Thursday, July 22, 2021

Fr Thomas Reese on Traditionis Custodes: fisked

(Cross-posted from Rorate Caeli)

Fr Reese's column is here. My comments in red.

Despite the recent decision of Pope Francis to curtail celebration of the Latin Mass, we are not going to see it disappear anytime soon for a simple reason: Local bishops can and will still permit it.

This is true

Francis' new rules on the old liturgy were laid out in Traditionis Custodes on July 16.

Unlike his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Francis is no fan of the pre-Vatican II liturgy. Like Pope Paul VI and most people in the church, Francis welcomed the liturgical reforms enacted by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and believed the old liturgy would gradually fade away as Catholics who were raised with it died off.

Would ‘most people in the Church’ include the 50% or so who stopped going to church? Statistics of church attendance are unreliable but here’s something easy to count: marriage.

Catholic marriages as a percentage of all marriages in England and Wales (1913-2010)


In 1981, a survey of bishops by the Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship found that only 1.5% of the bishops said their priests and people were in favor of making greater allowance for the Tridentine rite, as the old, pre-conciliar Latin Mass is called. (The post-conciliar version approved by Paul VI was written in Latin but then translated into the vernacular for common use around the world.)

What does this show? That only 1.5% of bishops thought seriously about the pastoral care of the Catholics attached to the Traditional Mass in their dioceses. Not quite as flattering to Fr Reese’s case as he imagines.

Benedict, though, had experienced great spiritual nourishment in the old liturgy and hoped that allowing its greater use would foster church unity, especially with those who found change difficult. But he also wanted to provide the old liturgy to those young people who were attracted to it.

I hope all the prelates of Pope Benedict’s generation experienced this nourishment, otherwise they would hardly have become priests in the first place.

When local bishops were reluctant to allow widespread use of the old liturgy, Benedict sidelined them, giving every priest the right to celebrate the old Latin rite even if his bishop opposed it.

Benedict also went a step further. He declared that the new and old liturgies were of equal standing in the church. Thus, there was no need for the old liturgy to fade away as anticipated by Paul VI.

Benedict's hope to foster unity failed. Those who went into schism because of the council, like the Society of St. Pius X, would not come back simply because they were allowed to say the old Mass. They are still in schism despite the efforts of Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis.

This is not true: a significant number of priests returned to unity under the Pope, having been in or associated with the SSPX until 2007. In the UK we have the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer; in Germany the Institute of St Philip Neri in Berlin; in France the Institute of the Good Shepherdall from the Summorum Pontificum era. A previous set of priests were reconciled under Ecclesia Dei Adflicta, notably the Fraternity of St Peter and a number of French religious communities. The ‘sunshine policy’ worked.

There are others who remain in the church but who champion the Latin Mass as a symbol of their rejection of all the reforms that came from the Second Vatican Council. These ideologues argue that the new Mass is an abomination, that ecumenism is a betrayal of tradition and interreligious dialogue is satanic. They believe that only they are the true church and everyone else is in error.

I challenge Fr Reese to give one single example of a figure of any significance associated with the Traditional Mass under Summorum Pontificum who uses this language. On the contrary, it should be obvious that ecumenism and interreligious dialogue will be impossible under Tradionis Custodes. How’s it going to work? ‘We really appreciate and respect your (Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Orthodox) use of sacred languages not understood by the worshipper, your tradition of chant, your penitential practices: we just fear and loath our own! Oh, and you Protestants: the Pope doesn’t exercise despotic power, that’s a misunderstanding. Just give me a moment while I crush these trads under my booted heel…’

By bolstering these dissidents, Benedict's efforts for church unity backfired. This view was confirmed by a detailed consultation with the world's bishops by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Except that it wasn’t. Everyone who has actually seen the results confirms that they were mixed, with many bishops pleased with the results of Summorum Pontificum. The one piece of direct evidence in the public domain, the French bishops’ summary, is quite negative but still accepts the Traditional Mass as a fact of life. Their response to Traditionis Custodes has been to reassure Traditional Catholics of their ‘esteem’. They are perfectly aware of where the threat to the unity of the Church comes from.

Those who went into schism because of the council, like the Society of St. Pius X, would not come back simply because they were allowed to say the old Mass. They are still in schism despite the efforts of Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis.

You’ve done this bit. Don’t they have editors at NCR?

Congregations that celebrate the old Mass today have become rallying centers for those fomenting opposition not only to the council reforms but to Francis' papacy. Not only do they oppose the reforms, they also spread their dissent to those who simply come to find spiritual nourishment in the old liturgy.

No, they have become decompression chambers for people traumatised by the crisis in the Church, where they can calm down, remain in the unity of the Church, and receive pastoral care and the sacraments.

The challenge that Francis now faces is how to separate the pious faithful with traditional devotion to the old liturgy from the ideologues who reject the reforms of the council.

His solution is to empower local bishops with the authority to separate the sheep from the goats. He has returned to bishops their traditional authority over the liturgy that is celebrated in their dioceses, the same authority they had under John Paul II. The bishops can still allow the celebration of the old Mass where they judge there is a pastoral need, but they can deny it to dissenters who oppose the reforms of Vatican II.

Since, on Reese’s view, they are mixed together like the tares and the wheat, how exactly is that going to work? Are they going to be interrogated? Is a diocesan official going to take screen-shots of their social media postings? 

The bishop can also control which priests are celebrating the old Mass to make sure that they are fostering unity with the church rather than dissent. According to Francis, these priests should be "animated by a lively pastoral charity and a sense of ecclesial communion."

However, Francis does reserve to the Vatican permission for newly ordained priests to celebrate the old liturgy. He worries about young priests and seminarians who only want to celebrate the old liturgy. He wants to make sure that they understand that they are being ordained for the whole church, not just a small faction within it.

Here is an interesting admission that of the many vocations prompted by the Traditional Mass, a goodly portion do not go to the exclusively Traditional Institutes and communities. If Reese wants priests who celebrate both Forms, he should rejoice that these young men are joining their diocesan seminaries to learn how to celebrate the Novus Ordo.

Likewise, he has told bishops not to authorize new parishes or new groups for the sole use of the old Mass.

Francis has also reversed Benedict's decision to give equal standing in the church to the pre- and post-Vatican II liturgies. According to Francis, the new liturgy is the only liturgy of the church, and the old liturgy is only allowed temporarily for pastoral reasons.

But that’s a contradiction, isn’t it? How can the Novus Ordo be the ‘only liturgy’ and at the same time there is another one, albeit allowed only temporarily? If it’s being said with the permission of the Pope and the Bishops, it is legitimate. And what about all the other Rites and Usages? Are the Carthusians going into schism? And the Greek Catholics?

Francis has also mandated that the Scriptures at these Masses be read in the vernacular, not Latin. Perhaps he hopes to gradually introduce the vernacular into these liturgies in the future. 

What he has mandated has commonly been done for a century or more: the reading of the lections in the vernacular after their proclamation in Latin.

In any case, once again, it is the official position of the church that the old liturgy should fade away.

Will it fade away? Not quickly. 

Many bishops have already announced that there will be no immediate change in their dioceses. This is smart. Pastoral practice demands that the bishop have a dialogue with their communities before making any decision. Those who are spiritually attached to the old liturgy should be treated with compassionate sensitivity and separated from those who foment rebellion.

If they examined Catholics attending the Novus Ordo on their orthodoxy, they'd have to decide what to do with the 70% (yes you read that correctly) who don't believe in the Real Presence. I'd be fascinated to know what Novus Ordo Catholics believe about the authority of the Pope, or the binding nature of Vatican II.

Those who are young must be educated to the deeper meaning of the Eucharistic reforms and encouraged to go to the new liturgy. They need to understand the communal and participatory aspects of liturgy. We come together not simply for our individual devotion but to worship as a community of disciples who are called to help establish God's kingdom on earth.

Whereas in the Traditional Mass we come together with the saints of all the ages and Catholics all over the world to offer to the Father one and the same sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, using the very same words. Even Annibale Bugnini, the architect of the Novus Ordo, conceded that those who objected to his reforms did so, in part, precisely because of the lack of unity it presented. Pope John Paul II made the same point. Dominicae Cenae (1980) 80:

Nevertheless, there are also those people who, having been educated on the basis of the old liturgy in Latin, experience the lack of this “one language,” which in all the world was an expression of the unity of the Church and through its dignified character elicited a profound sense of the Eucharistic Mystery

Local bishops can also point out that saying the Mass in Latin is not a problem if it is the Latin version of the new rite. It is the old liturgy that is used to breed disunion.

But we all know that priests who have tried to offer the Novus Ordo in Latin have been subject to official disapproval and even persecution, sometimes more severe than that meted out to Traditionalists. The Latin Novus Ordo has been effectively banned from St Peter’s, even while the EF was given a tiny space in which to continue. In many places no Latin is taught in seminaries, and now we’ve been told that the Latin edition of the Novus Ordo Missal will not be reprinted. How are these Masses going to be celebrated, Fr Reese, without a Missal?

The need for pastoral sensitivity means that it will take time for old liturgy to fade away, but this ultimately is the goal.

When my mother was alive, she used to go to the Saturday evening Mass at her parish. One Saturday she showed up and the Mass was in Spanish. She kept going to that Mass even though she did not know a word of Spanish. When I asked her why, she responded, "It is wonderful, just like the old Latin Mass. I don't understand a word they are saying." Then she added, "It is even better, I don't understand the homily."

Fr Reese would do well to reflect on the meaning of this anecdote, and not just use it as a gag-line. It tells us something about the suffering of Catholics under liturgical abuses and the preaching of novelties and nonsense from the pulpit, and the possibility of spiritual participation in the Mass.

Thomas Reese

Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese's column for Religion News Service, "Signs of the Times," appears regularly at National Catholic Reporter.

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1 comment:

  1. When I found the Extraordinary Form, I had been going to Mass in German, partly because the language was newish and beautiful for me, partly because the mostly elderly German-speaking congregation was palpably devout, and partly because I didn't understand the homily.