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William Oddie FAITH Magazine November-December 2007


The implications of the Pope’s motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum continue to ripple out. The first and most obvious effect, as we noted in this august organ in its last issue, was that it sent out a clear ecclesiological message, one we have heard before, but never perhaps in such a direct and practical way: the message of the hermeneutic of continuity and reform against that of discontinuity and rupture. For such as The Tablet, the effect of the motu propriosruling that the 1962 Mass was simply another form of the same Rite as the Mass of Paul VI, was ‘to send a signal that nothing the Council did made much difference’; it was ‘the strongest indication so far that the theological conservatism of Cardinal Ratzinger... is still inplace...“ – an analysis, perhaps which said more about the kind of difference The Tabletthought the Council made than about anything else.

But there was a second kind of reaction the Pope must have been expecting and it duly made itself manifest. For, here he was, ordaining in the most direct way a clear and tangible reduction in the powers of bishops over their clergy: this was not going to go unchallenged. Some bishops immediately expressed both kinds of reaction – thus demonstrating the link between the hermeneutic of discontinuity and the exercise of prelatical power over ‘the people of God’ whatever theymight be deluded enough to think they want (naturally in their own interests). The Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, the Rt Rev Kieran Conry, said firstly that the motu proprio‘might send out an unfortunate signal that Rome is no longer fully committed to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and itcould encourage those who want to turn the clock back throughout the Church.’

Equally predictably, he protested against the motu proprioscession to parish priests of any decision about whether to celebrate the 1962 Rite or not, on the ground (there really is no other way of reading this) that Parish Priests, particularly ‘traditionalist’ ones, could not be trusted to exercise their new power of decision responsibly and with pastoral sensitivity, not to mention with plain common sense: ‘Unless bishops retain their powers to control the use of the Rite’, he insisted, ‘it will lead to confusion in the parishes. Some traditionalist priests might want to use [the 1962 form] almost exclusively, excluding those members of their congregation who want the New Mass. If we are not careful, it could all become a bit of a mess.’ Further along theSouth Coast (what is it about the English Channel that breeds Episcopal disaffection?) Bishop Budd of Plymouth was taking a slightly different tack, discouraging use of the 1962 rite by saying that it really was jolly hard to celebrate, all in actual Latin, with heaps of rubrics to follow that had to be ‘scrupulously adhered to’ and with lots of it that had to be learned by heart and recited ‘so that it makes sense’ even when this was being done silently (I am not making this up). But in the end, Bishop Budd’s protest, like Bishop Conry’s, was all about the preservation of his own authority: ‘Anyone learning this rite from new’, insisted Bishop Budd, ‘will need to demonstrate to methat they are competent in its celebration.’ How this was to be done was not specified:some kind of liturgical driving test, presumably. We will need to return to Bishop Budd’s interesting and revealing reaction in due course (as well as that of some other bishops): but first, we need to deal with that naked attempt to retain Episcopal control over the celebration of the ‘old rite’: for the fact is that the whole point of the motu proprioi s that priests do not‘need to demonstrate’ to their bishop or to anyone else ‘that they are competent in its celebration’. The motu proprioi s clear enough:

Art. 2. In Masses celebrated without the people, each Catholic priest of the Latin rite, whether secular or regular, may use the Roman Missal published by Bl. Pope John XXIII in 1962, or the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970, and may do so on any day with the exception of the Easter Triduum. For such celebrations, with either one Missal or the other, the priest has no need for permission from the Apostolic See or from his Ordinary.

Art. 4. Celebrations of Mass as mentioned above in art. 2 may... also be attended by faithful who, of their own free will, ask to be admitted...

Art. 5.1 In parishes, where there is a stable group of faithful who adhere to the earlier liturgical tradition, the pastor should willingly accept their requests to celebrate the Mass according to the rite of the Roman Missal published in 1962.

The only foothold for Episcopal control is in the following from article 5, which suggests that the priest should ‘ensure that the welfare of these faithful harmonises with the ordinary pastoral care of the parish, under the guidance of the bishop in accordance with canon 392, avoiding discord and favouring the unity of the whole Church.’ In other words, he should behave with basic common sense: the bishop’s ‘guidance’ here cannot include the authority to demand that priests should jump through hoops to ‘demonstrate’ to bishops that they are liturgically competent: it is simply a general injunction that the bishop should (canon 392) ‘be watchful lest abuses creep into ecclesiastical discipline, especially concerning the ministry of the word, the celebration of the sacraments andsacramentals, the worship of God and devotion to the saints...’: exactly the kind of ‘guidance’ in which bishops hostile to the Mass of blessed John XXIII are unlikely to be excessively punctilious (or even vaguely interested). I have been present at celebrations of the Mass of Paul VI in the diocese of Plymouth in which (for all Bishop Budd’s demands now that priests should be ‘competent’ to celebrate the 1962 Rite, and scrupulous in observing its rubrics) the officiating priest was neither particularly ‘competent’, even in English, nor was he in any way concerned scrupulously to adhere to the rubrics – or does rubrical scrupulosity not apply under the Spirit of Vatican II? (sorry, that was a silly question. Sorry).

In the neighbouring diocese of Portsmouth, where all sorts of liturgical high jinks famously take place, the bishop’s reaction was interestingly different. The first signs of opposition came, not from its bishop, the Rt Revd Crispian Hollis, but from the ‘Diocesan Director of Liturgy’, one Paul Inwood, who wrote a Q & A piece clearly designed to stave off the motu proprio, or at least discourage the celebration of the 1962 Rite. The answer to the first question (‘Why has the Pope seemingly taken a step backwards in allowing the former Tridentine rite of Mass alongside the one we have now?’) was that the Pope wanted to make a gesture of reconciliation to those who have never been able to accept the rite of Mass we have now’ and that for that reason ‘he is to a smallextent relaxing the rules regarding when celebrations of the Tridentine rite can take place’. This distortion was then compounded: ‘The latest document’ Inwood brazenly asserted ‘merely eases slightly the legislation that had already been relaxed for the universal Church in 1984 by Pope John Paul II.’ The ‘Tridentine rite’, furthermore was notnow available freely: ‘only those’, he insisted, ‘who have a history of celebrating in or mounting pressure for celebrations in the Tridentine rite may request such a celebration from a Parish priest... What this means in practice is that people cannot now decide that they want a Tridentine celebration and ask for it.’ In other words, if you think the motu propriochanges anything, forget it. The text of Inwood’s piecewas leaked, and caused a fine old brouhaha, on blogs near and far: at first, Bishop Hollis hotly defended Inwood’s piece, saying that he did not ‘have to vet everything that is said by those who advise me and Paul Inwood is our Director of Liturgical Formation. He has my confidence and I am happy that he has the responsibility for making the sort of commentary that he has done on the motu proprioand other liturgical matters as they arise.’ He then asserted baldly: ‘As it happens, I agree with what he has written... all in all, I am in agreement with Paul Inwood’s comments and am happy for them to appear eventually in Portsmouth People. ’ But in the end, even he could not stand by such a barefaced misrepresentation of a papal document, and the October edition ofPortsmouth Peopleappeared without Inwood’s piece. The bishop, furthermore, perhaps in the heat of the moment, found himself (Portsmouth priests, please note) undertaking to provide any training necessary for the celebration of the Rite of Blessed John XXIII: he is probably keeping his fingers crossed that nobody asks him for it, and it would be interesting to know what happens if anybody does. All the same, it is interesting that a bishop known for his, let us say, less than fanatical adherence to the authority of the Successors of Peter should say such a thing; is this a sign that there has been a shift in the wind? Does this, together with the withdrawal of Inwood’s article, portend that in certain quarters there is a dawning realisation that the jig is up? Who knows?Certainly, any such realisation is far from universal. So far as we know, no Portsmouth priest has actually been forbidden to celebrate the ‘Old Mass’. In Italy, according to Il Messagero, Raffaele Nogaro, Bishop of Caserta, interdicted a proposed celebration of it on Sunday, September 15, at the Shrine of St. Anne by Monsignor Giovanni Battista Gionta. Mgr. Gionta, who had planned the celebration at the request of local Catholics, put up a notice at the shrine explaining that ‘I obey the bishop’ (though since the bishop was clearly acting ultra vires, it is arguable that there was nothing to obey). The bishop said he did not want to ‘ set a precedent’, and that he was ‘taking action to help his people pray properly’, since ‘to mumble in Latin serves no purpose.’ Exactlywhat action he is taking Il Messagerodoes not record; but we must earnestly pray that his pious endeavours are rewarded with success.

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