US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi sure knows how to get herself in the papers, but she may have stepped in it this time. She showed up for Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, and presented herself for Holy Communion, which she received from one of the Ministers. This was after, according to one report, she had met with Pope Francis and received a blessing. That was bound to garner press coverage in the secular and the Catholic outlets. So far, so good.
Only, she perhaps wasn’t counting on Wednesday also being the day Pope Francis dropped a lengthy reflection on the meaning of the liturgy and proper liturgical formation. Pope Francis may not appreciate being upstaged at home, and almost certainly isn’t smiling at remarks like the one from John A. Monaco, who quipped on Twitter:
It’s hard to take a document on “liturgical formation” seriously when it is published on the same day a pro-abortion politician receives Holy Communion during a papal Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica.
On the other hand, the document Pope Francis published on Wednesday has to be the hands-on favorite in the race for Most Catholic Inside Baseball News Story of 2022, so perhaps this will prove a case of there being no such thing as bad press. Others have also noted that Francis has been willing – especially of late – to play fast and loose with the rules and regulations that govern Catholic liturgy, and wonder about the extent to which he wishes to be taken seriously when he calls people to greater respect for those rules.
Those observations are understandable, but in fairness to Pope Francis, he is suffering from a very bad knee and has been unable to participate as fully as he’d no doubt like in a host of functions recently.
Pope Francis’s letter bills itself as “some prompts or cues for reflections that can aid in the contemplation of the beauty and truth of Christian celebration.” That’s not exactly headline-grabbing stuff, but the Apostolic Letter, Desiderio desideravi, is worth your attention for several reasons, one of which is that it is a window into the mind of Pope Francis on a subject that has dominated his attention for some years.
A guy who doesn’t care about the liturgy doesn’t use his power to overturn and annul the signature act of his predecessor in office and smash the fragile peace his predecessor had established in law before it really had a chance to settle. A guy who doesn’t care about the liturgy doesn’t take pains, over fifteen pages of typewritten and single-spaced lines organized in numbered paragraphs, to discharge his mind on the subject. Pope Francis cares about the liturgy, and he wants people to see how much he cares, and he wants to explain how and why he cares.
So, it should come as a surprise to exactly no one that matters get pretty wonky, pretty quick.
One has to plow through about thirty of the letter’s sixty-five paragraphs before one comes to the crux of the matter, which is this:
I do not see how it is possible to say that one recognizes the validity of the Council — though it amazes me that a Catholic might presume not to do so — and at the same time not accept the liturgical reform born out of Sacrosanctum Concilium, a document that expresses the reality of the Liturgy intimately joined to the vision of Church so admirably described in Lumen gentium.
Pope Francis isn’t wrong to be amazed. The Vatican Council II was a thing that actually happened. There was a far-reaching reform effort in the wake of the late Council, which saw new liturgical books promulgated and the old ones effectively suppressed (even if they were never formally abrogated). There’s a small number of Catholics – albeit a number devoid of any real power or influence – who tie themselves in knots to explain that the Council never really was and its acts were and are therefore null and void. Some of them even go so far as to say that nobody who has received the new rites is validly ordained.
There’s a whole lot more of that kind of crazy out there, most of it found on blogs run from dingy basements and in internet commboxes peopled by folks with too much time on their hands. These aren’t the sorts of folks who make for any sort of real-world trouble.
Pope Francis appears to have decided, however, that nobody should have something such people care about, even if those nobodies who happen to love the old books and the rites celebrated according to them accept the Council and the new books; even if they’ve built their churches from nothing; even if they’re the life of their diverse and vibrant parish communities.
It’s almost the ecclesiastical version of, “It became necessary to destroy the town in order to save it.”
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