camber's The Reform of the Roman Liturgy, for which then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote an introduction.)

There were many tilings done in the name of liturgical reform for which the claim was made that such changes were mandated by the council. Excluding the Mass in Latin was one of them. Benedict writes: "As for the use of the 1962 Missal as a forma extraordinaria of the liturgy of the Mass, I would like to draw attention to the fact that diis Missal was never juridically abrogated and, consequendy, in principle, was always permitted." In other words, were it not for the presumption of some liturgical reformers, there would have been no need for this apostolic letter.

For decades following the council, experimentation was in, tradition was out, and the Catholic faithful were subjected to a long period of what is politely called liturgical destabilization-and not only liturgical destabilisation-which alienated many. The pope is, with great care, trying to remedy that destabilization without causing additional destabilization. As he notes in his letter, there is a close connection between lex credendi and lex orandi-between the way of faith and the way of worship.

Of the problem to be remethed, he writes: "This occurred above all because in many places celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal, but the latter actually was understood as authorizing or even requiring creativity, which frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear. I am speaking from experience, since I too lived through that period with all its hopes and its confusion. And I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church."

The letter underscores that the desire for the Missal of John XXIII is not only on the part of nostalgic old folks. …

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