A Sobering Assessment
Many traditionalists have waxed eloquently optimistic concerning the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum. This side of sedevacantism, the writing and publication of this document is considered a great act of courage on the part of Benedict XVI, and a turning point towards the full restoration of tradition. I believe, however, that it is necessary to interject a note of caution into this general euphoria.
The Devil works in many ways. For forty years he has worked to suppress the traditional Mass, and to directly work for the substitution of the New for the Old. It has been a demonic contest carried out against the Church’s sacred liturgy, one which is very comparable to that which was conducted against Church doctrine in the early Church. As I have said, it tended to be direct – direct denial, suppression, persecution, and substitution.
Such a frontal attack, from the Devil’s standpoint, has mixed blessings. It usually gains swift advantage over many souls, and causes great chaos. On the other hand, its great weakness (again, we are speaking from the Devil’s shoes) is that it leaves the choices relatively clear, and in doing so it creates a remnant (large or small) of souls who are only strengthened in their own orthodoxy through the suffering and opposition which ensues.
Much more subtle and effective are the ploys of Modernism, which Pope St. Pius X characterized as “arts entirely new and full of deceit.” It is precisely these “arts full of deceit” which allow Modernism to deceive souls whom former heresies and errors would have left untouched. These arts are many. With each new purveyor of modernism one is usually faced with a new “dark art” which must be unraveled and penetrated.
One of the most important things to realize about Modernism is that, rather than being directly confrontational, as were former heresies, it tends to be much more duplicitous and seductive. Pope St. Pius X described the Modernist as one who poses as an orthodox Catholic, while at the same time using his position to spread subtle poisons which seep in everywhere and threaten the vital energy of the entire Church. Such persons can only do this by posing as a friend.
The question which I wish to pose here is whether Summorum Pontificum is a true act of friendship and acceptance towards the traditional Faith and Mass or whether, on the other hand, it is something which constitutes a modernist threat to their survival.
Traditionalists have been very fond of the phrase lex orandi, lex credendi – which is usually translated as “the law of prayer determines the law of faith.” In Summorum Pontificum Pope Benedict employs a parallel phrase: Lex orandi eius legi credendi respondet”(taken from the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 3rd ed., 2002, no 397) – “[the Church’s] law of prayer corresponds to her law of faith.” This would seem to indicate the opposite order of causation and determination. If the law of prayer corresponds to the law of faith, then it would certainly appear that the law of faith is the determining factor in the formation of the liturgy.
Pope Pius XII, in Mediator Dei, agreed. After flatly stating that lex orandi, lex credendi “is not what the Church teaches,” he proceeds to write:
“But if one desires to differentiate and describe the relationship between faith and the sacred Liturgy in absolute and general terms, it is perfectly correct to say: ‘Lex credendi legem statuat supplicandi’ – let the rule of belief determine the rule of prayer.” (#48)
Let us repeat this principle with emphasis: “Let the rule of belief determine the rule of prayer.” In fact, let us interpolate somewhat by saying “the rule of belief will determine the rule of prayer.” This, of course, is precisely what Benedict XVI means when he says that “the law of prayer corresponds to her faith.”
Now, it is a strong contention among traditionalists that it is a different faith (or different approach to the faith) that has been operative within, and largely in control of, the Church since Vatican Council II, and that the New Mass is reflective of this “new faith,” and cannot be reconciled with the traditional faith or liturgy. If this different approach to the faith is still in control of the Church, then it can be logically assumed that the Traditional Mass (which is fully reflective of the traditional faith, and cannot be reconciled with this approach) will be changed now that it has been fully incorporated as one of the two forms of the Latin Rite. In fact, unless Pope Benedict and his successors experience a conversion to the fullness of the traditional faith, we might even say that the Mass is bound to be changed – according the principle “let the rule of belief determine the rule of prayer.”
Pope Benedict has made it clear that the New Mass remains normative or “ordinary” in the Church (and that the Old is “extraordinary”), and that he remains committed to it and to Vatican Council II. In Article 1 of Summorum Pontificum he writes:
“The Roman Missal promulgated by Paul VI is the ordinary expression of the ‘Lex orandi’ (Law of prayer) of the Catholic Church of the Latin rite. Nonetheless, the Roman Missal promulgated by St. Pius V and reissued by Bl. John XXIII is to be considered as an extraordinary expression of that same ‘Lex orandi,’ and must be given due honour for its venerable and ancient usage. These two expressions of the Church’s Lex orandi will in no way lead to a division in the Church’s ‘Lex credendi’ (Law of belief). They are, in fact two usages of the one Roman rite.”
It is a virtually unanimous traditionalist position that there has existed for some time two very different and opposed versions of the lex credendi, and that these two different rules of belief have led to two very different and opposed rules of prayer. In other words, contrary to what the Pope says in the above passage, the division already exists. If the Pope asserts that “these two expressions of the Church’s ‘Lex orandi’ will in no way lead to a division in the Church’s ‘Lex credendi’, then we have every right to ask the question: How will this division be overcome?
In order to answer this question we must look at the dynamics of the rule of belief to which Benedict XVI has subscribed. This rule is most aptly called “essentialization.” As analyzed in several articles in Christian Order, and also my book The War Against Being and the Return to God, this essentializing of the faith is necessary for two primary reasons: 1) to bring faith into agreement with modern science, and 2) to accomplish the goals of ecumenism.
This process of essentialization necessitates a whole new relationship to the Catholic Magisterium. On May 24, 1990, Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published an Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian. Cardinal Ratzinger also presented to the press a fairly long statement regarding the structure and purpose of this document. It contains the following passage:
“The text also presents the various forms of binding authority which correspond to the grades of the Magisterium. It states – perhaps for the first time – that there are magisterial decisions which cannot be the final word on a given matter as such but, despite the permanent value of their principles, are chiefly also a signal for pastoral prudence, a sort of provisional policy. Their kernel remains valid, but the particulars determined by circumstances can stand in need of correction. In this connection, one will probably call to mind both the pontifical statements of the last century regarding freedom of religion and the anti-Modernists decisions of the beginning of this century, especially the decisions of the then Biblical Commission.”
This concept of “essentializing” the Magisterium was further developed by Pope Benedict XVI in his Dec 22, 2005 message to the Roman Curia. In speaking of the “legitimate” implementation of Vatican II, to which he is thoroughly dedicated, the Pope made the following statement:
“The steps taken by the Council towards the modern era which had rather vaguely been presented as ‘openness to the world’ [aggiornamento], belong in short to the perennial problem of the relationship between faith and reason that is re-emerging in ever new forms.”
These “ever new forms” of the relationship between faith and reason demand that truth be presented in “new ways.” Referring to these “new ways” of expressing truth, the Pope says:
“It is clear that this commitment to expressing a specific truth in a new way demands new thinking upon it and a new relationship with it.”
Finally, the specifics of this “new relationship” are given to us in the following passage from the Pope’s message:
“It is clear that in all these sectors [the Pope had just explored three sectors – 1) the relationship between faith and science; 2) the relationship between the Church and the modern state; 3) the relationship between the Church and the world religions], which all together form a single problem, some kind of discontinuity [with previous Church doctrine] might emerge. Indeed, a discontinuity had been revealed but in which, after the various distinctions between concrete historical situations and their requirements had been made, the continuity of principles proved not to have been abandoned. It is easy to miss this fact at a first glance.
It is precisely in this combination of continuity and discontinuity at different levels that the very nature of true reform consists. In this process of innovation in continuity we must learn to understand more practically than before that the Church’s decisions on contingent matters – for example, certain practical forms of liberalism or a free interpretation of the Bible – should necessarily be contingent themselves [the reader might try to imagine informing Pius IX or Pius X that their condemnations of Liberalism and Modernism were “contingent” and no longer applicable), precisely because they refer to a specific reality that is changeable in itself. It was necessary to learn that in these decisions it is only the principles that express the permanent aspect, since they remain as an undercurrent, motivating decisions from within.
On the other hand, not so permanent are the practical forms that depend on the historical situation and are therefore subject to change.”
As explored in my articles and book, Joseph Ratzinger has applied this process of essentialization to the following areas of Catholic doctrine: Religious Liberty, the relationship between Church and State, the relationship between Catholicism and the World Religions, the Anti-Modernist decisions of Pius X, the doctrine of Transubstantiation, the doctrine of Original Sin, the doctrine of Baptism, and the doctrine concerning the relationship between faith and science (or reason).
This is not an exhaustive list, but it should be sufficient to spur the reader to a question: If the basic attitude of Pope Benedict towards the faith is that it must be essentialized through the rejection of certain parts of magisterial doctrinal teaching as being “provisional,” and not relevant to the modern world, then does it not seem that any ancient liturgy must similarly be “essentialized” in order to correspond it to this newly essentialized faith? If the faith is not to be protected from such tampering, why should the Mass? Does not the inner dynamic of such a view of truth, in fact, demand such change?
In an essay titled The Regensburg Tradition and the Reform of the Liturgy (originally a 1994 sermon given on the occasion of the retirement of his brother, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, as choirmaster of Regensburg cathedral – published in The Essential Pope Benedict XVI, edited by John F. Thornton and Susan B. Varenne), Cardinal Ratzinger wrote the following:
“The history of the liturgy is constantly growing into an ever-new now, and it must also repeatedly prune back a present that has become the past, so that what is essential [emphasis mine] can reappear with new vigor [the reader might try repeating this sentence aloud several times in order to get its true flavor]. The liturgy needs growth and development as well as purgation and refining and in both cases needs to preserve its identity and that purpose without which it would lose the very reason for its existence. And if that is really the case, then the alternative between ‘traditionalists’ and ‘reformers’ is woefully inadequate to the situation. He who believes that he can only choose between old and new has already traveled a good way along a dead-end street.” (p. 170)
This, of course, means that the FSSP and the Institute of Christ the King are on a “dead-end street” if they expect to be able to exclusively say the Traditional Mass. This is precisely what Pope Benedict said in his letter to all the bishops concerning the implementation of Summorum Pontificum:
“Needless to say, in order to experience full communion, the priests of the communities adhering to the former usage cannot, as a matter of principle, exclude celebrating according to the new books.”
I have said that such change to, and essentialization of, the traditional Mass are the logical conclusion to the lex credendi now in control of the Church. This does not necessarily mean that it is inevitable. Grace can certainly supersede logical conclusions, and God could supernaturally intervene to prevent such a thing. But, in our present state of chastisement, God has apparently chosen not to intervene or prevent much of the nightmare that has been with us for the past forty years. We have no reason to expect a different turn of events at this point of time. We may indeed hope and pray, but not reasonably expect.
There are also practical considerations: Benedict XVI may indeed be willing to suspend the logical praxis of his own rule of faith for the benefit of achieving some sort of reconciliation with traditionalists. But the veneer of such a reconciliation would eventually wear thin, only to once again reveal the irreconcilable differences in the rules of faith and prayer. The fact is that unless Benedict XVI is fully converted to the traditional approach to the Catholic faith, we can reasonably expect the Mass to be altered and “essentialized.”
If this is to happen, it might very likely start with the prayer for the conversion of the Jews. Such a prayer is in severe contradiction with sector #3 mentioned in the Pope’s address to the Curia. In part, it states:
“In particular, [standing] before the recent crimes of the Nazi regime and, in general, with a retrospective look at a long and difficult history, it was necessary to evaluate and define in a new way the relationship between the Church and the faith of Israel.”
Pope Benedict has made it abundantly clear that, according to his rule of faith, such a relationship does not involve conversion. In keeping with this principle, Cardinal Bertone, Vatican Secretary of State, said on July 20 that this prayer for the conversion of the Jews could be removed from the Mass of Tradition, and the innocuous version of the Paul VI Missal substituted. It certainly seems possible (but not necessarily so) that this might happen even before the September 14th date for the implementation of the Motu Proprio. Such would be a Transfiguration of a darker sort. It is also possible, however, that this substitution might be deferred, possibly until next Lent. Its publication during this period would even more clearly manifest the fact that the Church has reversed its position regarding Jewish responsibility for the death of Jesus. In any event, Cardinal Bertone’s July 20 assurances to the Jews would seem to mandate an eventual change.
If we think deeply about it, we must see that the prayer for the conversion of the Jews embodies many elements which are at the heart of what the Mass is all about. Its suppression would be entirely in keeping with Pope Benedict’s statement in the Motu Proprio that the two forms of the Mass will enrich one another. This alteration in the Traditional Mass would be in accord with the rule of faith now governing the Church, but would amount to a suppression of the lex credendi of which the Traditional Mass is the expression
We must realize, above all else, that Pope Benedict XVI believes in the reforms of Vatican II. The problem, according to his way of thinking, is that they have not been properly implemented. This is especially true of the liturgy, which the Pope believes has been banalized, and falsified by spurious interpretations. He clearly believes in the positive effect which the Traditional Mass might have upon the New Mass in terms of a sort of dialectical relationship which will bring out the “spiritual richness” of the Paul VI Mass (the Pope makes this point in his letter to the bishops concerning the Motu Proprio). Again, the focal point is the New Mass – this is the ordinary form of worship. It is the form of the future, and it is the form which rightly reflects the “new relationships” necessary for the Church’s survival in the modern world.
As one author put it, the Pope wishes to use the Traditional Mass as a kind of fertilizer in order to bring the liturgical “reform” of Vatican II to fruition. The same author unfortunately missed the obvious implication. In order to achieve its purpose a fertilizer must be decomposed and absorbed.
Hopefully, none of this will happen. But it certainly is not a time for inebriation. It may prove to be true that there were advantages to being on the outside – to being a mere “indult.” We were the “strange ones” who were permitted to exist, but in many respects left alone. We went to “whatever” parish for our Mass, but weren’t really expected or required to send our children to the confirmation retreats, or to work at the parish festival (which in our part of the country inevitably includes a Polka Mass). It may indeed involve more suffering if we are required to be friends rather than freaks.
In my exchange with Michael Davies in the pages of Christian Order, I made the following statement: “Would it not be the final irony if Satan was able to draw the ‘elect’ into a denial of the Catholic Faith through their attachment to the Mass?”
Interestingly enough, some of those very people who just a short time ago were calling Cardinal Ratzinger a liar and deceiver over his “revelation” and interpretation of the Third Secret of Fatima, or were accusing him of promoting the heresy of indifferentism in his ecumenical statements concerning the Jewish “Covenant”, are now “down in adoration” over Summorum Pontificum. And yet, we are still dealing with the same man who apparently possesses the same lex credendi – as seen to be operative in the Pope’s Christmas, 2005 address to the curia, or as evidenced by images of a Pope praying in a Mosque in Turkey. And it is this same Pope who has laid down the principle that the Mass must conform to this rule of faith.
There will be many exciting stories during the next few days and weeks about priests seeking training on how to offer the Traditional Mass, increased interest in and attendance at existing indult Masses, bishops offering the Mass, etc. Inebriation may well rule the day. I believe, however, that a far darker night may yet come, and that we should be preparing ourselves through vigilance, prayer, and sobriety.
“For when they shall say, peace and security; then shall sudden destruction come upon them, as the pains upon her that is with child, and they shall not escape….
Therefore, let us not sleep, as other do; but let us watch, and be sober.” (1 Thess: 5: 3,6)
Authored by: James Larson – © 2008