Friday, January 22, 2016

The Mandatum: let's not be hard on Pope Francis

It is tempting to see the decree allowing women's feet to be washed on Maundy Thursday as an indication of an acceleration of liturgical decay underway with Pope Francis, following his breaking of the rule up to now. However, what has happened is no different from what happened under his predecessors.

Bl Pope Paul VI gave in to the pressure of endemic abuse when he allowed the reception of Communion in the hand. But there are other examples too from his troubled reign. One of the most peculiar documents of the Papal Magisterium is his Sacrificium laudis, an Apostolic Letter directed to religious superiors, begging, cajoling, and ordering them to preserve Latin in the Office. You won't find this document in the Acta Apostolicis Sedis, and only in Italian on the Vatican website. The speed of its transformation into waste-paper gives new meaning to the phrase 'dead on arrival'. (You'll find an English translation on the LMS website.)


Pope St John Paul II gave way, again because of the pressure of abuses, on Altar girls. It was he, also, who permitted another set of countries to take up Communion in the hand. It was on his watch, again, that the restrictions on Communion under Both Kinds fell by the wayside - this was forbidden on Sundays, in theory, and for 'large congregations', but the American bishops defied him, and he gave in. It was under him that major investigations of American seminaries and women religious were turned into whitewash, liturgical abuses were established on an industrial scale at the World Youth Days, and being blessed by witch doctors, kissing the Koran, and putting Buddha on altars became de rigeur. Religious sisters not wearing their habits sat right in front of him at a Papal Mass of beatification in Australia in 1995. That day, liturgical discipline was dead.

Pope Benedict XVI allowed Communion in the hand in Poland, where Pope John Paul II never had. Did Pope JP know something his successor did not? It was Pope Benedict who chose to continue JPII's Youth Day Masses, and Assisi ecumenical gatherings, at a moment when it would have been perfectly possible to let both series stop, and merely tried to make them less awful. But he did not continue JPII's series of Instructions lambasting liturgical abuses: he must have realised it was pointless. It was under Pope Benedict that the investigation of the American women's religious lost its conservative mojo: yes, he was the one who appointed João, Cardinal Braz de Aviz as Prefect of the Congregation for Religious, in 2011, with entirely predictable results.

There is, however, an important difference between the actions of these three Popes and Pope Francis. As far as one can tell, Paul VI, John Paul II, and Pope Benedict beleived that poor liturgical discipline was a bad thing. Paul VI lamented Communion in the hand and the loss of Latin. John Paul II apparantly dislike Altar girls, and condemned abuses vigourously before permitting them. Pope Benedict surely had no sympathy with the ghastly things which were happening in American convents. There is no reason to think that Pope Francis is similarly conflicted when he allows the washing of women's feet on Maundy Thursday.

And another thing: to be crass about it, the Mandatum is not all that important. It happens once a year, and it is optional. It is not an integral part of the Maundy Thursday service - despite its name. Allowing Altar girls and EMHCs and syncetistic pagan rites during Mass are far more serious issues.

Let's not get on a high horse about Pope Francis at this juncture. This is just another step, and not a particularly large one, in the development of the Ordinary Form away from Tradition, and it is not happening because of the personality of the Pope. It is happening because the Novus Ordo Missae of 1970 was unstable. It included a series of compromises which were never going to last. Given the direction of pressure, these compromises were always going to unravel the same way.

This is the real lesson to be learned. Attempting to shore up the totering edifice of the Novus Ordo with ferocious-sounding rules has failed. JPII and Pope Benedict didn't manage it, and obviously - obviously - Pope Francis, though not a liturgical 'meddler', is not going to succeed in a project in which he has no interest. If it is collapsing, it is collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions.

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13 comments:

  1. Umm... Sacrificium Laudis is on the Vatican website. This link will lead you right there: http://tinyurl.com/SacLaudis

    You're right about it not being in AAS, though. It was apparently published in Notitiae, which is an authoritative source for liturgical documents & instructions but hardly for an Apostolic Letter. Perhaps someone tried to bury it...

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    1. You are right; I should have written that there's no English translation.

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    2. Of course, there is now. Thank God for Fr Crean OP and the LMS!

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  2. Yes, it is an entirely predictable development along entirely predictable lines. The move empties the Mandatum of its traditional theological content (once about the ordained priesthood, which is why 12 men were chosen -- why are 12 people chosen today, if there is no logical link to the priesthood?), but then adopting traditional forms emptied of their theological content and replaced with inclusive pastoral gestures is just what the Novus Ordo does, and how Novus Ordo-types operate.

    It's a terrible idea, but so was the liturgical reform (or at least the one we got). I shan't waste time weeping about it. It's not my rite.

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  3. Though it may not be a relevant part of the Maundy Thursday liturgy but since it is nevertheless practiced and is there in scripture and more so in the Johannine Gospel, which brings out the deeper meaning of the Sacrament therefore by acting contrary to God's word Pope Francis has proved himself to be man who will change God's word too. He has done it before and continues to do so. If you want to know the depth of its meaning, never explained before by anyone then here it is in this Private Letter to Pope Francis, now made open: https://frconrad.wordpress.com/pope-francis-a-closed-letter-now-open/

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    1. I have read your letter. Thank you, Father, for all you do. God bless you always.

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  4. I will be hard, because quite frankly it's a form of arrogance when before becoming Pope, he took on authority he did not have (washing feet of both men and women when the rubrics did not allow for such), and knowingly broke liturgical law when he had the authority to change it as Pope. I agree as you say, relative to some of the other issues in the Roman church, it's minor, but the age of lawlessness in the church is something that should not be taken lightly...If the Pope can do whatever he so pleases without limit, God help us....

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  5. Alas, if only Mr. Shaw had been Pope, throughout each of those decades, everything in Catholicism today would be different. Mr. Shaw would have known exactly what to do and how to do it in each given circumstance. We must not doubt that Mr. Shaw would have been able to curtail each and every abuse, and would have stymied each and every disaster since 1965.

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    1. How fascinating that you assume I'd favour an authoritarian solution, when I say quite clearly that this has failed.

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    2. Well, EJ R, I wish I had been pope back then. Maybe I would not have been able to stop the abuses, but there would have been a lot of bishops leaving Rome with black eyes after they came for their visits with me.

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    3. 'Mr. Shaw would have been able to curtail each and every abuse'; Well any idiot would have been able to do that, and Mr. Shaw is not an idiot. The men who were and are Popes in this period were worse than idiots.

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    4. The earlier the moment in the calendar you're dialing back to, the more you can accomplish - if you *really* wish to accomplish it.

      But that said: At most points in that calendar since the early 60's, a a really effective set of measures would likely have triggered a major schism. Perhaps that would have provided some clarity, however.

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  6. Vatican File:http://w2.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/it/apost_letters/documents/hf_p-vi_apl_19660815_sacrificium-laudis.html

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