Issue Date: July 20, 2007
Full participation before all else
Upon learning about Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic letter allowing greater use of the Tridentine Mass, no doubt quite a few NCR readers reacted liked Bishop Luca Brandolini, a member of the liturgy commission of the Italian bishops’ conference. “I can’t fight back the tears,” he told the Rome daily La Repubblica in an interview July 8.
“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 canceled.”
On the other hand, many traditionalists see this document as the culmination of a 40-year struggle to preserve an ancient tradition unjustly abandoned.
Our Vatican correspondent John Allen thinks the avalanche of commentary the Latin Mass issue has generated comes from small minorities with vested interests.
To those who would see this as another sign of a rollback on Vatican II, Allen suggests that if they look at Benedict’s full record as pope, they will find little to support the lurch to the right they feared at his election two years ago.
Furthermore, Allen finds scant evidence of a pent-up demand for the old Mass. Individual bishops have been granting permission for use of the 1962 Missal since 1984, and according to Allen, dioceses where it has been allowed report that the celebrations are often well attended, sometimes with a surprising number of younger Catholics, but there has been no widespread exodus from the new rite to the old.
“In the end,” Allen says, “the normal Sunday experience for the vast majority of Catholics will continue to be the new Mass celebrated in the vernacular.”
Allen’s argument, which echoes the opinions of quite a few bishops in the United States and Europe, is persuasive -- for now.
This does not mean that we do not have concerns.
Summorum Pontificum may well ease reconciliation with traditionalists and conservative groups, but what about others -- especially Catholic women -- who have felt deeply pained by the church? What outreach can they expect?
We join with Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center and call on the pope to publicly repudiate language in the rite that calls for the conversion of the Jews and for God to lift the “veil from their hearts.”
We know that priests are already strapped for time and energy. That was confirmed by the Synod of the Eucharist convened in Rome last October. We are concerned that priests will be further burdened not just because they have to offer additional services, but because nearly all will need training in the old rites.
But we also have deeper concerns, as we find persuasive the argument that this is a small change that presages more substantive changes.
From the opening words of their first document, the “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy,” the bishops at the Second Vatican Council proclaimed that the key to reforming the church was reform of the liturgy. And the goal of liturgical reform is enshrined in the core statement of the “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy,” Paragraph 14:
Mother church earnestly desires that all the faithful be led to that full, conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations called for by the very nature of the liturgy. ... This full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else. For it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit.
We fear that re-embracing the Latin Mass could undermine the liturgical reforms that undergird the spiritual and theological developments of the Second Vatican Council. Changes that will set off our alarms include:
Reconfiguring seminary curricula to focus time, resources and talent on training priests to offer Mass and other sacraments in Latin and away from training that would support celebrating the sacraments in the vernacular.
Cutting back on seminary training on pastoral duties, such as counseling and chaplaincies.
Restricting church design and architecture in favor of old forms not conducive to the guidelines in liturgical documents written in the last 20 years.
Discouraging efforts to use contemporary music and other artistic expressions in liturgy.
Increasing restrictions on liturgical ministries open to all laypeople, men and women.
Rembert Weakland, then archbishop of Milwaukee, wrote what must now be seen as a prophetic article in America magazine in 1999 that warned of a creeping rubricism and movement to reinterpret Vatican II to assure validity and orthodoxy. Like Weakland, we have to ask: “Can the two, the reform of the liturgy and the reform of the church, be separated?”
National Catholic Reporter, July 20, 2007