PROMISED MYSELF to never again write about the shameful coverage of Pope Francis: the topic is simply too immense. However, I must address a recent report wherein Pope Francis is said to have denounced the “Reform of the Reform” (ROTR) as a mistake.
As in many similar cases, the reporting is so garbled and unreliable it’s impossible to tell what Pope Francis actually said. The reports I saw indicate that Pope Francis said some priests in favor of the ROTR—who are “saints”—are mistaken.
Trying to guess what Francis said or meant would be irresponsible. What I can address, however, is the reaction by some who claim Pope Francis has condemned the entire ROTR as “mistaken.” For the sake of this article, let’s pretend Pope Francis did, in fact, say the entire ROTR is mistaken.
Update : A year after this article was written—and it has been left unaltered—we have news. Folks will want to see what Cardinal Sarah revealed on 5 July 2016.
GOOD, FAITHFUL, HOLY CATHOLICS become disturbed by the idea a pope could be wrong. This instinct is natural and commendable … yet incorrect.
Consider the actions of Pope Urban VIII (†1644) who changed the ancient breviary hymns because he thought he could do better. Having put together a team of four “very learned” Jesuits (Strada, Galuzzi, Petrucci, and Sarbiewski), he proceeded to mutilate 81 of the 98 hymns, making 952 “corrections.” The work of Pope Urban VIII has been universally condemned, and is summed up by Fr. Fortescue:
No one who knows anything about the subject now doubts that the revision of Urban VIII was a ghastly mistake, for which there is not one single word of any kind to be said. Much of the beauty of the older forms was lost and the hymns did not really become classical.
The Second Vatican Council abolished Pope Urban’s “corrected” hymns. As Vincent Lenti wrote, “It has taken the Roman Catholic Church three and a half centuries to undo the harm done to its ancient repertoire of hymns.”
Or, consider the words of another pope, Paul VI, speaking of his edition of the Roman Missal:
We shall have to prepare for this many-sided upheaval… Devout people are the ones who will be most disturbed; having their own laudable way of attending Mass, they will feel themselves torn away from their usual thoughts and obliged to replace them with others. Even priests themselves may find the experience troubling. […] From now on the vernacular, not Latin, will be the principal language of the Mass. For those who appreciate the beauty of Latin—its power, and aptness to express the sacred—substitution of the vernacular certainly represents a great sacrifice. We are losing the idiom of the Christian ages; we become like profane intruders into the literary sanctuary of sacred language; we shall lose a large portion of that wonderful and incomparable, artistic and spiritual reality, Gregorian chant. We indeed have reason for sadness and perhaps even for bewilderment.
Upon reading such words, what can be said? Should we note that Vatican II mandated the use of Latin and demanded that Gregorian chant be given pride of place? Should we mention the disastrous way in which the rites were reformed, with tremendous sloppiness and haste? Several Eucharistic prayers were put together (and voted upon) in a way I will not relate, because you would find it beyond belief.
Without question, then, Pope Paul VI was wrong about many liturgical matters. Those who have studied the Great Schism realize Catholics have disagreed over liturgical praxis in the past. Do I wish that our priests, bishops, and popes never made mistakes? I often do, but Fulton Sheen has suggested that such a situation would cause problems. You see, sinners would feel too ashamed to join the Catholic Church—and I am a great sinner.
THE IDEALS WE PROMOTE, as Dr. Mahrt recently said, are perennial. The truth about liturgy is not governed by alleged comments made in an offhand way by the current occupant of Saint Peter’s chair. Nor are these perennial truths decided by alarmist blogs with “expert” commentators, many of whom are afraid to reveal their names. A prominent progressive liturgist—when he learned of this alleged statement by Francis—kept repeating, “This is huge. This is huge.” I need to find that person, because I have a bridge I’d like to sell him…
We are called by God to ignore comments which are misreported and misunderstood by sensationalist “journalists.” Nor is it true that our faith depends on every offhand utterance of Saint Peter’s successor. In fact, we don’t have any offhand comments by Pope Adrian III. Nor do we know what Pope Clement II ate for breakfast. Nor do we possess a transcript of the speech Pope Gregory VIII gave to the Roman clergy. Nor do we know whether Pope Sixtus IV would have considered the ROTR important. None of this should cause us alarm! As I’ve written, this “urgency” often comes from bloggers and unqualified journalists mimicking how the 24-hour news media treats President Obama.
Perhaps the major impact of a pope comes from his appointments. In spite of what some say, appointments by popes during the 20th century—yes, even great ones like Pius X and Pius XII—were a mixed bag. Moreover, according to Bishop Sheen, the pope has another important role: the guarantor of succession. In a radio talk, Sheen said some popes were “tainted,” comparing the papacy to Christ’s “tainted” genealogy:
The genealogy goes beyond the Hebrew background to include a few non-Jews. There may have been a very good reason for this, as well as for the inclusion of others who had not the best reputations in the world. […] Why should there be blots on the royal escutcheon, such as Bethsabee, whose womanly purity was tainted; and Ruth who, though morally good, was an introducer of alien blood into the stream? Possibly it was in order to indicate Christ’s relationship to the stained and to the sinful, to harlots and sinners, and even to the Gentiles who were included in His Message and Redemption.
IT IS HIGHLY UNLIKELY that Pope Francis would condemn the ROTR, which Pope Benedict XVI favored. A CNS report, which may or may not be accurate, is interesting:
Pope Francis … said that he, too, had his own shortcomings—pointing to a reflection he prepared for a plenary meeting of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments on ars celebrandi in 2005. […] After he presented the reflection, he said, Cardinal Joachim Meisner “reprimanded me a bit strongly over some things,” as well as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who “told me that something very important was missing in the ars celebrandi, which was the feeling of being before God. And he was right, I had not spoken about this,” he said, adding that both cardinals had given him good advice.
By the way, I stumbled upon an article—published on a blog openly hostile to Christianity—in which the “expert journalist” made this statement:
The so-called reform of the reform was, of course, one of Benedict’s signature issues. American reformers of the reform were delighted when Benedict dispensed with the English translation of the Roman Missal and in 2011 forced the U.S. church to accept a new version.
Such dishonesty! The new translation was voted upon by all the English-speaking bishops. It received something like 99% approval from the bishops!
NEEDLESS TO SAY, STRICTLY SPEAKING, the “Reform of the Reform” is absurd. How can we reform something we’ve never tried? For example, Dan Craig recently explained (with documentation) that more than 95% of Catholic parishes replace the Vatican II Propers with songs lacking the approval required by the GIRM. The three most noticeable changes of the Ordinary Form—Mass facing the people, elimination of Gregorian chant, & total purge of Latin—are not found in any of the Vatican II decrees.
Before progress can be made, however, immense ignorance must be wiped away. Consider a recent video, which popped up in one of my news emails:
They were trying to demonstrate the superiority of the reformed rites, but the opposite happened. My eyes were captivated by the beautiful scenes from the Traditional Mass! Toward the end, an expert being interviewed made this assertion:
Once the priest turned around and we gave the assembly parts to sing—short responses—that really awakened a whole new life in the Church.
He fails to realize that for centuries the priest had been turning around to face the people for the dialogues, which were nothing less than short responses sung by the assembly! The preconciliar Catholics loved singing the dialogues and did them very well. His statement is incomprehensible.
WHAT A STRANGE AGE is ours! People used to do difficult things, like get in a boat and travel across the ocean. These days, we become perturbed over an offhand quote Pope Francis is alleged to have (perhaps) made in a private audience. Meanwhile, the true mystery of the Mass—what should impress us beyond measure, our God becoming present on the Altar—is neglected.