It’s been a dismal week for the Church in the news, and it’s only Thursday. There’s plenty of gruesome news from which to choose, but let’s step away from the macabre for a moment, and rather focus on the ridiculous.
The Rome diocese has issued its implementation of Traditionis custodes – that’s Pope Francis’s motu proprio regulating the practice of the Catholic faith according to the older liturgical books that pre-date the reforms that followed the Vatican Council II – and boy, is it ever a doozy.
Among other things, the decree of implementation expressly forbids the traditional parish in Rome – Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini, established by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 as Rome’s traditional parish, incidentally – from celebrating the Easter Triduum with the old books.
Stop and think about that.
The parish exists to serve God with the rites established at Rome in the earliest centuries of the Church’s life, and to serve the faithful who would worship Him accordingly. If their books aren’t good in Rome at Easter, when and where are they good?
Leave aside that parishes are juridical persons. A bishop may suppress a parish, but parishes have duties, from which flow certain rights, which even the pope is bound to respect.
The pastor and other clerics of Trinità dei Pellegrini belong to a society of apostolic life – the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter – founded for the purpose of serving God and the faithful according to the older prescriptions. These are the guys who refused to go in with Archbishop Lefebvre when he committed his “schismatic act” and ordained bishops against the pope’s orders. They swear an oath attesting their acquiescence to the legitimacy of the late Council and the validity of the new rite.
Nevertheless, the implementation decree explicitly and particularly denies them and others the use of the older ritual prayers for sacraments and blessings within the Diocese of Rome. Telling them they can’t do what they exist to do is frankly absurd.
“The motu proprio establishes that the ‘liturgical books promulgated by the Holy Pontiffs Paul VI and John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of the Second Vatican Council, are the sole expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite’,” the decree reads, citing Article 1 of Traditionis.
“[T]herefore,” the decree goes on to state, “it is no longer possible to use the Roman Ritual and the other liturgical books of the ‘ancient rite’ for the celebration of sacraments and sacramentals (e.g., the Ritual for the reconciliation of penitents according to the ancient form).”
“The use of the other Ordines, therefore, is currently expressly forbidden and only the use of the Missale Romanum of 1962 remains permitted,” the implementation decree continues.
Forget about other places in the city, where there are stable groups of faithful and stable ministries to serve them.
At the traditional parish, the parish priests cannot offer the sacraments. They are obliged – by the Cardinal Vicar of Rome — either to request a dispensation to offer the sacraments in the new rite, or to find a priest who can provide them, or to give permission for their parishioners to receive sacraments outside their parish.
Now, we may be dealing with a situation in which the pope is using his Cardinal Vicar as a sort of foil – as “bad cop” to Francis’s “good cop” – and either plans or may be fairly readily convinced to walk back the more egregious specific dispositions in the decree. There are precedents, e.g. during the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak, when his Vicar shuttered Rome’s churches – all of them – after consulting with Pope Francis, and then … er … significantly modified his draconian decree, also after consulting with Pope Francis.
So far, there’s been no sign of anything like that in the works. Also – and more to the point – who governs like that?
It makes the farcical circular letter banning individual Masses at the side chapels in St. Peter’s Basilica look like a paragon of administrative sobriety and decorum.
Sure, a parish has rights, but for the parishioners of Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini, that effectively means nothing. The “lively pastoral charity” to which the decree calls all those variously subject to it leaves precious little in the way of room to exercise it for them.
The language according to which the books promulgated by Paul VI and JPII (Orate pro nobis!) are the “sole” expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite is laughably imprecise. At least, it would be laughable, were not those employing it in such deadly earnest. It also has grave implications for other rites and uses, the Anglican Use and the Zairean Rite, to name two.
The publication of the Roman decree follows closely on the appearance of a letter from Archbishop Arthur Roche, head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, to Cardinal Vincent Nichols, in which Archbishop Roche blithely asserts contra factum, among other things, that the older liturgical books were “abrogated” by Paul VI. It’s like Summorum Pontificum – Benedict XVI’s liberalizing law of 2007 – never existed.
That’s of a piece with the more recently released Roman decree, which begins with a quote cherry-picked from John Paul II’s Ecclesia Dei and asserts that the sole purpose of permitting the use of the old books is now and has always been “facilitating ecclesial communion for those Catholics who feel bound to some previous liturgical forms.”
It happens that the ample quote the good archbishop excerpts reads rather differently than Pope Francis’s careful tailored summary appears to allow: “To all those Catholic faithful who feel attached to some previous liturgical and disciplinary forms of the Latin tradition,” wrote Pope John Paul II in Ecclesia Dei, “I wish to manifest my will to facilitate their ecclesial communion by means of the necessary measures to guarantee respect for their rightful aspirations.”
Following the post-conciliar liturgical reform, the general presumption was that “requests for the use of the 1962 missal would be limited to the older generation which had grown up with it,” but then, history happened. As Benedict XVI noted in his own letter to the world’s bishops, which accompanied Summorum Pontificum in 2007, others – including many young people – discovered and came to appreciate the older form in the years between 1969 and 2007. They “felt its attraction and found in it a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, particularly suited to them.”
Benedict had also noted – in the letter and in the body of Summorum, proper – that the old books, in point of fact, had never been abrogated. It goes without saying – or should – that a letter from a bureaucrat cannot annul a public and universal magisterial statement from a pope, much less alter history. No matter. These guys are making it up.
Their ersatz administrative acrobatics and slight regard for history creates serious interpretative difficulties. If the new rite is in conformity with tradition, how is the old rite not in conformity with the new? Either the old rite was not in conformity with the authentic tradition that the new rite accurately reflects, or the new rite reflects a new tradition and belief.
Perhaps the old rite somehow no longer accurately reflects the tradition that it managed to embody for a millennium and a half? If so, the last sixty years have been even more eventful – and rather magically so – than anyone on any side of this business is likely willing to warrant.
Whatever one thinks of traditionalism and / or traditionalists, that is a problem.
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