“Just as there is a liturgical battle, there is also a doctrinal battle”
Interview with Fr. Claude Barthe,
chaplain of the Populus Summorum Pontificum pilgrimage to Rome.
1. Father, this fifth international pilgrimage of the Summorum Pontificum faithful will begin in Norcia: why such a choice?
First of all, because of St. Benedict, who was a native of Norcia and is a symbol of the Christian roots of Europe. While the Roman Empire was slowly but inexorably collapsing, St. Benedict chose to break away from the world, its corruption, its noise and its insignificance, in order to give himself completely to God. In an era which, in many respects, is like a new decline of Rome, St. Benedict calls us to a radical conversion.
Norcia is also a symbol of the Summorum Pontificum world, as the monks who operate there were commissioned by Cardinal Castrillon in 2009 to celebrate in utroque usu, in both forms of the Roman rite. Since then, Norcia has been packed with faithful and the town has seen a genuine economic revival thanks to the liturgical revival accomplished by the Benedictines.
2. Following on from Dom Pateau last year, this year’s pilgrimage will be directed by His Excellency Alexander Sample, archbishop of Portland: could you tell us about this prelate and what his presence represents?
Archbishop Sample is an exemplary pastor. One of the first bishops appointed by Benedict XVI in 2005, he was promoted to archbishop of Portland a few weeks before the resignation of the Holy Father, demonstrating the link which unites him to the Pope Emeritus. During Sacra Liturgia 2013 in Rome, he delivered a memorable conference on the bishop’s mission with regard to the liturgy, not hesitating to explain why the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum was, according to him, “one of the greatest gifts that could be given to the Church in the service of liturgical renewal and reform.” Beyond the liturgical field, he is filled with a deep concern for formation—of the clergy as well as of lay people—and behaves like a true father towards his priests and faithful, all of his faithful! and as a courageous witness of Christian truth, including in the social and political sphere. Born in 1960, he embodies the new generation of prelates who prefer the cassock to a suit and tie.
3. In these times of great confusion which both the entire world and the Church are undergoing, what is the role of the liturgy?
The liturgy contributes to the general role of Christian prayer, which makes souls turn towards God to ask Him for His graces and to dispose them to receive them, and notably that of an intense faith. This petition should, moreover, be the first and most constant petition in these times of apostasy and persecution, latent or open, of Catholicism. All the more so as the liturgy is the prayer of the Church Herself. Indeed, it is the priestly prayer of Christ in the Church, the “integral public worship practised by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, Head and members”, as Sacrosanctum Concilium says, echoing Pius XII’s Mediator Dei. The liturgy therefore contributes powerfully to “once again putting God at the centre” of our attention, and therefore of our lives, and, consequently, of society, as Cardinal Sarah constantly repeats.
However noble divine worship may be, it nevertheless remains secondary in comparison with evangelization: “For Christ sent me not to baptise, but to preach the Gospel”, as St. Paul says somewhat paradoxically (1 Corinthians 1:7). Admittedly, the ultimate goal is to restore to men the worship which is pleasing to God, but in order to lead them to the sacramental and cultural life, it is necessary first of all to announce and to make known to them the salvation which Christ offers through the sacraments and Divine worship. “Woe is unto me if I preach not the Gospel”, said the same St. Paul (1 Corinthians 9:16). Now, evangelization presupposes, today more than ever, a rigorous formation in order to know the doctrine of the Church, to know how to propose it and to be able to defend it. A formation that is necessarily assertive, because we are living in the time of the “dictatorship of relativism”, as Cardinal Ratzinger said at the time of the death of St. John-Paul II, before being elected Pope Benedict XVI. As his pontificate sadly showed, this dictatorship manifests itself outside but also within the Church and obliges us to fight accordingly. Essentially, just as there is a liturgical battle, there is also a doctrinal battle.
4. In other words, the extraordinary form is only one element of the true Catholic response to the apostasy denounced by John-Paul II and Benedict XVI, which is striking the Europe of old and, consequently, a significant part of Christianity?
Exactly. The liturgy is only one element, but a very important one. You could say that it is a mirror. The well-known saying lex orandi, lex credendi indicates that the catechetical and cultural aspects are inseparable. If our Populus Summorum Pontificum pilgrimage is concerned with the liturgical aspect, not only does it not make us forget the other side of our Christian identity but, on the contrary, it spurs us on to cultivate it.
The Mass is the heart of the Christian life, and the way the Mass is lived embellishes the entire Christian life. It is patently obvious that the faithful who assist at the traditional Mass want their children to receive a religious education using a catechism with solid, structured content, that the seminarians who devote themselves to the traditional liturgy do so in seminaries which offer a philosophical and theological formation based on the thinking of the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas. Furthermore, it can be seen that those who encounter the traditional Mass and grow attached to it, very quickly ask also for “all that goes with it”. This is especially striking for the diocesan seminarians who discover it—the demand for whom greatly exceeds the practise of and the training in the traditional liturgy.
It must be added that the request for the traditional Mass, often condescendingly reduced to the needs of a certain “sensibility”, has a much greater impact. Besides, the term sensibility is absolutely acceptable, if it means a regaining of the sense of the faith. This is the real issue in contemporary liturgical questions. In a very profound way, the traditional Mass constitutes a manifestation of the transcendence of the Christian message, an affirmation of the doctrine of the propitiatory sacrifice renewed in a sacramental way on the altar, an expression of the adoration of the Real Presence of Christ and of the uniqueness of the hierarchical priesthood, and, more generally, a very appropriate explanation of the sacred nature of the Eucharistic celebration. In addition, the very ritual aspect—solemnly, magnificently ritual!—of the Latin and Gregorian liturgy, which especially fascinates today’s young people, is, in comparison with the new liturgy —intrinsically malleable and open to change— the expression of the Church’s rule of faith and of the immutability of the words of the Gospel which it conveys.
In short, while recognizing the importance of the liturgical response to the contemporary crisis of faith both outside and within the Church, it must be underlined that it is actually only one part, though an essential part, of this response.
[Translation provided by Maria McDermott]