The Motu Proprio: Benedict's Decisive Compromise
Well, the cycle of speculation is now past, replaced at long last (after years of consultations, delays and divisions in the Roman Curia) by the definitive text – an impeccably constructed and painstakingly finessed package of what is, at its core, a decisive compromise on the part of the liturgically-attuned pontiff.
Chiding both sides in the furious debate over the wider availability of the 1962 Missal for voicing “very divergent reactions ranging from joyful acceptance to harsh opposition, about a plan whose contents were in reality unknown,” according to an advance copy of the documents obtained exclusively by Whispers, Benedict yields a clear verdict as the “fruit of much reflection, numerous consultations and prayer.”
However, the verdict -- dated for its official release on Saturday -- is not without its caveats.
- Specifically stating that its books were “never abrogated,” according to the text the pre-Conciliar form will exist as an “extraordinary” use of “the one Roman Rite.”
- While “a priest does not require any permission” to celebrate the 1962 form “without the people,” the faithful “who spontaneously request” its celebration “may be admitted” to said Masses, but no such "private" liturgies may be performed during the Paschal Triduum. (Contrary to reports elsewhere, no numerical quota is given for the faithful making the request.)
- In parishes where an affinity for the extraordinary form “exists stably,” pastors are exhorted to “willingly” allow formal Masses with the people, but no more than one per Sundays and feasts; pastors may also permit weddings, funerals “or occasional celebrations” in the prior use, likewise being able to allow "as the good of souls may suggest" the 1962 forms of baptism, penance and the anointing of the sick.
- The post-Concilar Lectionary -- "even in the vernacular" -- is permitted as an option for Pian-Johannine liturgies.
- And, most crucially, while bishops are “earnestly requested to grant [the] desire” for public celebrations expressed by the extraordinary use's devotees, recourse to the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei is foreseen in cases of “a Bishop who desires to make provision for requests of lay faithful of this kind, but is for various reasons prevented from doing so.” The indult-overseeing body is to respond with its “advice and help.”
Citing numerous concerns that the Roman decree would inhibit the authority of diocesan bishops as the chief stewards of divine worship in their local churches, the Pope said in his explanatory note that “nothing is taken away” from that aspect.
The bishop’s “role remains that of being watchful that all is done in peace and serenity,” Benedict writes. However, “should some problem arise which the parish priest cannot resolve, the local Ordinary will always be able to intervene” – but only “in full harmony… with all that has been laid down by the new norms of the Motu Proprio.”
“Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows,” the pontiff says to the bishops. Yet at the same time, according to the text, only the diocesan bishop is granted the faculty to administer Confirmation according to the pre-Conciliar Roman Pontifical.
Citing the “evident” reality that “the Latin Liturgy in its various forms has stimulated in the spiritual life very many Saints in every century of the Christian age and strengthened in the virtue of religion so many peoples and made fertile their piety,” Benedict reiterates in the motu proprio itself that while the Second Vatican Council “expressed the desire that with due respect and reverence for divine worship it be restored and adapted to the needs of our age,” the ensuing years have yielded “not a small number of the faithful [who] have been and remain attached with such great love and affection to the previous liturgical forms.”
While the main text employs the papal “We,” Benedict’s tone and form turn to a more personal “I” in his missive to the bishops.
Noting that “this document was most directly opposed on account of two fears,” he deems the first – that it “detracts from the authority of the Second Vatican Council, one of whose essential decisions – the liturgical reform – is being called into question” – as “unfounded.”
“It is not appropriate to speak of these two versions of the Roman Missal as if they were ‘two Rites,’” the Pope says.
“Rather, it is a matter of a twofold use of one and the same rite.”
However, such was the excessive drive on the part of some to implement the Vatican II reforms as a rupture with the past that the 1962 form became an emblematic longing for those who, he writes, though “faithful to the Pope and the Bishops, nonetheless also desired to recover the form of the sacred liturgy that was dear to them.”
Where said implementation of the new norms “was understood as authorizing or even requiring creativity,” the pontiff says, in the package's strongest language, that the result “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,” he wrote. “And I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church.”
“[Q]uite unfounded” in Benedict’s view was the second objection to a wider celebration of the 1962 form – that its wider availability “would lead to disarray or even divisions within parish communities.”
“The use of the old Missal presupposes a certain degree of liturgical formation and some knowledge of the Latin language,” he says, noting that “neither of these is found very often.” In light of “these concrete presuppositions,” he continues, “it is clearly seen that the new Missal will certainly remain the ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, not only on account of the juridical norms, but also because of the actual situation of the communities of the faithful.”
The “fears” aside, the “positive reason” he cites behind the document’s release derives from those for whom liturgy was the touchstone of a break with Rome. According to Benedict, his initiative “is a matter of coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church,” and the theme of unity – of the liturgy, of the faith, among the faithful – runs through both texts as their defining thread.
“Looking back over the past, to the divisions which in the course of the centuries have rent the Body of Christ, one continually has the impression that, at critical moments when divisions were coming about, not enough was done by the Church’s leaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity,” the Pope writes, alluding in the present to the Society of St Pius X, whose leaders were excommunicated in 1988.
“One has the impression that omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were able to harden. This glance at the past imposes an obligation on us today: to make every effort to make it possible for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew.”
But that desire to give the entirety of the church’s liturgical heritage its proper place does not signal a total victory for its traditionalist wing, which has battled long and hard for the new morning that’ll dawn on 7.7.07.
“[A]s a matter of principle,” Benedict tells the bishops, even those priests ordained for 1962-exclusive communities “cannot… exclude celebrating according to the new books.” Said “exclusion of the new rite,” he says, “would not in fact be consistent with the recognition of its value and holiness.”
At the same time, the Pope says he finds it “true that there have been exaggerations and at times social aspects unduly linked to the attitude of the faithful attached to the ancient Latin liturgical tradition.” However, even in this the onus is placed on the prelates, whose “charity and pastoral prudence will,” he expects, “be an incentive and guide for improving these.”
In the pontiff’s mind, “the two Forms of the usage of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching,” offering his wish that “new Saints and some of the new Prefaces can and should be inserted in the old Missal.” And, conversely, “celebration of the Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI will be able to demonstrate, more powerfully than has been the case hitherto, the sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage. The most sure guarantee that the Missal of Paul VI can unite parish communities and be loved by them consists in its being celebrated with great reverence in harmony with the liturgical directives. This will bring out the spiritual richness and the theological depth of this Missal.”
“There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal,” Benedict says. “In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.”
On a final note, in keeping with the firm policy of these pages and this narrator, let me state unequivocally that no embargoes were broken from this end in the obtaining of this text -- precisely because none was ever imposed.
...at least, not on me.
As with all the best of stories, "the goods" were yet again passed along completely out of the blue, thanks to the motu proprio of a source, with no strings attached. Once the contents were confirmed, it was all rock n’ roll from there.
If only others were so lucky, maybe they wouldn’t be so angry now. Oh well.
The lines you see above in definitive form for the first time are the product of a lengthy process, one which hasn’t been greeted in all quarters with the greatest enthusiasm – or, alternatively, equanimity.
Not everyone may be happy with its end result, but that doesn't change the reality: the competent authority of the church has spoken, and the evenhandedness exhibited in his words reflects by example the serenity with which they should be received… and not just on their official arrival, either.
The logic of these texts speaks loudly and clearly of communion – a unity of rites, eras, of the faith and those who profess it, whatever their personal preferences. More than whatever prayers are said or whichever Missal used, that shared faith, manifested in a constant spirit of fraternal love and common accord, even amidst disagreements, is the message of this document which everyone, whether supportive of, opposed or indifferent to its specifics, is charitably reminded to heed.
Suffice it to say, that message in itself is a gift the whole church would be wise to reclaim in the sight of a world which benefits beyond measure from our ceaseless renewal and recommitment to that witness born from a faith whose pillars are joy, hope and love.
In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas.