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Monday, February 06, 2006

Hope for the Old Mass or not?


It has now been nine months since the election of Pope Benedict XVI and the hoped for liberalisation of the Old Rite has not occurred. Like many people I was overjoyed when Cardinal Ratzinger was announced as the successor to St. Peter. Here was a Pope who had not only written a great deal on the problems of the liturgy since the introduction of the new Rite of Mass but had supported the Ecclesia Dei communities from their inception (helping the FSSP found their seminary in Wigratzbad) and had even celebrated the Old Rite publicly.

All of this led many people to believe that a liberalisation of the Old Rite would soon follow Pope Benedict’s election, either at the Synod in Rome in October 2005 or at various other occasions over the past few months. The plain fact is that there has been no liberalisation and that the Old Rite remains shackled by the conditions laid down in Ecclesia Dei. For whilst Ecclesia Dei can, in many ways, be seen as a great boon for traditionalist Catholicism, it allowed the bishops to effectively expunge the Old Rite from their diocese if they so wished. I doubt very much whether this was the intention of John Paul II, but so much was left to the generosity of the bishops and little consideration was given to the fact that many bishops had no generosity when it came to the Old Mass.

We are faced then with the possibility that the situation as it is will remain and there will be no further liberalisation of the Old Rite beyond that already laid down in Ecclesia Dei. It is possible that Pope Benedict will yet act to free the Old Rite further but I want to look at the ‘worst case’ scenario for the traditionalist movement. Should the restrictions on the old Rite remain in force then there are certain factors which I believe will result in a gradual improvement in the situation even if there is no direct action from Rome. The chief factors in this, I believe, are the growth of the traditionalist movements as opposed to the decline of diocesan priestly vocations; negotiations with the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX); gradual improvements to the celebration of the Novus Ordo; but most important of all the appointment of bishops, which will be the key to wider acceptance of the Old Rite.

The decline in vocations to the priesthood and the religious life in the Western world are well documented and this shortage will become ever more critical to the future of Catholicism. The much hearkened increase in vocations in the developing world must be set against the extremely low ratio for priests compared to the total Catholic population there. The increase in vocations in the developing world therefore, will be barely sufficient to meet the needs of their own populations. This means that the idea of a flow of priests to the developed world resolving the shortage is nothing more than an illusion. Traditionalist orders on the other hand have more vocations than can be admitted. Admittedly this may in part be due to the fact that there are only a handful of traditionalist seminaries but it still compares very favourably with figures for the diocesan seminaries. For example the six seminaries serving England & Wales have a combined total of around 120 seminarians – this is less than the total numbers of FSSP seminarians in Denton and Wigratzbad. It seems therefore fair to state that the ratio between traditionalist priests to novus ordo priests will increase very favourably in the future. Whilst it is unlikely that traditionalist priests will outnumber novus ordo priests any time soon; the fact that they will be an increasingly greater percentage of the total number of priests means that the bishops and the rest of the Church will have to take note of them.

Relations with the SSPX are beginning to feature as part of the Pope’s agenda. It is significant that he has met with Bishop Fellay, SSPX Superior General so soon in his pontificate and it appears there has been a lot of activity behind the scenes to resolve the problem. It seems that the SSPX will be offered the chance to regularise their situation with the church probably along the lines of an Apostolic Administration as at Campos. I have some doubts about whether they will accept this especially given some of the pronouncements of Bishop Williamson, SSPX – who (although he fervently denies it) seems to come very close to sedevacantism. Nevertheless, should they be offered such an opportunity to regularise their situation within the Church this will undoubtedly have an impact on the rest of the Church. For in it we might see a much enlarged Ecclesia Dei movement free to run parishes and apostolates without interference from the bishops. This would be a boost to tradition in terms of greater freedom but it does leave several question marks hanging over how the indult communities (by this I mean those priests and parishes not affiliated to Ecclesia Dei but which celebrate the 1962 liturgy with Episcopal approval) would fit into all this. Would the 1962 liturgy become the preserve of the enlarged Ecclesia Dei community or would others in the Church be permitted it?

The possibility of improving the celebration of the novus ordo could also be a catalyst for greater freedom for the old rite. The Pope as Cardinal Ratzinger called for a new liturgical movement to invigorate the liturgy after the post Vatican II upheaval and he wrote a great deal on the liturgy of the Church. He has also played his part in helping to overturn the sacred cows of the liturgy as envisioned by those who adhered to the mythical ‘spirit of Vatican II’. The Pope's criticisms of the versus populum celebration of the Mass and of the importance of sacred music are well known and I will not recount them here. But this high regard for the correct celebration of the liturgy may well lead to an improvement in the celebration of the novus ordo. This will effect traditionalists by default – for if people can see in the new rite that the versus orientem celebration of Mass; the Latin language and Gregorian chant have their place in modern Catholicism then the demand of traditionalists for a celebration of the 1962 Mass will seem more congruous with the liturgy of the wider Church.
Finally, the appointment of bishops represents the key to the future growth of the traditionalism within the Church. It is well known that Pope John Paul II did not take an overly keen interest in the appointment of bishops. Those appointed tended to be good pastors in many ways but lacked the gravitas and theological background that is perhaps necessary. It is unlikely that Pope Benedict will take the same approach to the appointment of bishops. With his experience of working in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith he has a sure knowledge of what has gone wrong with the appointment of bishops in the past and we can be sure that he will take a keen interest in ensuring that past mistakes are not repeated. In future we can expect to see more theologians as bishops. This I believe will lead to a much wider granting of the indult Mass in the future thereby avoiding the problems of John Paul II’s pontificate where many bishops did not implement the indult as the Holy Father had anticipated.

So will any of this happen – obviously only time will tell but it seems that there is a real hope for the traditional Mass now which has not been the case for many years. It makes me think of the words of John’s Gospel at the end of Mass Et lux in tenebris lucet, et tenebrae eam non comprehenderunt. - The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The old Mass has been the light shining in the darkness but it has not been overcome – we can only hope that it will now go on to flourish.

Comments [4]

Blogger chattr:

Et lux in tenebris lucet et tenebrae eam non conprehenderunt

And the light shineth in darkness: and the darkness did not comprehend it.

Mon Feb 06, 06:57:00 PM GMT  
Blogger roydosan:

I know, but I prefer the RSV translation over the vulgate.

Tue Feb 07, 09:03:00 AM GMT  
Blogger KOZ:

information from Traditio : http://www.traditio.com

In France, a website has exposed a kind of "shadow government" within the Society of St. Pius X, organized by Schmidberger. This noyau dirigeant, or "leadership cell," is said to include, like the Communist cells of the 1940s and 1950s, a small number of priests inside the SSPX tightly linked to Ratzinger and controlling the Society's external communications to its members. The information associates the common German background of Schmidberger and Ratzinger and describes how this "shadow government" took control of the Society after the death of its Archbishop-Founder.

Sources within the Society report that Fellay & Schmidberger have in fact been arranging a deal with Newrome. However, when TRADITIO and other international sources started reporting the Big Picture, a firestorm erupted around them, and they had to backtrack, so are now issuing denials of what they previous said and did. In effect, Fellay & Schmidberger are creating the "rumor" mill that they accuse others of doing.

Cognoscenti in the Society believe that Newrome is playing Fellay & Schmidberger for naifs, putting out rumors to inflame the situation and cause divisions within the SSPX. It is feared that if Newrome does "lift the excommunications" next week, the Society could split, and it is Fellay-Schmidberger & Co. who have put them in this bad position.

http://www.catholicville.blogspot.com

Tue Feb 07, 05:23:00 PM GMT  
Blogger Perpétua:

I always enjoy reading your essays very much - thank you for all the prayerful thought that goes into them.

Wed Feb 08, 12:34:00 PM GMT  

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