The Motu Proprio considered ad intra & ad extra

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.”

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Mike says:

    Father Z:

    Thank you for this precise and well thought out post. If we are going to help the Pope attain the objectives he has for this and other documents, we must ,as you say, do no harm. I really appreciate your “balanced traditionalism”(for lack of a better term…).

  2. Brian Day says:

    I’m assuming that “the paper” you referenced is the Wanderer.

    With a little re-tooling I think it would be a wonderful op-ed for any major-city newspaper. I.E. , a little more background for the non-Catholic reader, and some information on what the classic Roman Rite is not.

    I like it.

  3. Brian: I’m assuming that “the paper” you referenced is the Wanderer.

    Sure. I believe, however, they didn’t run it. Thanks for the comments. I will give them some thought.

  4. swmichigancatholic says:

    Fr Z,

    I’m not really very sure I want to call the people who cobbled together the new mass “experts.” Maybe they were experts at something but not at understanding the liturgy. Otherwise they wouldn’t have tried to “create” a new one by “stitching together” bits and pieces in the same way one plans a baby shower or a skit.

    You said, “The Motu Proprio might also be a historically important document.” Yes. It’s highly symbolic. It makes concrete Pope Benedict’s wishes that we view the life of the Church as a continuity instead of a thing that was broken and then fixed again, as if we started all over again in 1963. The MP will make it virtually impossible to draw that line ever again, at least with respect to the liturgy (which is after all, the heart of the church).
    I think that this is the stake for this, from PBXVI’s point of view. It’s not just a matter of taste as some people try to make it out to be.

  5. swmichigancatholic says:

    This is a very good post, Father. We have suffered yes, but we must remember that what we wanted in the first place, after all, was not to rub anything into anybody’s face (at all!) but rather to worship in truth with reverence and Christian dignity.

    We have been prevented by force and that is what this has all been about. And indeed, we may not be through all the difficulties yet, but to the extent we are, we must always remember the basic point. It’s not all about complaining; rather, it’s about speaking the truth, being able to worship appropriately and expecting that the Church can authentically be herself in peace.

  6. Brian says:

    “if the Motu Proprio contains points we don’t favor, we must avoid whining about them or else keep our mouths shut.”

    Good point; The Five Rules of Engagement are simply the best pastoral advice given to us traditional Catholics while awaiting the Motu Proprio by anyone. After the Motu Proprio is published, we all need to faithfully line up and support the Holy Father and his express desires.

    Also, we should recall that the voice of the rank-and-file Catholic is what ultimately lead up to this Motu Proprio:

    “CCC: 907 “In accord with the knowledge, competence, and preeminence which they possess, [lay people] have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and they have a right to make their opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard to the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward their pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons.”

    The Motu Proprio is a concrete example of CCC # 907 in action.

  7. Royce says:

    Fr. Z,

    Great article. I can completely relate to what you say about the Academy. I am frequently told, “That’s just because you’re Catholic” or somesuch and other nonsense revealing that no argument I can present will carry any weight because it doubtlessly doesn’t come from my own independent though but rather is imposed on me by the Church. I absolutely love that you tie the liturgical reform of the reform to what it means to be a Catholic every moment of every day (a seamless garment … hehe).

    Could it be at all significant that Pope Benedict has named the following year the Year of St. Paul? Of course this is very significant, but I mean for the cause of liturgical reform does it have any extra implication?

  8. paul,south midlands, uk says:

    I was advised by a priest in our dioscese that saying the novus ordo in Latin is “frowned upon” – ie there is nothing to stop a priest saying it but it well, isn’t exactly a good career move unless you want to run the worst parish in the dioscese.. an ecclesiastical “Siberia”…the opposite side of this is that “Siberia” too has people who the lord wants to save and convert.

    It will take time but we must not expect overnight massive change. Within a generation or two most of the clergy in the west will come from places like “siberia” as progressivism dosent produce vocations.

  9. BethAlice says:

    Dear Father Zuhlsdorf,

    Brian Day had a good idea. Would it also be possible for you to write something for those parishes where there is some discord? Something that could possibly be put in the parish bulletin or diocesan newspaper to give some background information, give information on what the MP & TLM are and are not, and explain that the MP is not replacing all Masses everywhere with the TLM. Even in my conservative N.O. parish, there are those who fear that – I base that on ignorance of the facts, and listening to too many rumors. I think charity & prudence is needed here, and I think you are the priest for the job.

    (Sorry, if I don’t sound clear. Someone decided to do their lawn at 2 a.m. this morning.)

  10. Michael says:

    Laudetur Jesus Christus!

    Thank you, dear Father Z, for a post suffused with wisdom and charity.
    Let us all receive this MP with the s e r e n i t y which Our Holy Father asks of us at this time, with profound thanksgiving and with l o v e for every member of the mystical body of Christ.

  11. Dylan says:

    Thank you for this post. Most of us will still be in parishes where only the novus ordo will be celebrated. Is there any hope that this MP will positively affect the way the NO is currently celebrated?

    Also, can we expect the Holy Father to celebrate the 1962 Rite in public?

  12. Dylan: can we expect the Holy Father to celebrate the 1962 Rite in public?

    In a way, that might be even more effective than the MP.

  13. GCC Catholic says:

    Fr. Z,

    In a way, that might be even more effective than the MP.

    I think that it could be more effective, because it would effectively quench the rhetoric that leads many to believe that the Missal of Bl. John XXIII is not ‘mainstream.’

  14. Dave Deavel says:

    Fr. Z,

    I’m with Brian Day; why don’t you send this to the Wall Street Journal? Or, more doubtfully, the Washington Post.

    Being completely unoriginal today, I also second BethAlice’s desire for a piece to help people in parishes. What people need is good prudential principles and your 5 rules about the MP have the seeds of some great articles to help all of us pew-dwellers who want to help.

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