Time Magazine on the MP

Time Magazine has an article on Summorum Pontificum.  My emphases and comments.  I edit out stuff we know already and chew instead on the meat and bone of it.

Why the Pope is Boosting Latin Mass
Saturday, Jul. 07, 2007

After months of intense speculation, Pope Benedict XVI has eased restrictions on the Catholic Church’s traditional Latin Mass — a move that could raise controversy both within the Church, and in its interfaith relations, given the fact that the old rites include a Good Friday prayer for the conversion of Jews.  [Again, the tired chestnut.  The author might have done better gumshoe work on this.]

The decree, called a motu proprio, or personal initiative of the Pontiff, was made public Saturday along with an explanatory letter to the world’s bishops acknowledging the recent "news reports" and "confusion" about the lifting of restrictions for access to the old rite. Known as the Tridentine rite — delivered in Latin with the priest usually facing the altar, his back to the congregation ["O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer…"] … Some Vatican insiders caution that Benedict’s new ruling will simply ease restrictions on access to the old liturgy, which has continued to be followed by a small minority of traditionalists. But others predict that the decree could turn into the most explosive internal Church policy of Benedict’s papacy, bound to undercut decades of reform and sharpen divisions among the faithful.  [Always with the drama.] Here’s why both may be true.

For more than a year, Vatican insiders knew Benedict was keen to ease restrictions on the Tridentine mass. Indeed, in the first months of his papacy, he’d met with leaders of the "schismatic" followers of the late ultratraditionalist [If he thinks the SSPX is "ultraconservative", I could introduce him to some really interesting people.] Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who’d split with the Vatican over the introduction of the vernacular and other Vatican II reforms. In his explanatory letter, Benedict says this decree alone will not heal the rift, which is on "a deeper level." So the Pope seems to be showing the ultratraditionalists — who want to undo all the Vatican II reforms — that he will move, but only so far, to accommodate their concerns. Benedict also acknowledged the document required many months of "reflection, numerous consultations and prayer."

Bishops in the West, particularly in France, had shared their concerns that widening access to the old Mass would deepen the rifts and create splinter movements among their followers. The Pope also listened to concern about how this document could affect inter-faith affairs, given the inclusion of the Good Friday prayer calling for the conversion of Jews. Though much less offensive than a reference to "perfidious Jews" that Pope John XXIII eliminated in 1962, some Jewish leaders are bound to ask why, after years of growing mutual respect, the Pope would not simply excise the conversion prayer.  [Will someone consider the possibility that the problem does not in fact lie in the Good Friday prayer?]

The Pope says he knows some wonder if the document calls into question the very heart of the Second Vatican Council. "This fear," Benedict declares, "is unfounded." As for the precise timing of the release of the document, one can wonder (with a wink) if it’s more than coincidence that it came out just before Benedict zips out of Rome for a three-week mountain retreat.  [This is where the author, I think, picks up on a good point.  This was already raised eloquently by Luigi Accattoli of Corriere and written about here as well.]

Why it may not be as big a deal as it seems

In practical terms, the vast majority of Catholics — even among the most traditionalist — are unlikely to relinquish the vernacular Mass. The number of priests who have the language skills or liturgical training for the old Latin Mass is small, and likely to get smaller. [I bet not.  I suspect numbers will turn upward again.]  Undoubtedly reflecting his own personal experience, the 80-year-old Pope cites Catholics for whom the Tridentine rite "had been familiar to them from childhood." As those generations pass there may be ever fewer faithful who are attached to the old Mass, and Benedict is simply providing a sort of bridge for the current over-50 crowd.  [This ignores what the document Summorum Pontificum actually says.  The provisions of Pope Benedict aim at more than "nostalgia".  Far more.  They are not only for people of questionable unity with the Church, not only for older Catholics, but also for all those who have come to know of the older forms of liturgy and desire them.]

Why it may be an even bigger deal than it seems

The symbolic weight of this decision may actually be heavier than the practical effect. Church progressives, and indeed some conservatives, are asking why Benedict went out of his way to reopen a hot-button issue that, for the vast majority of Catholics, has long been settled. With traditionalists emboldened and progressives feeling under siege, the Church hierarchy and local bishops may wind up caught in the crossfire. [There has never been a time, since Peter faced the angry crowd while Christ was being grilled by the Sanhedrin, when bishops were NOT caught in the crossfire.  That is why we have bishops.] Still, on a more substantive level, Benedict’s real long-term objective may be a sort of "counter-reform" of the alternative practices of the new Mass rather than a widespread return to the old one. He says the Vatican II reform "was understood as authorizing or even requiring creativity, which frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear." This document is certainly a clear warning to those progressives who have their own ideas about reforming the Mass.  [The author almost got it.  First, he chose a negative view of "counter-reform" which I do not think does justice to Pope Benedict’s long-articulated views.  Pope Benedict’s approach is to seek continuity rather than rupture.  "Counter-reform"does not characterize that accurately, IMO.]

What it says about Pope Benedict

The Pope, in any case, does seem to have an affinity for the old Latin Mass, as he does generally for the Church’s ancient traditions. His explanatory letter states: "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." Still, even as he continues to show his traditionalist stripes, [Frankly, I think this move shows His Holiness’ liberal stripes.  Liberal not in the sense of iconoclastic or progressivist.  Not liberal in the sense of the "hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture".  But rather liberal in the sense of liberality.  There is a generosity and freeing quality to his actions.  There need be no conflict between "traditional" and "liberal", properly understood.  However, "traditionalist" paints Benedict into a cornerunfairly .]  Benedict wants all corners of the Church to know that he is open to at least listen to their input. [Sounds liberal to me.] What remains to be seen is whether this latest decree is ultimately more about the future, or simply the past.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. David Kubiak says:

    Apropos the Good Friday liturgy, interesting that nobody seems to care if heretics and schismatics are offended.

  2. danphunter1 says:

    Thank you Father Zuhlsdorf,
    Pope Benedicts latest decree is ultimately more about the salvation of souls which is always in the present,for we know not the TIME or DAY of our own demise.
    He has done what he has done so that all men may live lives of virtue, at every moment.
    God bless you.

  3. Syriacus says:

    Very good observation!

  4. Paul Murnane says:

    Hmmmm, even Time Magazine has a story…..in contrast, the MP has not been deemed newsworthy in the largest diocese in the USA: http://www.the-tidings.com/. I guess if you don’t acknowledge it, it doesn’t exist. :(

  5. Syriacus says:

    Did anyone notice the absence in the MP of references to “”alledged”” ad-hoc-summoned-cardinalice – commissions-in-the-eighties?

  6. Mark says:

    The number of priests who have the language skills or liturgical training for the old Latin Mass is small, and likely to get smaller. [I bet not. I suspect numbers will turn upward again.]

    — I’m with you, Father. From the attitudes of both Priests and seminarians I know, I think the numbers will go up quickly.

  7. Philip says:

    Since article 2 states: In Masses celebrated without the people, each Catholic priest of the Latin rite, whether secular or regular, may use the Roman Missal published by Bl. Pope John XXIII in 1962, or the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970, and may do so on any day with the exception of the Easter Triduum.

    Doesn’t this mean that we won’t hear the prayers for the conversion of Jews, heretics and schismatics?

  8. Mark says:


    The provisions of article 2 refer to private Masses, which are prohibited during the Easter triduum.

    Father Z wrote:
    “In places where the older form is established in a parish for the older use, the Triduum CAN be celebrated with the older books. However, in parishes where the newer forms are the usual fare, and there is a regularly scheduled Mass with the older form, when the Triduum arrives, the older, extraordinary liturgy must give way to the ordinary. That is logical. In the Novus Ordo, as in the older days, there cannot be two Masses of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, two Good Friday liturgies, or two Vigils. So, in this case, the ordinary takes precedence.”

  9. Maynardus says:

    “The number of priests who have the language skills or liturgical training for the old Latin Mass is small, and likely to get smaller. [I bet not. I suspect numbers will turn upward again.]”

    I’ve talked to a fairly representative sample of fellow Catholic laymen and clerics over the past 2-1/2 glorious days. There seems to be a consensus that this will also lead pretty quickly to an increase in vocations. I noted that Cardinal O’Malley said that he doesn’t see any need to train seminarians in the ‘extraordinary form’ but I wonder if other diocesan bishops with seminaries will be as stubborn.

  10. Paul Dion says:

    Why would the bishops be gung-hon about Latin? They, themselves can’t even read and understand the motu proprio.

  11. Royce says:

    “Apropos the Good Friday liturgy, interesting that nobody seems to care if heretics and schismatics are offended.”

    Or infidels.

  12. [There has never been a time, since Peter faced the angry crowd while Christ was being grilled by the Sanhedrin, when bishops were NOT caught in the crossfire. That is why we have bishops.]

    Classic father, classic.

  13. prof. basto says:

    Criticism in some quarters regarding the Motu Proprio makes me remember important
    and insightful words contained in an article by Rev. Nicola Bux and Rev.
    Salvatore Vitiello, that was published by FIDES, the news agency of the
    Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (Propaganda Fide)
    on the eve of the Motu Proprio’s release, and to which little
    attention was given (due to the proximity to the release of the MP):

    “VATICAN – WORDS OF DOCTRINE: Towards the Motu proprio
    Rev. Nicola Bux and Rev. Salvatore Vitiello
    Vatican City (Agenzia Fides) – The recent announcement of the imminent publication of a Motu proprio on the celebration of the Eucharist according to the rite of what is known as the Saint Pius V Missal approved in the latest edition by Blessed John XXIII, gave rise to keen interest among the media and among the ordinary faithful. Pending its publication very soon, it would seem opportune to illustrate two fundamental aspects of a similar procedure.
    A recent text by Nicola Bux and Adriano Garuti bears the title, “Peter loves and unites. The personal responsibility of the Bishop of Rome for the universal Church”. It is precisely from this point of view that the Motu proprio to be shortly made public must be read: a free and sovereign act of a Pontiff who, by right and by the Church’s faith in the primacy of Peter, has a personal responsibility which cannot be delegated to others, in the guidance of the universal Church.
    Accepting the exercise of this responsibility is an integral part of the acceptance of faith due to the dogma of the primacy of Peter and in this sense calls all Catholics to love, to pray for and to obey the one who is called to be Bishop of Rome, the universal Shepherd of Church.
    The Motu proprio should be welcomed by all since it is not a restrictive measure, but rather an ‘extension’ of options, in keeping with the now familiar Ratzinger line to “extend reason”.
    No one will be impeded in any way, at the most he will be ‘prevented from impeding’ celebrations according to the old rite. Down through the centuries the Church has never feared liturgical-ritual differences, as long as they do not signify differences in faith, and she has always tolerated legitimate linguistic, geographical and ritual distinctions, on the simple condition that these expresses the truth faith of the Church.
    It is difficult to see why some people, often champions of the most libertarian theories in many other fields, today fear greater freedom in the choice of rite in which to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. A founded impression, that precisely they are the promoters of the pernicious liturgical creativity which too often distorts our rites preventing them from speaking to the People of God. Who is afraid of freedom? No one, let us hope. The Motu proprio is an act of the personal responsibility of the Pope who is extending the freedom of the Church. (Agenzia Fides 5/7/2007; righe 28, parole 377)


    Exactly: all this criticism in the secular press and by liberal bishops begs
    the question: who is afraid of freedom for the [Use] of Ages?

  14. Richard says:

    Hello Father,

    Good work – as usual.

    “As those generations pass there may be ever fewer faithful who are attached to the old Mass, and Benedict is simply providing a sort of bridge for the current over-50 crowd.”

    If Jeff Israely had visited any of the indult masses I have attended in four different cities, he would have to reconsider that assertion.

    On many days, I would even go so far to say as that the average age in the pews was a good deal younger than the average at most novus ordo masses I have attended.

    I would go so far as to say that the subset of TLM attendees who are old enough to have real memories of the mass before the reforms of the 60’s are pretty small subset of those in the traditional community today.

    As for “fewer faithful” – that becomes even harder to sustain for the same reason – so many young, large families of TLM devotees.

  15. Michael J. Houser says:

    Adveniat Regnum Tuum!

    I totally agree. Especially at the seminary, the younger they are, the more likely they are to be interested in the old usage. My generation, precisely because we don’t remember a time before the reform, doesn’t have the baggage associated with 1962 Missal that those in their 50s and 60s sometimes carry. And in addition to twenty-something-year old seminarians, there are families who are having lots of children! The traditionalist movement definitely has a future; the Motu Proprio will hopefully guarantee that it’s a future at the heart of the Church, building up her communion.

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