Pope Benedict moves toward Trent

On Saturday, Pope Benedict XVI issued a change in the Roman Catholic position on the Latin Tridentine Mass in a conservative, traditional direction. Benedict’s decree now allows priests to administer the Tridentine Mass if enough people in the community desire it. The change was described as an ecumenical move to reconcile with traditionalists who prefer the original Latin Mass, but since it is only a partial concession the development has the possibility of alienating both the conservatives and the progressives. For those who think Vatican II represented an overdue change of direction for the Catholic Church, this new ruling is only a step backwards; for those who think that Trent defines what it really means to be Catholic, then Benedict is proving to be an ally.

Sources: NY Times; NPR.

Comments

Fr Chris said…
Did you actually read the motu proprio and letter? Benedict is clearly affirming Vatican II and (gently) rebuking those who believe "Trent defines what it really means to be Catholic". He has made it clear that no Roman Catholic priest can categorically rule out celebrating the new Mass, which would "not in fact be consistent with the recognition of its value and holiness". It is the Missal of Paul VI that Benedict sees as "unit[ing] the parishes" and being the center of the Roman church's liturgical life.

This is a typical, measured, and moderate move on Benedict's part, very consistent with his theology and his desire to affirm Vatican II but moderate its implementation against some fairly serious abuses. He is not the arch-conservative most non-Catholic commentators portray him as.
D.W. Congdon said…
It's true, I have not read the letter. But it seems indisputable that ever since Vat II the Roman Catholic Church has steadily backed away from the innovations achieved at that council. I agree that it was a measured move, but it seems one-sided to say that there are "fairly serious abuses" with Vat II without also acknowledge the serious abuses of the Tridentine Mass. And, of course, misuse does not bar proper use.
Anonymous said…
It's similar to Bush Derangement Syndrome (BDS). In some people's eyes Ratzinger can do no right. They need a bogeyman to make (Manichean) sense of the world.
Fr Chris said…
I think the Roman church has maybe backed away from some things that were perceived to be part of the Council, but I think the history of the last forty years has actually been one of steadily integrating the Council's actual insights into the life of the Roman church -- and cleaning up from some incredible overreach from the 60s and 70s.

In the case of the liturgy, it wasn't the intent of the Council for altars the world over to be pulled out from the wall, rubrics to be ignored, and clown Masses to be celebrated. A much slower, more modest reform was expected, but the Council was perceived to have flung the doors open, and the results are, frankly, mixed.

I'm not sure what specific abuses you mean about the old Mass. There are certainly a few I can think of -- proclamation of the readings in the vernacular in the 1962 rite was not officially allowed until after the Pauline missal was promulgated, AFAIK. That's a real problem, as I mentioned on my own blog a week or two ago. (Actually, I would love to see the Roman church authorize the 1962 rites to be said in good translations into the vernacular, something nearly 100% of Independent Catholics who use the old books already do, myself included.) I am no lover of Latin, and since the main liturgical language of the Roman church is even now (officially) Latin, the motu proprio and the reform of the reform movement aren't really about Latin.

The interfaith issues are there and very real. Most Indies eliminate the prayer for the conversion of the Jews in the Good Friday liturgies. I would like to see the Holy Father demand this change in the Roman church, too. It's an obvious and organic change, because the official theology of the Roman church doesn't even countenance this kind of anti-Judaism (thanks to JP2 -- one of the few positive accomplishments of an otherwise very conservative Pope).

But beyond these issues, a lot of the purported abuses of the 1962 rites are actually problems of ars celebrandi, not problems with the rites themselves. You will no longer find 20 minute mumbled low masses -- groups like the FSSP that use the old books exclusively agree that this did a disservice both to God and the people. Most proclaimed the readings in the vernacular -- if Latin is used, typically they're read in both languages. Celebrants of the old Mass have come a long way from the abuses of the early 20th c.

One thing that is sometimes seen as an abuse is the silent canon or eucharistic prayer. It's not my preference to do this prayer silently, but there are some principled arguments for it, and some do prefer it as a more contemplative celebration of the Eucharist. I don't think it should be the norm, but its mere existence isn't an abuse IMHO.

Anyhow, I hope that explains my own position a little more clearly. The way the old Mass used to be celebrated was not ideal in many cases, but a lot of those abuses have been fixed. A few things do genuinely remain to be fixed, and hopefully will be by this Pope, but others (opposition to ad orientem celebration, the silent canon, and some other things) are often just a misunderstanding of Catholic liturgical theology and spirituality, it seems to me. All in all, I think the motu proprio will be quite a good thing as long as it's received in charity. It will allow the development of the old liturgies to restart, anyhow, which is very positive in my book.
D.W. Congdon said…
Anonymous,

It's people like you who make me want to prevent anonymous comments altogether. If you're going to comment, have the decency and maturity to leave your name.
D.W. Congdon said…
Fr. Chris,

I never said there was anything wrong with the Tridentine Mass itself. In fact, I never said anything really negative about this move. It seems like you are being overly defensive, which makes me think you are arguing with someone else in your head. I'm not a Catholic and I have nothing at stake in these changes; I just find them interesting.

In your last comment, you pointed out all the abuses and problems that I would have mentioned, so I think you made whatever point I might have had for me. I certainly hope these liturgical developments are for the betterment of the church.

I am curious about the "incredible overreach from the 60s and 70s" to which you refer. Since I don't know my Catholic history, what are you referring to?
Fr Chris said…
To me, talking about the "serious abuses of the Tridentine Mass" would suggest you see something wrong with the Tridentine Mass. You've also called the motu proprio a "step backwards" and seem to see this as a refutation of Vatican II. Perhaps I'm misreading, but that seems quite negative.

In any case, there are a number of issues at play in what "reform of the reform" folks see as overreach. One is that many things not mandated by the Council came to be seen as obligatory. For instance, celebration ad orientem (also called versus Deum) was never banned. However, many Catholics even now think that versus populum celebration is required. (Fr. Uwe Lang's book Turning Toward the Lord is a good exploration of the question of orientation.) Chant is looked on with suspicion in some quarters, though this is getting much better thanks to the sustained work of many devoted Catholic musicians. For many, Latin is simply beyond the pale. (I'm not a fan of Latin at every Mass, but it's not an aspect of the Catholic tradition that can be simply dumped over board.) In general, people who love aspects of the old liturgical life have been seen as reactionary conservatives -- which is unfortunate, as many moderates and progressives also love the old Mass, though they recognize some changes were and still are needed.

Probably the worst abuse was that many Catholic liturgists thought the Council had endorsed their desire for a Bauhaus-esque simplicity in the Mass (it didn't). This has resulted in some truly awful translations of liturgical texts into English. The beautiful Collects of the Western tradition have suffered particularly -- the ICEL translations of these prayers are mostly unrecognizable. ICEL would have done well to look to Episcopalians, who have safeguarded and developed the truly beautiful language of the Prayer Book. Instead, they set out on their own and the results are horrible. Even now it's an uphill battle trying to get back to the beautiful texts of the tradition.

I hope you understand this is a touchy subject. Liturgical traditionalists in general are not popular, but traditionalists who are progressives on other issues are doubly unpopular, disdained by one side for loving the old Mass and Office and disdained by their "allies" for wanting "radical" things like women priests. That spills over continuously from the Roman church into our movement and other churches in the Christian world. The motu proprio is a delicate entry into this situation by the Pope and seems to have opened a little space for reconciliation with what he's done. It is definitely not a step backwards, and it's hurtful to have numerous Protestant bloggers who don't understand the situation insinuating that. Sorry if I seem defensive, but the commentary has not been very thoughtful from most quarters.
D.W. Congdon said…
Fr Chris,

I'm sorry if I sound impatient, but it irks me when people don't take context into consideration and ascribe views to me that don't exist.

You'll notice that the "step backwards" statement has no reference at all to my own view: "For those who think Vatican II represented an overdue change of direction for the Catholic Church, this new ruling is only a step backwards." Perhaps it's not a step backwards at all, but for a lot of people who want to see the church continue what Vat II started, this is a common sentiment.

Regarding the "serious abuses" of the Tridentine Mass, I thought you would pick up on the fact that I was correcting what I saw to be a one-sided statement on your part. You wrote: "... his desire to affirm Vatican II but moderate its implementation against some fairly serious abuses." My comment in response was simply a correction, because you gave no indication in your statement that there are "serious abuses" of the Tridentine Mass which must also be guarded against. I was not making a factual statement. I simply don't have the knowledge of Catholicism to be able to declare such things.

Finally, I have no idea where you got the idea that I think this new ruling is a refutation of Vat II. I never said anything of the sort, and I certainly did not mean to imply it in anything I said.

Many thanks for the helpful history on the abuses of the liturgy. For my own part, I love the Latin liturgy. But I also think Vat II is one of the most important events in the history of the Catholic Church.