Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Is Traditionis Custodes calling for more Latin?

High Mass in Westminster Cathedral for the Latin Mass Society.
Photo by John Aron

 Cross-posted from Rorate Caeli.

A number of American writers claim that Traditionis Custodes should spur priests to make their celebration of Mass more reflective of the liturgical tradition. Others commentators, including a number of bishops implementing it, apparently think the opposite.

Those in favor of the first interpretation can cite a couple of passages from the Letter to Bishops which accompanied Traditionis Custodes. Pope Francis quotes Pope Benedict complaining about liturgical abuses—“unbearable distortions”; later he remarks:

Whoever wishes to celebrate with devotion according to earlier forms of the liturgy can find in the reformed Roman Missal according to Vatican Council II all the elements of the Roman Rite, in particular the Roman Canon which constitutes one of its more distinctive elements.

The Roman Canon being Eucharistic Prayer I in the reformed Missal.

The two most influential American blogs defending Traditionis Custodes, Pray Tell and Where Peter Is, have accordingly taken this line. Fr Anthony Ruff of the Pray Tell blog writes:

The goal is that the entire Roman rite celebrates the liturgy of Vatican II in all the spiritual profundity and sacrality which remains to be discovered in the 1970 Missal, so that there is less reason for people to seek out the 1962 alternative.

Terrence Sweeney on Where Peter Is calls for more celebrations of the Novus Ordo in Latin and with “proper liturgical garments, fully celebrated liturgies, processions, and yes smells and bells,” a celebration that is “richly traditional”.

By contrast, the bishops who have been most prominent in implementing Traditionis Custodes are not encouraging their priests to make their celebrations of Mass any closer in spirit to Traditional Mass: quite the contrary. The Bishops Conference of Costa Rica, for example, in what seems like an inversion of Pope Francis’ words about continuity quoted above, warn against “any element coming from the ancient form”. One bishops has actually suspended a priest for celebrating the Novus Ordo in Latin.

One American diocese, Rockford, Illinois, whose Vicar General Monsignor Eric Barr has written defending Traditionis Custodes, in 2017 banned priests from celebrating the Novus Ordo facing east, facing same direction as the congregation, in the traditional manner, despite this being permitted by the rules of the Novus Ordo.

The French bishops, whose report on the spread of the Traditional Mass in their dioceses became public early this year, felt that “when elements are introduced into the OF they are more sources of tension than of enrichment.” What sort of “elements” did they have in mind?

Use of old vestments, and the use of black as a liturgical color. The adding of Signs of the cross. Veiling of statues in Passiontide. Blessing of the water at the Offertory. The sacring bell, communion plates.

In the Novus Ordo the bell is explicitly allowed as a “local custom” and black “where it is the practice” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal 150 and 346 respectively); the use of the Communion plate (paten) is actually required (Redemptionis Sacramentum 93).

The use of the more traditional options which exist in the Novus Ordo is sometimes called “the reform of the reform”. Fr Ruff and others like him think that this is more important than ever, because it show the continuity between the reformed Mass and the earlier liturgical tradition; liturgically progressive bishops, on the other hand, think that the reform was right to relegate these practices to the status of mere options, and thinks the actual use of these options is a retrograde step.

Pope Francis has, in fact, made his own position quite clear. He famously broke the liturgical rules by washing the feet of a Muslim female on Maundy Thursday in 2013. Whatever one thinks of his action, it did not give an example of strict adherence to norms.

In 2015 he was reported as follows, after a long meeting with the priests of Rome:

The Pope noted that there are priests and bishops who speak of a “reform of the reform.” Some of them are “saints” and speak “in good faith.” But this “is mistaken”, the Holy Father said.

In 2016 he reacted negatively to Cardinal Robert Sarah’s encouragement of the celebration of Mass facing east. Earlier this year priests were banned from celebrating individual Masses in St Peter’s in Rome, and forced to concelebrate in Italian instead.

Taking all this into account, there is no justification for reading Traditionis Custodes as a call for making celebrations of the Novus Ordo more traditional. On the other hand, the Traditional Latin Mass is still allowed wherever a local bishop gives permission. Indeed, the only way for a priest to celebrate an individual Mass, or a Mass in Latin, at St Peters’ side altars, is now in a limited number of slots allocated to the Traditional Mass. Pope Francis and his allies among the bishops seem to prefer a situation in which the Traditional Mass is the only alternative to progressive-style Novus Ordo celebrations. This polarization of liturgical options has precisely the effect feared by Fr Ruff: it gives people greater reason to seek out the Traditional Mass. Pope Francis’ liturgical policies may in the end do more to promote attendance at the Traditional Mass than to discourage it.

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