30 December 2021

Who Actually Delegitimizes the “Novus Ordo Missae”?

'[T]he liturgical reform of Paul VI is claimed, not by ... extremist critics of Vatican II, but by the highest authority itself, to be a rupture.'

From Rorate Cæli

The following detailed analysis of the Responsa ad dubia of the Congregation for Divine Worship by Clemens Victor Oldendorf was published in two parts, “The Fundamental Theoretical Question” and “The Preparedness for Concelebration,” on December 25 and 29, at kathnews.de (here and here). The following translation, prepared by Peter Kwasniewski, has been approved by the author.

The fundamental theoretical question

If one recalls the motives for which the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum legally established a bifurcation of the one Roman Rite, and stated that the older of these expressions had never been abrogated by Pope Paul VI or any of his successors, and had therefore always remained permitted in principle, it is clear that there was an abstract theoretical construct and legal fiction aimed precisely at justifying, formally and above all substantively, the post-conciliar liturgical reform of 1969 and Pope Paul VI, who had decreed and implemented it.

For my own part, I have often argued that the coexistence of different editiones typicae of the Missale Romanum (and other liturgical books) need not in itself pose a compelling problem if, as in our specific case, one edition is the latest one based on the reform mandate of the Council of Trent (1545–1563), and the other is the most recent one based on or following the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965). Here, an evaluation of the origins and liturgical structure of the rite in each case remains out of consideration for the time being, as do the advantages or disadvantages in the rite’s expression of Eucharistic dogma.

Traditionis Custodes, however, now says that the liturgical books promulgated by Paul VI and John Paul II after the Second Vatican Council are the “sole expression” of the lex orandi in the Roman Rite. Note: this is to say more than just that the Missale Romanum of Paul VI replaced the Missale Romanum of 1962, and replaced it completely. What is says is that the Tridentine missal or celebrations according to it are no longer even part of the Roman Rite; above all, that they are no longer an expression of the Latin-rite Church’s lex orandi.

At this point, it is not merely about the problem that, if this were true, then—despite protestations to the contrary—logically the Church’s lex credendi must have changed. But if the Tridentine rite is no longer Roman, and the rite resulting from the liturgical reform of Paul VI binds the entire Latin Church, a Tridentine Mass celebrated after July 16, 2021, finds itself in an ecclesiastical vacuum, both in terms of its ritual affiliation, and ultimately, in terms of ecclesiology.

It must be made very clear that given the nature of such claims, it will not be possible to comply with the new regulations in force from July 16 if one desires to hold on to the liturgical tradition with deliberation and conviction or to maintain one’s connection to it.

Rome now openly claims the post-conciliar liturgical reform as a breach

It is not the traditionalists who are using Traditionis Custodes to question the legitimacy of Paul VI’s post-conciliar liturgical reform. Quite apart from the fact that Benedict XVI had built golden bridges to this legitimacy in Summorum Pontificum, one could easily concede—even without necessarily having to use the new liturgical books oneself on account of this concession—that a newer usus of the Roman Rite, where it has meanwhile been observed for decades in a manner faithful to its own prescriptions, could develop some legitimacy and a justification of its own, even if one thinks that it did not originally possess them, or at least is open to the possibility that it might have lacked them at the start.

All previous old-rite indults, and likewise the Motu Proprio of 2007, could be understood in a such a way that one could make these concessions if it was important to be in tension-free agreement with the ecclesiastical authorities, despite one’s own adherence to the Tridentine Mass and liturgy, and if one wanted to do everything correctly in purely formal canonical terms.

The premises that have now been established with Traditionis Custodes and reaffirmed by the Responsa of the Congregation for Divine Worship are for the first time clearly unacceptable to anyone who has hitherto preferred the liturgical books of 1962 for reasons other than preference or a sympathy of mentality. Indeed, now the liturgical tradition up to the Second Vatican Council is quite blatantly relegated to an allegedly deficient, even lacking, conformity with the Church’s lex orandi, and pushed out of the realm of what is to be henceforth considered the Roman Rite.

Thus, the liturgical reform of Paul VI is claimed, not by obscure or extremist critics of Vatican II, but by the highest authority itself, to be a rupture. This must, at least in strict theory, deprive it of the legitimacy it may have originally had formally, or may have gained in the meantime through long-continued use in the numerically predominant part of the Church.

Those who felt obliged by ecclesiastical obedience to accept the post-Conciliar liturgical reform, and yet endeavored not to make use of the new rite of Mass in conscious opposition to the previous one, are equally challenged, by the interpretation given to the liturgical reform in Traditionis Custodis and the related explanations from the Congregation for Divine Worship, to reconsider their previous attitude and liturgical practice.

From its treatment in the Responsa ad dubia, it is quite clear that this document of the Congregation for Divine Worship is by no means addressed only to local bishops in whose dioceses Masses have already been celebrated according to the Missale Romanum of 1962, nor only to diocesan priests who have already celebrated them, those who are to be commissioned to do so in the future, or those who would like to celebrate in the future according to this missal. The answers clearly also concern the former “Ecclesia Dei” communities and the priests who belong or will belong to them. In this regard, it is worth recalling what Pope Benedict XVI wrote in 2007 in the letter accompanying his Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum: “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. The total exclusion of the new rite would not in fact be consistent with the recognition of its value and holiness.”

This willingness in principle, however, has until now been a purely theoretical one that has never materialized or had to be demonstrated in practice. Incidentally, it is striking in Benedict XVI’s formulation that it is not even specifically about concelebration according to the new liturgical books. The dubium here under examination asks: “If a priest who has been permitted to use the 1962 Missale Romanum does not recognize the validity and legitimacy of concelebration—refuses to concelebrate, especially at the Chrism Mass—can he continue to avail himself of this permission?” The answer to this question of doubt is a resounding no.

But priests of the former Ecclesia Dei communities are obviously among those who have been “permitted to use the 1962 Missale Romanum.” What is interesting in the wording of the question is the talk of recognizing the validity and legitimacy of concelebration, and the implicit presupposition that such recognition can consist only in occasionally concelebrating in person, and especially at the Chrism Mass with the local bishop in whose diocese one resides and ministers. The explanatory note speaks of the validity and legitimacy of the liturgical reform, so “concelebration” and Pope Paul VI’s post-conciliar “liturgical reform” are, as it were, used synonymously. In other words, the practice of concelebration is seen as an exquisite achievement of this liturgical reform, like an emblem. And although current canon law guarantees the right to individual celebration, as is well known, one should not be surprised at such an interpretation, since in St. Peter’s itself, individual celebrations even according to the post-conciliar missal have been de facto abolished in favor of concelebration.

In this dubium on concelebration in particular, with the answer and explanatory note, it is therefore clearly a question of priests who up to now have exclusively used the old Missal and were allowed to do so.

Evidently, the vast majority of diocesan priests or religious priests who celebrated indult Masses or, after 2007, have used the 1962 Missale Romanum on the basis of Summorum Pontificum, have predominantly celebrated (and, where appropriate, concelebrated) in the post-conciliar renewed rite of Paul VI, and have already thereby sufficiently demonstrated that they recognize the validity and legitimacy of the post-conciliar liturgical reform.

The members of the earlier Ecclesia Dei communities also did so in theory, for, like all others who made use of Summorum Pontificum
, they thereby accepted, at least by implication, that the one Roman Rite had two forms and even, de iure, that the newer form enjoys a certain primacy of place, as it had emerged from Paul VI’s liturgical reform following the Second Vatican Council.

But if one now considers that Traditionis Custodes can logically address itself only to traditionalists who have already claimed, as the basis of their adherence to the liturgical tradition, the papal indults or the preceding motu proprio of Benedict XVI, and who, with the local bishops’ approval, have developed and continue to develop their activity mostly in regular places of worship where they have celebrated and continue to celebrate as guests with the approval of the pastor, then it is once again questionable why they should have to offer additional proofs of the validity and legitimacy of the liturgical reform by concelebrating in person.

Although there is the exception of the Archdiocese of Vaduz, where the diocesan bishop has celebrated the Chrism Mass according to the old liturgical books for several years in the past (which will no longer be possible in the future, unless he is willing to ignore the prohibition), concelebration is not the only way to express one’s hierarchical communion with the bishop.

By receiving from the local ordinary the sacred oils consecrated in the new rite, a priest also accepts its validity, and furthermore—with the exception of the Apostolic Administration of the Holy Curé of Ars in Campos, Brazil—none of the former Ecclesia Dei communities have their own bishops, consecrated according to the old Pontifical. Even if the priests themselves have been ordained according to the old Pontifical up to now, from this point of view, none of the priests of these communities is, so to speak, “purely Tridentine” because the prelates ordaining them were ordained using the 1968 Pontifical; and even the SSPX accepts into its ranks priests ordained in the new rite, or at least collaborates with them. (Only if there are doubts about validity in a concrete individual case and the priest in question explicitly draws attention to the possible problems can there sometimes be a discreet conditional re-ordination, at the priest’s explicit request.)

Furthermore, it can be pointed out that probably the majority of the Masses celebrated on the basis of Summorum Pontificum using the Tridentine Missal were celebrated in churches and chapels where otherwise the post-conciliar Missal is predominantly used, and moreover, that at such Masses, in the Vetus Ordo, Communion for the faithful may be taken from ciboria in the tabernacle whose hosts were consecrated in celebrations according to the new missal. Such a thing would certainly not be possible if there was a denial of the validity and legitimacy of the new rite.

In the dubium about concelebration under closer consideration here, therefore, an unrealistic construct is present, one which, strictly speaking, cannot have existed in the case of anyone who has ever applied to benefit from an old-rite indult, or who, from September 14, 2007 to July 16, 2021, celebrated Masses on the basis of Summorum Pontificum according to the Missale Romanum of 1962, or assisted at Masses celebrated on this legal basis. In short: a much higher threshold of evidence than could possibly be necessary has been introduced, which gives the response a punitive character.

The traditionalists whom Traditionis Custodes is targeting have never asked for “permission” to hold on to the traditional liturgy—they consider it a patrimony prior to and deeper than the whim of the pope—and will not now suddenly allow it to be taken away and forbidden by Pope Francis. However, many of those who, until now, have attached importance to the requesting and receipt of such permission may now start to think again about it, and possibly even more, about the basic validity and legitimacy of the liturgical reform, including the Pauline Pontificale Romanum of 1968 and the Pauline Novus Ordo of 1969—especially since the post-conciliar liturgical books have now been claimed to be the sole (!) expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite. Such unreality handicaps this declaration that it compels a re-examination of the delicate (and, some might say, unsustainable) peace on which Summorum Pontificum was constructed.

The faithful who feel committed to the liturgical tradition of the Latin Church and who want to be nothing but Roman Catholics are thus pushed out, and it becomes clear: Pope Francis and the Congregation for Divine Worship are obviously not really concerned with the high good of genuine ecclesial unity, but at most with a positivist loyalty to authority.

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