Saturday, July 28, 2007

Motu Proprio - no bull

Much talk this month about the Moto Proprio recently issued by Pope Benedict which allows priests to celebrate the Mass of Pope John XXIII (Tridentine) as an extraordinary use. Some of the more conservative Catholics are rejoicing at the news. Some others wonder why the Pope would want to bring back the Latin Mass. Will this bring Catholics closer together as the Pope hopes, or will it cause further division?

Why did the Pope issue this Moto Proprio? In an English translation, he says the following: I now come to the positive reason which motivated my decision to issue this Motu Proprio updating that of 1988. It is a matter of coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church. Looking back over the past, to the divisions which in the course of the centuries have rent the Body of Christ, one continually has the impression that, at critical moments when divisions were coming about, not enough was done by the Church’s leaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity. One has the impression that omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were able to harden. This glance at the past imposes an obligation on us today: to make every effort to unable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew. I think of a sentence in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, where Paul writes: "Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return … widen your hearts also!" (2 Cor 6:11-13). Paul was certainly speaking in another context, but his exhortation can and must touch us too, precisely on this subject. Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows.

Why the clamoring among some of the faithful for the Tridentine Mass? I believe it is not so much that older Catholics long for the Tridentine form as much as they long for a return to reverence it promulgated. In the years following Vatican II, the attitude of many Catholics changed. Touching the host was no longer forbidden. Instead of kneeling, we could now receive standing. The lines between mortal sin and venial sin were blurred, so much so that the distinction was seldom mentioned from the pulpit. In fact, we didn’t hear much about sin at all. Artificial birth control became commonplace among many Catholics who continued to line up for Communion even though they no longer made regular confessions. All of these changes affected the way Catholics behaved at Mass. Those who maintained their understanding of the Real Presence, and especially those who experienced the solemnity of the Tridentine form, found this trend disturbing.

Article 5, section 1 of the Pope’s motu proprio says the following: In parishes, where there is a stable group of faithful who adhere to the earlier liturgical tradition, the pastor should willingly accept their requests to celebrate the Mass according to the rite of the Roman Missal published in 1962, and ensure that the welfare of these faithful harmonises with the ordinary pastoral care of the parish, under the guidance of the bishop in accordance with canon 392, avoiding discord and favouring the unity of the whole Church.

I believe our pastor will consider any group who adheres to the earlier liturgical tradition to be unstable. Once the horse is out of the barn, it is difficult to get it back in. Bringing back the Tridentine Mass will not necessarily mean bringing back the reverence. What happens when contemporary Catholics walk into the extraordinary use (as it will now be called) wearing their tank tops and cutoffs, talking loudly, holding hands or assuming the orans posture during the Pater Noster? Will they receive the Holy Eucharist on the tongue or in the hand as they are now accustomed? Will the parish behavioral norms be different for the extraordinary use from the ordinary use? Can we expect the same priest who takes liberties with the Novos Ordo liturgy to act any differently celebrating the Tridentine form? Will such displays cause even further division among the faithful? I hope not.

The problem is not the Novos Ordo Mass or the vernacular language. I believe the issue is reverence. The Holy Father does not want us to believe one Mass is superior to the other. EWTN televises a very reverent Novos Ordo Mass, but one rarely finds such reverence in the real post Vatican II world. If parishes using the Tridentine form are able to bring back the strong vertical element of worship, and if this attitude carries over to the Novos Ordo Masses, then this effort by the Pope will be beneficial.