31 July 2021

Traditionis Custodes and "Reception Theory" – or – When a Law Is No Law at All.

The document by Walter, Cardinal Brandmüller that Fr Zed cites is here.

From Fr Z's Blog

Have you ever heard of “reception theory”?

Reception theory states that a law, in order to be a law, a binding law, must be received by the community for which it is intended.  If the community does not receive it, that is, they reject it outright or it fails to have any effect on how they live, the presumed law is non-binding and is really no law at all.

This doesn’t apply to moral law, because it flows from above reception or rejection by mere human beings.   In the late 1960’s and after, dissidents from Humanae vitae infamously tried to apply “reception theory” to the Church’s teaching on contraception.  Fail.

Reception theory does not apply to moral teaching, but it can apply to certain of the Church’s disciplinary law, which includes liturgical law.

Examples of non-reception of law are when in 1535 Paul III published a new Breviary which departed from tradition.  It was criticized and ignored and in 1568 Pius V withdrew it.

Let’s have a mind exercise and think about reception theory in view of Traditionis custodes, 

Popes make mistakes.  The faithful can see that they make mistakes.  The faithful have the right to express themselves about those mistakes, even when they have to do with disciplinary laws.  Sometimes the faithful respectfully and quietly vote with their feet.  Sometimes they organize and take action.  Sometimes they organize and quietly resist.  But Popes make mistakes.

Fr. James Coriden, who has written on reception theory, uses John XXIII’s ill-fated Apostolic Constitution Veterum sapientia (on the preservation and promotion of Latin, especially in seminaries) as a example of norms which were not received.  That was an Apostolic Constitution signed on the main altar of St. Peter’s Basilica.  BTW…  Veterum sapientia was decidedly NOT a mistake, but it was subject to wholesale neglect.

Moving forward, get your mind around this.

The Modern Roman Rite, the Novus Ordo, was clearly not received with universal acceptance.

Yes, it was pretty much brutally imposed universally, in one form of experimentation after another, through the 70’s and 80’s.  However, it was not universally received.

“But Father! But Father!”, some of you papalotrous Rahnerians are whimpering, “That’s not true!  If it were you could prove it but you can’t.  Besides, deep down inside every one really wants the Novus Ordo without all that Latin … or they would if they truly had the Spirit.  The Spirit of Vatican II has engendered so many fruits! But YOU HATE VATICAN II!”

I agree completely.  The Spirit of Vatican II has produced a great many fruits.

Almost 5 years after the imposition of the Novus Ordo Missae by Paul VI, on 28 October 1974, the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship issued the Notification Conferentiarium Episcopalium which insisted that bishops “should …endeavor to secure the acceptance of the Order of the Mass of the New Roman Missal by priests and laity.”

“…endeavor to secure the acceptance…”?!?

The Novus Ordo had not been universally received.

In 1980, another document was issued, Inaestimabile donum, outlined the many abuses which had arisen over the decade.   Where there are abuses there is non-reception, ironically by those who say they accept it – and only it – and then twist it into something that it is not.  When you receive, you “Say The Black – Do The Red”.

In 1984, John Paul II issed Quattuor abhinc annos which gave an (as we now know unnecessary) “indult” for the use of the 1962 Missale Romanum.   Apparently the Novus Ordo Missae wasn’t universally received, if enough people wanted the old ways that even John Paul II acquiesced.

In 1988, John Paul II issued the Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei adflicta opening up greater use of the traditional Missal and even commanding “generosity” on the part of bishops.  How you command generosity from bishops is a good question.

In 2001, the Congregation for Divine Worship issued the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, which, as various document before, had to deal with manifestations of non-reception of the Novus Ordo, that is, abuses.  Remember: liturgical abuses are manifestations of non-reception.

In 2007 Benedict XVI issued the Traditional Roman Rite’s “Emancipation Proclamation” with the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum.

In 2021, Francis issued his landmark decision about the growing desire for the Traditional Roman Rite in his “Plessy v. Ferguson” called Traditionis custodes.   The fact that he is trying to suppress the TLM is more proof that, far from being universally received, the Novus Ordo Missae is being rejected.  Some reject it because of what they see as doctrinal deficiencies.  The majority of those who want Tradition reject it, not out of disdain but simply because they prefer the older form.

That’s some background and data about “reception theory” applied to the liturgical disciplinary issues we see today.

Moving on, I note with great interest today that Marco Tosatti, cites “dubia” Card. Brandmüller at Kath.net. “To be valid, a law must be accepted”.

Also, at NLM, my friend Nancy Llewellyn, a fine Latinist, brings up the issue of Veterum sapientia in the light of Traditionis.  She points out that Pope John died before the regulations he commanded were able to go into effect.  Hence, it went the way of all flesh.  She also says that those norms, hard to find, are now available in translation, which should be pretty interesting.  I suspect that reading them will be like one of those movies in which the other side won… except the other side is, in this case, the good guys.   BTW… Veterum sapientia was never abrogated.   It was, however, obviously not received by the community for which it was intended (especially seminaries).

My prediction is that Traditionis custodes is not going to be received in the long run.  It will prove to be no law at all. 

Sure, there will be some zealous bishops who turn on the faithful who want Tradition.  It is inevitable, considering.  However, my sense is that there are so many young priests and young people who now know and love the TLM that they will find a way simply to keep going.  It might be as simple as Father leaving the doors open when he says Mass privately (that is, not on the schedule) and people happen to wander in for some time in church.   It might be that the bishop will strike down that young priest.  A couple others will spring up.

I don’t think this can be stopped.

Mind you, there are going to be a lot of tears and anguish because of these bishops.  But in the end, they are only bishops.

Friends, when your bishops do something good and generous regarding the Traditional Roman Rite, thank them.  When they do something stingy, work on them with spiritual bouquets, fasting, sincere requests.  Be the woman at the door of the judge before you turn to more drastic measures.

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