Last Friday, on the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross (September 14), Pope Benedict’s motu proprio (a genre of decree indicating the pope is acting "on his own initiative") titled Summorum Pontificum took legal effect. I cannot predict at this early date how much of a demand there will be for the Mass of Blessed John XXIII (otherwise, and somewhat inaccurately, known as the Tridentine Latin Mass), or what beneficial effects this new legislation will have on the way the ordinary form is celebrated, officially known as the Mass of John Paul II (which is a modest revision of the much more significant changes to the Mass enacted after Vatican II by Paul VI).
But, however murky the future, this motu proprio can certainly tell us a few telling facts about the past. First (and on this I think both supporters and detractors of the document can agree), the drumbeat of requests that kept coming into the Vatican from Catholics (especially those with no other particular sympathy for the Lefebvrists) tells us that the implementation of the liturgical reforms has not been an unmitigated or universal success. Especially in countries where the vernacular translations have been clumsy or even inaccurate, dissatisfaction was bound to increase by the year, at least among those sensitive to the beauties of their native tongue. Further, moments and junctures in the rubrics that allow for more spontaneity by the celebrant have often been abused. Such abuse harms the Church, because unauthorized alterations in the rite only draw attention to the presiding priest and thus away from the Lord, who should be the focus of the worshiping gaze of the assembled community.
All these problems, and more, reminded me of a title of a book I had read long ago, Prayer as a Political Problem , by the French Jesuit Jean Cardinal Daniélou, especially these lines: "[T]here can be no radical division between civilization and what belongs to the interior being of man; there must be a dialogue between prayer and the pursuit and realization of public policy . . . . In other words, there can be no civilization where prayer is not its representative expression. Correlatively, prayer depends on civilization."
That connection between cult and culture binds all civilizations, Christian or otherwise (Cicero is explicit on this point). The contemporary problem, though, is that we live in a time characterized by what Nietzsche called Great Politics. Just about everything is "bleared, smeared" with political markers. By that I mean, for the most part, politics comes as a "package deal." Liberals are liberals across a range of issues, just as conservatives stay conservative on most matters (the war in Iraq being the major exception). This holds true especially nowadays in this era of the so-called culture wars, which are now raging just as much inside the Catholic Church as outside. So my question, in this unique setting, is: Will Catholics of different political persuasions now cluster toward one rite over another?
In a fascinating, if at times snarky, op-ed column on the motu proprio in the July 29, 2007, issue of the New York Times (subscription required), Lawrence Downes makes this observation:
It’s easy enough to see where this is going: same God, same church, but separate camps, each with an affinity for vernacular or Latin, John XXIII or Benedict XVI. Smart, devout, ambitious Catholics¯ecclesial young Republicans, home-schoolers, seminarians and other shock troops of the faith¯will have their Mass. The rest of us¯a lumpy assortment of cafeteria Catholics, guilty parents, peace-‘n’-justice lefties, stubborn Vatican II die-hards¯will have ours. We’ll have to prod our snoozing pewmates when to sit and stand; they’ll have to rein in their zealots. And we probably won’t see one another on Sunday mornings, if ever.
Well, that might be a bit too pessimistic, although Downes is fair enough to admit (even if he disapproves of the motu proprio ) that the Mass of Paul VI has not exactly been a ringing success: "[The new] Mass can be listless, with little solemnity and multiple sources of irritation: parents sedating children with Cheerios; priests preaching refrigerator-magnet truisms; amateur guitar strumming that was lame in 1973; teenagers slumping back after communion, hands in pockets, as if wishing they had been given gum instead."
All very discouraging, no doubt. But let us not forget that, as the saying goes, "We’ve all been here before." I am thinking in particular of the famous book by Antonio Rosmini (1797¯1855), The Five Wounds of the Church . Although often too schematic in method and too lushly romantic in style, this tract is amazingly relevant to today’s controversies, as a mere reproduction of the Table of Contents shows. For listed there are the five wounds Rosmini saw were then afflicting the Church: (1) the division between people and clergy at public worship; (2) the insufficient education of the clergy; (3) disunion among the bishops; (4) the nomination of bishops left in the hands of civil government; (5) restrictions on the Church’s free use of her own temporalities.
Of this list, only the fourth wound does not apply today, except in China and Vietnam, and maybe a few other countries whose governments don’t cotton to outspoken bishops. But the other wounds in the Church we are all familiar with from the headlines. To be sure, there are differences in the way these wounds are now afflicting the Church, compared to nineteenth-century Italy.
This is especially true of the first wound (my real concern here). For part of the problem with the implementation of liturgical reforms after Vatican II has been that, at least for critics of that reform, there is now too little distinction between people and clergy at worship. Also, the operative theology animating today’s reform differs significantly from the one that motivated Rosmini, who had been influenced by the late-Jansenist calls for reform both of the liturgy and in the election of bishops.
Not many Catholics, I have discovered, are sufficiently aware that one of the earliest calls for liturgical reform came from the Jansenist-influenced (and later condemned) Synod of Pistoia (1786). This synod notoriously affirmed such key Jansenist doctrines as these: that unbaptized infants go to hell (not limbo) and that the grace of redemption cannot be found outside the confines of the Catholic Church. But that same synod also decreed that there should be only one altar in each church, Latin should be replaced (at least in part) by Italian, and the cult of the Sacred Heart (an explicitly anti-Jansenist devotion) should be suppressed. It also adopted other "liberal" positions such as: the authority of the hierarchy derives from the consent of the governed, and the jurisdiction of the bishop is independent of the pope’s.
"Irony is history’s tastiest dish," says one shrewd observer , and never has that been more true than when we are speaking of liturgical reform. For nowadays those most comfortable with post¯Vatican II reforms show not the slightest trace of Jansenism, while the Lefebvrists not only object to those reforms but do so precisely because they fear that the identity of the Church as the sole ark of salvation has been undermined by Vatican II’s openness to ecumenism and the modern world.
These ironies make me wonder what Rosmini would think of today’s reforms. Although, as I noted above, he had a bit of the Jansenist virus in his soul, Rosmini’s real longing was that the Church’s worship not become a catalyst for disharmony but instead be the culminating expression of the Church’s unity in Christ.
Clearly, Pope Benedict shares the same vision, and I trust all Catholics can join him in hoping his vision will come true. But will it? That depends, at least in part, on what role a lingering Jansenism might still play as its own "theological marker."
For example, at present, when the wine is consecrated into the blood of Christ, the priest says (here quoting Christ’s own words) that this blood will be "poured out for you and for all ." But soon the priest will, according to reliable reports, have to use the more accurate translation and say that it will be "poured out for you and for many ." Does this new and apparently more restrictive translation mean that the Church is now giving official sanction to the Augustinian/Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement, one that the Jansenists made the first principle and foundation of their heresy?
That certainly is not Pope Benedict’s view of the matter. In a book specifically addressed to this question, God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life , Benedict has this to say of the real meaning of the pro multis (the Latin phrase that means, literally, "for the many"):
We cannot start to set limits on God’s behalf; the very heart of the faith has been lost to anyone who supposes that it is only worthwhile, if it is, so to say, made worthwhile by the damnation of others. Such a way of thinking, which finds the punishment of other people necessary, springs from not having inwardly accepted the faith; from loving only oneself and not God the Creator, to whom his creatures belong. That way of thinking would be like the attitude of those people who could not bear the workers who came last being paid a denarius like the rest; like the attitude of people who feel properly rewarded only if others have received less. This would be the attitude of the son who stayed at home, who could not bear the reconciling kindness of his father. It would be a hardening of our hearts, in which it would become clear that we were only looking out for ourselves and not looking for God; in which it would be clear that we did not love our faith, but merely bore it like a burden . . . . It is a basic element of the biblical message that the Lord died for all¯being jealous of salvation is not Christian.
I look forward to discovering how many Catholics will follow the pope’s lead here, in obedience both to Summorum Pontificum and to the theology that animates it. In other words, will Catholics come out of Mass as truly converted Christians, eager to engage the world already loved by God (John 3:16) and redeemed by the cross (1 John 2:1-3) and whose cult transforms the culture? Or will they think of salvation as a zero-sum game, to be hoarded as a precariously won personal possession, made valuable only if others are damned? The answer to that question will not just determine the reception history of the motu proprio but will largely set the course for the future of the Church as well.
Edward T. Oakes, S.J. teaches theology at the University of St. Mary of the Lake, the seminary for the archdiocese of Chicago.