“Vatican II was a re-reading of the Gospel in light of contemporary culture…. Vatican II produced a renewal movement that simply comes from the same Gospel. Its fruits are enormous. Just recall the liturgy. The work of liturgical reform has been a service to the people as a re-reading of the Gospel from a concrete historical situation. Yes, there are hermeneutics of continuity and discontinuity, but one thing is clear: the dynamic of reading the Gospel, actualising its message for today — which was typical of Vatican II — is absolutely irreversible. Then there are particular issues, like the liturgy according to the Vetus Ordo. I think the decision of Pope Benedict [his decision of 7 July 2007, to allow a wider use of the Tridentine Mass] was prudent and motivated by the desire to help people who have this sensitivity. What is worrying, though, is the risk of the ideologisation of the Vetus Ordo, its exploitation.”
— Pope Francis to Fr. Spadaro (25 September 2013)
“If the right is given to African tribes to include their pagan traditions in the liturgy, I think the same should also be given to the rite of a thousand year-old Christian Church, based on a much older Roman tradition.”
— László Dobszay
“Tradition is the illusion of permanence.”
— Woody Allen, Deconstructing Harry
The more I get to know him, the more I believe that Joseph Ratzinger was an intellectual giant with the political skills of a child. His life seems to be one long series of serendipitous placements followed by reasoned recalibrations of his earlier efforts. Granted, that may be the key to success in any field, but I don’t think it does anyone much good to pretend that he is not as protean in some ways as any other human being. As such, Ratzinger often strikes me as a great novelist who is inevitably mortified to find that his earlier works spawned this or that deviant and decadent strain of literary kitsch. “Ach, du lieber Gott, I certainly did not mean for that to happen! Was kann man jetzt machen?”
At Vatican II he was a peritus, a theological Wunderkind on the front lines of a long-brewing progressive reform. In the decades that followed, however, he took on a much more conservative visage, and penned a great many passages which on one level may be read as a reproach of his earlier, liberal self. When he was elected pope, he took the chance to try to soften his longstanding reputation as the “Head Inquisitor”. Even while pope, his famed prickliness against liturgical perversions never, to my knowledge, manifested in a single public offering of the Vetus Ordo. Insofar as ambiguity was intentionally woven into the documents of the Second Vatican Council, which Benedict himself admitted, I can’t help but wonder that Ratzinger’s lifelong immersion in those documents beset him with various ideological conflicts of interests. I think it’s safe to say that his premature abdication signals how riven he was, not only by various curial lobbies, but also, more important, by competing theological tendencies in his own mind. If nothing else, it shows how his great intellect and love for the Church was ultimately not a sufficient defense against his political bewilderment in the murky waters of the Vatican.
I recently noted how Pope Francis referred to an attraction to the Usus Antiquior as a kind of pitiable addiction to a fad. I think he’s wrong about this, not only in terms of what “attraction” to the old Roman Rite means, but also based on the fact, noted by George Neumayr, that youthful traditionalism seems like anything but a fad. As I noted a few days ago, if anything is a dying fad, it is the pastoral adventurism which has, quite wrongly, typified the Latin rite since the 1960s. On this score, I think that Ratzinger, the old German theology professor, was much more in tune with the pastoral trends in store for the Church. As he wrote in 2007 in the letter to bishops accompanying his promulgation of Summorum Pontificum:
“Immediately after the Second Vatican Council it was presumed that requests for the use of the 1962 Missal would be limited to the older generation which had grown up with it, but in the meantime it has clearly been demonstrated that young persons too have discovered this liturgical form, felt its attraction and found in it a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, particularly suited to them. …
“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. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place. Needless to say, in order to experience full communion, the priests of the communities adhering to the former usage cannot, as a matter of principle, exclude celebrating according to the new books. The total exclusion of the new rite would not in fact be consistent with the recognition of its value and holiness.”
Clearly Pope Benedict realized that the Vetus Ordo was not a mere pastime for “rad-trad” reactionaries and fad-fazed traditionalist teens. It was and is an integral part of the Catholic patrimony, not to be withheld from the young as something alien or a mere “retro” fad. If anyone seems attached to superficial, childish liturgical trends, it is the pope from the other end of the earth.
Having explained, I hope, the gist of my confusion about Pope Benedatzinger, let me present a few quotations which recently underscored the tension afresh.
“J. A. Jungmann, one of the truly great liturgists of our time, defined the liturgy of his day, such as it could be understood in the light of historical research, as a ‘liturgy which is the fruit of development’ . . . What happened after the Council was something else entirely: in the place of the liturgy as the fruit of development came fabricated liturgy. We abandoned the organic, living process of growth and development over centuries and replaced it, as in a manufacturing process, with a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product (produit banal de l’instant).”
— Introduction by Cardinal Ratzinger to La Reforme Liturgique en question (Le-Barroux: Editions Sainte-Madeleine), 1992, pp. 7-8.
In some regions, however, not a few of the faithful continued to be attached with such love and affection to the earlier liturgical forms which had deeply shaped their culture and spirit, that in 1984 Pope John Paul II, concerned for their pastoral care, through the special Indult Quattuor Abhinc Annos issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship, granted the faculty of using the Roman Missal published in 1962 by Blessed John XXIII. Again in 1988, John Paul II, with the Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei, exhorted bishops to make broad and generous use of this faculty on behalf of all the faithful who sought it. …
The Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI is the ordinary expression of the lex orandi (rule of prayer) of the Catholic Church of the Latin rite. The Roman Missal promulgated by Saint Pius V and revised by Blessed John XXIII is nonetheless to be considered an extraordinary expression of the same lex orandi of the Church and duly honoured for its venerable and ancient usage. These two expressions of the Church’s lex orandi will in no way lead to a division in the Church’s lex credendi (rule of faith); for they are two usages of the one Roman rite.
Fr Federico Lombardi, S.J., Director of the Holy See Press Office: What do you say to those who, in France, fear that the “Motu proprio’ Summorum Pontificum signals a step backwards from the great insights of the Second Vatican Council? How can you reassure them?
Benedict XVI: Their fear is unfounded, for [Summorum Pontificum] is merely an act of tolerance, with a pastoral aim, for those people who were brought up with this liturgy, who love it, are familiar with it and want to live with this liturgy. They form a small group, because this presupposes a schooling in Latin, a training in a certain culture. Yet for these people, to have the love and tolerance to let them live with this liturgy seems to me a normal requirement of the faith and pastoral concern of any Bishop of our Church. There is no opposition between the liturgy renewed by the Second Vatican Council and this liturgy.
“On each day [of the Council], the Council Fathers celebrated Mass in accordance with the ancient rite and, at the same time, they conceived of a natural development for the liturgy within the whole of this century, for the liturgy is a living reality that develops but, in its development, retains its identity. Thus, there are certainly different accents, but nevertheless [there remains] a fundamental identity that excludes a contradiction, an opposition between the renewed liturgy and the previous liturgy. In any case, I believe that there is an opportunity for the enrichment of both parties. On the one hand the friends of the old liturgy can and must know the new saints, the new prefaces of the liturgy, etc…. On the other, the new liturgy places greater emphasis on common participation, but it is not merely an assembly of a certain community, but rather always an act of the universal Church in communion with all believers of all times, and an act of worship. In this sense, it seems to me that there is a mutual enrichment, and it is clear that the renewed liturgy is the ordinary liturgy of our time.”
— Pope Benedict during an in-flight interview on his way to France (2008)
Keep in mind that I am not trying to prove too much, and not trying to prove outright contradictions, but I do think it strange that he could in one place call the Novus Ordo an on-the-spot product–or, given prevailing papal winds, might we even call it a massive “off-the-cuff encounter”?–, while in another place he would not even countenance the idea of a clash. Likewise, I find it odd that he would in one place laud the widespread attraction to the Old Form, while in another, marginalize it as something like an obscure fan club. In any event, I believe that Summorum Pontificum will continue to bear good fruit, and is a healing leaven in the Church which cannot be defeated, no matter how easy it is to trivialize its aims in favor of allegedly deeper matters.*
I think that the above shows how Benedatzinger was hobbled his entire life by intellectual idealism. I also believe that a recent article by Fr. Thomas “I Wrote the Book on the Reform of the Reform” Kocik unpacks the intuition about the fabricated banality of the Novus Ordo which Ratzinger blurted out, as it were, in the earlier quotation, but which he was never willing to face in a resolutely political fashion. Summorum Pontificum is, thus, not simply a monument to his being “addicted to a [Tridentine] fashion”, but also a metonym for his intellectualized refusal to see how deep the political rift between the world order embodied by the Vetus Ordo and the worldview guiding the aims of the V2 reform really is. To quote Fr. Kocik:
“[T]he ‘reform of the reform’ is not realizable because the material discontinuity between the two forms of the Roman rite presently in use is much broader and much deeper than I had first imagined. In the decade that has elapsed since the publication of my book, The Reform of the Reform? A Liturgical Debate (Ignatius Press, 2003), which concerns almost exclusively the rite of Mass, a number of important scholarly studies … have opened my eyes to the hack-job inflicted by Pope Paul VI’s Consilium on the whole liturgical edifice of the Latin Church…. Whatever else might be said of the reformed liturgy—its pastoral benefits, its legitimacy, its rootedness in theological ressourcement, its hegemonic status, etc.—the fact remains: it does not represent an organic development of the liturgy which Vatican II (and, four centuries earlier, the Council of Trent) inherited. …
There are significant ruptures in content and form that cannot be remedied simply by restoring Gregorian chant to primacy of place as the music of the Roman rite, expanding the use of Latin and improving vernacular translations of the Latin liturgical texts, using the Roman Canon more frequently (if not exclusively), reorienting the altar, and rescinding certain permissions. …
“The twofold desire of the Council fathers, namely, to permit innovations that ‘are genuinely and certainly required for the good of the Church’ and to ‘adopt new forms which in some way grow organically from forms already existing’ (SC 23) could indeed be fulfilled, but not by taking the rites promulgated by Paul VI as the point of departure for arriving at a single, organically reformed version of the ancient Roman rite: that would be like trying to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again. What is needed is not a ‘reform of the reform’ but rather a cautious adaptation of the Tridentine liturgy in accordance with the principles laid down by Sacrosanctum Concilium (as happened in the immediate aftermath of that document’s promulgation in 1963), using what we have learned from the experience of the past fifty years. In the meantime, improvements can be made here and there in the ars celebrandi of the Ordinary Form. But the road to achieving a sustainable future for the traditional Roman rite—and to achieving the liturgical vision of Vatican II, which ordered the moderate adaptation of that rite, not its destruction—is the beautiful and proper celebration, in an increasing number of locations, of the Extraordinary Form, with every effort to promote the core principle (properly understood) of ‘full, conscious and active participation’ of the faithful (SC 14).”
All of the above should make clear that my problem with Francis really is not a personal dislike for him. No, what hit me hardest a few months ago is the dread that perhaps his confused and indifferentist freewheeling is wholly continuous, not only with Pope Benedict in many ways, but also with the entire “Vatican II project.” For example, to give credit where credit is due, Pope “Self-Absorbed, Promethean, Neo-Pelagian” Francis was tom some extent parroting Cdl. Ratzinger when the latter spoke of a Pelagianism of the pious (cf. ¶4). When I discovered that fact several weeks ago, I was just as irked at Benedict as I was at Francis for the cheap shot. I think it’s a ridiculous thing to say, unless very, very carefully qualified, and I think it’s a perfect example of theological eggheadery making a pastoral epidemic out of a hard case, if not out of thin air. Kick hard enough against the goads of zeal for “praxis” and “devotion”, and you’ll wake up a Protestant, or maybe not even a Christian. “Pelagianism of the pious”–oy gevalt, it’s conceptually vapid no matter how great a thinker says it.
More to the point, though, it’s a perfect example of the campaign of self-hating Catholicism which Vatican II inaugurated, and which I think Benedatzinger himself fostered at times. The twin message from HQ for half a century has been that it’s the Church which actually needs to repent and convert, while it’s the world which has An Important Universal Message. I’m as galled to hear one pope say that loyalty to time-tested Catholic devotions–as the diverse means of countless graces which Divine Providence has raised up in the life of the Church!–is Pelagian, as I am to hear told that his successor regards love for liturgical depth as little more than an adolescent fixation.
Which leaves me with my old quandary.
What if the most natural reading of Pope Francis really is “through Benedict”? What if Francis is but Benedict with his Roman collar unbuttoned and a few glasses of wine in his belly? To refuse to admit that Francis is very much cut from the same cloth as Benedict–to ignore Benedict’s clay feet on account of his red loafers, as it were–, is but to foster under a different guise the dominant problem in the Church today: soft ultramontanism and clericalism. It is because Benedict was in many ways the best friend of tradition the papacy has enjoyed in several decades that I was sad to see him resign. And while he was given to the same ecumenical excesses and liturgical inconsistencies as characterized Vatican II, at least he was nowhere near as self-indulgent and crass as Francis is in the project of Catholic self-loathing, all of which makes me doubly nostalgic for Benedatzinger, warts and all.
+ + +
* There is nothing deeper than the sacred liturgy, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church (§1136 ff., §1324 ff) teaches:
Liturgy is an “action” of the whole Christ (Christus totus). Those who even now celebrate it without signs are already in the heavenly liturgy, where celebration is wholly communion and feast…. It is in this eternal liturgy that the Spirit and the Church enable us to participate whenever we celebrate the mystery of salvation in the sacraments. … The celebrating assembly is the community of the baptized who, “by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated to be a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, that through all the works of Christian men they may offer spiritual sacrifices.” This “common priesthood” is that of Christ the sole priest, in which all his members participate….
The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” “The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch.”
“The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being. It is the culmination both of God’s action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship men offer to Christ and through him to the Father in the Holy Spirit.”
Finally, by the Eucharistic celebration we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all.
In brief, the Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith: “Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking.”