Rorate Caeli

Did the Pope say to resisting bishops: "Summorum will not be touched"? Not really.

No, the Pope did not say that, not even allegedly.

Il Foglio today carried an article by Matteo Matzuzzi with the following title: "Francis and Latin - 'The ancient Mass is not to be touched,' the Jesuit Pope once again surprises all. The bishops from Apulia ask for the removal of Ratzinger's motu proprio. Bergoglio says no: 'both new and ancient things are worthy'." Father Finigan has a translation of the relevant two paragraphs of the article here.

However, once again an Italian news source puts words in people's lips that were not exactly there. Matzuzzi's article was completely based on a post written by Sandro Magister for his Italian-only blog. Here is the main excerpt of Magister's post, with what the Pope supposedly said to the bishops of Apulia.

There were also indiscretions regarding the liturgy.

The Archbishop of Bari, Francesco Cacucci, started it, declaring to Vatican Radio that Pope Francis had exhorted the bishops to "live the relationship with the liturgy with simplicity and without superstructures".

Then, it was the turn of the bishop of Conversano and Monopoli, Domenico Padovano, who told his own clergy that the bishops of Apulia had complained to the Pope about the work of division created within the Church by the defenders of the Mass in the ancient rite.

And how did the Pope answer him?

According to what was mentioned by Bishop Padovano, Francis exhorted him to be careful with the extremisms of certain Traditionalist groups, but also to treasure tradition and allow it to live in the Church along with innovation.

In order to better explain this last point, the Pope would have brought up his own example:

"See? They say that my Master of papal ceremonies [Guido Marini] is of a Traditionalist mold; and many, after my election, have asked me to remove him from his position and replace him. I have answered no, precisely because I myself may treasure his traditional formation, and at the same time he might take advantage of my more emancipated formation."

If the words are authentic, they are instructive about the liturgical spirit and the style of celebration of the current pope.

But in what sense the bishops of Apulia have interpreted them is not certain.

Another one of them, that of Cerignola and Ascoli Satriano, Felice di Molfetta, a former president of the Liturgical Committee of the CEI [Italian Episcopal Conference], in a message to his diocese wrote among other things:

"I did not fail to rejoice with the pope for the style of celebration that he has taken up, a style inspired by the 'noble simplicity' determined by the Council, showing particular attention to the subject, about which he has not failed to give his considerations of a great theological-pastoral profile, shared by all fellow brothers who were present.


"Pope Francis, in light of certain phenomena of the recent past, regarding which not a few drifts have taken place, exhorted us bishops, referring also to some concrete examples, to live the relationship with the liturgical action, as work of God, as true believers, beyond every ceremonial triumphalism, acknowledging fully that the 'noble simplicity'of which the Council speaks is not sloppiness, but Beauty, beauty with a capital 'B'."

But to enroll Pope Francis among the ranks of the Progressives also in the liturgical field is at the very least far-fetched. It does not mean, in particular, that he is hostile to the liberalization of the mass in the ancient rite, decided by Benedict XVI with the motu proprio "Summorum Pontificum" of 2007.

While it is certain the Bishop di Molfetta himself was in that year one of the most combative critics of that motu proprio, before and after its publication.

He considered the mass in the ancient rite "incompatible" with the post-Conciliar one, and tried without success to make the CEI issue an interpretive note - in a restrictive sense - of Summorum Pontificum.

So, Matzuzzi's interpretation was that when the Pope allegedly told the bishops of Apulia, according to the account supposedly made by Bishop Padovano, "also to treasure tradition and allow it to live in the Church along with innovation", that Summorum would not be touched; while according to Padovano's own alleged account, the example the Pope used to illustrate what he meant was the current pontifical liturgical style, a kind of synthesis between Msgr. Guido Marini's "traditional" mindset, and his own "emancipated" liturgical life. The sentence reported by Magister ("Francis exhorted him to be careful with the extremisms of certain Traditionalist groups, but also to treasure tradition and allow it to live in the Church along with innovation"), was somewhat reworked in Il Foglio ("they should treasure tradition and create the necessary conditions so that tradition might be able to live alongside innovation") - the author's interpretation added to Magister's report of Padovano's supposed account.

Honestly, we never thought that Summorum  would be touched, because we did not think it could be touched - not because of the character of the new Pope, but because the legal construction made by Benedict XVI is just so solid, and based on an argument that is deeply dogmatic and theological: "What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful" [Letter to Bishops, July 7, 2007]. In other words, the ancient Missal has not been abrogated because it cannot be abrogated legitimately (we are not entering here in sterile discussions on the various editions of the ancient liturgical books, the 1960-1962 editions having been established by various reasons as the paradigmatic editions). Tweaks and adjustments are one thing, wholesale obliteration (as apparently - only apparently! - Paul VI tried to do) is impossible, if the Church is to retain her marks (One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic), not only in space (for all peoples) but most importantly in time (for all generations). No wonder the most recent edition of the Denzinger includes Summorum as one of the few doctrinal texts worth quoting of the last pontificate.

Update [May 29]: we thank our friend Francesco Colafemmina (Fides et Forma, in our sidebar) for calling our attention to this tweet by the article's author - in a response to the title of the article, on whether the Pope would "touch" Summorum:

"I have no elements to say it [that the Pope would never repeal it], but only feelings: I don't know, but I don't see [a] Bergoglio who repeals Summorum Pontificum"

Ok, then.

(Informative note: According to the website of Inter Multiplices Una Vox, in all of Apulia (It. Puglia), whose bishops find the defenders of the Traditional Latin Mass to be so "divisive", there are only four locations where it is celebrated once every Sunday under the terms of Summorum Pontificum, plus one where it is celebrated every Saturday night. One of these Masses is celebrated by Msgr. Nicola Bux of Bari, one of Benedict XVI's most outspoken collaborators and defenders on matters liturgical. - Augustinus.)