One of the more deft moves in Benedict's apostolic letter motu proprio, titled "Summorum Pontificum," is in referring to the 1962 form of the Roman Rite as the Mass of Blessed John XXIII. It is not the Tridentine Mass or the Mass of Pius V but the Mass of John XXIII. It is the form of the Mass that was celebrated daily at the Second Vatican Council.
Benedict notes that, over the many centuries of the Roman Rite, popes have from time to time made modest changes. Pius V did so in 1570, John XXIII did so in 1962, and Paul VI did so in 1970, the last producing what is called the Novus Ordo. Benedict notes that John Paul II also made small but important emendations regarding references to the Jews in the Good Friday Liturgy. (More on that below.)
By associating the Latin Mass that is now universally approved with John XXIII, Benedict steals a card from the deck of liberals and progressives, for whom John XXIII is always "good Pope John," in contrast to his successors. But this is much more than a deft rhetorical move. "Summorum Pontificum" is a thoroughly liberal document in substance and spirit, remembering that liberal means, as once was more commonly understood, generosity of spirit.
In his letter to the bishops, Benedict is directing them to be generous in embracing the fullness of the Catholic tradition and responding to the desires of the Catholic faithful. This is proposed in contrast to the rigidity, bordering sometimes on tyranny, of a liturgical guild that mistakenly thought that the Second Vatican Council gave them a mandate to impose their ideas of liturgical reform on the entire Church.
Benedict writes of the Mass of 1962 and that of 1970: "It is not appropriate to speak of these two versions of the Roman Missal as if they were 'two Rites.' Rather, it is a matter of a twofold use of one and the same rite." This is of a piece with Benedict's longstanding campaign against the idea that there is a "pre-Vatican II Church" and a "post-Vatican II Church." There is one Catholic Church, Benedict insists, and its liturgy is the Roman Rite. I discuss Benedict's understanding of continuity in the December 2006 issue of First Things in connection with Klaus Gamber's The Reform of the Roman Liturgy, for which then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote an introduction.
There were many things done in the name of liturgical reform for which the claim was made that such changes were mandated by the council. Excluding the Mass in Latin was one of them. Benedict writes: "As for the use of the 1962 Missal as a forma extraordinaria of the liturgy of the Mass, I would like to draw attention to the fact that this Missal was never juridically abrogated and, consequently, in principle, was always permitted." In other words, were it not for the presumption of some liturgical reformers, there would have been no need for this apostolic letter.
For decades following the council, experimentation was in, tradition was out, and the Catholic faithful were subjected to a long period of what is politely called liturgical destabilizationand not only liturgical destabilizationwhich alienated many. The pope is, with great care, trying to remedy that destablization without causing additional destablization. As he notes in his letter, there is a close connection between lex credendi and lex orandibetween the way of faith and the way of worship.
Of the problem to be remedied, he writes: "This occurred above all because 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 underscores that the desire for the Latin rite of John XXIII is not only on the part of nostalgic old folks. There is, he says, a notable desire on the part of young people to experience the richness of the Church's ways of worship, a richness of which they were deprived but are now encountering with a sense of fresh discovery. The bishops, he says, should respond positively to this discovery in a spirit of pastoral generosity.
The purpose of the pope in issuing this pastoral letter will come as no surprise to those familiar with Cardinal Ratzinger's writing on liturgy over the years. He says again: "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."
Part of the purpose of the letter, as Benedict says, is to ease the way toward reconciliation with the Lefebvrists of the Society of St. Pius X. He recognizes that their schism involves deeper theological questions, including the recognition of the authority of the Second Vatican Council, but this is one step toward healing the wound of schism.
One consequence of "Summorum Pontificum" will almost certainly be the more widespread use of the Missal of 1962. And perhaps of the Missal of 1970 in Latin rather than the vernacular, which has always been permitted. I do not expect that there will be a great or immediate increase in the number of parishes celebrating Mass in the 1962 form. Most bishops and priests say there is no great demand for it, although that could now change. Moreover, most priests and bishops do not have the language skills for it, although some may start digging around for those Latin textbooks from college and seminary days.
What it seems to me that Benedict has most importantly done with this apostolic letter is to strengthen the continuity of the Catholic tradition in matters pertaining to lex orandi, as John Paul II's hermeneutic of the Second Vatican Council strengthened that continuity in matters pertaining to lex credendi. As a result, the weary language about a preVatican II Church and a postVatican II Church is increasingly antiquated, although there are still those of an older generation who believe the council was a call for revolution and who will continue to use that language. But these twenty-eight years of pontifical leadership have made it obvious to all but the willfully obtuse that there is, in lex credendi and lex orandi, one Catholic Church.
In keeping with the spirit of pastoral generosity and sensitivity that marks this document, Benedict recognizes that in the one Church there will always be problems. Three years after the implementation of "Summorum Pontificum" this September, he says, there will be a study of the successes and difficulties encountered in putting it into effect. There is no suggestion that these provisions might be rescinded at that time. Any modifications required will have as their purpose the effective implementation of the apostolic letter.
With the possible exception of those who are incorrigibly nostalgic for the good old days of the revolution that was not to be, I believe that the pope's initiative will be recognized for what it isa generous and hopeful proposal for a future in which Catholics are freed to celebrate the rich variety of the tradition that is theirs. Benedict expresses the hope that even those who decline to use the Missal of John XXIII will be encouraged to celebrate the Novus Ordo of 1970 with the reverence and solemnity that befits the ineffable mystery of the Mass. We can only pray that his hope will be vindicated.
And now to the aforementioned piece of nastiness. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) immediately issued a blistering statement claiming that a prayer for the conversion of the Jews in the Latin Mass is "a theological setback in the religious life of Catholics and a body blow to Catholic-Jewish relations, after 40 years of progress between the Church and the Jewish people."
Abraham Foxman, national director of ADL said: "We are extremely disappointed and deeply offended that nearly 40 years after the Vatican rightly removed insulting anti-Jewish language from the Good Friday Mass, that it would now permit Catholics to utter such hurtful and insulting words by praying for Jews to be converted. This is a theological setback in the religious life of Catholics and a body blow to Catholic-Jewish relations. It is the wrong decision at the wrong time. It appears the Vatican has chosen to satisfy a right-wing faction in the Church that rejects change and reconciliation."
That statement is a mix of ignorance and bellicosity, a combination that is, unfortunately, not infrequent in ADL alarums. In the 1570 form of the Roman Rite for Good Friday there was this: "Oremus et pro perfidis Judaeis" (Let us pray for the perfidious Jews). On the first Good Friday after his election to the papacy in 1959, Pope John XXIII eliminated the adjective "perfidious" from the prayer. That same year, he also eliminated from the rite of baptism the phrase used for Jewish catechumens: "Horresce Judaicam perfidiam, respue Hebraicam superstitionem" (Disavow Jewish unbelieving, deny Hebrew superstition). Also eliminated were similar formulas for those converting from idolatry, Islam, or a heretical sect.
The Roman Missal modified by Pope Paul VI in 1969, and put into effect in 1970, has this formulation: "Let us pray for the Jewish people, the first to hear the word of God, that they may continue to grow in the love of his name and in faithfulness to his covenant." The following prayer is this: "Almighty and eternal God, long ago you gave your promise to Abraham and his posterity. Listen to your Church as we pray that the people you first made your own may arrive at the fullness of redemption."
Of course some Jews may be offended at the suggestion that the fullness of redemption is found in Jesus Christ, but their problem is with Christianity as such. They certainly are not interested in respectful dialogue between Jews who adhere to Judaism and Christians who adhere to Christianity.
As I say, the ADL reaction is a mix of bellicosity and ignorance. The 1962 Missal does not say what Mr. Foxman says it says. And, if he had read Benedict's apostolic letter before attacking it, he would know that it explicitly says that the Missal of 1970 will be used exclusively in the Triduum of Holy Week, which of course includes Good Friday. An apology is in order but I fear it is not to be expected from an organization that is prone to making reckless and publicity-grabbing statements. It is a sadness.
I leave tomorrow for teaching duties at the 17th annual Tertio Millennio Seminar on Catholic social doctrine in Krakow, Poland. While I will likely not be posting for the next few weeks, I have no doubt that Jody Bottum, Anthony Sacramone, others of the able First Things editorial staff, and our regular contributors will be providing ample reasons for you to be checking out this site on a daily basis.