Sunday, 19 April 2009

The ideological barrier to implementing Summorum Pontificum

Thanks to regular reader Peter for pointing out this article from the Catholic Herald to me, which I think nicely captures the mindset of many conservative priests, and highlights the reasons why it is taking time for Summorum Pontificum (SP) to be implemented.

Worship must not become the province of ideology

Unity depends on seeing both forms of Mass as part of tradition, says Fr Leo Chamberlain OSB 17 April 2009

Clarifications were promised quite a long time ago on Pope Benedict's Motu Proprio and letter to bishops. In fact, all that is needed is to follow the whole guidance given.
  • True enough. Although there are a few areas where some guidance might be helpful in the face of concerted resistance...
A few minimise the possibilities offered by the Motu Proprio. On the other hand, some few priests are, in celebrating the ordinary form, refusing to give Communion in the hand


  • Here we go! A priest is perfectly entitled to refuse to give communion in the hand. Communion in the hand is a special permission not the norm, and the priest has the right to refuse it when there is a risk of profanation. And frankly, isn't that pretty much always?

and some few of the laity refuse to receive communion except at a Mass in the old form

  • For a long time I refused to receive at a mass when there were obvious abuses. Many others feel the same way.

There have been extravagant suggestions that it's all been done wrong for 40 years.

  • Perhaps not always and everywhere, but in many places for most of the time?
The outrageous remarks of Bishop Williamson may distract attention from the need for a fundamental and positive response from the Society of St Pius X. The Pope has said quite plainly that the new missal will remain the ordinary form of the Roman rite: "arbitrary deformations" have been the problem.

  • Some of us - encouraged by some of the Holy Father's comments whilst still a Cardinal - think those arbitrary deformations include not just outright liturgical abuses, but some of those bits of archeologism in the Ordinary Form mass such as the sign of peace!
Those of us brought up with the old form know there were some arbitrary deformations in the Fifties. The bishops of the time were worried constantly about priests gabbling the Mass. The best time of which I know was an unbelievable 12 minutes.


  • This is fair comment from what I can gather - ultra short masses were not the norm but they did happen. But the fifties is hardly indicative of centuries of practice.
The urgencies of ordinary parish life required some adaptation in the celebration of the Mass.
  • I think this is where the rot started. An hour a week for mass is hardly a big ask of catholics. The liturgy should be our bastion against the inroads of the secular city (to steal a phrase from Catherine Pitstock), not represent capitulation to it!
The long formula for the giving of communion was spoken as the priest gave communion to four or five people.
  • Sounds like a bit of an exaggeration to me! But better four or five worthy communions than a multitude of sacrilegious ones.

The multiple signs of the Cross during the Canon were a blur of rapid action. The congregation used often to go their own way with the rosary or devotional prayers.

  • The old hoary that 'active participation' can only be achieved by saying lots of the words of the mass itself and 'doing things' relating to it.
The past was not a golden age.


  • But what kind of age do we have now, with ever plummeting mass attendance and rejection of catholic dogma?
Of one thing I am sure: if the use of the old form became ordinary, the same problems would recur.

Some years ago, I was fascinated by the televising of one of the first priest members of the Society of St Pius X celebrating Mass. There was something inauthentic and prissy about it, though I do not doubt the Mass was valid.


  • All very subjective! And hasn't he been to an EF mass more recently than his youth, rather than just watching an old video?
It was very far from Hilaire Belloc's description of a priest saying Mass, of the craftsman stumping up to the altar with his apprentice, and getting on with it in a gruff and objective fashion. It was not at all like the devout and ordinary celebrations in the early morning by priests at the Ampleforth of my youth, or by Fr Michael Hollings at the midday Mass in Oxford that he was able to celebrate by then because of the relaxation of the fasting rules. Most good pastorally minded priests were not too interested in the niceties of the rubrics.

  • Ah yes, pastorally minded, that wonderful code term for...heresy?

Yet the old form carried with it a sense of the sacred, and that is what, at its best, all of us old enough remember. I was rather pleased with myself at the age of 19 when I had parts of the Roman Canon off by heart and was able to say it to myself while the priest spoke it inaudibly. In his private writings the Pope as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger mentions the problem of too many words spoken aloud in the new missal. He suggested that only the first words of each prayer might be spoken audibly, to allow for each of those present to voice in their minds the rest of the prayer. There is a problem here. We live in a culture that puts a natural priority on reading over hearing. Our eyes can shut out our ears. It may just be that the fewer words aloud of the old form present the most hopeful way forward for the new form.

  • OK, finally something constructive!

In any case, in both the old and the new form, we must speak so that the words be not just audible but carry meaning. Pope Benedict wrote of the deformations of the rite. Creativity, so-called, has led to arbitrary changes in the way the new form is celebrated, so that the form of the Mass may be regarded as just a question of the taste of an individual priest. If we were all more obedient to the General Instruction as revised in 2002, the people might be able to concentrate more upon the rite and less upon the personality of the priest. On the other hand, I have often celebrated Mass in informal ways in particular circumstances outside church, and when I read of Pope John Paul's custom of lashing canoe paddles together to make a cross when he celebrated Mass with his students on an expedition into the high Tatra mountains of southern Poland, I knew exactly what he was about.

  • Hmm, let's hope the Coo-ees from the Cloister can't find any pictures of these 'informal ways' given their ongoing persecution of certain priests for such things!
Yet reverence in an informal celebration, wherever it is, whatever need it meets, is protected because of the way in which we normally celebrate Mass. I was among the first generation of priests who did not learn the old form. If I saw pastoral need, I could learn it.


  • Given that it is now one of the two recognized forms of the Roman rite, all priests SHOULD learn it.

But there are things about the old form which there was reason to change.

  • Here comes the justification for ignoring Summorum Pontificum, rather than learning the extraordinary form in order to benefit from the mutual enrichment the Holy Father talks about...!
Sacramental actions should be expressive of the Mystery; not just inexplicable or complicated, accessible only to the understanding of the expert.

  • So what, precisely in the EF is so inexplicable and complicated? And even if that is true, isn't that in keeping with something inherently mysterious?
Most important is the Pope's suggestion which has had little attention, especially among the liturgically conservative, that the two forms can be "mutually enriching".
  • So this is a little bizarre. Without having bothered to learn the EF himself, or, as far as one can gather, having actually been at an EF mass in forty years or so (beyond watching a video of an SSPX mass from twenty years or more ago) he launches onto how it can be novus ordoized!

The missal of 1962 is open to development. New saints, and the new prefaces, could well be inserted. We should work towards a single calendar with some allowed variations. Religious communities and particular groups with a full liturgical life should be able to celebrate feasts like Corpus Christi on the Thursday for which they were set in the old calendar.

  • I actually don't have a problem with this, though I know some do! The 'new prefaces' are actually old ones, and there are a few saints I'd like to see in the traditional calendar. But I'd have to say the new calendar could benefit from the restoration of those saints cut out by rationalists who didn't like their miracles, not to mention bringing back the traditional seasons (get rid of 'ordinary time'!), vigils, octaves and feasts on the day rather than transferred!
The riches of the new lectionary could well be made available in the old form.

  • Gahh! The new lectionary is one of the more problematic aspects of the OF in my opinion. A three year cycle just confuses everyone, and means no one knows the most central and important Scriptural texts pertinent to their faith. And the selections have been carefully culled to be politically correct in many places...

I can recall dignified and reverent serving by the young. More can be done to promote that in the new form. A change of the timing of the kiss of peace would provide for greater quiet before Communion.

  • I have to admit I don't understand the proposal to change the place of the kiss of peace. It doesn't work, it is optional anyway, so why not just ditch it altogether?

But most important is the speedy introduction of a more adequate translation. What we have at present is a paraphrase which has lost much of the fullness of meaning of the Latin.

  • Well yes, a better translation will certainly help. But we could also promote returning to what Vatican II actually said, and revert to Latin as the norm for the OF.

Prayer and liturgy must not be the province of ideology.

  • A tad ironic in view of some of his comments above! It is as Mosebach has argued, unfortunate that liturgy has become an ideological battleground. But pieces like this article help us understand why that won't change any time soon.

I suggest some general guidelines. The first is that both forms be treated with full respect by all. The second is that the stable groups who might want the old form be treated as generously as possible: the means of small parishes are limited, nevertheless. The third is that we renew our efforts to use fitting music for the Mass. Too much of what is sung now is musically and textually unworthy. Gregorian chant is not so difficult.

Further, we should all use the terms used by the Pope. I have tried to do so in this article. It is offensive to speak of "traditional Mass" as do the advertisements of the Latin Mass Society. We are all of the tradition, we all celebrate within the tradition, and our unity depends on our recognising it.

  • This is political correctness gone mad. First let us acknowledge that traditionalists do use the term traditional mass for an 'ideological' reason - it contrasts with the Missal of Paul VI which deliberately used the words Novus Ordo. Many of the key parts of the OF are a completely new composition, and one of the principal complaints of traditionalists is that they can't reasonably be seen as fitting 'in the tradition'. If one goes to a high mass somewhere like the Brompton Oratory, celebrated ad orientem, in Latin, and with lots of chant, one can be convinced that the OF can be performed in a way that is at least consonant with tradition. But that is pretty far removed from the normal experience of the OF liturgy! That doesn't mean calling the OF the Novus Ordo is meant to be insulting, or imply that it is invalid - the term just recognizes it for what it is. Unless conservatives attempt to understand this, we won't make much progress towards a rapprochement.
  • Secondly, there is a practical issue. Terms like EF and OF, or Missal of Pope X don't exactly trip off the tongue. We are all human, and terms that have been in use for a long time now become part of the language. Back at the time SP was introduced, there was hot debate on terminology, and endless polls on Fr Z's blog. Traditional Latin Mass won, and taking insult at something which isn't meant to be insulting doesn't do anything in terms of moving prayer and liturgy out of the realm of ideology...

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