Monday, November 19, 2007

More on the Motu Proprio

Briefing: it is beginning to look as though this could be the Pope's chosen ground for a major battle with the bishops. Let us recap:

Pope John-Paul II was seriously concerned about liturgical abuses, which undermine the belief of Catholics. It is no surprise that many nominal Catholics no longer believe in the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament when they see how it is treated by priests and 'lay ministers'. He issued a series of documents (such as 'On the Unordained Faithful' and 'Redeptris Sacramentum') condemning abuses and reiterating the law of the Church, but these were not just quietly ignored: English bishops explicitly said that they were not going to enforce them. 'They don't apply in England' was the mantra. (More on abuses from Catholic Rights here.)

Benedict XVI saw the failure of this strategy and is even more concerned about the liturgy than J-P II. The Motu Proprio is, among other things, an attempt to stimulate a renewal of the liturgy, of both the 1962 missal and of the 'New' Mass, by giving new encouragement and legal rights to ordinary priests and laity. He is appealing over the heads of the bishops to the conservative forces which have become increasingly strong at parish level.

The MP does this by reiterating the historical continuity of the Church. Abuses usually spring out of an idea that rituals prescribed by law (only the priest distributing communion, for example) reflect a liturgical theology that has been overtaken by Vatican II and subsequent developments. By saying that the pre-Vatican II liturgy has never been forbidden, and that it continues to reflect the Church's timeless teaching, the MP holes this idea below the waterline. What is more, because the 1962 Missal is essentially unchanged for countless centuries, it expresses to the onlooker what the Church has always, constantly, and everywhere taught, the way she always worshiped, the attitude she always took to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. No one experiencing that liturgy can be in any doubt about what is the unchanging bedrock of Catholic belief. So the fact the Traditional Mass will be said, and experienced by ordinary Catholics even if only occasionally, should give a kind of ballast to thinking about liturgy and theology, which in time should make the outrageous abuses we have all become familiar with unthinkable - as they once were.

The importance of the MP for the Pope's strategy for renewal cannot be overstated. He knows from experience how little is achieved by exhortation. This is a way of giving power to his allies in the Church, and taking power away from his enemies - from the enemies of authentic Catholic doctrine and practice. It does this by giving every priest in the Latin Church the right to say the Traditional Mass, without needing the permission of bishops or superiors. It is this, of course, which has attracted the opposition of English and Scottish bishops.

The Pope is not going to let them do to the MP what they did to John-Paul II's instructions on abuses. He is in a stronger position because the MP does not need bishops to do anything: the key to its operation is simply that priests should not be hauled over the coals for saying the Traditional Mass by their bishops. If they are, they have the right to appeal to Rome. The bishops have adopted the strategy of claiming that the MP leaves them the right to veto Traditional Masses, which they had before, and Archbishop Ranjith is not allowing this misunderstanding to take root. He has now said:

You hear in certain countries or dioceses that there have been issued by bishops rules which practically countermand or distort the intention of the Pope. Such behaviour is not consonant with the dignity and nobility of the vocation of a pastor of the Church.

New clarification on the meaning of the MP is expected from Rome; in the meantime, prominent canon lawyer Monsignor Gordon Read has this to say in the Newsletter of the Canon Law Society:

What is meant by ‘stable group’? the Latin reads ‘coetus fidelium traditioni liturgicae antecedenti adhaerentium continenter exsistit’. ‘Coetus’ means ‘group’ implying at least three people. The word order implies that ‘continenter’ qualifies ‘exsistit’ rather than ‘adhaerentium’. What does it mean? If the author had intended ‘stable’ in the canonical sense he would have used ‘stabilis’. The term does not, then, appear to mean a formal group with established membership. On the other hand it would go beyond the wording to require such a group to have existed continuously since 1970. What it specifies is an identifiable group with some kind of continuing existence, as distinct from a one-off request from an ad hoc group.

Hat-tip to Damian Thompson.

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Pope Leo XIII's Prayer to St Michael

Holy Michael, Archangel, defend us in the day of battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust down to Hell Satan, and all wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen