Rorate Caeli

An Italian bishop speaks out against episcopal opposition to Summorum Pontificum

Last month, Messa in Latino posted this superb interview with Msgr. Luigi Negri, Bishop of the Diocese of San Marino - Montefeltro, a small diocese of 63,000 Catholics. Msgr. Negri, who is considered as one of Italy's most tradition-friendly and orthodox bishops, publicly thanked Pope Benedict XVI for issuing  Summorum Pontificum in 2007.
The translation is by Fr. Charles Johnson.


Yesterday and today as well, there are those who would like to reduce the Mass to the “social realm.” Mons. Negri makes this point in regard to the “reform of the reform.” 

DOMAGNANO - “It is in relation to the Liturgy that the destiny of the Faith and of the Church is decided”: thus spoke Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI in the first volume of his opera omnia, Theology of the Liturgy. (This book is known in the English-speaking world as "The Spirit of the Liturgy" -- CAP) On November 27th at Vespers for the beginning of Advent, the Pope also defined the Liturgy as “the place where we live the truth and where the truth lives among us.” Let us confront these themes in a one-on-one with the bishop of San Marino-Montefeltro, His Excellency Luigi Negri, who is preparing for the Pope’s visit in 2011.

- Excellency, the distinctive trait of this pontificate is the relation between faith and reason: why insist on the Liturgy? 

“The Liturgy is the life of Christ as it is made actual in the Church and brings Christians existentially into itself. The Liturgy is not simply worship that is raised up from man to God, as in the great majority of various forms of natural religion. The Liturgy is the full realization of the presence of the life, Passion, death, and Resurrection of the Lord, which takes form in the sacramental organism and draws Christians into itself in a substantial and fundamental way, causing them to adhere to Christ and the Church by means of the Sacraments of Christian initiation and then accompanying them in the great choices and major stages of their lives: in the great vocational choices—matrimony, Orders—or in the stages of life. Now, the Liturgy defends the factuality of Christ and the Church. For this reason I am profoundly grateful to Professor De Mattei for his extraordinary book on the history of Vatican II and for the pages dedicated to the slow, inexorable “socializing” of the Liturgy, even before the Council: as if the value of the Liturgy were to be found in the possibility that the so-called Christian people participate actively in an event that was then emptied, in fact, of its sacramentality and that finished by being an initiative of Catholic socializing. And I believe that in dealing with the Liturgy one is dealing with the Faith because one is dealing [here] with the great alternative that Benedict XVI places at the beginning of [his encyclical letter] Deus caritas est: Christianity is not an ideology of a religious nature; it is not a project of a moralistic nature, but it is the encounter with Christ present in the ebb and flow of the generations: “Do this in remembrance of Me.” I believe that even the defense of dogma by a well-formed conscience depends on the truth with which the Liturgy is lived. In this sense, the Church has always affirmed that “lex orandi, lex credendi”: it is the law of prayer that gives birth to the law of belief but, above all, that watches over it in a positive and sufficient way.”

- There seem to me to be two central aspects in Ratzinger’s book Theology of the Liturgy: the prevalence (which, alas, proves to be the case) of the idea of the Mass as an assembly, “an event of a particular group or local Church,” a meal; therefore participation [is] understood as the action of various persons who are transformed into parodies, according to the author. Second, celebration facing the people, which through a series of equivocations and misunderstandings “appears today as the fruit of the Council’s liturgical renewal,” as the Pope writes; consequently, the community [becomes] a circle closed in on itself, and [there is] a clericalization as never before wherein everything converges on the celebrant.

“I agree that the Pope ought to carry on with the ‘reform of the liturgical reform’ of the Council, to use Msgr. Nicola Bux’s expression. But it must be said with extreme clarity that the Pope is making efforts to effect this ‘reform of the reform.’ There exist negative tendencies of resistance, and not merely passive tendencies. The liturgical reform that came after the Council, more often than not, was made up largely of pseudo-interpretations, or else it caused exceptional cases to prevail as the norm: all of which can be seen in a single example, the problem of language or of the distribution of Communion in the hand. The fist of the bishops’ conferences have really and truly struck back against Rome. (The original Italian of this startling sentence is:"Ci sono stati veri e propri colpi di mano delle Conferenze episcopali nei confronti di Roma" -- CAP) Certainly, there has been a weakness on the part of the Vatican in their reaction, due probably to the tensions and counter-tensions even within the structures that ought to regulate the exact interpretation and implementation of the Council.

“Now, while keeping in mind these influential facts, of which the Church’s government ought to take a realistic accounting, the choices lie between a socialization of the Liturgy—that is, an adequate functioning of the laws and customs of the Christian community united to celebrate the Eucharist, which becomes the subject of the eucharistic celebration, indeed the privileged means of their union—and a bringing back to the central place the true subject of the eucharistic celebration, which is Jesus Christ in Person. The structure of the liturgical tradition, which the Church of the Council has received as well, safeguards the rights of Christ and the presence of Christ. And so, all that is done to extenuate or reduce consciousness of the presence of Christ in favor of the modality in which the community is present, is a complete loss of the liturgy’s value, its ontological value—as Don Giussani would say—and accordingly of its methodological and educative value. When the first phase of the reform by Vatican Council II was in full swing, a highly placed person at the Vatican—I cannot tell you who, but it is true because I read it with my own eyes—wrote that now finally the celebration of Mass was returning to being “a healthy arena for Catholic socialization.” The memory of the presence of Christ, Who dies and rises again, Who creates a new people, Who sustains and sends them forth on mission: “a healthy arena for Catholic socialization.”

- Can you at least say that it was from a level higher than Bugnini?
“A much higher level than Bugnini.”(!!! - CAP)

- In Italy, save for a few praiseworthy exceptions, the bishops and superiors of religious orders have been opposed to the implementation of the motu proprio: this is what the vice-president of the Pontifical Commision Ecclesia Dei publicly declared one year after “Summorum Pontificum,” by which Benedict XVI “liberated” the traditional, Tridentine liturgy. Quite a strong denunciation of the disobedience of the Italian episcopate. How far along are we in the implementation of the motu proprio? In your diocese, are there celebrations of the liturgy according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Missal of 1962?

“I have sought to put it into action, beyond taking on board and explaining to my clergy the profound sense of this motu proprio, which for me is an opportunity given to whoever in the Church desires to appreciate a richness that is fuller and more articulated than that which is at the disposition of everyone. It’s as if the Pope had reopened the possiblity of a liturgical celebration which both individuals and groups feel is more in line with their desire for growth and their principles. I must say, however, that there are still lacking norms of implementation, which we have been awaiting for years now. As far as possible today, wherever the bishop has been obedient, as in my case, there have been celebrated not a lot, but all the Masses which have been requested, in precisely the way indicated by the motu proprio.  (The diocese of San Marino - Montefeltro has one every-Sunday and Holy Day TLM, at the Chiesa Arcipretale di Sant’Agata Vergine e Martire, Piazza G. Garibaldi. CAP) When I said earlier that the Pope was working to bring pressure for a “reform of the reform,” I had in mind exactly this motu proprio which lacks, more than three years after its promulgation, provisions for its implementation.  But it seems to me that it is not so much that rejection, resistance, has been offered against the motu proprio, as that the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council -- as the texts [of Vatican II] were interpreted and how the reformed  liturgy was actually formulated -- is considered [by the bishops] as something that cannot be discussed. Resistance is offered to the very possibility, which the Pope has opened up, of having other forms of liturgico-sacramental life: this is what is in question, not the implementation. Meanwhile, the Pope has said: there is a liturgico-sacramental richness which the entire Church, if it wishes, can draw on without everyone being constrained to a single form; in my opinion, there is a broad segment of the Church which maintains instead that the reform of Vatican Council II has cancelled out everything that went before. This is the hermeneutic of discontinuity that the Pope has spoken about with great clarity and decisiveness.”

-A poll by Doxa indicates that 71% of Catholics would consider it normal if in their own parish the two forms of the Roman rite, traditional and new, existed together. And 40% of those who go to Mass every Sunday would prefer to go every week to the Mass of St. Pius V if it were offered in their parish. How do you interpret this data, with a grain of salt like every poll?

“I remain of the view that—this data aside—the Church today must be very available to offer forms and modes of participation to the life of Christ which correspond in their diversity to the inevitable diversity which exists among men and young people. I believe that this must animate a sincere missionary enthusiasm. At a time when churches are empty and there are so many difficulties with an adequate perception of the mystery of Christ and of the Church, everything that can facilitate this is used, but not to affirm personal, ideological options! The traditionalism-progressivism dichotomy no longer has a reason for being, and for overcoming this we are truly in debt to Benedict XVI. These are ideological oppositions that incarnate points of view, sensibilities, forms, even a pondering of what is more of service to the mission of the Church and therefore her educational duty.”

- How did Don Luigi Giussani (founder of Communione e Liberazione; Msgr. Negri is a former member of this lay ecclesial movement -- CAP) celebrate Mass? What were his thoughts on the liturgy, and what did he think of the reform?
“I saw Giussani celebrate according to the rite of St. Pius V: he celebrated it with a profound consciousness of becoming the protagonist in an event of grace, which opened men’s hearts and lives. And I saw him celebrate according to the reformed rite, in the same way. Giussani went for the essential, and he was not naturally inclined to emphasize particulars excessively. I cannot say how he reacted to the reform because he never spoke of it so far as I recall, neither between just the two of us—even if we had hundreds of hours of conversation about all the problems in the Church’s life and in society—nor publicly. But the image of the liturgy that he had is contained in that very fine little book On the Liturgy as Lived: A Proposal. I believe that the traditional liturgy, as well as the reformed liturgy, are able—if they are upheld in their identity as recognized by the magisterium—to foster the growth of one’s life into a plan of life: the liturgy is a life, the life of Christ with us, which becomes a plan of life. I don’t believe that he was ready to lay down his life to save the liturgy of St. Pius V, but I don’t believe either—inasmuch as I knew him from fifty years of living together—that he would have said unequivocally that the liturgy of Vatican II was the best possible. Indeed, I believe that he would have had certain interpretive difficulties, as with other questions about Vatican Council II, just as now the great majority of pastors and intelligent theologians entertain as well. So after forty years, it’s true, Benedict XVI says that only now the true interpretation of the Council begins.”

- What characteristics will the religious and ecclesial part of the Pope’s visit to San Marino in 2011 possess? 
“There will be a celebration of Mass in San Marino for the entire diocese in the stadium of Serravalle, in the morning, June 19th, following a working program that is slowly, slowly becoming official.”

-Here lately you have been the subject of an observation by a journalist, in a lay newspaper, regarding the disproportion between your person—“diamond-like”—and the diocese entrusted to you, characterized as an “operetta diocese.”
“I’m grateful to this journalist for his encomium, even if it’s a little undeserved, not just in this case but at other times as well. In the twisted ways that wind around a specific “particular church,” or rather around a responsibility which is central to the guidance of the Church, no one, especially not Yours Truly, is so ingenuous as not to understand that there are movements, counter-movements, reactions, counter-reactions, interests, and alliances that have great weight. I myself have written something on careerism in my contribution (“Opportune et importune” [“In season and out of season”—transl.]) to Studi Cattolici, because all this phenomenology of the presence of political attitudes does not strike me as all that rare or scandalous. I am of that generation of priests and bishops who maintains that in the end, beyond all this back-and-forth of currents, counter-currents, friendships, and mutual “vetoes” there stands the will of God as interpreted by the Holy Father. When the Holy Father calls you, you may be certain that it is God Who is calling, and if He calls you to whatever reality He is calling you, it is because God considers it best for you at that moment. It is with this state of mind, with great abandonment to the will of God and with great joy, that I act as bishop of a diocese called an “operetta diocese” by some; but it seems to me that it has brought this diocese to the notice of the Italian social and ecclesiastical scene, and not only that.
-On the other hand, many nominations go to persons not always up to the responsibilities entrsuted to them—a serious problem today, when the Church ought to act with the greatest possible vigor as regards her cultural and pastoral endeavors. Excellency, do you not think that this is a kind of brake or impediment to the Church’s mission?

But Bishop Negri did not respond and concluded the interview. He looked at me profoundly with his clear eyes and held his silence.

It is St. Lucy’s day; afternoon is about to give way to “the longest night of the year.” In Domagnano the first scattered snowflakes begin to fall, whereas lower down, in Rimini, all is distilled into water.