Saturday, July 07, 2007

Te Deum Laudamus...

Te Dominum confitemur. So begins the great hymn "Te Deum", "We praise You O God, we confess that You are the Lord."

We have a great deal to give thanks for today, as our holy father Pope Benedict has released the long awaited Motu Proprio "Summorum Pontificum", which "frees" the pre-Vatican II Mass for wider and more regular use.

I won't try to exhaustively analyze the text here or comment on liturgical fine points: That has been and is being done very well over at The New Liturgical Movement and by Fr. Zuhlsdorf. But I will comment on a few things I notice right away in the document, and my thoughts on the "bigger picture" of what our holy father's act may accomplish:

The holy father clarifies two very important points. First, that the 1962 Missal of Blessed John XXIII was in fact never (contrary to what many Catholics were led to believe) abrogated or "gotten rid of". This, in a sense, vindicates the position held by many conservatives and traditionalists for the last three decades. Secondly, the Missal of Blessed John XXIII and that of Paul VI are in fact two legitimate expressions of the same Roman Rite. It is no longer possible to treat the Traditional Mass and its adherents as red-headed stepchildren and claim to be following the mind of the Church.

The Motu Proprio also inverts the position of the priest and people vis-a-vis their bishop regarding the celebration of the old rite, as compared to how it stood before. Until now, a priest or group of the faithful who wanted to celebrate the Traditional Mass had to go to their bishop hat-in-hand and convince him that there was sufficient reason for him to do so. All too often those requests were denied by bishops who, in so doing, abused their authority, in spite of the clearly-expressed mind of the Church as expressed in Ecclesia Dei, which urged bishops to grant permission "generously". Now, the presumption is that the "Extraordinary" form of the Roman Rite will be offered when circumstances warrant it, and a pastor or bishop who refuse to do so will have to explain himself.

The document also illustrates the holy father's awareness of the "lay of the land". Articles 7 and 8 make it clear that, in virtually any circumstance in which the faithful or a priest desire the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite and it is not provided, the situation is to be referred to the commission Ecclesia Dei. I call these articles the "No Excuse" clauses, paraphrasing St. Paul in Romans 1:20 where he explains that those who violate the law of God written in the human heart have "no excuse".

In doing these things, the holy father, as he declares in his accompanying letter, doesn't threaten the authority of the bishop as moderator of the liturgy in his diocese. But he does make clear that the bishop, in exercising his authority, is bound to do so in accord with the mind of the Church. And the Motu Proprio makes clear, in this area, where the mind of the Church lies. The bishop is not a law unto himself.

Finally, regarding the "bigger picture" to which I referred earlier, it seems to me that the Motu Proprio and the ensuing liberalization of the Classical Roman Rite can have a profoundly effect on the reinvigoration or reconstruction of an authentic Catholic culture. Catholic culture has become vitiated and impoverished in recent decades, and I am convinced that this is in large part a result of the impoverishment of the liturgy during that same time. Indeed, in some places one would be hard pressed to see many signs of an authentic Catholic culture surviving at all. Lex orandi, lex credendi, "the rule of prayer is the rule of faith", as the saying goes. If the "rule of prayer" is impoverished and cut off from its roots, then the faith it informs will be similarly impoverished and deracinated. And an impoverished and deracinated faith cannot be expected to build up and maintain a vigorous culture. As I wrote a while back, a people who loses touch with its roots is a people in danger of extinction. The culture, that is, our art, music, literature, and countless small rituals and habits of thought as well, is how our faith is "incarnated" in our lives. That culture has its roots in the cultus, that is, our liturgical and sacramental life.

If, as I (and it would appear, our holy father) hope, the wider use of the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite leads to a "cross-pollinization" of the rite of Paul VI, then the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church will be enriched. Such an enrichment and deepening of the expression of our faith in its "source and summit" cannot but have an enriching and deepening effect in our Catholic culture. And that, it seems to me, will lead to an overall reinvigoration of the Church, advancing her mission of leading the world to Christ.