I am faced with a difficult task today for I wish to reflect upon the latest Apostolic Letter issued ‘Motu Proprio’ by the Supreme Pontiff Francis, which was published on July 16th, the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. This ‘Motu Proprio’ has understandably caused quite a stir within the Catholic Church.
Since I began writing for Catholic Voice in December 2013, I have never once criticised Pope Francis in my writings and I do not intend to do so here. I want to look at some of what is contained in the ‘Motu Proprio’ and to make some observations without passing judgement on the author. Just as it is very important that we pray continuously for our bishops, it is also imperative that we pray earnestly for Pope Francis. So, let us pray an Ave for Pope Francis, and for our Irish bishops.
Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.
The title of the ‘Motu Proprio’ is ‘Traditionis Custodes’ or ‘Guardians of Tradition’. One might think that a document with this title would seek to promote and defend the Traditional Catholic Mass, however the opposite seems to be the case.
In dealing with any situations that arise in life one must be clear about the exact nature of the problems one wishes to address and one must also clearly identify the causes of those problems. A mistake in either analysis could lead to a worsening of the problems rather than making the particular situation better.
‘Traditionis Custodes’ points out the following.
“Dear brothers in the Episcopate, ‘Sacrosanctum Concilium’ explained that the Church, the “sacrament of unity,” is such because it is “the holy People gathered and governed under the authority of the Bishops”.”
I would like to examine this point of unity by looking at how life was for Catholics in the year 1960.
In 1960, an international Catholic government diplomat, with a Latin-English missal, could attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass anywhere in the world and he would be able to follow the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. If he was in Germany or France, in Italy or Spain, in Africa, Asia or a country in Eastern Europe, he would have the same readings and the exact same experience at Holy Mass.
If the Catholic diplomat had a young son who was trained to serve the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, this boy could also serve the Holy Mass anywhere in the world. Whether he was in Germany or France, in Italy or Spain, in Africa, Asia or a country in Eastern Europe, he could serve the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass because the celebration was universal throughout the Roman Catholic Church.
This was possible regardless of whether or not the father and son were fluent in the vernacular languages of the places in the world that they attended the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass because the Latin language used, created unity in how the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was celebrated.
Similarly, a Catholic priest, in 1960, could celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the local congregation in any part of the Catholic world and in each of these places the congregation would be able to actively participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, because the visiting priest would be celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass exactly as their local priest would have celebrated it. If the visiting priest did not speak the local language, he could be assisted by another priest or deacon who could preach the homily if necessary.
Back in 1960, when the time came for Holy Communion, whether it be in Germany or France, in Italy or Spain, in Africa, or Asia or in any other country in the world, all of the faithful would receive Holy Communion kneeling at altar rails covered with an altar cloth, and they would receive Holy Communion only from a priest and only on the tongue.
What these examples demonstrate is that there was unity, right across the whole world, in how the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was celebrated in the Catholic Church.
Were there bad priests, mediocre priests, holy priests and saintly priests back in 1960? Or course there were, just as the same exists in our day. Perhaps some priests celebrated the Traditional Mass in a disrespectful manner, nonetheless, one could follow the Mass regardless of where one was in the world.
Let us now move forward to the year 1980. Now our Catholic diplomat would not be able to follow the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass when in a foreign country unless he was conversant with the language of that country.
His son, the altar boy, would only be able to serve the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with great difficulty, because of the different norms and customs that developed across the world. He would not be able to serve Holy Mass at all if he was not fluent in the language of the country where his father was stationed.
A Catholic priest, visiting a foreign country where he was not fluent in the local language, would not be able to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the people in that country. He could concelebrate with a local priest, but the language barrier would still exist.
When the time came for Holy Communion, some would stand, some would receive Holy Communion on the hand, some would receive on the tongue, many would be prevented from kneeling to receive Holy Communion. The unity that existed in 1960 with regard to the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the distribution of Holy Communion which had been maintained for centuries, no longer existed in 1980. In the space of twenty short years, what was once a universal practice had almost ceased to exist.
It is obvious to see, that the Novus Ordo of Pope Paul VI, actually fostered disunity in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass across the world, where once there was unity.
This is not to criticise the validity of the Novus Order Mass or to criticise the motivations of those who introduced it, rather, it is simply to point out the fact that disunity had been introduced into the Liturgy where before there was unity in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
To accuse those who are attached to the Traditional Catholic Mass as being the ones who have created disunity, is clearly not in accord with the observable facts in this matter.
Again this is not meant to disparage the Second Vatican Council, which was a validly called council of the Catholic Church, but simply to point out the truth of the matter.
Once there was unity in how the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was celebrated throughout the whole world, after the new Mass was introduced, there was disunity in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass across the world.
It is interesting to observe that this disunity in how the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was celebrated, came about just as the costs of international travel became more affordable to ordinary citizens and more people could afford to travel outside of their own countries.
I have personally attended the Novus Ordo Mass in both France and Spain where I had difficulty following the Mass because I speak neither French nor Spanish. I have attended the Traditional Catholic Mass in both Italy and France where no such difficulty arose because the Holy Sacrifice was celebrated exactly as if I had been at the Traditional Catholic Mass in Ireland.
Pope Benedict XVI, in the letter which accompanied his own ‘Motu Propio’ , ‘Summorum Pontificum’. of 2007, also noted the disunity that came about after the introduction of the Novus Ordo’
“Many people who clearly accepted the binding character of the Second Vatican Council, and were faithful to the Pope and the Bishops, nonetheless also desired to recover the form of the sacred liturgy that was dear to them. This occurred above all because in many places celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal, but the latter actually was 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 its confusion. And I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church.” (Summorum Pontificum)
It amazes me, that the greater number of liturgical abuses which occur within the celebration of the Novus Ordo Mass, go largely unchallenged. We have on many occasions pointed out the clear liturgical abuses that happen regularly at the annual Novena in Knock Shrine, but the Archbishop of Tuam. Archbishop Michael Neary, has never done anything to correct these abuses and has on occasion participated in the abuses.
The Catholics I know who attend the Traditional Catholic Mass, do so in order to worship God in a way that they find reverent and spiritually satisfying.
I do not deny that there are some who are attached to the Traditional Catholic Mass who have problems with the widespread liturgical abuses that have happened after the Second Vatican Council. These abuses were never sanctioned by the Second Vatican Council, but they were not brought under control either, and they continue in a widespread manner to this very day.
Liturgical abuses are first and foremost offences against Almighty God. The purpose for which the Sacred Liturgy exists is to give to God the worship that is His due. One clearly senses this attitude of worship and reverence at the Traditional Catholic Mass but, speaking from personal experience, it is often missing from the celebration of the Novus Ordo Mass here in Ireland.
There are other problems with the latest ‘Motu Proprio’ which concern erroneous statements.
Article 1 states: “The liturgical books promulgated by Saint Paul VI and Saint John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of Vatican Council II, are the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.”
Cardinal Burke has pointed out that “In Article 1, the important Italian adjective, “unica”, is translated into English as “unique”, instead of “only.”
This statement, that the Novus Ordo is the ‘only’ expression of the lex orandi, is factually incorrect. The Traditional Catholic Mass is also an age old expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite. Every time the Traditional Catholic Mass is celebrated, it clearly manifests the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.
The lex orandi of the Roman Rite is not, and cannot be, unique to the liturgical books promulgated by Saint Paul VI and Saint John Paul II and no declaration to that effect can change this truth.
It is deeply worrisome when an official document released from the Vatican contains factual errors. Such errors are also a cause of division within the Catholic Church because different people will interpret them in different ways on account of the imprecise language used.
Pope Francis, quoting Pope Benedict XVI, says that he too deplores the fact that “in many places the prescriptions of the new Missal are not observed in celebration, but indeed come to be interpreted as an authorization for or even a requirement of creativity, which leads to almost unbearable distortions”.
However, nothing concrete is done to correct the far greater number of abuses that occur with the Novus Ordo celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
In ‘Traditionis Custodes’ Pope Francis also says “But I am nonetheless saddened that the instrumental use of Missale Romanum of 1962 is often characterized by a rejection not only of the liturgical reform, but of the Vatican Council II itself, claiming, with unfounded and unsustainable assertions, that it betrayed the Tradition and the “true Church”.
This claim is made without providing any proof. Are there some Catholics who attend the Traditional Catholic Mass who reject the Second Vatican Council? I am sure that there are. But most Catholics I know, whether they attend the Traditional Catholic Mass or the Novus Order Mass, have never read or studied the documents of the Second Vatican Council.
To punish all those who attend the Traditional Catholic Mass because there are some ‘traditional Catholics’ who reject the Second Vatican Council and the Liturgical reform, is quite simply, a grave injustice.
Anecdotal evidence suggests, that there are far more Catholics who attend the Novus Ordo Mass who reject certain dogmatic teachings of the Catholic Church then amongst those who attend the Traditional Catholic Mass.
A simple example is Catholic Church teaching on contraception. The rate of acceptance of this dogmatic and infallible Catholic Church teaching is far higher amongst the Tradition Catholic Mass attending Catholic community than it is amongst the Novus Ordo attending Catholic community.
One can see from this document that it fails to tackle the causes of disunity within the Catholic Church, which disunity stems primarily from a rejection of certain dogmatic Catholic Church teachings. This document will not therefore help to heal the division within the Catholic Church, it will actually widen the divisions and increase the disunity, because Catholics who strive to be faithful to Church teaching will be marginalised and punished because they desire true unity in how they worship as well as in how they live out and practice their Catholic faith.
Catholics who desire to worship Almighty God by attending the Traditional Catholic Mass should have no fear at this time. We know “How narrow is the gate, and strait is the way that leads to life: and few there are that find it!” (Matthew 7:14)
We must continue on the narrow and difficult road that leads to life. We should write to our bishops and Catholics should write to Pope Francis to show him that he may have been misinformed about the mindset of Catholics who worship according to the Traditional Catholic Mass.
Let us pray that this document will be either discarded or revised in order to tackle the real causes of disunity within the Catholic Church.
Let us also be mindful of Our Lord’s own words, “Do not think that I came to send peace upon earth: I came not to send peace, but the sword.” (Matthew 10:34)
Let us pray for the courage to remain faithful to our Catholic Faith come what may and let us continue to pray earnestly for Pope Francis.
(images in this article courtesy Stephen Tyrell)