Editor’s note: The following is a response to Cardinal Blase J. Cupich’s essay “Pope Francis’ Latin Mass reforms are necessary to secure Vatican II’s legacy”, published by America magazine on Nov. 10, 2021.
Cardinal Cupich begins the story with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, in “the early 1970s”. It is worth noting that by the time the SSPX became headline news, with its canonical suppression in 1975 and unauthorised ordinations in 1976, lay groups had been campaigning for the ancient Mass for more than a decade, and had achieved a symbolic, if limited, concession in Pope Paul VI’s Indult for England and Wales which was signed in November 1971, exactly fifty years ago. It was, similarly, the desire of the Faithful, not of SSPX clergy, which was recognised by Pope John Paul II’s world-wide indult of 1984, which does not mention the SSPX, and these Faithful who are again noted as a motivation for Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum.
This is worth emphasizing because, although they share an attachment to the former Missal, the International Una Voce Federation (founded in 1965) and its member associations around the world, and the SSPX, are clearly distinct phenomena, and have suffered quite different fates in recent years. In 2016 Pope Francis gave priests of the SSPX special faculties to hear confessions, and in 2017 he made provision for them to officiate at marriage services. They still enjoy these privileges today. Priests serving the faithful within the structures of the Church, on the other hand, have just been forbidden to do either thing using the older books used by the SSPX in the very diocese of Rome. If Traditionis Custodes is motivated by disappointed hopes for “healing and unity” with the SSPX, it seems to have sadly mistaken its target.
However, Cardinal Cupich’s phrasing does not make it quite clear whether he is still referring to the SSPX situation when he laments the lack of “healing and unity”, or whether his thoughts have moved on to other actors in the Church. He next suggests that the Bishops’ responses to the questions sent out by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith indicated that the provisions of Summorum Pontificum were being “used to promote the former liturgy as a parallel option in celebrating the Eucharist”. At this point, we clearly have in mind not the SSPX but those people referred to by Pope Benedict, when he wrote of “individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church”, “young persons too [who] have discovered this liturgical form, felt its attraction and found in it a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, particularly suited to them”, and when he exclaimed:
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.
Since Pope Benedict’s words appears to be a manifesto precisely for “the promotion of the former liturgy as a parallel option in celebrating the Eucharist”, I would humbly ask Cardinal Cupich what we in the movement which supports the ancient Mass have been doing wrong since 2007.
In the Summorum Pontificum period the ancient Mass was allowed; priestly institutes dedicated to it were founded, and their constitutions solemnly approved; hundreds of priests and religious gave their lives to Christ and the Church under these terms; the teaching of this Mass in seminaries was officially encouraged, enixe, “strenuously”, in the 2011 Instruction, Ecclesia Dei, Article 21. Pope Francis gave the traditionalist Institute of Christ the King the use of a beautiful minor basilica in the heart of his own diocese last October; he made provision for the celebration of newly canonized saints in the older calendar in March of this year. Today we are told that the people who have accepted these gifts with gratitude and used them for the good of souls have been promoting disunity by doing so.
Or has it been some other activity of theirs which is the source of the problem? Or has it been a different set of people who are at fault? Cardinal Cupich does not specify, and it remains obscure. Archbishop Augustine Di Noia suggested that the problem was to be found in England, America, and France. On the other hand, the English Cardinal, Vincent Nichols of Westminster, told his priests in a public statement that “these concerns do not reflect the overall liturgical life of this diocese.” A number of American bishops have said the same thing, and the bishops of France have been in not hurry to close down communities which, they said in a joint statement, they regard with “esteem”.
In fact, it would appear that a majority of the responses received from the 30% of the bishops around the world who responded to the survey were either positive or neutral. The harder we look, the harder it is to find this schismatic, disobedient, and theologically problematic phenomenon.
In the meantime, bishops now find themselves with a markedly reduced range of options in dealing with the phenomenon of Catholics attached to the ancient Mass, which has been labelled as negative regardless of the specifics of each diocese. Perhaps, though, it is not really the activities of specifiable human beings, lay or clerical, which is really the problem, because Cardinal Cupich, rather than going into greater detail, notes the danger of division, the authority of the Holy Father, and, connecting the two things, the duty of every bishop to “keep in mind his more fundamental responsibility as a guardian of tradition to re-establish a single and identical prayer that expresses the unity of the church in the Roman Rite reformed by the decrees of Vatican II.”
For if the unity of the Church is expressed by liturgical uniformity, then the liturgical diversity permitted by Summorum Pontificum is going to be a problem regardless of the words and actions and attitudes of those who availed themselves of the opportunities it created.
This is an interesting possibility, but it creates difficulties of its own. First, it relies on the argument that, because the reform was mandated in light of the Council, the authority of the Council is negated in some way by the continuing existence of the older Mass. But the connection between the Council document on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, and the Mass as promulgated, and still more the reformed Mass as actually celebrated, is a complex one. I don’t see liturgical progressives being criticised for proposing a more radical reading of the document and therefore a more radical reform.
Similarly, the discussions which lay behind the changes which have been made in successive editions of the reformed Missale Romanum (the restoration of a number of ancient feast-days, for example) and to the 2011 English translation (the advance of the idea of a “hieratic” liturgical English) were also, presumably, legitimate. It must be similarly open to traditionally-minded Catholics to point out that the reform was not faithful to the Council’s demand that “Latin be retained” (36.1) and that Gregorian Chant be “given pride of place” (116), and that the abolition of Septuagesima failed to “preserve” the liturgical seasons (107). In these respects, if not in others, the older Mass is more faithful to the Council than the new, and we must remember that it was the older Mass which was celebrated throughout the Council itself.
Another difficulty with this argument is that it appears to suggest that Pope Benedict’s action, albeit motivated by good intentions, was intrinsically theologically problematic, and not simply misused. The indelicacy of this suggestion perhaps explains why Cardinal Cupich appears to waver between the two possibilities. But it is not just Pope Benedict who falls under suspicion. The phrase “a single and identical prayer” seems at odds with the Second Vatican Council, when it proclaimed that “even in the liturgy, the Church has no wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not implicate the faith or the good of the whole community” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 37).
This principle is reflected in the fact that the reforms of Vatican II encompassed the Mozarabic, Ambrosian, and Carthusian Missals. Pope Francis has himself added to this liturgical pluralism by authorizing the liturgy of the Ordinariate, Divine Worship, in 2015, and the development of the “Rite of Zaire” in 2019.
Cardinal Cupich seeks to link the question of uniformity, however, with the chronology of reform: reform means “adopting a new form and putting aside the earlier one, and so it must be with regard to liturgical reform.”
On a strictly chronological basis we would all have put aside the Roman Rite to adopt Divine Worship in 2015, and four years later set this aside for the new version of the Rite of Zaire. We did not do this because these rites were reserved for specific groups of people. In the same spirit, the former edition of the Roman Rite has been preserved for those individuals who find in it “a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, particularly suited to them”. Such things are common in the history of the liturgy: older forms are not replaced by the newer, but preserved alongside it, as were the regional Missals and those of religious orders which continued to be said for centuries, alongside the new edition of the Roman Rite produced in 1570, whose texts had been corrected in light of some old Missals.
If the unity of the Church in the Tridentine era was not endangered by the existence of multiple liturgical forms, all with their supporters, all with their pros and cons, then it seems surprising that the Church of the 21st century, which fosters a somewhat smaller selection of liturgical forms, would be harmed rather than enriched by allowing the continued celebration of the Missal officially approved until such a short time ago.
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