Friday, April 13, 2007

Pope Benedict XVI and the Latin Mass

Happy Easter - He is Risen! - Regina Caeli, Laetare, Alleluia!

I am very busy with work lately, otherwise I would try to post more items related to the Easter Octave. However, here is a little something...l

Time Magazine covers the latest on Pope Benedict XVI and movements to ease restriction on celebrating the traditional Latin Mass. For what it is worth, I add some of my own editorial comments after each paragraph (I write in BLUE):

A Step Backward for Pope Benedict?
Friday, Apr. 13, 2007 By JEFF ISRAELY/ROME in TIME magazine

Two years into his papacy, Benedict XVI may be about to reclaim his reputation as a no-holds-barred traditionalist. Thanks to Benedict's thoughtful manner, Church progressives had believed that the man who was once the hard-line Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger would cut some slack on areas of doctrinal contention — using his intellectual heft and traditional credentials as necessary cover to. But as Benedict turns 80 on April 16 and marks two years as Pope on April 18, the once hopeful progressives have all but given up their fantasy of Benedict the Reformer.

Did "progressives" actually think that "Benedict the Reformer" would "reform" the Church by "cutting some slack on areas of doctrinal contention." "Cutting some slack"... that sounds like something that an immature teenager asks his parents to do. God did not give the Pope--the vicar of Christ on earth--authority over the 1 billion some Catholics in the world so that he could "cut some slack" with regards to the truth. Pope Benedict takes another approach: he chooses to EMBRACE the truths of our faith, PROCLAIM them in all their beauty and splendor, DEFEND them against a world that is set against them, and TEACH and persuade his spiritual children so that they can do the same.

In the coming weeks, the Pope is expected to release a document that would allow the widespread return of the traditional Latin Mass, which was all but shelved with the reforms of the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s. Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone recently confirmed to Le Figaro newspaper that this motu proprio, or personal initiative of the Pontiff, will allow any priest to say the mass according to the old Tridentine rite (which is delivered in Latin with the priest facing the altar, his back to the congregation), rather than have to seek approval from the local bishop as is now required.

The author leaves out a lot of important points here. First, Pope John Paul II wrote an apostolic letter in 1988 entitled "Ecclesia Dei." In this letter the late pontiff stated that:

respect must everywhere be shown for the feelings of all those who are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition, by a wide and generous application of the directives already issued some time ago by the Apostolic See for the use of the Roman Missal according to the typical edition of 1962.

The entire document is available on the Vatican website:

Of course, the Pope also instituted a permanent pontifical commission also called "Ecclesia Dei" (
). (So, it is not accurate to attribute all of this recent movement with regards to a reconsideration of the Latin Mass just to Pope Benedict.) In many dioceses, the local bishop has not carried out this request of Pope John Paul II. Some bishops have either "ghetto-ized" the Latin Mass into select oratories or they have not applied the directives of Ecclesia Dei nor allowed for the Latin Mass with any generosity at all.

Eighteen months ago, one Rome-based progressive cleric had said he was "surprised to see that [Benedict] seems to be open to hear new ideas." But today, the same priest is disappointed. There has been no sign of any of the hoped-for reforms: overturning the ban on communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, reconsidering the celibacy requirement for priests, allowing gays in seminaries, or a softening of the condom ban to allow for distribution in AIDS-ravaged Africa. The release last month of the Pope's final document on what had seemed to be a convivial and intellectually open October 2005 bishops' meeting on the Eucharist is a good example of the Pontiff's approach. According to a senior Church official who participated: "He took all that debate of the Synod, and then gave us a document that simply defends the status quo." This same official acknowledges a bit of past excessive optimism on Benedict: "People were hoping that with his intellectual acumen and understanding of theology, he'd be in a position to make some of these changes. Unfortunately, at this point, I don't think we'll see any of them."

This kind of things always makes me laugh. I guess that this anonymous "progressive" priest considers the Pope "open to hear new ideas" and impressive in his "intellectual acument and understanding of theology" ONLY if he agrees with a particular progressive agenda. For one thing, the ideas mentioned above ("overturning the ban on communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, reconsidering the celibacy requirement for priests, allowing gays in seminaries, or a softening of the condom ban to allow for distribution in AIDS-ravaged Africa") can hardly be considered "new ideas." Priestly celibacy has been debated and wined about ad nauseum. Many would say that the predominance of gays in seminaries in the 1970's and 1980's has led to some of the problems that the Church has recently had to deal with in the priesthood. In fact, the Pope would more likely be expected to push for true reform in that area given the recent events of the crisis. He is also trying to defend the value and beauty of priestly celibacy which is always under attack by a society that is confounded and threatened by the very idea of celibacy. Again, Pope Benedict XVI like JPII before him, probably wants to reform the Church's impoverished understanding of celibacy (both clergy and the laity need help understanding this). According to an unnamed "senior Church official", the Pope "took all that debate of the Synod, and then gave us a document that simply defends the status quo." Well once again, just the mere fact that a synod involves debate does guarantee that the Pope will automatically adopt some of those suggestions. The Pope is counseled by the bishops in the Synod, and he has to be the final arbiter... he is the one who is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the Church has what it needs at a given time.

Of course, beyond the doctrinal front, plenty has changed these past two years for the Bavarian prelate and Vatican insider. He has become a world leader and has been learning lessons in tempering his ideas with public relations, having given controversial speeches and been confronted with fiery inter-faith conflict, particularly with Islam. A trip next month to Brazil, the first ocean crossing and first time among the fervent flock of the Third World, will further test both the pastoral and political aspects of his job, as Latin America continues to deal with widespread poverty and the continent's Catholics increasingly lose ground to Evangelical movements. Still the Pope has managed to keep up his writings, including the conclusion of a book he began in 2003 on the life of Jesus, which comes out Monday in Italian and German, and next month in English.

By the way, the Pope was right with his comments regarding Islam (even if the mode for expression that he chose was awkward and open to misunderstanding). And where was the apology for the Catholic churches that were burned... or the Catholic nun who was senselessly murdered (even while she helped to serve the health needs of Muslims!). I am glad that he had the guts to say what needed to be said.

A significant part of any Pope's job is to manage questions of doctrine and discipline. Benedict's "no wiggle room" approach is increasingly seen in the context of his great battle to defend Catholicism on its historical home turf of Europe, where he sees a kind of cult of secularism. The Pope's response is not simply to reaffirm the Christian values of the old continent, a goal also expressed by the continent's more liberal leaders and theologians like Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Cardinal Godfried Daneels. In addition, Benedict professes a very specific kind of Christianity, one based not only on the teachings of Jesus, but on abiding by the letter of ancient Catholic Church traditions as the only effective bulwark against rampant relativism.

Well, the "teachings of Jesus" ARE found both in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. (Duh!)
The point is right on--without sacred tradition and the guidance of the Magisterium, other Christian groups have managed to warp the Christian message into a strange form (all with justification from Scripture).

In fact, the one major disciplinary about-face expected is this coming document on the Latin Mass, a concession to the ultra-conservatives, who have been living and praying on the fringe of the Church since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council brought in Mass in the vernacular. Said one Rome-based priest: "Opening up the Latin rite to anyone would amount to the Church turning back the reforms of Vatican II." A Vatican official who has worked closely with the Pope said that loosening rules on the Latin rite has been a long-time personal goal of Ratzinger, who had led what turned out to be failed negotiations in the early 1980s to bring back into the fold the followers of the breakaway French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who have defied the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

Notice the typical political jargon of journalists: "a concession to the ultra-conservatives."
Would wider use of the traditional Latin Mass bring about a "turning back [of] the reforms of Vatican II"? That is hard to say. Many would argue that the liturgy as we have it today does not really resemble what is called for in the documents of Vatican II. For example, while the document on the liturgy stated that "the use of to be preserved in the Latin rites" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, #36), when is the last time that you have sung the Pater Noster, or the Agnus Dei, or the Gloria at Mass? One of Pope Benedict's great missions in his pontificate seems to be to bring about a "reform of the reform." I do not think that he wants to comletely negate the liturgical changes of Vatican II--but he does want to turn back liturgical abuses (done often in the name of the "spirit of Vatican II") and restore the liturgy to what was originally envisioned by Vatican II. Where the use of the (1962) traditional Latin Mass alongside the post Vatican II Novus Ordo Mass fits into this reform, however, is another question. I do not think that it would be an easy question.

The Vatican official says that Benedict believes that the Council's legacy "has been abused," and finding a way to widen access to the Latin rite "has always remained in his heart." Still, even mainstream members of the Roman hierarchy are opposed, fearing that it will exacerbate divisions within the Church. French bishops have openly argued against it. The Pope's old office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith last spring, privately advised against the motu proprio, the Vatican official said. Still, Benedict does not appear swayed. The professor Pope may be happy to have a conversation on doctrine, but he knows he always has the last word.

This point may very well be true. A restoration of wider access to the Traditional Latin Mass would bring joy to many Catholics who have a special devotion to it, but it could result in parishes having two congregations. However, we also must remember that the one universal Catholic Church already does have a large number of rites, usings various languages, gestures, symbols, etc. I also can sympathize with traditional Catholics who long for the traditional Latin Mass. It does possess great beauty, reverence, and an otherworldy sense of transcendence. It requires that the laity see their prayer in the Mass as more contemplative than active. The notion of the Mass as the unbloody sacrifice of Calvary is more clear. Imagine the reaction of an Byzatine rite Catholic if the Church one day just transformed the Mass that he knew and loved, changed the language, the order, the symbolism and gestures. He would be outraged and saddened. Why do expect less of Latin rite Catholics. Still, I see the beauty of the reformed liturgy of Vatican II (if it is practiced with reverence, according to the liturgical norms, and in continuity with past liturgical tradition). What would happen if we had wider access to two different Masses. Hhhhhmmmm, it is an interesting question, and not one that I would have to negotiate. I, for one, am glad that Pope Benedict does have "the last word" on this one.
Interestingly, after I wrote this... I discovered that the blog New Liturgical Movement also commented on this article by Time. They also have some interesting photos of where the Post-Conciliar liturgical reform was implemented in rather absurd ways. Check it out:

Labels: , , , ,