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William Oddie FAITH Magazine September - October 2007


It had to happen: sooner or later, the honeymoon was going to come to an abrupt end. The honeymoon, that is, between the now enfeebled and increasingly remote souls who for over a quarter of a century had carped and sneered at Pope John Paul II (and by the same token at ‘PanzerCardinal’ Joseph Ratzinger) but who had nevertheless hoped against hope for a Pope who would be somehow reborn if not as a fully paid-up liberal, as a Pope at least who would go easy on all that counter-cultural JPII stuff about being ‘signs of contradiction’ and about continuity with the pre-conciliar Church and who had breathlessly found (so they thought) that, lo, it was even so, in the wonders of Deus Caritas Est. ‘On his election last spring,’ carolled The Tablet, ‘the former CardinalRatzinger was widely assumed to have as his papal agenda the hammering of heretics and a war on secularist relativism, subjects with which he was associated as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.’ But no, the hoary old liberal standard-bearer mawkishly burbled, ‘Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical confirms him as a man of humour, warmth, humility and compassion, eager to share the love that God “lavishes” on humanity and display it as the answer to the world’s deepest needs... This is a document that presents the most attractive face of the Catholic faith and could be put without hesitation into the hands of any inquirer.’

This was never going to last, since heresy and relativism had, of course, never disappeared from the ‘papal agenda’ and neither – perhaps more to the point – had his (and his predecessor’s) analysis that disunity in the modern church was the result of a clash between two different interpretations of the Council itself, one right, the other wrong: as Benedict once more explained it, as his first Christmas as Pope approached in December 2005, ‘On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call “a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture” [i.e., the line peddled by The Tabletfor thirty years]; it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the “hermeneutic of reform”, of renewal in thecontinuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us...

‘The hermeneutic of discontinuity’, the Pope continued, risks ending in a split between the pre-conciliar Church and the post-conciliar Church. It asserts that the texts of the Council as such do not yet express the true spirit of the Council.’ That, of course, is the ultimate basis of the once much trumpeted ‘Spirit of Vatican II’, a locution synonymous with ‘the hermeneutic of... rupture’. And sooner or later in this pontificate, there was going to arise a casus belli, a serious and unavoidable confrontation over precisely this issue: and in mid-July it arrived. There was no way The Tablet was going to continue its armistice in the face of the Pope’s presentation of his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, in which he convincingly (to anyone not ideologically parti pris)explained that his intention in restoring the unfettered right to celebrate and attend the pre-1970 form of the Roman Mass was to bring about a healing of divisions caused by the rigidities of the immediate post-conciliar period. For, those still seized by the ‘Spirit of Vatican II’ are ideological (with all the intolerance that inevitably entails) or they are nothing – and the Pope’s ‘humour, warmth, humility and compassion’ be damned. And to explain, as Summorum Pontificum does, that the Mass of Pope John XXIII and the Mass of Pope Paul VI are simply different forms of the same Rite, is to take on this whole ideology in the most unmistakeable way. This was a vital skirmish in the run-up to the final battle which must surely come in the relatively near future and though they had lost itbefore it began, they were never going to accept defeat with a good grace. If one didn’t have an understanding of the hermeneutic of discontinuity at work one might think that The Tablets editorial “A Step Backwards” shows a certain irrational panic. Concerning the Successor of St Peter’s authoritative affirmation of the “extraordinary” status of the older form of Mass it asserts that: “To suggest that a Mass devised before the Second Vatican Council has the same value as one devised afterwards is to send a signal that nothing the Council did made much difference. This is the strongest indication so far that the theological conservatism of Cardinal Ratzinger... is still in place...“

‘What follows is ugly’, begins Fr John Zuhlendorf’s comment on The Tablet’s article against Summum Pontificum, written by Fr Mark Francis (who is, surely inappropriately, a member of the Pontifical Liturgical Institute at the Sant’ Anselmo University in Rome). Fr Zuhlendorf characterises Fr Francis as ‘one of the darlings of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions in the USA’ (a distinctly scaly outfit, about whose murky activities – including a children’s mass written by an already defrocked paedophile – much could be said if we had the space). Fr Zuhlendorf’s piece was flagged up by Fr Finigan in his blog (thus does the Ratzingerian counter-revolution ripple out).

Fr Zuhlendorf himself gave a link to what he justly described as a ‘stomach-churning’ article by Fr Francis entitled ‘Models for multi-cultural liturgy’. This article is arguably hypocritical as well as stomach-churning, since it begins with the suggestion that ‘Because of the amazingly diverse multicultural contexts in which pastoral ministers are called upon to work today, it is impossible to prescribe one liturgical model that will be always and everywhere appropriate’: this flexible and open-minded liturgist then proceeded to argue in The Tablet that only the Mass of Paul VI is always and everywhere appropriate and that its very existence automatically abrogated all previous liturgies for ever: presumably those who prefer the older form are not to be given the dignity of a group or‘culture’ to be catered for by his free and easy multicultural ways, but are to be simply dismissed as a bunch of liturgical perverts. As Dr Alcuin Reid commented in his piece on the motu proprio for The Catholic Herald, ‘The irony of protagonists of the modern use of the Roman rite opposing the availability of the older use by means of insisting on liturgical uniformity ought not to be lost – for overcoming liturgical uniformity was heralded as one of the victories of the modern liturgical reform’. And as Dr Reid rightly indicates, the accusation that to allow unfettered use of the ‘old rite’ will bring disunity (one of the modernist parrot cries reported by the Herald) is a nonsense: ‘No’, he wrote, ‘whatever liturgical books are used, there will be substantial unity amid legitimatediversity, provided the rites are celebrated as the Church intends them to be celebrated. This is in perfect harmony with The Second Vatican Council and the tradition of the Western Church.’

Fr Francis’s article in The Tablet seems to carry one unmistakable implication: that reconciliation with those who prefer the old usage, including the Lefebvrists – an ultimate aspiration referred to by the Pope in Summorum Pontificum– is not only unrealistic but actually deeply undesirable. This appears to be the only conclusion to be drawn from the real and underlying message of the piece, conveyed by its final one-sentence paragraph: ‘In short, Summorum Pontificum weakens the unity of the Church by failing to support the foundational insights of the Second Vatican Council’: the most ‘foundational’ of all those insights, it goes without saying, being the absolute discontinuity between the preconciliar and post-conciliar Churches. The motu proprio, he insists, ‘compromises thecoherence of the Church’s self-understanding and threatens to reduce the liturgy to a simple matter of individual “taste” rather than what it is meant to be: an accurate reflection of what we believe as Catholic Christians who live in the twenty-first century’: for that, of course is utterly different from what Catholic Christians who lived in previous centuries (and in the twentieth century before the sixties) believed: hence, the absolute indefensibility of what he calls ‘this medieval rite’. The so-called Tridentine rite, of course, far from being ‘medieval’ has roots deep in pre-medieval antiquity (it is in any case a strange view of history in which the Counter-Reformation took place in the middle ages), and is a living manifestation of the Newmanian principle of development, wherebya process of continuous change is inevitable if the essence of the Church’s faith is to remain the same: for, as The Catholic Herald pointed out in its admirable leader, the reforms of Pope St Pius V, enshrined in the Missal of 1570, itself containing ancient elements, ‘were inspired by the Council of Trent. But that Missal was itself reformed several times, culminating in the Missal of Blessed John XXIII of 1962.’ And, continued the Herald, ‘if the message of Summorum Pontificum is truly absorbed, then the Church will achieve a unity which has eluded it since the adoption of the vernacular Mass in 1970. The Missal of 1962 inspired the Second Vatican Council [an engaging suggestion] and was celebrated during its sessions. The Missal of 1970 was inspired by the Council’s deliberations,though it was not a direct product of the Council: Pope Paul promulgated it himself’. Thus, all roads lead to the hermeneutic of continuity and reform: the repeatedly reformed ‘Tridentine rite’, in its final redaction, inspires the Council, which in turn inspires the Rite of 1970: the two rites are not opposed but organically related: as the Pope now says, they are simply different forms of the same liturgical reality. Not everyone will accept this narrative, but it is a stylish final solution to decades of ecclesiological nonsense, and (except by the usual suspects, who can surely now be ignored as an historical curiosity) it has been accepted with remarkable unanimity. The fact is, it simply makes sense, to anyone with the most elementary notion of how the Catholic tradition alwaysworked before the distortions of recent decades (which please God, after another decade or two of the current mopping up operations, and the retirement of a few dozen more bishops, will soon be a distant memory).

As Fr Richard C. Hermes, S.J., of the Parish of the Immaculate Conception in New Orleans, explained on his excellent Parish website, ‘the Pope emphasises that there is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal. “In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. 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.”

‘That last point’, Fr Hermes comments, ‘is very compelling. The Mass as celebrated by St. Ignatius, St. Vincent de Paul, and St. Frances de Sales; the same Mass that nourished Thére` se of Lisieux and Maria Goretti; the Mass that attracted into the Church the likes of Clare Booth Luce and Evelyn Waugh; that Mass cannot be “harmful” or simply all of a sudden enter into the realm of “the forbidden”.’

Well, precisely. The astonishing thing, surely, is that these things should ever have needed saying. Even more astonishing is that there are still those who continue to deny them.

Faith Magazine