Rorate Caeli

“At variance with Conciliar reform,” or the anachronisms of Archbishop Arthur Roche

Archbishop Roche ecumenicalizing

Rorate thanks professor of religion Dr. Tomasz Dekert for his contribution. The original Polish may be found here; the author also prepared the English translation.

One element that makes being a member of the Catholic Church a desperately exciting experience today is the fact that it is relatively often accompanied by a feeling of embarrassment or disbelief in what the so-called Church’s authorities say or do. A person reads or listens and thinks to himself: No, it just cannot be serious! And here it turns out that maybe. And what? And nothing. As a cloakroom attendant in the Polish comedy by Stanisław Bareja says:

“We don’t have your coat, and what will you do to us?”

This sad reflection came back to me in connection with a portion of the recently published letter of the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Archbishop Arthur Roche, in response to questions from the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Cardinal Nichols, concerning details of the implementation of the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes (copies of both letters can be found here).

In the already widely commented passage, Archbishop Roche writes: “The misinterpretation and promotion of the use of these texts [of the pre-conciliar liturgy], after only limited concessions by the previous Pontiffs, has been used to encourage a liturgy in variance with the Conciliar reform (and which, in fact, was abrogated by Pope Saint Paul VI) and an ecclesiology, that is not part of the Church’s Magisterium.”

Apart from the other debatable elements of this statement—first of all, the description of the consents of previous Popes in terms of “limited concessions,” which is some kind of perverse re-ordering of reality—it is worth paying attention to the striking anachronism contained in the thinking of Archbishop Roche.

Regardless of whether we are talking about John Paul II’s indults (Quattuor abhinc annos of 1984 and Ecclesia Dei of 1988), or of Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum, the liturgy celebrated under them was based on pre-conciliar books, above all John XXIII’s Missale Romanum from 1962. Anyone who has any idea—by the way, it is an interesting question whether the prefect of Vatican liturgical congregation has any idea—both about this liturgy itself and about the mentality of the clergy and the faithful who are attached to it, knows that it is not a ritual in which one could add something that is not already there or transform it according to the participants’ intentions. It simply is what it is. In itself, celebrating and participating in the liturgy according to the usus antiquior ritus Romani was not and could not be, in the slightest degree, “directed against the reformed liturgy.” (There could be members of the faithful who attend the liturgy with such an intention, but this is a separate matter from the rite.)

Meanwhile, Roche formulates his description in this way, revealing that he himself thinks of the reformed liturgy (as well as of the post-conciliar ecclesiology it embodies) as contradicting its predecessors. I would like to emphasize this: not as a development or as an improvement of what was already there, but something contradictory, antagonistic.

He seems to be perfectly unaware that this approach to the matter theoretically requires him, in turn, to explain why the Catholic Church should today adopt (and historically simply adopted) a ritual system that is contrary to the one she had cultivated to that point. Of course, the standard answer in such a situation would be to refer to “the will of the Council,” but even taking into account the entire reformist potential of the Sacrosanctum Concilium, it cannot be proven on its basis that the Fathers of Vatican II wanted a contradictory or hostile liturgy to what they knew as the liturgy of the Church.

If, therefore, today’s head of the Vatican’s liturgical congregation considers the ritual according to St. John XXIII’s books as being “at variance with the Conciliar reform,” he arrogantly or ingenuously admits that he sees in the reformed liturgy an antagonistic reality in relation to the Catholic liturgical tradition.

– So, is Your Excellency the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship?

– Yes, I am. And what will you do to me?