Here is something I wrote for the paper:
We won’t know the details of the Motu Proprio until it is promulgated, but we must consider several points. When a major document comes from the pen of a Pope, I always look at what he is saying both to the Church (ad intra) and to the world (ad extra).
By this Motu Proprio Pope Benedict will establish the older form of Mass as an extraordinary rite of the Latin Church, the Novus Ordo being the ordinary rite. It will clarify that any priest can celebrate Holy Mass with the 1962 Missale Romanum in private. Some traditionalists claimed that no priest needs permission, but this remained a disputed question. It will also more than likely lay down that when a certain number of the faithful make a request, a priest, probably a pastor of a parish, will be able to celebrate the older Mass publicly without specific permission of the local bishop. It is rumored that perhaps thirty people will be necessary for this. The Motu Proprio will certainly protect the authority of diocesan bishops and religious superiors to oversee their priests and liturgies. I heard once that if a bishop wanted to block public celebrations in some place or by some priest the Motu Proprio might require him to present reasons to the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei”. That is speculation. Soon we will know for sure. The Motu Proprio will more than likely spell out the role of the Pontifical Commission and what will happen if there are disputes between priests and bishops.
What will the results of this be for the Church herself (the ad intra dimension)? First, Pope Benedict is working to re-root celebrations of Holy Mass in the tradition whence it emerged. He has written that it was unreasonable that a rite of Mass so important to the Catholic Church for so long should suddenly be virtually forbidden. He wrote in the past about how liturgy grows slowly and organically, from rites and cultures enriching each other. The Novus Ordo, stitched together by experts on table tops, constituted a break in this process. Derestriction of the older form of Mass will help to heal people hurt by the loss of the older rite. Widespread celebrations will have an impact on the way the Novus Ordo is celebrated… and vice versa! It cannot be otherwise. This has already been happening. The derestriction might help to heal the rift between the See of Peter and the SSPX, though there are also theological issues to work through (e.g., Vatican II’s document on religious liberty).
In 1988 John Paul II, in his own Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei adflicta, called for bishops and priests to be generous and to show respect to those who wanted older expressions of the liturgy. Some did. More didn’t. Pope Benedict is confirming for progressivist priests and bishops that traditional Catholics are not just the nutty aunt in the diocese’s attic. They have rights. They have something valuable to contribute. The Motu Proprio might also be a historically important document: it will stress the rights of priests and laypeople rather than of the bishop. In a way, I wager many people will find that their nutty old aunt, now that she’s back downstairs and mixing again, was a whole lot sharper and had more to contribute than they imagined. Maybe there wasn’t much wrong with her all along.
Above all, the document will make concrete Benedict XVI’s desire for a “hermeneutic of continuity”. A “hermeneutic” is a principle of interpretation, like a lens through which you examine a question. In his 2005 Christmas address to the Roman Curia, His Holiness spoke of a “hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture” used by many after the Council. This resulted in a terrible break with our tradition. For many it is as if nothing good or worth preserving happened before Vatican II. Pope Benedict is working to reestablish continuity with the past, though not uncritically, through a “hermeneutic of reform”. Derestriction of the older form of Mass must be seen as part of his vision for this reform, this rebuilding of continuity with the Church’s tradition.
Rebuilding continuity with past leads us to consider what the Motu Proprio will say to the larger world (ad extra). Pope Benedict is convinced that the Church has a right to her own language, symbols and identity. She has a right to express them in the public square. There has long been an effort to silence the Church in public debate. If Catholics attempt to express themselves as Catholics, in a Catholic way and with Catholic concerns in politics, economics, academics and the arts, they are marginalized. Politicians, for example, claim that although they may be Catholic, their Catholic faith won’t affect their voting on social or ethical issues. These politicians perceive this faithless dodge as a way of remaining relevant. Pope Benedict, however, while he defends the concept of properly understood laicality, brings issues to the public square in a decidedly Catholic way. In Italy this has started to create some unrest. The Italian bishops are rediscovering their voice in the piazza and the left is furious.
The Motu Proprio to derestrict the form of Mass that shaped Catholic identity for centuries is a major move in the Pope’s project to recover continuity with our tradition and therefore reinvigorate the Church in an ever more secularized and relativistic world.
It is important that we receive this Motu Proprio well. We must be very gracious. For decades many traditionalists and liturgical conservatives have been ignored or treated poorly. Some have admittedly brought mistreatment upon all of us by their sour bleating, but we unquestionably are more sinned against than sinning. We must be joyful and polite to those who have not shown us due respect. Therefore, as I wrote in my Five Rules of Engagement …, we must not “strut” when this derestriction occurs. Furthermore, if the Motu Proprio contains points we don’t favor, we must avoid whining about them or else keep our mouths shut. This Motu Proprio will need to be implemented. The progressivist ploy has always been to say, “Welllll … you see … we really need time to study this before we can implement it.” During this interval if a traditional Catholic loudly bellyaches and is nasty, he will only do harm.
Remember too that priests are going to wind up caught between groups of lay people on the one hand and the bishop on the other. Be very careful. Consider the priest’s position. A bishop or religious superior can show a priest displeasure in many ways.
Above all, before and after the release of the Motu Proprio we must get down on our knees and sing both Te Deum and Non Nobis. Praise God and remember that this is really all about Him. Pray for bishops and priests: they will implement the Motu Proprio. Pray that their hearts may be open and their actions prudent. This is a very joyful time, but you just might also add my own simple daily prayer: “Dear Lord, help me avoid doing harm today.”