Magister on the Pontificate of Benedict XVI

Sandro Magister has on his site his interpretation of the six years of the pontificate of Benedict XVI.  I highly recommend that you read the whole thing.  Here below, is just the last part which touches on the Pope’s view of the role of liturgical worship in a renewal of the Church applied with a hermeneutic of continuity and reform, rather than of rupture and discontinuity.


That Vatican Council II should have dedicated its opening and its first document to the theme of the liturgy “revealed itself as also the most intrinsically just thing,” pope Ratzinger wrote in the preface to the first volume, intentionally liturgical through and through, of his “opera omnia.” Because God is the absolute priority. Because the orthodoxy of the faith, as the etymology of the word says, is “doxa,” the glorification of God. And therefore the right way of adoration is the true measure of faith: “lex orandi, lex credendi.”

For this same reason, Ratzinger has repeatedly maintained that the crisis of the Church in recent decades has its origin in the disarray precisely in the field of the liturgy, and in particular in the widespread opinion that the new liturgy produced by the conciliar reforms marked a radical break with the previous liturgy.

In effect, the variations introduced in the liturgy starting at the end of the 1960’s here and there marked an evident rupture with the past. The Mass understood above all as sacrifice of redemption and celebrated “facing the Lord” has been replaced with a Mass as fraternal meal, on an altar in the form of a table brought as close as possible to the faithful. The liturgy as “opus Dei” has been replaced with an assembly dynamic with the community as protagonist.

In some places and at certain times, these variations have been pushed to the extreme. One exemplary case is that illustrated by the booklet “Kerk en Ambt,” Church and ministry, distributed in 2007 in the Dutch parishes by the Dominicans of that country. It proposed making a general rule of what was already being practiced, and is being practiced, in various places: the Mass presided over by a priest or a layperson, “it does not matter whether man or woman, homosexual or heterosexual, married or single.” With the Eucharistic words of institution pronounced by one or another of those present, designated “from below,” or even by the assembly as a whole, and freely replaced with “expressions easier to understand and more in harmony with the modern experience of the faith.”

So it comes as no surprise that Benedict XVI gave this alarming description of the liturgical disarray following the Council, in a letter addressed in that same 2007 to the bishops of the whole world:

“In many places celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal, but the latter actually was understood as authorizing or even requiring creativity, which frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear. I am speaking from experience, since I too lived through that period with all its hopes and its confusion. And I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church.”

The letter just cited is the one with which Benedict XVI accompanied the promulgation of the motu proprio “Summorum Pontificum” of July 7, 2007, with which he liberalized the celebration of the Mass according to the missal of 1962, the one prior to Vatican II, which moreover was used peacefully during the entire conciliar assembly.

Benedict’s intention, expressed in the letter, is that the two forms of the Roman rite, ancient and modern, in coexisting “can be mutually enriching.”

In particular, the pope’s wish is that “the celebration of the Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI will be able to demonstrate, more powerfully than has been the case hitherto, the sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage.”

Which is exactly what is happening, before the eyes of all, every time pope Ratzinger celebrates the Mass: in the “modern” rite, but in a style faithful to the riches of tradition.

In the instruction “Universæ Ecclesiæ” released last May 13, as a further clarification and application of the motu proprio “Summorum Pontificum,” this other passage from Benedict XVI’s 2007 letter is cited:

“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.”

And vice versa – the instruction “Universæ Ecclesiæ” reiterates – the faithful who celebrate the Mass in the ancient rite “must not in any way support or belong to groups which show themselves to be against the validity or legitimacy of the Holy Mass or the Sacraments celebrated in the ‘forma ordinaria’.”


It is clear from this citation that the “reform in continuity” is also in the liturgical field the hermeneutic criterion by which Benedict XVI wants to lead the Church out of the current crisis.

The uneven welcome seen in the Church for both the motu proprio and the subsequent instruction is proof of how serious and urgent Benedict XVI’s proposal is.

In the liturgical field, in fact, the hermeneutic of rupture is the daily bread, still, both of those traditionalists who see in the new rite of the Mass the emergence of heretical elements, and of the progressives who see in the liberalization of the ancient rite the renunciation of the ecclesial “new beginning” inaugurated by Vatican II.

Among liturgists, this latter opinion is very widespread. For them the modern form of the rite has supplanted the ancient one, and cannot bear that the other should continue. Proof of this is the recent polemical “vis” with which Andrea Grillo, a liturgist, reacted to PierAngelo Sequeri, a theologian, this latter guilty of having defended the “Catholic-style lesson” imparted by Benedict XVI on restoring “ecclesial hospitality” to the ancient form of the Roman rite.

Sequeri had written on the front page of “Avvenire” on May 14:

“From now on, joining forces to restore to the liturgy the powerful spell of the faith that stands in the presence of the one Lord must appear to us, in these difficult times, as the only truly necessary thing for the splendor of the tradition of the faith. And what if this were exactly what we were missing? What is the source – and where does it lead us – of this habituation to do-it-yourself investiture, which sets up anyone as savior of Christianity, and certain guide of its uncertain guides?”

Benedict XVI’s intention – as is known, and was reiterated on May 14 by Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the pontifical council for Christian unity, at a conference in Rome on the motu proprio “Summorum Pontificum” – is not, in fact, that of making the two forms of the rite, modern and ancient, coexist indefinitely. In the future, the Church will again have a single Roman rite. But the journey that the pope sees ahead in order to integrate the two current forms of the rite is long and difficult. And it demands the birth of a new, high-quality liturgical movement like the one prepared by Vatican Council II and drawn on by Raztinger himself, the liturgical movement of Guardini and Jungmann, of Casel and Vagaggini, of Bouyer and Daniélou, of those greats who were not by accident even severe critics of the postconciliar liturgical developments.

Just as the liturgy has been in recent decades the field of the most evident ruptures between the present of the Church and its tradition, so also the hermeneutic of “reform in continuity” has in the liturgy, with Benedict XVI, its most dramatic testing ground.

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  1. jasoncpetty says:

    Which is exactly what is happening, before the eyes of all, every time pope Ratzinger celebrates the Mass: in the “modern” rite, but in a style faithful to the riches of tradition.

    In a way, the Holy Father does this, yes, but it’s still an approximation between what everyone supposes a proper celebration of the New Mass might look like, and what the goofy versions of the New Mass do look like. But it doesn’t at all approach what everyone knows the Old Mass did and does look like. In other words, His Holiness is still between the two extremes of the New Mass; it is hard to say he is consistently straddling the New and Old.

    Anyone who has been to Our Lady of the Atonement in San Antonio or St. Patrick’s in New Orleans will see the New Mass done like the Old Mass insofar as possible: in fact, the way those guys do it you’d think nothing changed but the words. (I understand changing the words is a big change, but Magister’s point here is in the style.)

  2. jasoncpetty says:

    (Re San Antonio and New Orleans, I refer to those parishes’ Latin Novus Ordo Masses.)

  3. Andrew says:

    But the journey that the pope sees ahead in order to integrate the two current forms of the rite is long and difficult.

    How about starting with a small step? How about dropping the “versus populum” celebration worldwide? If not even that small baby step is possible, then don’t talk to me about integrating the two forms, please.

  4. Joe Magarac says:

    How about dropping the “versus populum” celebration worldwide?

    I would love that. I think BXVI would love it too. But he won’t do it, and for good reason. He knows from experience that the decision to impose, top-down, the Novus Ordo Mass did a great deal of damage to the Church. He also knows that any decision to impose, top-down, an “ad orientem” orientation would also do damage to the Church. It would further alienate so-called “progressives” who are already alienated. And his job is not to alienate them but to bring them home.

    I say this as someone who has attended Novus Ordo parishes all his life, wailing and gnashing his teeth at the creativity and rubric-bending in some of them. I am convinced that if “ad orientem” became the norm, most of the nonsense that bothers critics of the Novus Ordo (myself included) would quickly disappear. But it can’t be forced; it should happen organically, just as the post- Vatican II reforms should have happened organically.

  5. Andrew,

    Dropping “versus populum” a small baby step? Evidently it’s such a giant leap that EWTN is prohibited to this day from telecasting OF Masses that are celebrated ad orientem — the original grounds for this prohibition allegedly including the danger that showing such a thing could be “confusing” to the faithful.

    Although EF Masses celebrated ad orientem were telecast quarterly from 9/14/2007 (the implementation date of Summorum Pontificum) through 10/2/2010, no more are scheduled in the foreseeable future. One is left to wonder whether their ad orientem celebration is a reason for the cancellation of EF Masses.

    Admittedly, it did appear that reactions to the pontifical EF Mass telecast from the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington in April 2010 were generally so favorable as to suggest that some, indeed, may have been “confused” by the transcendent beauty and solemn reverence that they saw in the context of this televised Catholic Mass. Hmm . . . Could concern this “confusion” be a reason why the April 2011 pontifical EF Mass scheduled for the NSIC in honor of Pope Benedict was cancelled at virtually the last moment?

  6. skull kid says:

    Absolute madness.

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