An alert reader informed me about a post on the blog of Msgr. Charles Pope in Washington D.C. I had the pleasure of meeting him last year at the time of the great Pontifical Mass in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (learn how to get the great DVD of that Mass here.)
Among the things Msgr. Pope said was this, with my comment:
1. To Re-propose tradition rather than to impose – Several of the questions surrounded the issue of how far to go with diversity in the liturgy and what can be done to root the Church more deeply in traditional forms of the liturgy. In this matter I have found that Pope Benedict has taken an approach wherein he has chosen to re-propose traditional elements, and the extraordinary form of the Mass rather than to impose them.
There are some in more traditional circles that would like him to use a heavier hand and simply abolish what they consider less desirable things such as modern instruments, Mass facing the people, communion in the hand, and so forth. There are others who fear that some of the freedoms they now enjoy in the ordinary form of the Mass will be simply taken away by the Pope.
But in all this Pope Benedict has a pastor’s heart. He has written clearly of his concerns over certain trends in modern liturgical practice. However, it would seem that his approach has been to re-propose more traditional practices and allow them greater room in the Church. In so doing he signals bishops and priests that they should be freer make use of such options. With the faithful more widely exposed to traditional elements, their beauty and value can be appreciated anew by the wider Church, and they will also excerpt increasing influence. But this will be done in an organic way that does not shock some of the faithful or provoke hostile reaction.
I must say that I have come to appreciate the value of this approach. As a diocesan priest I minister to a wide variety of the faithful, many of whom would not easily understand or accept a sudden imposition of the things preferred by Catholics of a more traditional bent. Mass said, ad orientem is appealing to me for a wide variety of reasons. But many are not ready for a shift back. The Pope has modeled the option in the Sistine Chapel for the new Mass. I have made occasional use of this option at my own parish by using side altars for smaller Masses. The wider use of the extraordinary form in my own parish and throughout the world will also reacquaint the faithful with this posture. Little by little (“brick by brick,” shall we say) [Why yes! I do believe we shall!] there will be a greater comfort with this eastward orientation. The same can be said for the use of Latin, Gregorian Chant having pride of place, communion on the tongue, kneeling for communion and the like. If the Pope were merely to impose such things we might find that pastoral harm was caused and open dissent might also be a problem.
Pope Benedict is trying to help us rebuild our Catholic identity brick by brick.