Rorate Caeli

Special Guest Op-ed: "The Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum at 10" - by Dr. Tom Woods

Benedict XVI vs. the Barbarians: Summorum Pontificum Ten Years Later"

Dr. Thomas Woods

The day the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum was released was an exceptionally unusual one for me: at last one of the seemingly lost causes I had championed for years had actually triumphed.

Knowing of the document's imminent release, I awoke early that morning and eagerly devoured the text itself along with its accompanying letter to the bishops.

What a delight to discover that basic Catholic truth so many of us had been called schismatics for defending: "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. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place."

It called to mind one of my favorite quotations from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger:

I am of the opinion, to be sure, that the old rite should be granted much more generously to all those who desire it. It's impossible to see what could be dangerous or unacceptable about that. A community is calling its very being into question when it suddenly declares that what until now was its holiest and highest possession is strictly forbidden and when it makes the longing for it seem downright indecent.

Contrary to what Roger Cardinal Mahony and other leftists had told their flocks, moreover, allowance for the traditional liturgy -- henceforth to be referred to as the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite -- was not simply for older folks who couldn't adapt. According to Benedict XVI, it "has clearly been demonstrated that young persons too have discovered this liturgical form, felt its attraction and found in it a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, particularly suited to them."

The old liturgy, Benedict further added, was "never juridically abrogated." Ah, the knots that so-called conservative Catholics tied themselves into to insist that the old Mass had indeed been abrogated. Well, they were wrong, which means they were likewise wrong to have demonized us for telling the truth.

I wound up writing a small book, Sacred Then and Sacred Now: The Return of the Old Latin Mass, for the purposes of (1) explaining and defending Pope Benedict's decision; (2) walking newcomers through the Extraordinary Form; (3) replying to common objections; and (4) explaining why features common to the Ordinary Form -- "Eucharistic ministers" and Communion in the hand, to name two -- were not to be introduced into the Extraordinary.

Despite my profound gratitude to Benedict, who expended enormous political capital on behalf of a small, despised group of the faithful, I still feel compelled to note a most unfortunate omission. We needed Benedict XVI to offer the Extraordinary Form publicly. My sources kept telling me such an act was imminent. It never occurred.

That more than anything else would have sent a message throughout the Catholic world. We know Benedict offered his private Masses in the Extraordinary Form. But the public celebration during his papacy never happened.

Had that event occurred, we would surely have seen more rapid growth in the number of Extraordinary Form Masses and communities. But even still, we should give thanks for what progress we have seen, especially in an age when truly sinister forces seemed to have triumphed virtually everywhere.

(Even now, I wish Benedict would offer the Extraordinary Form publicly. There would be no mistaking the meaning of that act.)

The continued cultivation of and devotion to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite is urgently necessary, and not simply because it is the ultimate rebuke to the ignorant barbarians who despise Western civilization. It is, in the Father Faber formulation of which Michael Davies was so fond, "the most beautiful thing this side of Heaven."

To Enlightenment man in his most degraded form, who believes that nothing is immune to change, that the family itself is subject to redefinition according to human whim, the piety and reverence of the Extraordinary Form, in its beauty and stately reserve, and in its reservation of sacred tasks to the priest alone, reminds us that some things really are not to be touched by man.

As the late Alfons Cardinal Stickler pointed out more than once, there was once a time when a priest could have said Mass anywhere in the world. There was also a time when Catholics could have attended Mass around the world and found it the same Mass with which they were familiar -- a testimony to their membership in a universal, supernatural organization. That world is gone. Roman Rite Catholics have been rendered spiritual orphans, rootless and rudderless in a hostile world.

The Extraordinary Form was and is the center of unity in the Roman Rite. And it stands for the very opposite of the casual familiarity in the presence of the sacred that characterizes the vast majority of parish Masses today.

If the Church is to be restored in our lifetimes, it will begin with the liturgy, and will flourish thanks in no small part to Pope Benedict XVI and Summorum Pontificum.