The forces in the Church most responsible for dividing Catholics from magisterial teaching are the quickest to use the word “divisive” in any controversy. A “divisive moment” is the Catholic left’s euphemism for any papal action that seeks to unite Catholics to the actual teachings and traditions of the faith.
So it goes with Pope Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum, which authorizes wider use of the traditional Latin Mass. “Any liberalization of the use of the Tridentine rite may prove seriously divisive,” British prelate Kieran Conry, Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, said to the Telegraph shortly before the Motu Proprio’s release. “It might send out an unfortunate signal that Rome is no longer fully committed to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council…”
No, what it signals is a welcome new era of liturgical seriousness and the beginning of the end to the demoralizing liturgical chaos and distortions of the last four decades. In Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict has not only revived a venerable liturgical tradition but supplied a catalyst to reform the new liturgy.
By making the traditional Latin Mass and the new Mass two uses (extraordinary and ordinary) of “one and the same rite,” Pope Benedict is fostering a climate of healthy coexistence, perhaps one could even say healthy competition, in which false innovations may fall away and a sense of the sacred can be recovered.
In his letter to the bishops explaining Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict writes:
the two forms of the usage of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching: new Saints and some of the new Prefaces can and should be inserted in the old Missal. The Ecclesia Dei Commission, in contact with various bodies devoted to the usus antiquior, will study the practical possibilities in this regard. The 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.
Far from ignoring the “needs of our time,” as he is often accused, Pope Benedict is responding to the most crucial one: the hunger for holiness, the simple desire for a transcendent, God-centered liturgy. Ordinary Catholics have asked for bread and been given stones, and the Holy Father is correcting the injustice:
Many people who clearly accepted the binding character of the Second Vatican Council, and were faithful to the Pope and the Bishops, nonetheless also desired to recover the form of the sacred liturgy that was dear to them. This occurred above all because in many places celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal, but the latter actually was understood as authorizing or even requiring creativity, which 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. And I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church.
Never too concerned about the trauma these arbitrary deformations caused in the faithful, the liturgical innovators now give voice to their own. “I can’t fight back the tears. This is the saddest moment in my life as a man, priest and bishop,” Luca Brandolini, a member of the liturgy commission of the Italian bishops’ conference, said to La Repubblica, reported Reuters. “It’s a day of mourning, not just for me but for the many people who worked for the Second Vatican Council. A reform for which many people worked, with great sacrifice and only inspired by the desire to renew the Church has now been cancelled.”
This reaction would only make sense if the Second Vatican Council had decreed a hostility to tradition. But it didn’t. All Summorum Pontificum cancels is the misapplication of Vatican II and mindless contempt for tradition, which resulted in a “fabricated liturgy,” as Pope Benedict has said previously. The Catholic left’s game of driving a wedge between Vatican II and previous councils—of treating Vatican II as in effect a mandate to start a new religion from scratch—now appears over.
By shaking up a failing status quo, Pope Benedict has performed a great service for the Church. It is abundantly clear that postconciliar attempts to make the Mass “relevant”—which were often nothing more than a pretext to smuggle secularism into it—has rendered the liturgy increasingly irrelevant and catechetically destructive, as declining Mass attendance and gross ignorance of the faith confirm.
And he deserves great praise for having the courage to address an act of self-mutilation which treated a long and fruitful liturgical tradition as something “forbidden” or “harmful”—an act that appears all the more perverse in light of the fact that many of those who endorsed it were simultaneously using the new liturgy to advance bewildering innovations alien to the traditions of the Church.
Summorum Pontificum represents a central piece in the overall project of this pontificate: to arrest a culture of self-worship and restore God to the center of life. Many years hence, historians will likely see it as a critical turning point in the life of the Church—the moment the liturgy moved away from functioning like the invention of men and regained its splendor as the work of God.
George Neumayr is editor of Catholic World Report.
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