Monday 7 July 2014

Summorum Pontificum: the Seventh Anniversary

It was seven years ago today that His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI issued his Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum and the accompanying letter, liberalising the Old Mass, variously known as the Traditional Latin Mass, the Tridentine Mass, the Old Rite, Vetus Ordo, the Old Mass and which has also since become known as the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

We give thanks to Almighty God for this gift, and the courage of Benedict XVI in issuing the Motu Proprio. He has suffered as a result: His Holiness has told us as much.

We also give thanks for everything that has happened since which has seen the promotion of God-centred, transcendent worship in the form of the Traditional Mass and the promotion of a more reverent celebration of the Ordinary Form.

It is natural, given this is the anniversary of Summorum Pontificum, to consider what, if any, advances there have been in the celebration of the older form and its effects on the newer form of the Mass. 

Every day, we see reports of the growth in celebrations of the Extraordinary Form all over the world, its attraction to the young who are experiencing it for the first time, the uptake of newly ordained priests and other clergy who are learning to celebrate it. As Benedict XVI foresaw, the older form is having a positive influence on the promotion of reverent celebration of the Novus Ordo too.  This is all positive.  And the progress is there. But it is gradual, slow, often painstaking work.  Nothing is happening in a hurry.  It’s also on a limited scale. We are not talking about millions and millions of Catholics.

And, of course, things are not great everywhere and at all times.  Whilst there are many stories of very supportive bishops and others would are positively in favour, there remain stories of situations around the world that suggest open hostility to the older forms and to reverent worship more generally.  In other places still, it’s a studied indifference as if Summorum Pontificum never existed, with nothing done to raise its profile and nothing done to bring this to the lay faithfuls’ awareness. As some have quipped, faced with Summorum Pontificum some bishops are implementing Quattuor Abhinc Annos.

And, since Benedict XVI’s abdication and the election of Pope Francis, the mood also seems to be different.  Whereas there was a feeling of full steam ahead during the pontificate of Benedict XVI, the election of Pope Francis has seemingly slowed things down.  So much so, that some have declared the death of the Reform of the Reform (which we will deal with another time).

It seems uncontroversial to conclude that whilst Pope Francis respects the liturgical vision of the Pope Emeritus, His Holiness does not prioritise it particularly.  In the early days of his Pontificate, His Holiness eschewed certain externals which suggested he had other priorities and he then dispensed with liturgical law on particular occasions presumably with the intention of making a “greater” point.  Did that however suggest a position directly against the liturgical vision of the Pope Emeritus?  Well, taken as a whole and with the benefit of more than a year of this pontificate, it doesn’t seem so, and there is enough in his public statements and actions to suggest this.  However, this doesn’t stop some seeking proof of a rejection of the Pope Emeritus’ vision in these actions, and in particular in the events affecting the Franciscans of the Immaculate and, ultimately, the stalled negotiations with the Society of St Pius X.  It also does not stop the incessant interpreting in some quarters of every move and countermove of ecclesiastical authorities on these issues.  Whilst all these are realities, and they affect the lives of real people, there is a risk that too much focus on it unduly distracts from the work of promoting and celebrating worthily our divine liturgy; a work that never stops.

Even if we accept that Pope Francis’ priorities are elsewhere, does this change anything for those seeking greater reverence, transcendence and, where it is desired, greater availability of the Traditional Mass?  Is the need for transcendent worship really dependent on who sits on the Throne of Peter as the Servant of the Servants of God? Whilst it’s self-evidently a great help that the Successor of St Peter openly and consistently champions it and is an exemplar all the time, isn’t it also independent of all that?  Rather, we think it goes to the “legitimate aspirations” which Pope Saint John-Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have recognised as being present with all the faithful who find the older forms of spiritual  use to them. It is consistent with Catholic Tradition and the tradition of our closest brothers in the faith, the Orthodox Churches.  And it’s consistent in our belief in the Real Presence and its implications for our lives here and hereafter, regardless of the form of the liturgy we as individual Catholics are drawn to are which is available to us.  A liturgy with only serves to celebrate ourselves rather than being centred on God, serves no-one, least of all ourselves.

And so, in giving thanks to Almighty God for Summorum Pontificum, and in remembering our beloved Pope Emeritus on this day, let us also pray for Our Holy Father, Pope Francis in his arduous task of governing the Church and for the continuing progress throughout the world of the worthy celebration of the Mass in all forms and all its rites so that God may be glorified, His people grow in love and mercy and His people – us – be saved.