Rorate Caeli

Op-Ed: With 'Traditionis custodes', Francis Promotes Disunity (by Archbishop Aguer, Emeritus of La Plata, Argentina)

 A Regrettable Step Backwards

Archbishop Héctor Aguer*
Emeritus of La Plata, Argentina
for Infocatólica

The current Pontiff declares that he wishes to pursue even further the constant search for ecclesial communion and to make this purpose effective, he eliminates the work of his predecessors by placing arbitrary limits and obstacles to what they established with intra-ecclesial ecumenical intention and respect for the freedom of priests and faithful! It promotes ecclesial communion in reverse. The new measures are a regrettable step backwards.

I was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires on November 25, 1972; I celebrated my first Mass the following day in the parish of San Isidro Labrador (Saavedra neighborhood), where I resided all that year, exercising the diaconate. Obviously I celebrated according to the Novus Ordo promulgated in 1970. I have never celebrated "the ancient Mass," not even after the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum; I would have to study the rite, of which I have distant memories, having served as an altar boy. Recently, while attending the Divine Liturgy of the Syrian Orthodox Church, I seemed to notice a certain resemblance to the Latin Solemn Mass, with deacon and subdeacon, in which I often assisted, especially at funerals, which in my parish were often celebrated with special solemnity. I insist: I have always celebrated, with the greatest devotion I can muster, the rite in force in the Universal Church. When I was Archbishop of La Plata, I used to sing the Eucharistic prayer in Latin every Saturday at the "St. Joseph" Major Seminary, using the precious Missal published by the Holy See. We had formed, according to the recommendation of the Second Vatican Council in the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium n. 114, a schola cantorum, which has been eliminated at my retirement. In Traditionis custodes (Art. 3§ 4) it speaks of a priest delegated by the bishop to be in charge of the celebrations of the Mass and the pastoral care of the faithful of the groups authorized to use the Missal prior to the reform of 1970. It is stated there that he "should have a knowledge of the Latin language". It should be remembered that it is possible to celebrate the Mass currently in force in the whole Church in Latin. The Council affirmed in Sacrosanctum Concilium 36 § 1, "The use of the Latin language in the Latin rites is to be preserved, except by special law." Unfortunately, the "particular right" seems to be to prohibit Latin, as in fact it is done (this is not a boutade). If someone dares to propose to celebrate in Latin, he is looked upon as a misguided, unforgivable troglodyte.

Latin was for centuries the bond of unity and communication in the Western Church. Today it is not only abandoned, but hated. In the seminaries its study is neglected, precisely because it is not useful. They do not realize that this closes off direct access to the Fathers of the Western Church, who are very important for theological studies: I am thinking, for example, of St. Augustine and St. Leo the Great, and of medieval authors such as St. Anselm and St. Bernard. This situation seems to me to be a sign of cultural poverty and willful ignorance.

I wrote down those stories about my beginnings in the ministry to show that in my priestly life I have never nourished nostalgia for not being able to use the previous rite, which so many priests and saints celebrated for centuries. However, my theological studies and many readings and constant reflection on the ecclesial liturgy allow me to judge and maintain that instead of creating a new Mass, the previous one could have been updated in a discreet reform that strongly marked the continuity. In this regard, I recall an eloquent anecdote. The eminent theologian Louis Bouyer relates that the president of the Consilium ad exsequendam Constitutionem de Sacra Liturgia, Bishop Annibale Bugnini (frequently and widely reputed as a Freemason), commissioned the members of that Commission to present as an exercise projects of Eucharistic prayer. Bouyer tells that he, with the Benedictine liturgist Dom Botte, composed in a trattoria in Trastevere, a text that to his astonishment was included in the new Missal as Eucharistic Prayer II. It is the one chosen by most priests, because its brevity gives them the impression of shortening the Mass by a few seconds. It seems to me a very beautiful text, I only regret that the word sacrificium does not appear in it, but the notion of memorial, and indirectly, since after the consecration it is said memores; the faithful cannot identify the memorial with the sacrifice that is offered.

What has been written so far is a kind of prologue, by way of justification, to the rapid critical commentary that follows the motu proprio Traditionis custodes, dated July 16 of this year, which establishes new dispositions for the use of the Missal edited in 1962 by St. John XXIII. It is recognized that St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI wished to promote concord and unity in the Church, and that they proceeded with paternal solicitude towards those who adhered to the liturgical forms prior to Vatican II. The current Pontiff declares that he wishes to pursue still further the constant search for ecclesial communion (Prologue of Traditionis custodes) and to make this purpose effective, he eliminates the work of his predecessors by placing arbitrary limits and obstacles to what they established with intra-ecclesial ecumenical intention and respect for the freedom of priests and faithful! It promotes ecclesial communion in reverse. The new measures imply a regrettable step backwards.

The basis of this intervention - the prologue says - is a consultation of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith addressed to the bishops in 2020 on the application of Benedict XVI's motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, the results of which have been carefully considered. It would be interesting to know what were the auspices formulated by the Episcopate.

 Thus, in the first article, the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite is eliminated. The purpose of Benedict XVI in making official the free use of the 1962 Missal was - as I understand it - to attract or maintain within the unity of the Church those who, scandalized by the universal liturgical devastation, had turned away or risked turning away because they did not wish to accept this de facto situation; an affection for ecclesial communion determined the opening of a reasonable way for the liturgical practice. It is now in the hands of the diocesan bishops to grant authorization for the use of the previous missal. Everything begins anew, and it is to be feared that the bishops will be greedy in granting permissions. Many bishops are not traditionis custodes, but traditionis ignari (ignorant), obliviosi (forgetful), and even worse traditionis evertores (destroyers).

I think it is very good to demand not to exclude the validity and legitimacy of the decrees of Vatican II, of the liturgical reform and of the magisterium of the Supreme Pontiffs. For those who already used the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, was the ordinary vigilance of the bishops and the eventual correction of offenders not sufficient? It would be necessary to use charity and patience with the rebels; there is no lack of good arguments. This approach would complete the just requirement expressed in Article 3 § 1.

The limitation of places and days for celebrating according to the 1962 Missal (Art 3 § 2 and § 3) are unjust and undesirable restrictions. Every priest should be able to use the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite (this implies going back from the interdiction), in the first place when celebrating alone and also in public where the faithful are already accepting it if the priest has explained that he would use that Ordo while emphasizing its venerable antiquity and religious value. The bishop's vigilance would suffice to ensure that this faculty is not exercised against the pastoral usefulness of the faithful. Article 3, § 6, is an unjust and painful restriction by preventing other groups of the faithful from enjoying participation in the Mass celebrated according to the 1962 Missal. It is curious that while officially promoting a "polyhedral" structure of the Church, with the ease that this attitude implies for the spread of dissent and errors against the Catholic Tradition, a liturgical uniformity is imposed that seems to have been chosen solely against that Tradition. I know that many young people in our parishes are fed up with the liturgical abuses that the hierarchy allows without correcting them; they desire a Eucharistic celebration that guarantees a serious and profoundly religious participation. There is nothing ideological in this aspiration. I also find it unpleasant that the priest who already has the permission and has exercised it correctly, must manage it again (Art. 5. I). Is this not a ploy to take the permission away from him? It occurs to me that perhaps there are more than a few bishops (new bishops, for example) who are reluctant to grant it.

All the provisions of Traditionis custodes would be gladly acceptable if the Holy See would attend to what I call the devastation of the liturgy, which is verified in multiple cases. I can speak of what happens in Argentina. In general, it is quite common that the Eucharistic celebration assumes a tone of banality, as if it were a conversation that the priest has with the faithful, and in which the sympathy of the priest is fundamental; in certain places it becomes a kind of show presided over by the "entertainer" who is the celebrant, and the children's Mass becomes a little party like those for birthdays. Among us there has been an event that I hope is exceptional; I have no news that something similar has happened in other parts of the world. A bishop celebrated mass on the beach, dressed in a beach habit on which he wore a stole; a small tablecloth on the sand (or a corporal), and instead of the chalice a mate. Clarification for foreigners: mate is a dried and emptied gourd used to drink an infusion of yerba mate, and mate is also called the act of drinking the infusion through a bombilla; it is usually a community exercise: the mate is circulated among those present and someone is in charge of priming it. Other cases that have become known show the celebration as the closing of a meeting; papers, glasses, soft drinks are left on the table; the faithful help themselves to the communion. In general, it can be said from this geographical angle of vision that each priest has "his" Mass; the faithful can choose: "I go to Father NN's Mass". The bishops are not concerned with these realities, but they are quick to react against a priest who with the utmost piety celebrates in Latin: "it" is forbidden. Could this prohibition be the "particular right" referred to in the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium 36 § 1, in the passage where it speaks of the preservation of Latin? By virtue of this criterion, Latin chants that were commonly sung by the simple people in parishes, such as the Tantum ergo at the Eucharistic blessing, have disappeared from use. The lack of correction of abuses leads to the persuasion that "this is how the liturgy is now." It would suffice simply to enforce what the Council determined, with prophetic wisdom: "that no one, even a priest, should add, subtract or change anything in the liturgy on his own initiative" (Const. Sacrosanctum Concilium 22 § 3).

It cannot be denied that the Eucharistic celebration has lost accuracy, solemnity and beauty. And silence has disappeared in many cases. Sacred music (sacred?), according to Chapter VI of Sacrosanctum Concilium, deserves a separate chapter. I insist: Rome should concern itself with and pronounce itself on these disorders.

To conclude, I seem to notice a relationship in the tone of the Resolutive Decree and the speech given by the Holy Father last June 7, addressed to the community of priests of Saint Louis of the Frenchmen in Rome. I perceive in both texts (I could be wrong, of course) a lack of affection, despite certain appearances. It is true that the motu proprio, by the nature of its genre, does not allow for pastoral effusions; however, in its conciseness it could have been presented as a sign of pastoral love. The comparison does not seem arbitrary to me; in both cases it would be desirable to notice that merciful attitude that is so celebrated in the current Pontiff. It would seem that the judgment that the Church renders, in its highest instance, of the course of ecclesial life proceeds according to two weights and two measures: tolerance, and even appreciation and identification with heterogeneous positions with respect to the great Tradition ("progressive", as they have been called) and distance or dislike with respect to persons or groups that cultivate a "traditional" position. I am reminded of the purpose that a famous Argentine politician [Juan Domingo Perón] brutally enunciated: "to the friend, everything; to the enemy, not even justice." I say this with the utmost respect and love, but with immense sorrow.

[Translated by E.F.]

* Abp. Héctor Aguer is a well-known Argentine bishop, characterized by his very broad culture, his conduct openly favorable to the Natural Order, and his struggle against the enemies of the Faith and the Church. After a fruitful ecclesiastical career, he became Archbishop of the City of La Plata, capital of the Province of Buenos Aires. His relationship with Pope Francis was always correct, obedient, and in accordance with his authority. However, it is public knowledge that the theological current to which Francis adheres, as well as his worldview in general, do not coincide with the thinking of Abp. Agüer, more focused on the actual guardianship of Tradition.