It has been almost six years since Pope Benedict XVI issued the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. Despite deficiencies in the text (two forms of one rite, for example), the point of this motu proprio – that the Traditional Latin Mass had never been abrogated – sent shockwaves through the entire Catholic world.
Traditional Catholics had argued for decades that the traditional Mass had never been abrogated; in return they were met with scorn, ridicule, and accusations of disobedience from the corners of the “conservative” Catholic world, ever eager to be in the right. Thus, despite the noted deficiencies in the text, Summorum Pontificum was, and remains to this day, an incredibly controversial text. This is not because of the juridical questions directly, but because of the clear statement that the ancient liturgical rite of Rome, which had formed countless saints, and which the reformers sought to kill, had never been abrogated.
Fast forward over five years to March 13, 2013. Benedict XVI, having announced his abdication in early February, had renounced the burden of that office, leading to the election of Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio, who would take the name Francis. In the uncertainty that followed, the question of the liturgy returned increasingly to the fore of Catholic discourse.
Liberals hoped the newly-elected pontiff would break down any restorative elements initiated by Benedict. Traditionalists and conservative Catholics who regularly attend the traditional liturgy were generally afraid that we would see a loss of papal decorum during the Pope’s own liturgies, and any movement towards liturgical sanity would be undone by the reigning Holy Father, or by the bishops acting with a new found freedom.
This concern, it seems is shared by at least some of the world’s bishops. Though sources differ on the exact nature of events, it appears that during a meeting with Pope Francis this past week, the bishops of Apulia (Italy) voiced concerns that the Traditional Mass, and those attending that Mass are causing divisions. They asked the Holy Father to do something to stop the spread of the traditional Mass.
Why all the fury and rancor? Isn’t the battle for the Mass over? Didn’t we traditionalists already win?
Allow me my personal thoughts on this matter. First, the war for the Mass is finished. Regardless of the strangeness of the wording, and the deficiencies noted in the text, the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum makes clear that the ancient liturgy of Rome is still in force, and that no prelate may hinder the celebration of this rite (even if that doesn’t happen on the ground.) The genie has, so to speak, been taken out of the bottle, and it is this writer’s contention that it will not be possible to put it back in. No, the Old Mass as something belonging to the Church, as well as the large number of additional Masses offered, show the essential goodness of that document. So, yes, the war for the Mass is won. But what of the battles? Obviously, there is a long way to go. Bishops still attempt to stop priests from learning and offering the traditional Mass, and many so-called conservative Catholics – committed to Bugnini’s reform – wish to downplay the importance of this return, pushing always for the novel Mass of Paul VI as the normative rite of the Roman Church. These battles will continue until the Church Herself is restored, which will happen at a time set by Almighty God Himself.
But what of traditionalists themselves and their reactions? From the earliest days of a “traditional movement” it has been clear on the part of the Society of St. Pius X that the battle for the liturgy is not the sum total of the fight. Above all, this is a battle for doctrine. That is why, having received the answer to the two-preconditions he had requested of Rome, Bishop Fellay began doctrinal discussions with the Holy See.
The objections of the Society of Saint Pius X, based on the perennial teachings of the Church’s Magisterium are perhaps most contentious when touching the Second Vatican Council’s (and the post-conciliar) teaching on religious liberty, ecumenism, and collegiality. This makes up the strongest fight of Archbishop Lefebvre in defense of Tradition, and so it remains today. Sadly, so many who have left the Society in order to have normal canonical structures have done so at the cost of this opposition. Certainly a great many priests and religious of these orders agree with the substance of the Society’s position, but they dare not say so. As a group they are silent on these questions. Since it is precisely diocesan priests and orders of these Ecclesia Dei groups who take advantage of the motu proprio – namely, those who will not rock the doctrinal boat – why are bishops so afraid of them? Why do they accuse them of causing a split in the Church?
It is precisely because of the power of the Old Mass. In it is contained a beautiful and accurate expression of the Church’s doctrine concerning redemption, propitiation, the Sacrifice of Our Lord, the hierarchical priesthood, and more! The liberals know this, perhaps more than us. They know that the restoration of this liturgy will lead not only to the end of the Novus Ordo, but also to the end of ecumenism, religious liberty, and collegiality.
When Archbishop Lefebvre met with Pope John Paul II in 1978, the Pope seemed prepared to allow the freedom of the Old Mass. Seeing this move, Cardinal Seper exclaimed, “Holy Father, they are making of the Old Mass a banner.” How well he spoke. While never giving up the direct doctrinal fight against the novelties of the Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar magisterium, and while recognizing the primacy of doctrine in our struggle, let us not hesitate to make “of the Old Mass a banner.” Let it be the standard under which our armies march, knowing that wherever it spreads, wherever love for it is engendered in the heart of the young, whenever the elderly return to the Mass of their childhood, or priests discover this Mass for the first time – let us remember in those cases that the revolution in the Church is checked just a bit more. Let us remember in those cases that the honor and glory of Our Lord Jesus Christ is increased, and that the power of religious liberty, ecumenism, collegiality, and all the errors so opposed to true religion, are smashed by the power, beauty, and goodness of the ancient rite of Rome.
Introibo ad altare Dei. Ad Deum qui laetificat iuventutem meam.
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About Dr. Koch: After his studies in Physics and Mathematics, Wolfgang Koch graduated with a PhD degree in Theoretical Physics at Aachen Technical University (RWTH) and a habilitation degree at the University of Bonn in Computer Science. He is head of a research department the Fraunhofer Society, Professor for Computer Science at Bonn University, Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), Distinguished Lecturer, and active in the Board of Governors of the IEEE, Aerospace and Electronic Systems Society and the International Society of Information Fusion.