Ten years ago this week, Pope Benedict XVi issued an apostolic letter called Summorum Pontificum that decreed that all Roman Catholic priests could offer “the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite,” also known as “the Traditional Latin Mass” that preceded Vatican II. In fact, Pope John Paul II had encouraged bishops to allow their priests to do this, but Pope Benedict went a step further in saying that priests did not need permission from their bishop to do the old Mass in private. Restrictions were to be loosened for this Mass offered in public, too. The Roman Catholic priest was also given permission to give the old absolution in Latin for penitents, extreme unction for the dying and early-Church blessings for anyone who asked. The priest can now live on the old calendar for both the Mass and the Roman Breviary (a system of 150 Psalms a week slightly changed from the 6th century onwards.)
It is very interesting that Summorum Pontificum was issued on 7/7/7, or in European dating, 7/7/7. Three is the superlative in Biblical terms for anything in heaven or on earth, so three sevens means “covenant to the utmost.” Interestingly enough, we have seven sacraments. But this number goes even deeper into tradition: In Hebrew, to “seven” someone is to covenant them, to enter into a life-for-a-life relationship. This is done by “cutting a covenant” as the Hebrew for “covenant” takes the verb “to cut.” For example, God first “cut a covenant” with Abraham by cutting apart two animals and two birds (Gen 15) and passing through them. He would turn this violence on Himself 2000 years later on the Cross and in the Holy Mass, for “the priest sunders with unbloody cut the body and blood of the Lord, using his voice as a sword.”—St. Gregory Nazienzen. This is not Calvinism or even the Father turning against the Son. It is the Divine Word as God offering his sacred humanity in body and in blood through the pain and love of the cross to each one of us. Some priests before Vatican II used to go off to Mass saying that they were going to do “holy violence to God.” Why? Because Jesus gives His body and blood to us from the most unkind cuts of Calvary, perpetuated in the Mass. Was it any accident that the most ancient form of the Roman Mass was re-opened (albeit never fully abrogated) on the 7th day of the 7th month of 2007? God establishes a worldwide covenant with His people.
Strangely, Pope Benedict never offered the extraordinary form in public. On the other hand, Pope Benedict XVI called the ordinary form “a banal, on-the-spot-fabrication.” How then, did he expect the old rites and new rites to be streamlined together in a single parish? Pope Benedict proposed “the hermeneutic of continuity.” The hermeneutic of continuity holds that there is to be no rupture in liturgy (or doctrine) before the Council or after the Council. I believe that this was the number one goal of his papacy and Summorum Pontificum. Has it worked?
At least one bishop this year has repealed Summorum Pontficum by stating that “Masses are not to be celebrated using the Extraordinary Form without my permission” as seen in this article. The new Mass is rarely permitted by bishops to be celebrated according to even post-Vatican-II rules. If you think this is an exaggeration, consider the 2004 document signed by Pope John Paul II and written by Cardinal Arinze, titled Redemptionis Sacramentum. In this document, it is clear that the new Mass can be done ad orientem (facing the altar.) Latin is permitted (yes, in the Mass of Vatican II) and pastors were encouraged to effect an enormous reduction of Extraordinary “Ministers” of Holy Communion. Pastors were permitted to eradicate reception of Holy Communion in the hand. Free-floating chalices were to be retracted anytime the Most Precious Blood of Jesus could be spilled. All of this is in Redemptionis Sacramentum, an official post-Vatican II document giving guidelines for the Mass of Paul VI.
But ad orientem worship was prohibited this past year as a clamp-down against Cardinal Sarah’s call for ad orientem Novus Ordo Masses (an echo of his African predecessor, Cardinal Arinze who wrote RS.) The few priests who try to do the new Mass according to its own rules are sent to the boondocks of their diocese. Priests who preach the truth of the Gospel are more and more frequently going into exile like this courageous priest from San Diego.
On this one point I agree with the theology of Bergoglio more than the theology of Ratzinger: There is no hermeneutic of continuity after Vatican II. The former has not said so specifically, but that is clearly his message in every conference, every week. Ratizinger’s envisioned “hermeneutic of continuity” was that the traditional doctrine, life and liturgy of Catholics would eventually make peace with, say, the progressive Cardinals of Northern Europe. Benedict tried to win them to his mild form of orthodoxy. How did they respond? They did something so mysterious that Dutch radio reported “that Ratzinger resigned because of” Cardinal Danneels and his friends. Benedict apparently denies this: 1 However, he looks strangely tired in every picture I see of him. Is he just old? Perhaps, but he actually looks disoriented, which I think is suspicious. Before he gave up the battle, his eyes seemed to say: “I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war.”—Psalm 119/120.
I believe that the primary driver for the spiritual attack against Pope Benedict was indeed his decree of Summorum Pontificum. Why? Neither Pope Benedict nor his earthly enemies know this, but demons know that Summorum Pontificum is the priest’s main link back to a Mass that the Council of Trent calls “Apostolic.” This would mean that Benedict somewhat-naively re-released the single greatest weapon of spiritual warfare for the good guys. 2
Even if I am wrong about my above speculations, most people agree that the days of feigned peace between traditional liturgy and wacky doctrines are long gone. Many men in power are now promoting a Hegelian dialectic where the “spirit” changes with human authority. The new Mass is no longer controlled through the lens of Church History, but through a nominalism condemned in Pope Benedict’s 2006 Regensburg address against Islam. Nominalism means authority can function in a manner willy-nilly: For example, the Vatican may or may not be currently in the works of fabricating an “Ecumenical Rite of Mass” for joint worship with Protestants. Or, consider how random it is that priests in Rome are being admonished to abandon daily Mass in favor of group concelebration.
Nominalism is the name of the game in the implementation of the new Mass. But is it only the implementation? Archbishop Bugnini said that he wrote the new Mass so that every parish be different in its celebration from the neighboring parish. See how wave-after-wave of semi-conservative young priests coming through the rank and file of America’s seminaries (with the promethean task of “doing the new Mass the right way”) always end up subsumed into the squishy pastoral-goo of parish life that has bled between 15 million and 20 million Catholics in the West following Vatican II. Sheep without shepherds. Soft-will-to power attracts few manly men to worship. (But go see a Traditional Latin Mass parish and you will find at least one military family, if not many.)
The few young priests who shield their conscience in choosing the 1962 sacraments (as allowed by Summorum Pontificum) face a harsher punishment: Just two weeks ago, a bishop asked his own priest (who I know very well!) to leave the priesthood and be “laicized.” Look: Bishops don’t even ask priests caught in homosexual relationships to be “laicized.” This is additional proof that there is something more than natural attack (read: preternatural attack) coming against Summorum Pontificium and the 1962 sacraments.
CS Lewis once wrote, “We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” The combination of Summorum Pontificum and the sad state of Rome-today ironically work towards the same goal: Priests will have to choose either a Mass that was designed with ambiguity (and is thus susceptible to a Hegelian dialectic of theology and Nietzsche’s will-to-power under the prelate-flavor of the day…) or choose a Mass that goes back to the fourth century, nearly unchanged, nearly unchange-able. Yes, it is becoming clear that the new Mass will never follow the rules of Redemptionis Sacramentum in even putatively-conservative dioceses of the world (except maybe Lincoln and Arlington?) In any case, it seems that Summorum Pontificum is currently the West’s only spelunking rope in a dark cave back to the light of what the Council of Trent calls “an Apostolic Mass.”
Summorum Pontificum colliding with the current circus maximus of Rome actually creates a fork in the road where there is no more grey zone, no more sitting on the fence. Finally, America’s smiley seminarians will have to man-up and choose either the living tradition of Divine Revelation or an ecumenical concelebration ad absurdum. The latter is possible, considering that progressive prelates are tolerant of everything except the hermeneutic of continuity. If I am right on this, then this means that Summorum Pontificum is currently the only road back to tradition. It is a road fraught with thorns and priestly betrayal. Such is the glory of the cross.