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Pope Francis called for unity: will we hear it?

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On July 16, 2021, Pope Francis released a motu proprio (similar to a decree) titled Traditionis Custodes. If you’ve spent fifteen minutes on Twitter in the past three weeks, you probably know it. And you know that motu proprio has something to do with the Mass in its extraordinary form, often referred to as the “traditional Latin Mass”.

The order rescinded the permissions that Pope Benedict XVI had granted in his own motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum. The 2007 document of Pope Benedict XVI authorized any priest (without the authorization of the bishop) to celebrate the 1962 Missal of Pope John XXIII, the basis of the extraordinary form of the Mass. This missal was the last to be published before the reforms initiated by the Second Vatican Council.

Pope Francis told the bishops – the head liturgist of the diocese – not to create new personal parishes dedicated to the celebration of the pre-conciliar liturgy. Priests must now ask for permission to celebrate this liturgy. The preconciliar liturgy cannot be celebrated in parishes but must be reserved for shrines or personal parishes already established.

Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI both released these contradictory documents with the same goal: to inspire greater inclusion and unity in the Catholic Church. While Pope Benedict XVI motu proprio may not have achieved its goal, Pope Francis’ effect will be determined not only by the circumstances of its publication, but also by how Catholics respond to it.

The reasons of Pope Benedict XVI motu proprio

Pope Benedict XVI sought to inspire unity in the Church between those who are still attached to the pre-conciliar liturgies and those who celebrate the ordinary form of the mass promulgated after Vatican II.

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He sought to correct what he considered to be a theological error, namely the hypothesis that Vatican II introduced a rupture between the past and the present. Often those who celebrated the Reformed rites of Vatican II looked with suspicion on those who were still attached to the pre-conciliar liturgy. This rupture implied that our ancestors in the faith were not inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Pope Benedict XVI also wanted to contribute to a mutual liturgical renewal between the two forms of the liturgy. The extraordinary form could benefit from some of the reforms of Vatican II, including the liturgical calendar and vernacular readings. The Reformed liturgy could be imbued with a sense of the sacred often present in extraordinary form.

The reasons of Pope Francis motu proprio

Pope Francis’ motu proprio was promulgated after consultation with bishops around the world. Admitting that Reformed rites are often performed without proper respect, Pope Francis nonetheless determined that Pope Benedict XVI’s experiment did not work. Rather than leading to unity in the Church, the presence of the two forms has only led to a rupture of communion. Communities that celebrate the extraordinary form, according to Pope Francis, are likely to deny the validity of Vatican II, including the Reformed rites. The solution of two forms of the Roman liturgy did not work.

Of course, like most church controversies today, Pope Francis motu proprio generated a lot of discord in the digital sphere. Many who prefer the extraordinary form have felt that the motu proprio was excessively harsh. According to many who worshiped in the extraordinary form, the pope who spoke so often of accompaniment did not want to smell like these sheep.

And yet, many bishops, priests, and laity have also heard “Latin Mass” communities condemn the post-conciliar rites, claiming that the extraordinary form is the Mass of the Centuries, while the Reformed rites of Vatican II are sources of heresy and the Eucharist. sacrilege in the church. Many liturgists in the United States therefore rejoiced over Pope Francis motu proprio, hoping that these condemnations of the reformed rites come to an end.

What to think of these controversies? How Does the Average Catholic Respond Eucharistically to Pope Francis motu proprio?

Common discernment

The purpose of the liturgy is to promote the unity of the Church in Jesus Christ. Our common worship is about our vocation towards a divine love which surpasses all that is revealing. May you rejoice in Pope Francis motu proprio or strive to receive it, the reception of motu proprio should promote greater unity. Unity is not easy. This does not mean avoiding disagreements. But what unites us is the love of Christ. This must be where we start.

For this reason, our discussion of the liturgical controversy must be imbued with charity or love from the start. The purpose of the liturgy is the glorification of God and the sanctification of the human person. Pope Francis’ motu proprio isn’t an opportunity to dunk on your imaginary enemy, in this case the so-called traditionalists who you think deserve what they get. It is not time for traditionalists to once again find a reason to hate the Pope. We are called to common discernment.

How Does the Average Catholic Respond Eucharistically to Pope Francis motu proprio?

More precisely, for those who worship according to the reformed liturgy of Vatican II, our companion of adoration in the extraordinary form is not an enemy but a member of the Body of Christ. Their suffering (and many are suffering right now) is our suffering. Their sorrow, our sorrow. If the Eucharist does not cultivate this deep sense of solidarity with our neighbor, then we are not receiving the gift of divine love correctly in the first place.

The church needs to do a better job of understanding the appeal of the ancient use of Mass in the first place. Even Pope Francis, I fear, does not quite understand what is going on in the church on this point.

Yes, there are traditionalists in the church who attack Vatican II and despise those who attend the Reformed liturgy. But there is more to the story than that. Many of my undergraduate students attend the extraordinary form (some have even been married according to pre-conciliar rites) because it connects them to a tradition in which they find value.

They were brought up in a time when speed and progress are the ultimate end. The Mass celebrated according to the 1962 Missal favors a posture of silence and contemplation which offers respite from the acceleration of late modernity. They enjoy singing, listening to polyphony and engaging in devotional practices that allow them to assume a particularly Catholic identity in the world. They actively engage in their participation, even if it seems different from participating in my Reformed Liturgical Parish. They don’t reject Vatican II so much as they worship in a way that allows them to meet Jesus Christ.

I have attended conferences where those who love traditional practices are dismissed as rigid. Even practices that are still part of the church are rejected, including the blessing of the Blessed Sacrament. The message is that they are not “our” kind of Catholics. Rather than trying to figure out why someone would worship according to the rites of 1962, we assumed the worst of our neighbor. Francis’ motu proprio should be an opportunity to better understand why traditional liturgical practice is attractive to at least some people. This should lead scholars not to ideologically support the current rites but to concern themselves with a more holistic recovery of the entire liturgical tradition of the Church from the patristic era to the present day.

Common worship

Traditionis Custodes demands that we be more attentive to what constitutes active participation in the liturgy. The assumption has been that active participation means that we sing the hymns, the priest faces the people (against populum), everyone understands every text or gesture, and everything is always in the vernacular.

May you rejoice in Pope Francis motu proprio or strive to receive it, the reception of motu proprio should promote greater unity.

But for some, the extraordinary form constitutes an active participation precisely because the priest is facing east (ad orientation), turning with the people to the Lord in a common act of worship. Are we ready to consider that there is wisdom in this practice and allow it in our parishes today? Are we ready to allow vocals and polyphony for those who are interested?

Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis call us not to uniformity but to unity in difference. After all, if there is room for a Black Catholic Mass or Mariachi Mass in a diocese, could there not be room for a Reformed Liturgy celebrated in such a way that those who prefer the extraordinary form feel welcome ?

This is going to require conversion on the part of those who are the custodians of the church liturgy, including pastors and bishops.

In other words, less schadenfreude and more Eucharistic love.


Image: Unsplash / Josh Applegate