Saturday, April 01, 2006

Critical Mass: Any Day Now...?

The past few months have been witness to recurrent rumors, that Pope Benedict XVI will grant a universal permission for the use of the 1962 Missale Romanum, otherwise known as the "Tridentine Mass." MWBH has followed reports from Shawn Tribe of The New Liturgical Movement, and the collective known as Rorate Caeli.

These reports have been circulating at one time or another since 1988, when an attempt to reconcile the schismatic* Society of Saint Pius X, then led by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, fell through. That being said, it is no secret that the former Cardinal Ratzinger has openly expressed a wish for the revival of the classical usage, and despite nary a word about it at the Ordinary Synod on the Eucharist last fall, the man who is now the Successor of Peter has conducted high-level meetings on his own initiative, to see about a reconciliation with the Lefebvrites, as well as a broader use of the "Old Mass."

Here in the Diocese of Arlington, two parishes will begin using the old missal this year, for one occasion every Sunday. This writer speculates that at least two more locations in the diocese could begin using it within the next year or so, especially if a decree such as the above is issued.

The late Michael Davies, a Welsh liturgist and writer, once attended Mass at the Brompton Oratory, where the reformed missal of Paul VI was used, with the original Latin text, at an altar "facing East" (mistakenly referred to as celebrating "with the priest's back to the people"), and the ceremonial trappings associated with the Western tradition. An avid promoter of the classical liturgy, he was heard to say that if the reformed missal were normally employed that way, "there wouldn't be any problems." This writer is inclined to agree, and wishes that such a remedy were forthcoming. While the Holy Father is doing precisely that in solemn celebrations of the liturgy in which he presides, it would appear in much of the West, that the current usage of the Roman rite has become so associated with a casual approach, that a "ressourcement" (a French word meaning "return to the sources") may be in order for the present.

Be that as it may, the magic date everyone is watching is April 7, which is when a meeting to "close the deal" is expected to occur. We've heard it all before, for nearly two decades now, but this is the most credible speculation to date. Stay tuned...

(UPDATE: Father Guy Sylvester, live from the Piazza, is our skeptic of choice.)

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* This term is one to which many traditionalists take exception, citing a statement from a highly-placed cardinal within the Vatican, who has insisted that the SSPX is not "schismatic," and that faithful Catholics may fulfill their obligation by frequenting an SSPX chapel. The position taken in this forum is based upon the following in the 1988 papal decree Ecclesia Dei: "[T]he unlawful episcopal ordination conferred on 30 June last by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre... was one of disobedience to the Roman Pontiff in a very grave matter and of supreme importance for the unity of the church... which implies in practice the rejection of the Roman primacy - [and] constitutes a schismatic act." (Emphasis added for the rhetorically impaired.) This writer submits that an official pronouncement from the Holy Father trumps a private opinion from one of his princes. With respect to attending Mass at the aforementioned chapels, therefore, it would seem imprudent to use an illicit means to accomplish a licit end.


Stephen Heiner said...

Yes David, and its been nearly two decades and we should weigh the words of a decree published 3 days after the consecration with what is the Vatican's current understanding. Spirit of the law, letter of the law.

If nothing else, it is not common for Popes to receive "schismatics" in private audiences, as the "excommunicate" Bishop Fellay was so received last August.

David L Alexander said...


Thanks for writing.

How do we "weigh the words"? Whose interpretation do we apply, other than that of the lawmaker? Can this "spirit of the law" not be applied to other things -- as in, for example, the decrees of an ecumenical council?

The incident in question, though occuring three days before the decree in response, was not a complete surprise, as negotiations had already been underway in earnest. An agreement had been reached, and a reconciliation was imminent. You know the rest.

I have no quarrel (nor did I state any) with the Holy Father receiving heads of state, movie stars, rock singers, or those religious leaders separated from Rome for one reason or another.

You gotta start somewhere, eh?

Jason C. said...

"If once again we succeed in pointing out and living the fullness of the Catholic religion with regard to these points, we may hope that the schism of Lefebvre will not be of long duration."

--Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, Happily Reigning

David L Alexander said...


mrsdarwin said...

I have to agree with the Welsh liturgist -- I love a reverent Latin Novus Ordo. You don't often find them, unfortunately, though I wish they'd substitute Latin Masses for the ridiculous "bi-lingual" masses we're saddled with on Holy Thursday and Thanksgiving. Heck, if half the congregation can't understand each other, why not say the Mass in a language NO ONE understands? Seems to me that would promote community in a much more tangible way...

And, like the Welsh liturgist, I too have been to a high mass at Brompton Oratory, and it is indeed a beautiful and most memorable event.

Nicholas D.C. Wansbutter said...

Come now, Mr. Alexander, it is a blatant straw man to claim that the sole piece of evidence against the validity of the so-called "excommunications" comes from Cardinal Hoyos' comments.

It is, in fact, the least of the arguments to point out that Cardinal Hoyos publicly states what we have known all along. Alas, most people today buy into "legal positivism" and therefore the words of Ecclesia Dei are all that there is to consider. But even then, consider that Pope John Paul II did not excommunicate Abp. Lefebvre but said that Abp. Lefebvre excommunicated himself. One must then look to the law to see whether the pope's opinion matches the letter and the spirit of the 1983 Code of Canon Law. I recommend The Case of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre: Trial by Canon Law for a detailed study of this question.

David L Alexander said...


First of all, thank you for responding to my invitation to comment.

I did not mention the excommunications at all. I made reference to what the decree Ecclesia Dei said about the episcopal consecrations as "constitut[ing] a schismatic act." Those are not my words. To wit, whether or not "Ecclesia Dei is all that there is to consider," a document issued "motu proprio" (on the Holy Father's own initiative) certainly cannot be dismissed (let alone as his mere "opinion"), as it appears to be so easily in some traditionalist circles.

I do find myself at a loss as to why, if the status of the SSPX be regular or otherwise in union with Rome, that any Indult or reconciliation even be worth the trouble. Why should I care, for example, what happens after the Holy Father's meetings on April 7, as they effect the broader use of the Traditional Mass? Should there be an SSPX chapel down the street, I might surmise that the point is entirely moot, and leave the whole sorry mess behind me. Then again...

Thank you for your recommended reading. I assume the late Archbishop would go to some pains to defend his actions in print, or that someone would on his behalf. On the other hand, I also assume that in the Church, interpretation of the law is according to the lawgiver (as opposed to "what we have known all along," whatever that might be). I would certainly welcome a reconciliation with the Society as being in the best interests of the Church. Until then, I stand behind my remarks.

In the meantime, I am hopeful that my home diocese will allow an even broader application of the Indult in the year ahead. I will keep you posted.

Nicholas D.C. Wansbutter said...

... I also assume that in the Church, interpretation of the law is according to the lawgiver ...

This would be an incorrect assumption. The Church has always taught and held Natural Law not Legal Positivism, otherwise St. Athanasius would have never been canonised since "according the lawgiver" he, too, was schismatic/excommunicate.

David L Alexander said...


I admit, I had to do some homework here before responding.

From what I can tell, "legal positivism" is the school of jurisprudence that essentially does not consider ethics or what is inherently just, but relies on the authority saying, "Because I say so, that's why." That's the short version, anyway, and it's hardly what happened to the late Archbishop, as the decree in question takes pains to explain.

But whatever the explanation, who arbitrates this if not the Successor of Peter? A renegade (for want of a better term) archbishop who wears all the right vestments? A bunch of guys on an e-mail list? Bloggers with ancient quotations at the ready???

At what point do we let Peter be Peter?

Athanasius was excommunicated by a council of Arians. (The only accounts I find of this action taken against him by the pope himself are those published by the SSPX.) Joan of Arc was excommunicated by an invalidly conducted church court. Mary MacKillop was excommunicated by her archbishop, who begged her forgiveness on his deathbed.

Athanasius remained loyal to the pope of Rome; not in his imagination, not by merely saying so, but by his actions, whatever his opinion of the pope's poor lack of resolve. He did not go out and start his own society operating independently of the Church.

I fail to see the comparisons here. But this is as good a time and place as any to air this out. Anybody else?