John L Allen on Benedict XVI speaking about Summorum Pontificum

My friend John L Allen, always insightful, the nearly ubiquitous, fair-minding, former Rome correspondent for the ultra-left leaning, often dissident, National Catholic Reporter has something to say about the interview with Pope Benedict on the way to France.

On the airplane, the Pope spoke with reporters and answered a question about Summorum Pontificum.    He spoke with the bishops later.

My emphases and comments.

By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.Published: September 14, 2008

Catholicism is legendarily keen on tradition, which means there’s a traditionalist wing of the church pretty much everywhere. Nowhere else, however, are traditionalists so visible, and, at times, so fractious, as in France, [NB: France.   This flavors everything the Holy Father said.  And remember that as Prefect of CDF, and a close supporter of Ecclesia Dei, he dealt a great deal with the French on these and other matters.  He knows who he was speaking to and about.] making it all but inevitable that Pope Benedict XVI would address their signature issue while here – the old Latin Mass.

Benedict XVI’s 2007 ruling permitting wider celebration of the old Mass, in a document titled Summorum Pontificium, was widely interpreted here as a victory for the traditionalist camp. It unleashed negative reactions among moderate-to-liberal Catholics, and complaints reached Rome that a handful of bishops were resisting implementation of the decree[I think it was more than a "handful", but I agree they were the minority.]

Speaking today to the full body of French bishops in Lourdes, the pope offered more extended comments on Summorum Pontificium.

Some bishops have objected to the pope’s ruling not only on theological or ideological grounds, but also in terms of its impact on their authority. [This is the real problem for some bishops: Summorum Pontificum was unique in that it gave rights to priests.  Some bishops don't like that idea.]  By allowing priests to choose when and where to celebrate the old Mass, some bishops argue, they have lost power to govern the liturgical life of their dioceses. 

Most French observers heard in those words a clear expectation from the pope that the bishops will not erect new obstacles to celebration of the old Mass.

“Everyone has a place in the church,” Benedict said. “Every person, without exception, should be able to feel at home, and never rejected … Let us therefore strive always to be servants of unity!”  [Ainsi-soit-il!]

Many traditionalists, for example, are wary of both ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue as they’ve developed after Vatican II, fearing that they lead to compromise or confusion about the differences between Catholicism and other creeds. They also tend to be critical of Vatican II’s teaching on religious liberty, worrying that it promotes relativism by treating all religions as equal, and on human dignity, suggesting that it can exalt the human person at the expense of God.

Under the cover of a campaign to defend a certain type of liturgy, there is a radical critique of the Vatican Council, even outright rejection of some of its declarations,” said then-Archbishop Andre Vingt-Trois in 2006. Vingt-Trois is today the cardinal of Paris and the pope’s official host in France.

Both kinds of traditionalism have deep roots in France.

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates Mass to mark the 150th anniversary of Mary’s appearances to St. Bernadette Soubirous. (CNS ph oto/Jean-Philippe Arles, Reuters)Pope Benedict XVI celebrates Mass to mark the 150th anniversary of Mary’s appearances to St. Bernadette Soubirous. (CNS ph oto/Jean-Philippe Arles, Reuters) As he has during other recent trips, Benedict has offered a nod to traditionalist sensibilities while in France. Although he is celebrating the new, post-Vatican II Mass, Benedict is administering communion to people who kneel and receive on the tongue, rather than standing and taking the consecrated host in their hand. Some traditionalists believe that communion in the hand fosters a lack of respect for the Eucharist[And they would be right.... but it is not only "traditionalists" who think this.]

Critics sometimes charge that both John Paul II and Benedict XVI have bent over backwards to accommodate traditionalists, without making similar efforts to reach out to other alienated groups in the church which are often substantially larger. [HUH?  I shudder to think about who they are... and I have a few suspicions.]  Even in France, observers say that traditionalism, despite its high profile, remains a small minority.

Yet in a country where less than ten percent of all Catholics attend Mass, [I have heard 2%] and where only one in two baptized Catholics still identifies with the church, it doesn’t take huge numbers to make a stir.

In Europe, however, observers of the Catholic scene distinguish between two forms of traditionalism: the “Mediterranean” model, associated above all with Italy, where the guiding idea is the authority of Il papa re, the “pope-king”; and the “Gallic” model, rooted in France, which sees the pope as the guardian of a body of traditions which he cannot compromise without endangering the faith itself. As a result, the authority of the pope and the bishops is less central than the content of tradition itself.

There is more to the article, but this is a snip.  

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10 Responses to John L Allen on Benedict XVI speaking about Summorum Pontificum

  1. RBrown says:

    Some bishops have objected to the pope’s ruling not only on theological or ideological grounds, but also in terms of its impact on their authority. [This is the real problem for some bishops: Summorum Pontificum was unique in that it gave rights to priests. Some bishops don’t like that idea.] By allowing priests to choose when and where to celebrate the old Mass, some bishops argue, they have lost power to govern the liturgical life of their dioceses.

    I agree, but I think it’s best expressed by simply saying that the Pope has begun to re-establish the authority of the Holy See over liturgy.

    There are certain people, incl some bishops, who liked the charismatic JPII. They could cheer his visits, but then consider his moral teaching optional.

    Summorum Pontificum, however, is another matter. It will concretely affect the life of every diocese.

  2. Chironomo says:

    A good and much needed reminder that this subject is never far from Benedict’s thoughts! I still find it disturbing that the idea of following the actual teachings of a faith is linked to “Traditionalists”, as though those who do not call themselves traditional can choose to believe what they want. This is evident in his statement that “Some traditionalists believe that communion in the hand fosters a lack of respect for the Eucharist”. I don’t think you need to be a traditionalist to see the truth in such a claim.

  3. totustuusmaria says:

    “[Communion in the Hand] carries certain dangers with it which may arise from this new manner of administering holy communion: the danger of a loss of reverence for the august sacrament of the altar, of profanation, of adulterating the true doctrine.” Memoriale Domini (the document that allowed communion in the hand after it forbade it: it voted against it *before* it voted for it.).

  4. RichR says:

    There has been a tension building up in the Church since Vatican II, and the vocal complaints of the French bishops are a symptom of this tension. It’s a tension that is being built up because of the quasi-democratic model that is being assumed by many in the Church (clerical and lay). It places a higher priority on lower councils rather than the authority figures the councils advise.

    So, a parish pastoral council might get their feathers ruffled because the pastor (read: priest) makes a decision without them. A prebyteral council might be tempted to do the same with regards to the Bishop’s decision-making. Chancery staff may get upset if the Ordinary decides to ignore their advice – or, I’ve heard stories of the Bishop being flatly told “that’s not how we’re going to do it, your Excellency”, and bishops’ conferences may feel the same way with regards to the Pope. It’s a constant temptation to feel that the true locus of authority is derived from the “governed”, but we cannot transfer our political assumptions onto our perceptions of the Church government.

    The church is hierarchical by nature. It hasn’t always been a problem in the minds of the people because kingdoms and dynasties made it easy for the people to relate to ecclesial hierarchies. Now, however, it is a different story. We are used to being the ones to whom everyone is answerable to. Leaders are mere representatives.

    With regards to the Pope, however, it is a defined doctrine that the Pope has immediate jurisdiction anywhere in the world. “Collegiality” has its limits, and I think that the Pope has reasserted those limits. It’s sad to see this bickering. It’s like children watching their parents fight. However, I believe this is a natural result of anything where you have men involved. We are fallen creatures, and there will always be a difference of opinions. The concern is when management models start to erode dogma.

    Let this serve as an example to all of us about the nature of hierarchy. We should all examine our consciences about how we have eroded the authority of our pastors – either directly or indirectly – by our groanings or outright protests. Yes, there are injustices, and we have rights. However, the pastors have the right to justly lead their flocks because, in the end, it is the pastors who will answer to God about how they governed their flocks – not us.

  5. Brian says:

    Did you see Vingt-Trois’ comments on the Pope over at Rorate? How the Pope works with those bishops “with whom *he* is in communion” (emphasis added)? Unbelievable.

  6. na says:

    “Yet in a country where less than ten percent of all Catholics attend Mass, [I have heard 2%]”

    Maybe it is impossibile but I would love to see somone get to the bottom of this as I have heard numbers ranging from 2% up to 25% in the past week alone, with just shy of 10% being the most commonly reported number.

    The 2% number seems way too low though, as far as I know, almost every village and town in France still has a Church and a priest and it not like these guys are saying Mass to an empty room. If Church attendance was only 2%, I would think that the Catholic Church in France would be too far in a state of atrophey to even exist and yet during all the coverage of the Pope’s visit I saw 100′s of priests including many who must have been under 40.

    Now I realize the Church in France probably put its best foot forward for the Papal visit and 100′s of priests on TV is not going to mean there are enough to serve a country of millions, but combine this with the crowds that came out to see the Pope (and a level of enthusiasm that surpised me, the media, and probably the Pope himself) and I think there are a lot of possitive baromters here. A nation with only 2% practicing Catholics would not have such crowds greeting the Pope, if the pope did draw crowds like that in a nation with 2% practicing Catholics, wouldn’t that mean that in the USA with something like 25-33% of Catholics practicing he would be been greeted by crowds of millions? I suspect Mass attendnce in France is probably just a tad bellow what it is in the USA 20-25%.

    Liberal sociologists in the USA like to quip that people often “overeport” Church attendance because they would be embarassed to tell the pollster they don’t go to Church more than a few times a year (I guess everyone being polled thinks its 1962 or something.) I wonder if in France there is an opposite affect. First I would presume that since the intelligencia there is millitanty into the seperation of Church from everything else, there probably are not very many studies on this matter to begin with, and maybe some French people under-play their religious practice to pollsters or maybe the religious people just hang up, etc. and are under-reported.

    Also maybe low Mass attendance figures are not counting the Traditionalists who are scism and maybe their numbers are much greater than we expect.

    France has a weird way of treating religion in the public square (though I think President Sarkozy is turning the tide on this) and the elites are probably very secular, but I think there is a deep French Catholoic culture just bellow the surface.

    I recall a TV special on the Da Vinci code where some journalists went to a town in France where Mary Magdelene was rumored to have settled, when asked for their thoughts on Dan Brown’s theory of a Jesus-bloodline, residents dissmissed it as crazy and sacreligious. I think, sadly, that one could find a warmer reception to such theories at a coffee and donut social after Mass in a typical USA suburban parish than in “Post-Christian” France.

  7. Sid says:

    Allen is particularly good on the two kinds of traditionalism.

  8. michigancatholic says:

    “As a result, the authority of the pope and the bishops is less central than the content of tradition itself.”

    Tradition cannot be separated from authority. Nor can it be separated from the truth claims that Christianity, and particularly Catholic Christianity, makes. Those who want the “tradition” without the authority are going to get neither one. Tradition is not a commodity.

  9. michigancatholic says:

    Brian,
    That’s only “unbelievable” for those who haven’t been paying attention. The church has many bishops, priests and others who are not in communion with her, and have not been for quite some time. (It’s not only, or even mostly the SSPX.)

  10. Timothy Clint says:

    Allow me to make a few comments relative to the French Church. Having just returned from a trip through Europe and having spent 4 days in Paris, it is not hard to see a justifification for the remarks concerning French Catholicity. We toured Notre Dame, St. Sulpice, St. Frnacis Xavier and St. Germaine. In all of these great edifices if it were not for the visitors these churches would be empty. There appeared to be a genuine lack of respect in these sacred enclosures. Many people talked openly and lacked any reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. In general the churches took on an appeal to curiosity. Contrast this with a visit to the Church of St. Nicholas du Chardonnet, the SSPX church in the Latin Quarter, of Paris. We opened the doors and walked in to hear the chanting of Vespers and shortly after we wittness the beginning of a Solemn High Mass. It was truely a momentous experience to see the Traditional Church services which we expected to at least feel in the larger churches. But alas it was pretty much abscent. The most we heard was an organ tuner voicing the organ in Notre Dame Cathedral. Pray for the Church of France.