Excellent: Fr. Piero Cantoni on Summorum Pontificum, its reception and its meaning

A very fine article appeared in Il Timone, a good Italian publication intended for lay people, especially families.  It is slowly but surely taking the place that the entirely squishy Famiglia Cristiana hold.  The later is distributed through the bishops conference to all parish churches for people to take home, but Il Timone is by subscription as is growing quickly in popularity.  The author of the piece, Fr. Piero Cantoni, had many years ago been a member of the SSPX before the 1988 debacle, though he broke with them and it in communion with Rome.  He is the brother of the founder of highly intelligent Alleanza Cattolica.

This piece is probably originally a talk that was given: the Italian original is oral in quality.  Cantoni also speaks to many of the things I have been thinking about and writing for a long time now about the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, its reception and implementation.

He has a couple very good insights which you will want to pay close attention to.

Here is the piece in my rapid translation from the Italian original, with my emphases and comments.

Dossier: You can have that Mass

Summorum Pontificum

Fr. Pietro Cantoni

The content and outlook of a highly awaited document.  What does it say and how can it be applied in parish life?  Some considerations and a few pointers about the Motu Proprio of Pope Benedict XVI.

The historical and doctrinal context

It was often presented as an improvised act, pulled arbitrarily from thin air, the fruit of an entirely personal decision of Pope Benedict XVI, motivated – in the best hypothesis – from the desire to foster the return into fullness of Catholic communion the Fraternity of Saint Pius X, founded by the French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre (1905-1991).  But that is not how things went.  The Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum had a long previous history which, in many ways, transcends the Lefebvre affair.  When the liturgical reform was carried out it wasn’t thought that the preceding liturgy had to be abrogated.  It was pretty much thought that the matter would take care of itself.  The new liturgy would imperceptibly and inexorably substitute the old, as often happened in the long history of the Church.

But instead, events took an decisively different direction.  It wasn’t taken into account that the reform happened, or at least, perceived, as something "from a worktable" of a group of experts and not like the mature fruit of an imperceptible historical evolution.

Moreover, it was not fully appreciated that what was going on was the most imposing liturgical reform of the entire history of Christianity.  Toward the end of the 17th century, the Patriarch of Moscow Nikita Miniè Nikon (1605-1681) initiated a reform of the Slavic Byzantine Rite celebrated by the Russian Church.  The reform consisted substantially in conforming the Russian liturgical books to the Greek liturgical books used in those days by Constantinople.  In concrete terms the scope of the changes were truly limited: the most significant is the sign of the Cross and the blessing with three fingers instead of two.  The result was a schism of terrible proportions (shattering right away into different branches) which endures in our times for millions of adherents. 

Touching the liturgy is always very risky!  Just so, the liturgical reform did not in any way wind up being "painless".  On the one hand, it gave rise to a series of scandalous abuses, where the principle abuse – the creeping abuse – was the idea that liturgy could be something to be continuously reinvented, to "do" rather than be welcomed and the celebration of a gift and the action of God in man’s midst: "As often as the commemoration of this sacrifice is celebrated, the work of our redemption is carried on" (Prayer over the gifts of the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary time).

On the other hand, it aroused a reaction, sometimes violent and sometimes hidden, but nevertheless real and annoying, so as to generate a climate of unease that wound up rendering problematic its undeniable positive effects where it was applied and lived in obedience to the norms and, above all, in conformity with liturgical theology that the Conciliar Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium so profoundly delineated.

This critical reaction had gotten to the point, in some cases, even to call into question the orthodoxy of the reform.  Something absurd and theologically very weak, above all if examined from the point of view of a correct ecclesiology, but that was made very credible by so many liturgical abuses that ended up grieving and trying the patience of the faithful.

This is the indispensable context of in which the document must be read.

Above all, then, it must be taken into consideration that the old rite was not ever abrogated.  Though it’s true that, at a certain point, given the unexpected reaction to the reform, the President of the Pontifical Council for the Implementation of the Reform, Mons. Annibale Bugnini (1912-1982) did the utmost to obtain that, but without success. It was quickly clear that this involved a very problematic action.

Canonists had hypothesized the possibility of obrogation, that is the de facto elimination due to the total reordering of the matter: still, this would have concerned something completely unheard of, namely, the abolition through a juridical act of an orthodox and immemorial rite.

Here one must from obligation refer to canon 21 of the Code of Canon Law: "In doubt, the revocation of a previous law is not presumed; rather, later laws are to be related to earlier ones and, as far as possible, harmonized with them."

The Motu Proprio therefore did nothing other than sanction this de facto situation: "this Missal was never juridically abrogated and, consequently, in principle, was always permitted" (Benedict XVI, Accompanying Letter).

The Church, in the face of the old rite, came to recognize, as in other analogous cases (for example, the ordination of women to the ministerial priesthood), it wasn’t certain that it had the faculty to proceed.  [Cantoni seems to be working from the point of view that the continuing use of the older form of liturgy goes beyond mere discipline even to doctrinal significance.  And so, he doesn't seem to want to consider the question that I raise from time to time here, namely, that the MP provides a juridical but not a theological solution to the issue of whether the two different books really do in fact contain two different rites which we must now consider, juridically, as two uses of one rite only.] This does not indicate in any way an undue limitation on the power of the Church, but only the recognition that liturgical custom, orthodox and immemorial, constitutes one of the expressions of its very sacra potestas.

The legitimate existence of a rite, which must always be understood as an extraordinary form of the one Roman rite, establishes a corresponding right for the faithful.

For which, if a priest decides to celebrate it in a form "sine populo" (that is, outside the schedule of parish Masses or publicly) any member of the faithful can attend its celebration, without either the priest or the faithful needing to ask authorization from anyone. (Cf. Summorum Pontificum 2 and 4).

For parish Masses it is necessary that the faithful constitute a stable group and that they make a request to the pastor.  If the faithful attached to the traditional liturgy belong to different parishes, there is also foreseen the possibility, according to the prudent judgment of the Ordinary, of a personal parish (art. 10).

All this, together with other norms that can be read in the document, help us to understand that if a right for the faithful is established, it must be lived not in a climate of "trade union demand" but in the view of the common good of the Church and of the order that intrinsically belongs to it (cf 1 Cor 14,40; 11,16).

It is therefore reductive to read the document only in the perspective of reconciliation with the SSPX.  If it is true that ecumenical charity is not credible if it is not manifested first and foremost with one’s closest neighbor, nevertheless one mustn’t misunderstand that the points of friction with these brethren can’t be reduced to a liturgical problem, but they involved other, more delicate points: religious liberty, interreligious dialogue, ecumenism.  All in all, the Church herself and her Magisterium, with the connecting theme of Tradition and development of doctrine.  [Exactly.  This has also been my great concern all along.  The question of V2 on religious liberty is a far greater harder point to resolve than that of liturgical discipline.]

"We all know that, in the movement led by Archbishop Lefebvre, fidelity to the old Missal became an external mark of identity; the reasons for the break which arose over this, however, were at a deeper level" (Benedict XVI, Accompanying Letter).

The faithful directly interested in the Motu Proprio, therefore, cannot be reduced in their overwhelming majority to that movement and we are in no way dealing with old people bound to their past, but very often young people captivated by the hieratic and sacral tone of the old liturgy.

A document in view of continuity and of reconciliation

It seems entirely clear to me there is in the document a visible repudiation, I would say even "vexillar", of the hermeneutic of rupture["vessilare" - "pertaining to an ancient Roman legion's standard, banner.  What he is getting at is the image of a rallying point, a reference for a line of battle or a march.  I talk about how Pope Benedict sees liturgy as the "tip of the spear" in his wider vision for the Church.  Cantoni is using the image of the Roman standard, which even a poorly educated Italian would grasp instantly for what it is.]

The remote "in principio" is found in the Discourse to the Roman Curia given by Benedict XVI on 22 December 2005, in which the Pope identified the principle cause of the present crisis in the Church in the wayward interpretation of the Second Vatican Council: "two contrary hermeneutics came face to face and quarreled with each other".  Two, and not three… With that Discourse we have finally exited from the trinary model of conservative-progressive-moderate which itself reflected de facto an ideological reading of the life of the Church.  The binary model of Benedict XVI is, as it should be, purely theological.  [This is really good, very helpful.  Kudos!  I am reminded of how John Henry Newman eventually came to reject the media via and grasped onto what can only be called a hermeneutic of continuity.]

The Motu Proprio in this context has a meaning that goes far beyond an act of ecumenical charity toward a minority, even if certainly it is also that.  It is far broader: it means, in an exemplary way, with that exemplariness that by its nature pertains to liturgy, the repudiation of the hermenutic of rupture.

This fact furnishes to all those who want to go along with the Magisterium in its work of "reform" a precious interpretive criterion: the Motu Proprio must be interpreted – and then applied and lived, in an optic of continuity and not of rupture.  It is not an "act of vindication" but of going deeper.

All that puts into conflict the two forms of that which the Pope defines as the one unique Roman rite is just grist for the mill of the hermeneutic of rupture and it does not correspond to the profound intentio of the magisterial act.  [I think he would mean ethe suggestion that Summorum Pontificum provides mainly a juridical resolution to the thorny problem without really seeking to whether or not on a more theological level the two books really are part of the same rite.] Certainly it is legitimate – of its nature – to make a comparison. I can express an opinion about the fact that, for example, the Syro-Occidental liturgy better expresses the idea of adoration in respect to the Coptic-Alexandrian.  Or vice versa.  In that case, however, considerations of that sort, even if they are legitimate, turn out to be inopportune.  [You see?  This is what he is addressing!  Maybe that question can be asked, but at least right now, it is not helpful to do so.]  Certainly they don’t have and can’t have any value that goes beyond that of a purely legitimate theological opinion.  Just as the Imitatio Christi warmly warns against making a comparision between saints, I believe that it is not the time or moment to launch into debates about which is the better liturgy.  [A slightly different question, but the one which is usually brought up by most people who have anything to say about the issue.] This takes nothing away from the fact that – to stick to the example – someone can have his preferred devotions.  Nor that a coexistence of ritual variations in the context of the same rite – in the common conviction that all are sacred and holy, inasmuch as they are received by the Church – can produce benefits for both the one and ther other and can foster an intelligent and not arbitrary "contamination", [this is the "gravitational pull" that I talk about] which goes along the meaning of that "reform of the reform" which many hope will be the proper and happy result of the deepest and true aspirations of the "liturgical movement" and the renewal promoted by the Second Vatican Council.

Summorum Pontificum, therefore, represents also an implicit invitation to give life to a "new liturgical movement".  [Cantoni seems to understand very well the mind of Benedict XVI.  Remember that Papa Ratzinger explicitly stated in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy that he wanted to help spark a new liturgical movement.  That was why is gave his own book the same title as an important work by Romano Guardini.]  Only a spiritual and cultural movement of vast proportions can give back to the liturgy – taken as the proper "manifesto"of the dogmatic constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium with the profound and too little considered comments and developments of the Catechism of the Catholic Church – its role as source and summit of the life of the Church with all the beauty and splendor that pertain to it by its nature.  [Again, this last part resonates with what I have tried all these months to present about Pope Benedict's larger vision, his "Marshall Plan", as I call it.  The liturgy is the key to reinvigorating Catholic identity.  Note also that Cantoni introduced the idea of "catechesis" here.]

So, as many people in 1970 thought that with a new rite everything would be taken care of, now we must be on guard not to think that, today, with the possibility of the celebrating the old rite, everything will be resolved.  [Excellent.]

To think, or gives rise to believe, that the rite can substitute for liturgical formation [ongoing liturgical catechesis] is to put the cart before the horse, it is an inducement to laziness, which – as we know to well – is one the principle temptations of the "good": "for the sons of this world are more shrewed in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light" (Luke 16,9).

I was impressed by this article and applaud Fr. Cantoni.  Well done.

Perhaps the most important thing to take away from this is his explanation that Benedict has moved us out of a three-fold view of possible approaches within the Church, that is, conservative v. progressive v. moderate. 

For Benedict, the model must be two-fold: continuity v. rupture.

John Henry Newman seems to have anticipated this in many respects when he rejected the via media.

Another good point is that bickering about which rite, or book, is better could very much be counter-productive and, in fact, might lead to falling back into the ideological trap of the three-fold view Benedict is trying to end… in fact, concretely trying to undermine with Summorum Pontificum!  Now is the time to approach both books properly, avoiding seeing them as conflicting or in competition.

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19 Responses to Excellent: Fr. Piero Cantoni on Summorum Pontificum, its reception and its meaning

  1. Pater, OSB says:

    Fr. Z (& Fr. C) – you are so right! The three-fold model was often not really three-fold anyway as the ‘moderates’ have more often (though not always) been actually on the side of progressivism, seeking their aims more quietly than their outwardly progressive colleagues. I admit I’m generalizing a bit, yet I think that has been the trend. Acknowledging the two-fold view makes the allegiances clearer… and it makes so much sense.

  2. This article is excellent. Brick by brick

  3. Christian says:

    Yeah… but the Old Rite is better.

  4. C.M. says:

    considerations of that sort, even if they are legitimate, turn out to be inopportune

    Yet for one form to enrich the other, how can this be done without expressing, at least implicitly, a consideration of that sort?

  5. TNCath says:

    Two quotes from Father Cantoni that I think were especially important:

    1. “The faithful directly interested in the Motu Proprio, therefore, cannot be reduced in their overwhelming majority to that movement and we are in no way dealing with old people bound to their past, but very often young people captivated by the hieratic and sacral tone of the old liturgy.”

    I continue to believe that had the Novus Ordo been properly implemented, a lot of pain and confusion could have been avoided, Catholic identity would not have eroded as much as it did after the Council, and we would not have lost so many Catholics from the past two generations.

    2. “So, as many people in 1970 thought that with a new rite everything would be taken care of, now we must be on guard not to think that, today, with the possibility of the celebrating the old rite, everything will be resolved.”

    No, it will not heal some of the painful divisions we have experienced from some; however, on a positive note, the Extraordinary Form should positively influence and inspire a proper celebration of the Novus Ordo.

  6. Tom says:

    Christian wrote: “Yeah… but the Old Rite is better.”

    That is why Catholics have attached themselves to the TLM.

    Conversely, a there are Catholics who believe that the Novus Ordo is the superior Rite.

    Despite Father’s opinion regarding “bickering about which rite, or book, is better,” Catholics attached to the TLM believe that the Traditional Rite, compared to the Novus Ordo, is the far superior Rite.

    A Catholic attaches himself or herself to the TLM for one reason: He or she believes that the Traditional Roman Rite, compared to the Novus Ordo, is the superior Rite.

    Conversely, the majority of Latin Church bishops priests insist (at least that is the party line) that the Novus Ordo, compared to the Traditional Rite, is the superior Rite.

  7. TNCath says:

    This may seem like a minor point to some, but upon further reflection on Fr. Cantoni’s article as well as reading previous comments, I must point out that referring to the Extraordinary Form as the “old rite” seems contrary what Pope Benedict says in his “Letter to the Bishops” upon the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum.

    The Holy Father reminds us: “It is not appropriate to speak of these two versions of the Roman Missal as if they were ‘two Rites.’ Rather, it is a matter of a twofold use of one and the same rite.”

    So, it seems to me that the argument about “Which is the better rite?” is a moot point. People might have their preferences about which form of the Mass they wish to attend, but to call one “superior” to the other is inappropriate.

    Father Cantoni says, “that a coexistence of ritual variations in the context of the same rite – in the common conviction that all are sacred and holy, inasmuch as they are received by the Church – can produce benefits for both the one and the other and can foster an intelligent and not arbitrary ‘contamination,’ which goes along the meaning of that ‘reform of the reform’ which many hope will be the proper and happy result of the deepest and true aspirations of the “liturgical movement” and the renewal promoted by the Second Vatican Council.”

    This seems to be very consistent with the Holy Father’s beliefs:

    “There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal. In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place. Needless to say, in order to experience full communion, the priests of the communities adhering to the former usage cannot, as a matter of principle, exclude celebrating according to the new books. The total exclusion of the new rite would not in fact be consistent with the recognition of its value and holiness.”

  8. Talking of John Henry Newman & me living in the Oratory Parish..you might like to take a look at Fr Guy Nicholls Exsultet..I’ve linked to yours.

    Also is there any way you can link to my blog..I do yours..much gratitude,

    Jackie

  9. Luca says:

    Father Z., be careful: Alleanza Cattolica could say something interesting, but its members are revealing to be quite opportunistic (also froma merely “human” point of view) and “superficiali”. Li lasci perdere, mi dia retta, non si lasci incantare dalle apparenze.

  10. C.M. says:

    TNCath: People might have their preferences about which form of the Mass they wish to attend, but to call one “superior” to the other is inappropriate.

    How is this not relativism?

    BTW, Fr. Cantoni used the term “inopportune”.

  11. Luca: I am fully aware of Alleanza Cattolica and know some of their people. Your assessment of them, in my experience, could not be more wrong. However, this entry is not about Alleanza Cattolica. If I start an entry about Alleanza Cattolica, I am sure you will want to give your view of that organization. I am closing this rabbit hole.

  12. TNCath says:

    C.M. wrote: “BTW, Fr. Cantoni used the term “inopportune”.

    Not taking anything away from Fr. Cantoni’s excellent article, I think the Pope’s term carries more weight. And, if you think that the Pope’s statement about the two forms of the Mass is relativistic, well, all I can say is that I strongly disagree. I’m pretty sure the Pope would as well.

  13. Robin Lennon says:

    Several of Fr. Cantoni’s statements resonate with me, a Catholic revert who was disoriented to find so many divisions and so much politics in the Church when I returned to her ten years ago.

    I always thought of myself as a traditionalist who tried to be Christo-centric–meaning that as long as my Lord was present in the Mass, I tried to work on MY distraction and focus on Him. Long personal journey–suffice it to say, during difficult times, the thought recurred to me often, “Why are you here?” A dear friend and former head of our RCIA program gently told me that I was not a traditionalist at all, just a good Catholic who loved the roots of our Faith and Church. She was right. So I love the two-fold distinction between continuity and rupture. I have loved learning our basic prayers in Latin because of the solidarity with many saints of ages past I sense when praying so.

    I also feel that it is important not to compare rites. If the Holy Spirit is leading this movement, and the NO remains unscathed–as it should if we have learned anything from the difficulties that ensued from abolishing the EF–I personally would love to see the NO also offered as envisioned in VII: Latin for the continuity, vernacular for ease of understanding how Scripture transcends time into our lives, and leaving our Lord front and center, and the priest truly in persona Christi, standing in front of us before the Father as He offers us and our offerings, perfected, with Himself.

    I’ve often felt as if I must be crazy and the only one around who realized that our Faith did NOT change after VII, only our outward expression of it. Must admit that my interior participation is MUCH improved by having to ignore songs that highlight us believers, improper dress, etc. It has been very good for my prayer life as well. I give thanks that those providing my distraction are at Mass where God’s graces rain down on us, and thank Him for being faithful when I was not prior to my return to the Church.

    We are so blessed in our Holy Father–I pray for Him daily, and thank you, Father Z, for this site.

    In Christ’s peace and joy,

    Robin

  14. C.M. says:

    TNCath: the Pope’s term carries more weight

    The Pope has not said it is inappropriate to discuss the superiority of one form of the Roman Rite, or its parts, over another.

    if you think that the Pope’s statement about the two forms of the Mass is relativistic, well, all I can say is that I strongly disagree. I’m pretty sure the Pope would as well.

    Quit putting words into other people’s mouths. In this case, that would go for my mouth and the Pope’s mouth. I’m pretty sure the Pope would agree with me on this.

    So back to the question: how is your statement not relativism?

  15. TNCath says:

    C.M wrote: “The Pope has not said it is inappropriate to discuss the superiority of one form of the Roman Rite, or its parts, over another.”

    No, he hasn’t, but he certainly hasn’t encouraged it either. What the Pope did say was that that there aren’t two different “rites” and that it was inappropriate to refer to the two forms of the Mass as such because there is only one Roman Rite. I was simply referring to the fact that Fr. Cantoni and some folks on this blog referred to the two forms of the Mass as the “old rite” and the “new rite.” and You and many others might indeed prefer the Extraordinary Form of the Mass over the Novus Ordo and you and many others may very well discuss this often and at length. However, regardless of your feelings, the Church teaches us that both forms of the Mass are worthy of equal respect and esteem.

    C.M. wrote: “Quit putting words into other people’s mouths. In this case, that would go for my mouth and the Pope’s mouth. I’m pretty sure the Pope would agree with me on this.”

    I am not speaking for you and definitely not the Pope. I still believe that one should not be comparing one form of the Mass as superior to the other because the Church nor the Holy Father has ever said this. The Pope has expressly stated that “there is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal.” And I have no idea how my statement could be construed as relativism.

    If you feel that the Extraordinary Form is superior to the Novus Ordo because you prefer it, that is certainly your affair. I hope the fruits of the Mass you experience from the Extraordinary Form gives you the graces you need to persevere in this world. But, once again do keep in mind that the Pope has never said that the Extraordinary Form of the Mass was superior to the Novus Ordo, and there might be folks out there that benefit from the Novus Ordo and experience the same Fruits of the Mass and graces as you do.

  16. C.M. says:

    TNCath: However, regardless of your feelings…

    My feelings on the matter have not actually been expressed. Second, the issue is not “feelings”, but thought and belief–we are not purely emotional beings (at least we’re not supposed to be).

    …the Church teaches us that both forms of the Mass are worthy of equal respect and esteem.

    Sacrosanctum Concilium teaches “in faithful obedience to tradition, the sacred Council declares that holy Mother Church holds all lawfully acknowledged rites to be of equal right and dignity” (4). As TNCath quoted earlier:

    The Holy Father reminds us: “It is not appropriate to speak of these two versions of the Roman Missal as if they were ‘two Rites.’ Rather, it is a matter of a twofold use of one and the same rite.”

    The One Mass deserves the ultimate respect and esteem. All Traditional rites must be preserved in the Church–because they form part of the deposit of Apostolic Tradition–and this task is for all the faithful (Dei Verbum 10, 2 Thess. 2:15). The form and execution of each Mass is open to comparison (though Fr. Cantoni argues that now is not the time for this comparison). If the forms were not open to comparison, then the sort of reform envisioned would be impossible:

    “The Council also desires that, where necessary, the rites be revised carefully in the light of sound tradition, and that they be given new vigor to meet the circumstances and needs of modern times.”

  17. C.M. says:

    One other problem: Sacrosanctum Concilium says “equal right and dignity” (aequo iure atque honore). This is not the same as “equal respect and esteem”.

    So, TNCath, where is the proof that it can be said that “the Church teaches us that both forms of the Mass are worthy of equal respect and esteem”?

  18. TNCath says:

    C.M.: “My feelings on the matter have not actually been expressed. Second, the issue is not ‘feelings’, but thought and belief—we are not purely emotional beings (at least we’re not supposed to be).”

    Thoughts and beliefs usually provoke and belie strong “feelings.” But, I’ll concede your point because, no, I do not know your “feelings.”

    C.M: “Sacrosanctum Concilium says ‘equal right and dignity’ (aequo iure atque honore)…So, TNCath, where is the proof that it can be said that ‘the Church teaches us that both forms of the Mass are worthy of equal respect and esteem’?

    Okay, I’ll take “equal right and dignity” over “equal respect and esteem.” The Church has a much better way of putting it than I do. I would think that anything deserving equal right and dignity would be accorded “equal respect and esteem.” Regardless, as you quite correctly stated, “The One Mass deserves the ultimate respect and esteem.” And, I might add, it should also be accorded the right to be celebrated correctly and with dignity. In other words, “Say the black; do the red.”

    Finally, I never said that aspects of one form of the Mass shouldn’t be compared to the other. Such comparisons have been made as long I as can remember. This is not the issue. What I did say was I that one should never make comparisons of one form of the Mass as superior to the other, be it the Extraordinary Form over the Novus Ordo or vice versa. There may be aspects of one form of the Mass that one might find more appealing than the other, but this doesn’t mean that the other form is an “inferior Mass.”

  19. C.M. says:

    I’ll take “equal right and dignity” over “equal respect and esteem.”

    But neither phrase applies to “form”, only to “rite”, so it’s moot.

    one should never make comparisons of one form of the Mass as superior to the other

    If every Missal is equal, then no liturgical reform can ever declared successful.