Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Traditional Mass and Ecclesiology

I'm reposting this again because the general issue of obedience to casual words of the reigning Pope is current again, and also because this incident is recounted in Leo Darroch's book on the history of the FIUV which was launched in Rome on Sunday, and is available to buy here.

Basil Loftus has circled back to his story about Cardinal Benelli in his latest column in the Catholic Times, so I thought I'd repost this response to it from April 2016

Giovanni, Cardinal Benelli

Thanks to the archives of the FIUV, I can shed some light on something mentioned by Mgr Basil Loftus in a column I discussed the other day. He'd picked up the claim that Cardinal Benelli had once said to the President of the Una Voce Federation (FIUV), Dr Eric de Savanthem, that there was a connection between the Traditional Mass and ecclesiology. (Contrary to Loftus, Benelli was actually made a cardinal the year after this meeting, in 1977.)

I noted that Lofus didn't cite a source for this: when one realises what his source is, it is easy to see why he'd rather his readers didn't know. Here is a longer extract: I've emboldened the words quoted verbatim by Loftus to the hapless readers of the Catholic Times on 27th March.

When the President of Una Voce at an interview with Archbishop (now Cardinal) Benelli in Rome in October 1976, pointed out the existing liturgical chaos and asked how, in view of this state of things, the suppression of the old Mass could be justified, he was told that “those who wish to retain the old Mass have a different ecclesiology.” This from one of the closest advisors of the then Pope; it meant that those who were faithful to Catholic tradition were now to be treated as dissidents. The phrase quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus (“What has been believed always, everywhere, and by all”) as a criterion of orthodoxy bad now been rejected in favor of a new Party Line which contradicted the Church’s entire previous tradition. What was forbidden and condemned yesterday becomes lawful today, and mandatory tomorrow. What had always been seen as black, is now white, and vice versa─because the Party says so. This comes close to the Bolshevik criterion of morality: what is right or wrong is simply what helps or hinders the Party.(Source: SSPX USA District)

This is an old article (first published in 1982) by a certain Fr. Wrighton. It is easy to see why the SSPX might want to make this point, and it has often been noted that radical liberals have something in common with the more radical proponents of tradition, in stressing the discontinuity between before and after the Council. What I've never seen before is a liberal actually using verbatim arguments from what they claim are their most extreme opponents, to make this point. Unlike the SSPX, however, Loftus is embracing a position whose implications he cannot deal with. Because if there really is this discontinuity, he cannot go on to claim that traditionally-minded Catholics should submit to every jot and tittle of the new regime, because, on his analysis, the new regime has no genuine authority, and in any case he doesn't accept its authority himself. If every Pope up to 1962 was a fool and even a heretic, there is absolutely no reason to pay any attention to the Popes since 1962, any more than Loftus does in fact pay attention to the Pope Paul VI's teaching on contraception or Pope Benedict's promulgation of the new English translation of the OF Missal.

However, Fr Wrighton and Mgr Loftus has both got the wrong end of the stick. As I have discovered, Cardinal Benelli's argument wasn't that theology embedded in the Old Mass had been overturned by Vatican II. It was rather that the desire for the Old Mass when the Holy Father does not want you to desire it is wrong.

Here is an extract from Eric de Savanthem's own summary of the interview, in a letter which he sent to Benelli after it took place. This letter and subsequent correspondence was later circulated to members of the FIUV. The date of the letter (not the meeting) is 26th October 1976; the emphasis is mine.

Your Excellency has urged us to espouse as a matter of conscience the new forms of the Church's public cult, promulgated in the course of these last years by "the Apostolic See and the episcopal conferences, under the authority of the Holy Father conferred by Christ". You have reminded us of Our Lord's words; "What you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven", "Graze my sheep", "Confirm your brethren", and you insisted on the point that, for the government of the Church, Christ had given to Peter and to his successors a "charisma" which is to be considered as a gift both unique and indivisible. Although the character of irreformability only attaches to definitions, promulgated ex cathedra in matters of faith and morals, the assent due to the acts of the Sovereign Pontiff ought equally to express itself in humble obedience to those of his acts which merely concern the discipline or other nondoctrinal aspects of the government of the Church. For there also, you said, it is the same one and indivisible charisma which guarantees that all these acts cannot but be ordered towards the true and certain good of the Church. Consequently, you could only consider as reckless and irreconcilable with a proper ecclesiology all demands or initiatives which implied that the utility of such and such an act of government duly promulgated by the reigning Pontiff or under his authority could be a subject of discussion or even contestation.

Cardinal Benelli does not dispute the accuracy of this summary in his response. What it amounts to - as Dr de Savanthem goes on to explain at some length, though not in these terms - is an extreme Ultramontanism, the view that imbues the reigning Pope's prudential decisions with something close to infallibility, and his wishes with a force approaching that of Divine Law. As Benelli explains in his response to de Savanthem:

You reiterate unceasingly the same arguments to withhold in effect compliance with that which is clearly wanted by the Church and by the Holy Father himself: the loyal and trusting adoption, by all the faithful of the Roman Rite, of the rite reformed under his authority and in application of the orientations laid down by the Council.

'The Holy Father wishes it!' Then, it would seem, the matter is closed.

Can liberals use this criticism of de Savanthem and the FIUV back in 1976 as a stick to beat us with? Hardly. Loftus can't bring himself to accept the authority of the Pope when it is applied to matters which are quite genuinely within its purview, as I've already noted. There is no question of him and his like of accepting liturgical legislation, like the new English translation of the OF Missal, not only as binding, but even as ruling out any further discussion.
The liberals take an extreme position in rejecting the authority of the Pope and the Church - except in the most opportunistic and inconsistent manner, as when Loftus criticises Pope Benedict for not following the norm of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal which says nothing on the Altar should impede the congregation's view.

Some neo-conservatives take an opposite extreme position, in extending the authority of the Pope to absurd lengths, and Benelli's authoritarianism is an example of this.

Catholics attached to the Church's traditions have long upheld the only sensible position: that the authority of the Holy See is real, but has its limitations. We aren't bound to believe everything the Pope says, when it isn't framed as teaching of the Church, nor are we bound to do everything he wishes, when his wishes are not promulgated as canonical obligations. But when he does exercise his authority, then that must be accepted. As I pointed out when addressing a similar argument from the progressive liturgist and composer of ghastly hymns, Paul Inwood, even when there may be some ambiguity, as there long was over the legal status of the Traditional Mass, the policy of the FIUV and the Latin Mass Society alike was not to throw caution to the winds and do what we wanted, but with reason and respect to make the case for our position, and humbly but insistently seek the necessary clarification.

That is what finally happened, in 1988, when Pope St John Paul II confounded authoritarian neo-conservative successors of Benelli (who had died in 1982) by saying that the desire for the Traditional Mass was a 'rightful aspiration'. It happened again in 2007, when Pope Benedict XVI revealed that the 1962 Missal had never been abrogated. 

What bitter days those must have been for Ultramontanists who had been insisting on he contrary positions, on the basis of an inflated understanding of Papal authority: to be contradicted by the reigning Pope! But that is always the risk when you pin everything to the lightest words of the Holy Father. Words lightly spoken can be lightly contradicted by the speaker, or his successor. That's a lesson some conservatives have still to learn.

Something to make Cardinal Benelli turn in his grave, perhaps: Cardinal Brandmuller
officiating at Vespers according to the 1962 books in the Chapel of the Choir in
St Peter's Basilica, for the FIUV General Assembly in 2013.
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  1. This is excellent I'm sure the catholic times would be delighted to print it

  2. As de Bouyer points out Bugnini's (lying) words " the Pope wishes it" were the clincher at a crucial moment in the reformers' work.

  3. Dr Shaw: have you responded to the letter in the most recent issue of the Catholic Herald from a Jesuit working in Zimbabwe pouring scorn on the ad orientem position, which he claims is derived from primitive sun-worship?

  4. Rather than worrying about who said what to whom, it might be better to read:

  5. Anonymous9:08 am

    In the current context this statement seems to be correct: "Those who wish to retain the old Mass have a different ecclesiology." But such a perspective is just a consequence of the "new theology": actually, those who wish to forbid the Old (i.e. Gregorian) Mass has changed the classical/traditional ecclesiology with their new (i.e. "open/inclusive") one. And - for them - no one who does not accept their ecclesiology (and the whole edifice of their new theology) has a right to survive. Now they are going to strengthen the inner persecution against every real Catholic. For those who read in Spanish, here is another proof: http://infocatolica.com/?t=noticia&cod=30457