This past Friday, May 13, 2011 (Our Lady of Fatima), the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei released the Instruction Universae Ecclesiae (To the Universal Church), "on the application of the Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum." Summorum Pontificum was Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 motu proprio which, as the Instruction states, “made the richness of the Roman Liturgy more accessible to the Universal Church” (1).
The implementation of Summorum Pontificum in continuity with the Second Vatican Council has been a defining part of my time here as pastor at St. Mary Church and it is worth reflecting on this new Instruction in light of our experience.
In reading Universae Ecclesiae, I cannot help but think that we here at St. Mary Church are implementing the Holy Father’s liturgical vision. The heart of the Instruction states: “The Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI and the last edition prepared under Pope John XXIII, are two forms of the Roman Liturgy, defined respectively as ordinaria and extraordinaria: they are two usages of the one Roman Rite, one alongside the other. Both are the expression of the same lex orandi of the Church. On account of its venerable and ancient use, the forma extraordinaria is to be maintained with appropriate honor” (6).
Where is this liturgical vision being carried out in the Catholic Church today? There are many parishes that will avoid any positive reference to the extraordinary form. There are also a small number of parishes, most of which are run by religious orders, that will do the extraordinary form exclusively, without the ordinary form. There are parishes that do both the ordinary and extraordinary forms, but where the extraordinary form is a fringe element, handled by an external group of priests at odd Mass times. Who, then, is going to bring the extraordinary form and ordinary form together in one parish, “alongside one another”? By the grace of God, St. Mary Church in Norwalk is doing just this.
The Instruction goes on to say that the extraordinary form is to be “considered a treasure to be preserved” (8, a) and that the bishop is “to ensure respect for the forma extraordinaria of the Roman Rite” (13). Therefore, those who feel a certain hostility toward the Traditional Latin Mass need to examine their consciences as to whether they are thinking with the mind and heart of the Church, or whether more secular models of Catholicism have seeped into their thinking.
On the other hand Universae Ecclesiae wants to avoid the other extreme as well: “The faithful who ask for the celebration of the forma extraordinaria must not in any way support or belong to groups which show themselves to be against the validity or legitimacy of the Holy Mass or the Sacraments celebrated in the forma ordinaria” (19). While some of the faithful may have a preference for the extraordinary form, groups which attack on the legitimacy of the ordinary form are not part of the Holy Father’s vision of the liturgy.
Nonetheless, the implementation of the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, which ultimately became the ordinary form of the Mass, is not above criticism. Speaking at an international conference on the liturgy earlier this month, Pope Benedict XVI stated that the purpose of the reform, “was not mainly to change the rites and texts” but to “renew the mentality” of worshipers. But he acknowledged that the implementation fell short of this goal. “Unfortunately,” the Holy Father stated, “the liturgy has perhaps been seen – even by us, pastors and experts – more as an object to reform, than a subject capable of renewing Christian life.”
While there have always been numerous liturgical rites within the history of the Catholic Church, it is a unique and even confusing historical development to have two official forms of the one Roman Rite. How are the two forms and their respective calendars to be reconciled? As a pastor who has been actively promoting a reverent celebration of both forms for almost four years now, there have been no shortage of strong opinions directed at me from across the liturgical spectrum trying to answer this question.
I think it must be said that the people have a right to come to church and to have the same holy Mass, performed with the same rituals every week so that through the repeated gestures and symbols, the Sacred mysteries are properly communicated. However, with so many changes, and so many liturgical abuses since Vatican II, the faithful have become the arbiters of good liturgy; a position that they have historically never possessed. Perhaps, as Martin Mosebach has written, this is one of the greatest tragedies of the post-Vatican II era of liturgy: rather than coming to worship the Triune God and humbling accepting the liturgy as a gift from heaven, the people in the pews have become self-proclaimed liturgical experts. As Mosebach writes, “I go to church to see God and come away like a theatre critic.”
Liturgical abuses became so bad after the Council that even the Congregation for Divine Worship’s instruction, Redemptionis Sacramentum, advises the faithful to do, “(A)ll that is in their power to ensure that the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist will be protected from any and every irreverence or distortion and that all abuses be thoroughly corrected. This is a most serious duty incumbent upon each and every one, and all are bound to carry it out without any favoritism” (183). Therefore, it is not surprising that so many of the laity have strong opinions, even if some of these opinions are uninformed.
As a priest, I have to be honest in saying that it is a challenge to offer the Roman Rite well here at the parish, with so many legitimate options: one Holy Mass I am offering the Sacrifice ad orientem, the next Mass I am offering It versus populum; one Mass is in Spanish, the next is in Latin; One Mass we are chanting the Latin Mass parts, the next we are reciting them in English; one Mass I am reciting the Canon out loud, the next the Canon is silent. This is the historical period that we are living in, and this is part of being a faithful Catholic in the year 2011.
For the future, Pope Benedict XVI has written that “the two forms of the usage of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching.” There is much speculation as to what this mutual enrichment will look like. Currently, I think the common element in both forms is what the Pope calls the ars celebrandi, or the art of proper liturgical celebration. More specifically, the ars celebrandi is the “faithful adherence to the liturgical norms” (Sacramentum Caritatis, 37), and a manner of offering which fosters “a sense of the sacred” (40) and “awe for the mystery of God” (41).
I think all of the clergy here at St. Mary Church practice this ars celebrandi well, and while we have many liturgical options here at St. Mary Church, I think this common ars celebrandi is evident. I am often told when parishioners have visited other parishes on vacation, or for various Sacramental celebrations, how they miss the reverence and devotion that goes on here during our Masses. Even our children have told me that they have been surprised by the lack of reverence when they have visited certain other parishes. I have also been told when parishioners notice this ars celebrandi in other parishes, with hope in their voice. Therefore for now, the ars celebrandi is the common bond of the two forms.
Where will this “mutual enrichment” of the two forms of the Roman Rite lead? Perhaps only the Holy Spirit knows but after the release of Universae Ecclesiae this past week, Cardinal Kurt Koch stated that the pope’s ultimate goal is not simply to allow the old and new forms to coexist, but to move toward a “common rite.”
For this to be done the Church’s liturgy must be offered in continuity with the Church’s tradition, as the Pope has made clear, and not seen as a break, where people make a distinction between a pre-Vatican II and post-Vatican II liturgy. This will be difficult because there are not a small number of Catholics who seem to be embedded in the liturgical manner and music of the 1970’s and 1980’s, and unable to view the liturgy outside of this period. There are even those who have a curious self-hatred for things Catholic, like any use of Latin in the Mass. Obstacles like this must be overcome.
We here at St. Mary Church are seeking to implement the liturgical vision of Pope Benedict XVI, with the two forms “alongside one another.” No doubt there will be criticism of this liturgical vision as being “too conservative” or even “self-righteous,” yet our response must be in imitation of the Pascal Lamb, who “when reviled did not revile in return” (1 Peter 2:23). If we are attempting to root ourselves in the truth, we must be equally rooted in charity.
For anyone who has eyes to see, there is something quite amazing going on here at St. Mary Church. There are many gifted people who are being attracted to St. Mary Church from far and wide, and what is happening is larger than any one of us: the growing number of young families, the devoted altar boys, the student schola, the ethnic diversity – yes, there is something amazing going on here at St. Mary Church and I am very proud to be part of it.
Sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Greg J. Markey
19 May 2011
The best statement I have read on Universae Ecclesiae yet
While doing some research for a future post, I dropped by the website of St Mary's parish in Norwalk Connecticut. The pastor there, Father Greg J Markey, has written for his "from the pastor" column of the website the best statement I have yet seen on Universae Ecclsiae. I reproduce it here without comment, as I believe it speaks for itself.