Before an earthquake or volcanic eruption, seismographs pick up tremors. Even in Jurassic Park you do your best to watch for shock tremors in puddles, right? Call them “signs of the times”, if you will.
For some weeks now I and others have had the sense the something interesting was afoot.. In fact, my usual spies and sources have been rather coy, which leads me to suspect that, while rumors fly, in fact is up.
Some time ago I suggested that we might see some sort of document from Pope Benedict which would liberalize the use of the older, so-called “Tridentine” Mass, the 1962 editio typica of the Missale Romanum. As a matter of fact, I heard from one place that the Pope had already signed a document to this effect.
It might be good to review what we do know. Since every one is going to indulge in the juicy fruit of speculation anyway, it is good to do a summary of points and then think them through.
Here are some points, in no special order. Perhaps you will be able to add your own.
First and foremost, we know that Pope Benedict has been in the past very favorable to celebrations of the older form of Mass. He has celebrated the older Mass on occasion while still Cardinal. He has written of the older Mass in his liturgical writings.
More on this point. Cardinal Ratzinger sustained that there should be more celebrations of the older Mass in order to help promote a healthy anchoring and then, subsequently, return to organic development of the liturgy. His point was, and he was right, that the way the Novus Ordo was created and implemented, was artificial. It broke the ages long, slow, organic development of liturgy but imposing a scholarly approach. Effectively, cutting and snipping and altering by committees in a compressed time period is not how liturgy works. His position was, therefore, that with wider use of the older rite, we could re-root the newer rite of Mass in the Church’s tradition and, perhaps over time and in “dialogue” with each other, slowly a tertium quid might emerge. Frankly, I think Cardinal Ratzinger was dead on target. I know younger priests, who did not grow up with the older Mass, come to change their way of celebrating the Novus Ordo (for the better) once they got to know something of the older forms.
Going on. Cardinal Ratzinger was a close supporter of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” in his capacity as Prefect of the CDF. That is to say, he was not one of the Commission’s enemies, and they were plentiful in the Curia in those days, believe you me. (I worked there for some years.)
Since he has become Pope, Benedict has occasioned some serious high level discussions of the older Mass and the question of the schism of the SSPX in a new context: meetings of heads of dicasteries. The Pope is a brilliant listener and synthesizer of information. He is also very persuasive.
Pope Benedict has sharply changed the style of papal Masses, the presence of His Excellency Piero Marini, recently treated for a serious heart problem, notwithstanding. I would not be surprised if after a suitable space after the Triduum, His Excellency didn’t retire or be given a new mandate.
Remember too that His Holiness transferred Archbp. Sorrentino to the Diocese of Assisi (etc.) from his post as Secretary of the CDWDS. That was not a promotion. My sources say that Archbishop Sorrentino has something to do with the embarrassingly poorly thought out paragraph in the late Pope’s last Holy Thursday Letter, about which I wrote at length in The Wanderer. The were incorrect Scripture citations and distortions of Biblical texts seemingly with the objective of making it seem as if the Pope had decided absolutely in favor of a translation of “for all” for pro multis. The text was corrected in the Acta Apostolica Sedis and the offending and misleading errors removed. I will put some of my examination of that debacle on online soon.
Keep in mind that Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in one of his books a defense of the “for many” transation of pro multis.
There was a Synod on the Eucharist, which Benedict not only cut short by a week, but which he shaped and guided by comments. He will probably soon produce a post-Synodal document. However, as reported by the Holy See’s “vice” spokesman, Fr. Ciro Benedettini, Pope Benedict did not write a letter to priests for Holy Thursday, as Pope John Paul did for many years. I am led to wonder if some other sort of document will take the place of the Holy Thursday letter.
In the Roman daily newspaper Il Tempo for 9 April we read a headline, “Sì alla messa «spalle al popolo»… Yes to Mass with (the priest’s) ‘back to the people’”. While ineptly titled, the article by Paolo Luigi Rodari is interesting. Take all Italian journalism with a grain of salt, or course. Still, (excerpts in my translation) …
“During the next few days, perhaps on Holy Thursday (the news is not solid yet), Benedict XVI could decide to offer an official sign by means of which he would grant the possibility to whomever desires to do so, to celebrate Holy Mass according to the ancient rite, that of Saint Pius V, and (the Pope) could do this by officially declaring that that rite (which was the one in force before the Second Vatican Council) is still in force today by the simple fact that no one ever abolished it.”
This has been a major argument of the “Tridentine” Mass traditionalists for decades: what Pope Paul VI did in his Apostolic Constitution never abolished the older form of Mass in a strict sense. Since that would be the case, they argue, priests don’t need special permission to celebrate using the pre-Conciliar Missal. They wouldn’t need a faculty from a bishop or the Holy See (such as the one I enjoy).
I suspect that if such a statement were made by the Pope, then there would be some truly interesting changes to be made at the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” as well. Perhaps part of the work of that Commission would be to receive statements from priests both within communion and in questionable communion with Rome about their adherence to the tenets, or at least basic principles of Vatican II, in the form of an adhesio fidei (which is what the Commisson required from priests coming back to Rome from irregular situations before granting faculties (even if provisional).
Indeed, recently the Commission was just given some new members, recent Cardinals, including Card. Levada (who pretty much must be on the Commission ex ufficio since the CDF and Pont. Comm. “Ecclesia Dei” work closely on some matters), and the now Cardinal Archbishop of Toledo. Indeed, Antonio Cardinal Cañizares Llovera had been rumored to be the replacement for the abovementioned Archbishop Sorrentino before the actual appointment of Archbishop Albert Malcolm Ranjith Patabedige Don (called “Archbishop RÃƒÂ¡n-jit”).
In his own turn Archbishop Ranjith’s appointment was received with joy by some top level members of the SSPX. The Archbishop is reported by the SSPX very friendly toward the older “Tridentine” rite of Mass. This snarky and generally pessimistic group would is inclined to exaggerate reports of favor, either.
A couple things are important to note. There has been a large shift of gravity in the Curia. People have been replaced with others having very different and more flexible ideas about liturgy. The chief papal liturgist himself, Archbishop Marini, has been reigned in as well. Not long ago Archbishop Marini expressed some very dim views about the older form of Mass in a rather too frank interview in Milan. I am lead to wonder if he didn’t know that something was afoot. On that score, Cardinal Arinze recently gave a talk in London that was very hard hitting and rather traditional sounding, suggesting in fact that genuflection before the Blessed Sacrament really ought to be even in Mass (where the 2002 GIRM had restricted it) and the tabernacle belongs in the center of our view in churches. Folks, there is an Italian phrase, “Where there is smoke, there is fire”, a concept that works well in most languages, I believe.
His Holiness is not a harsh man. He hasn’t ever moved abruptly in matters of discipline, even when he was Prefect of the CDF. He works carefully, delicately, with a great sensitivity to sensibilities. For example, in one work on liturgy he wrote years ago, he spoke about the issue of the position of the altar and the ad orientem Mass. Clearly his preference was for ad orientem. However, he carefully stated that we must avoid the sort of abrupt changes like those after the Council which caused so many of our present woes. Slow and patient change, not sharp or abrupt imposition which can cause confusion. Thus, it would be a fine and subtle solution simply to state that the older form of Mass had never been abolished or abrogated rather than by a positive act as Legislator grant universal faculties to priests in the world.
I could well imagine the Pope making some sort of statement to this end and then, sometime in the not too distant future celebrating himself the older form of Mass. What a “gesture” that would be. This would give great encouragement to many and still allow the bishops to work things through irenically with their priests. This would seem to be the direction things are going, since the appointment of new members of the Pontifical Commission suggest that it is not slated for rapidly dissolution in favor of some other juridical solution.