HE ITALIAN JESUIT, Fr. Antonio Spadaro, recently published an interview * with the Holy Father. The following section, shared by LifeSite news, raised some eyebrows:
I always try to understand what’s behind people who are too young to have experienced the pre-conciliar liturgy yet nonetheless desire it. Sometimes I found myself confronted with a very strict person, with an attitude of rigidity. And I ask myself: “Why so much rigidity?” Dig, dig, this rigidity always hides something, insecurity or even something else. Rigidity is defensive. True love is not rigid.
When I first read these words, they seemed incomplete. 1 We have only what the interviewer printed, and he failed to follow up properly. For example, that paragraph seems to contradict: “Amen I say to you: till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall not pass of the law, till all be fulfilled.” (Mt 5:18) And is rigidity always bad? For instance, when a mother rigidly forbids her child to drink even the smallest bit of poison? Vis-à-vis interior love, what ever happened to “who am I to judge?”
On the other hand, we simply cannot know which person Pope Francis had in mind. It might have been a nasty traditionalist, like the one who physically threatened me (via voicemail) because we prelude the Recessional softly during the Last Gospel. Or, perhaps that person was like the sedevacantist who started a letter writing campaign against me because I wouldn’t promote his blog. Those people give traditional Catholics a bad name, and seemingly do forget the liturgy is about adoring our Savior—not to mention Mt 5:24.
Since we don’t know which person Francis dealt with, let’s move to something more important:
Pope Benedict XVI made a proper and generous gesture to address a certain mentality of some people who had nostalgia and were walking away. However, this remains the exception. It is for this reason that we speak of the “extraordinary” form. We must meet with magnanimity those tied to a certain way of prayer, but the Second Vatican Council and Sacrosanctum Concilium should carry on as they are. To speak of “reforming the reform” is a mistake.
Let’s unpack this statement by Pope Francis.
First of all, it must be admitted that the original ROTR goal was unrealistic. People were saying the 1962 liturgy should be reformed again, “only better this time.” For one thing, nobody has been able to demonstrate any serious deficiencies in the 1962 Missal. Indeed, several objectionable elements were eliminated the year before Vatican II began, and I seriously doubt these changes had time to sink in. I believe small changes could have been made to the 1962 Missal, and the world would not have ended. 2 Unfortunately, the CONSILIUM far exceeded what the Council requested.
The ROTR movement became less about an actual “reform” of the books and more about an authentic implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium. Going back to what Vatican II actually said is something we speak of frequently on this blog. To give just one example, Vatican II ordered that Latin be retained in the liturgy; this was not a suggestion. I don’t see conflict here with what the Holy Father said in that interview. Perhaps the ROTR should change it’s name to “Authentic Interpretation of the Second Vatican Council,” but that’s kind of clumsy.
Pope Francis says the Ordinary Form is the normal rite, whereas the “Extraordinary Form” is exceptional. That’s hardly earth-shattering! However, only God knows what the future holds, so the EF could someday become the more common rite. As I’ve written before, the Mass is of infinite value. It would absurd for someone to fight over which is “better” (EF vs. OF) based on which is more prominent. Eastern Catholics would scoff at such a notion. They’ve kept their rites for centuries, and don’t care who is “winning” in terms of numbers. For the record, Pope Francis said this (28 July 2013) about the Eastern rites:
In the Orthodox Churches they have kept that pristine liturgy, so beautiful. We have lost a bit the sense of adoration. They keep, they praise God, they adore God, they sing, time doesn’t count. God is the center. […] Consumerism, well-being, have done us so much harm. Instead, you keep this beauty of God at the center, the reference.
Now let’s tackle the heart of the matter.
AITHFUL CATHOLICS want to know whether they should feel guilty promoting the ROTR if the current pope is not leading the movement. This fear is often tinged with so-called “ultramontanism,” which in our current age denotes a misunderstanding and exaggeration of the pope’s role. Ultramontanism partially stems from our celebrity-obsessed culture, but also from the fact that over the last 100 years we’ve had several magnificent popes. On the other hand, even Pope St. John Paul II allowed scandalous liturgical actions (such as when Piero Marini had a witch doctor publicly “exorcise” the pope), and devout Catholics may freely condemn such things.
We obtain context by remembering that for many decades in Church history nobody knew who the real pope was, including saints who sometimes got it wrong. Yet the sacred liturgy continued; Jesus Christ was still made present on the Altar and offered to His heavenly Father. For much of history, the average Catholic barely knew the name of the current pope due to painfully slow communication methods. Throughout history, popes have vigorously opposed novelties—only to end up embracing them later! 3
Some are uncomfortable with this, but (once again!) try to imagine what life was like in the days when nobody knew who the true pope was. Recalling the truly bad popes in our history—Urban VI, Benedict IX, Stephen VI, Liberius, Sergius III, John XII, Alexander VI, and so forth—can also prove helpful when dealing with people who insist that every offhand statement by a pope is infallible. Fr. Louis Bouyer was a close friend of Pope Paul VI and architect of the post-conciliar reforms, yet later on spoke of them with utter contempt. Nobody saw anything problematic because he was evaluating liturgical principles, not off-the-cuff papal statements.
Publications have declared: “Because of such-and-such a comment by Francis, the ROTR is over.” Can you imagine how confusing life would be if that were true? Liturgists and priests would have to wait for the most current papal interview to know what’s right, instead of looking to perennial ideals, traditions, and principles. 4
In conclusion, I must mention an astounding paradox. The very publications and blogs which claim to have “no interest whatsoever” in the Novus Ordo seem to hang on every word of the pope about it. On the other hand, publications and blogs claiming the EF is only for “freaks and fringe groups” seem obsessed with the Traditional Mass and speak of it constantly. Imagine if these people were married and kept bringing up an old girlfriend. How long do you think the wife would tolerate that? A day? A week? Surely after a month she’d exclaim: “You say you don’t care about your old girlfriend, but you bring her up every few hours!”
* Addendum : A reader has informed me that these comments were actually made before Pope Francis was elected—sometime after 2007—although the interview is just now appearing. If that’s true, it makes the June 2015 Statement by Pope Francis quite interesting.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 For the record, Fr. Spadaro baited the pope with a rather silly question, asking whether there are “dangers” of clinging to traditional worship without asking whether there are “dangers” of constantly inventing new forms of worship. With so many serious problems in this world, the way Fr. Spadaro framed his question speaks volumes about his priorities—and not in a good way. Pope Francis should have responded: “Let’s first tackle genuinely pressing Church issues, and if we have time we’ll come back to your question.”
2 For instance, permission could have perhaps been granted to allow vernacular hymns during Communion at Solemn Mass. Perhaps the congregation could have been encouraged to psalm tone (or recto tone) the Gradual chants, helping them become familiar with these powerful psalms. Optional Scripture readings expanding the lectionary could perhaps have been added for certain feasts. By the way, after Vatican II lay people were granted permission to proclaim the Mass readings “for the sake greater participation by the faithful.” But if 500 people attend Mass and one functions as lector, there are still 499 people “not participating” by that flawed logic.
3 When you get to heaven, ask Abbot Pothier about that.
4 When Pope Benedict XVI abdicated, several articles appeared saying the “Reform of the Reform is over.” Some were thoughtful. Others were knee-jerk, and demonstrated publicly that certain authors never understood the ROTR.