Toward a "Reform of the Reform"

- CUF Welcomes Pope Benedict XVI's Motu Proprio -

In his Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum, given motu proprio on July 7, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI has honored the wishes of Catholics who love the Mass that has been celebrated for centuries known as the "Tridentine Mass". The Pope has juridically extended the previous indults of his predecessors for its celebration and has made it possible for every priest of the Latin rite to celebrate according to this older usage of the "one Roman rite". It is now possible for the Tridentine Mass to be celebrated in parishes by a priest with the proper knowledge of Latin and its rubrics at the request of groups of Catholics "who adhere to the earlier liturgical tradition":

If appropriate, bishops may erect a "personal parish... for celebrations following the ancient form of the Roman rite... or appoint a chaplain." Moreover, pastors are granted permission to "use the earlier ritual for the administration of the Sacraments of Baptism, Marriage, Penance, and the Anointing of the Sick, if the good of souls would seem to require it."

The Pope made it clear that:

The Roman Missal promulgated by Paul VI is the ordinary expression of the "Lex Orandi" (Law of Prayer) of the Catholic Church of the Latin rite... The Roman Missal promulgated by St. Pius V and reissued by Blessed John XXIII is to be considered an extraordinary expression of that same "Lex Orandi", and must be given due honor for its venerable and ancient usage... They are, in fact, two usages [or forms] of the one Roman rite.

As the Pope further explained in his letter to the bishops:

"It is not appropriate to speak of these two versions of the Roman Missal as if they were 'two rites'. Rather, it is a matter of a twofold use of one and the same rite."

The 1962 ritual constitutes the "extraordinary form" while the Pauline Missal in its vernacular versions remains the normative and "ordinary form" celebrated in Catholic parishes of the Latin rite.

The dramatic action taken by the Pope was not only a matter of justice to the faithful in many countries who demonstrated "a notable liturgical formation and a deep personal familiarity with the earlier Form of the liturgical celebration" – which, in fact, had never been abrogated. The motu proprio was also a determined effort to end the practical schisms from the Church resulting from a profound sense of alienation by the followers of Archbishop Marcel Lefebrve and other "traditionalists" who alleged a "rupture" with the Church's liturgical tradition. The Pope unequivocally denied that Vatican II had caused a "rupture":

"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."

In The Pope, the Council, and the Mass (revised edition, ERP, 2006), Kenneth D. Whitehead and I not only defended the liturgical changes desired by an ecumenical council of the Church but also detailed features of the reformed liturgy which evidenced such "growth and progress".

From its beginnings Catholics United for the Faith has been intimately involved in liturgical matters. It has responded to the problems and questions of troubled Catholics and those tempted to drop out of their parishes or even abandon the faith for various sects or for Eastern Orthodox churches that had preserved the sacrality of the liturgy.

The Pope, the Council, and the Mass had to deal with the most serious attacks on the reformed Mass by "traditionalists" who claimed it to be "invalid" or "heretical". There was also the schismatic denial of papal authority to regulate the liturgy. No theologian in the Church was more aware of the consequences of the Lefebrvite schism and studied with more care and erudition the nature of Catholic liturgy than Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then-Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. His published articles and books calling for a "reform of the reform" were to gain a large audience. He did not fear to refer on one occasion to a "collapse of the Liturgy" in the West.

He observed that when liturgical celebration suffers terrible impoverishment in language, gesture, and music, and when scandalous liturgical abuses go uncorrected, a liturgy unworthy of God results, and people become alienated from the Church itself. In Pope Benedict's motu proprio, he noted that:

"...up to our times, it has been the constant concern of the Supreme Pontiffs to ensure that the Church of Christ offers a worthy ritual to the Divine Majesty."

A series of papal documents from Paul VI to John Paul II (see the latter's Ecclesia de Eucharistia) have repeatedly called for the correction of scandalous liturgical abuses. They have lamented the failure to grasp the true meaning of the liturgy by Catholics succumbing to secularizing influences and a false communitarianism and horizontalism exalting man in the place of God. Pope Benedict's motu proprio similarly admits that:

" many places celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal... [that was mistakenly] understood as authorizing or even requiring creativity, which frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear. I am speaking from experience, since I too lived through that period with all its hopes and confusion. And I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church."

Every faithful Catholic should rejoice in the Holy Father's motu proprio as a wonderful step forward in the "reform of the reform", drawing the attention of both clergy and laity to the necessity of liturgical celebration that is characterized by reverence, dignity, solemnity, and beauty. A greater familiarity with the immense spiritual treasures of the Latin liturgical tradition embodied in the Missal of 1962 cannot fail to remind priests and laity celebrating the "ordinary form of the Mass" of the need for an "interior recollection" at Mass. It will also help them understand that obedience to the norms and rubrics designed to guarantee the sense of the sacred constitutes in itself an expression of the love of Christ.

There will be greater awareness of our mysterious participation in the "heavenly liturgy" celebrated by the angels and saints. Incidentally, the simple chant-singing in Greek (the Kyrie Eleison) and Latin of the fixed parts of the Ordinary in the new Missal (1970/2002) would introduce a much-needed sense of sacrality in the liturgy and restore the sense of historical continuity with the celebrations and worship of the Catholic past.

We should pray that the Pope's motu proprio (which envisages the two forms of the one rite enriching each other) will assist the Society of St. Pius X and other groups and individuals to recover full communion and unity with the Successor of Peter. May it also lead to a recovery of the cosmic and majestic dimension of the liturgy dear to our separated Eastern brethren and thus further the prospects of their reunion with the See of Peter.

May the liturgies in all our parishes evidence that contemplative atmosphere which is conducive to prayer and transmit that sense of deep encounter with the transcendent, mysterious, and holy Triune God who attracts those who seek to worship "in spirit and in truth".


From Our Founder
If we are going to make good our promise to support the Pope and the teaching Church, we have to develop an influence working for the true renewal so urgently called for by the documents of Vatican II and by the Holy Father. The Holy Church is Christ's Church; it is His to save, and He will save it - with our help if we give Him the help He wants, where and when He wants it. But we cannot take matters into our own hands. We have to listen to the Holy Father and fight the battle under him and in the way he decides it must be fought. And Rome has asked us to be very careful, very patient.
H. Lyman Stebbins
February 17, 1969

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About James Likoudis
James Likoudis is an expert in Catholic apologetics. He is the author of several books dealing with Catholic-Eastern Orthodox relations, including his most recent "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church." He has written many articles published by various religious papers and magazines.
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