Rorate Caeli

The strategy of slow strangulation: Will the new Mass be required of old-rite priests and communities?

“Hit It, Hit It Dead!”
Michael Charlier
February 3, 2022

Meanwhile, observers of the Roman scene are seeing a bit more clearly how the imposition of Pope Paul VI’s missal as the “sole lex orandi” of the Roman Rite is to be accomplished.

The promulgation phase of TC in 2021 was very much characterized by the grobian nature of the Pope and his advisors from Sant’Anselmo, who would have preferred to complete the transition to the Novus Ordo by yesterday and then to have excluded the (according to their expectation only a few) recalcitrants from the flock by a word of power. So much for the topics mercy and dialogue.

But things can’t happen quite as quick as one might have thought. In the choice of means, some now seem, occasionally, to take the advice of experienced members of the curia, whose long experience has taught them that “hit it, hit it dead!” is not really the most effective strategy for achieving ecclesiastical goals.

Nothing has changed in the great aim of driving the traditional liturgy (along with the doctrine manifested in it) out of the life of the Church. But both Archbishop Roche’s responsa and Cardinal Cupich’s measures, as well as some Roman speculations about the upcoming “disciplining” of the priestly institutes, can be understood to mean not so much the complete disappearance of the ancient liturgy—at least not for a period of time—but a kind of forced biritualism. Those who recognize the modern liturgy not only by verbally recognizing it as the only form of the lex orandi of the Roman Church but also by its regular celebration (and not only on Holy Thursday) then may also celebrate in the old rite—if and as long as the bishop and the Congregation for Divine Worship allow it. Irenic minds might even be sold this solution as a kind of compromise—an “offer you can’t refuse.”

In fact, a strict rejection of this imposition will not be easy for the priests of the so-called Ecclesia Dei communities, because their communities have declared, as one of the preconditions for their erection, that they do not reject, in principle and categorically, celebration according to the ritus modernus. And many, therefore, participated in the Chrism Mass of the bishop in whose diocese they were erected. Those who refused this participation did not refer at all to a fundamental rejection of the rite but to the fact that this Mass takes place as concelebration in the post-conciliar manner—and according to canon law, no priest is obliged to participate in a concelebration.

Now legal requirements are a mutable variable in Francis’s pontificate, but as long as canon 902 is not repealed or reworded, the enemies of tradition have come up with another remedy: in the future, no priest shall be able to avoid celebrating in the Novus Ordo. The abstract “recognition” of Bugnini’s and Paul VI’s reformation, which was already necessary, is no longer to suffice; only those who also publicly celebrate in the NO—and best of all, those who have also been ordained according to the new books—have a chance of being considered for the granting of the “exemptions” that will be necessary in the future for everything and anything old-rite.

With regard to the diocesan clergy, this will be easy to accomplish, since there are practically no priests there who celebrate exclusively in the old rite—dioceses like Frejus-Toulon, where (at least for a time) priests were also ordained in and for the old rite, are a very great exception. And the priests of the Ecclesia Dei institutes will also be brought into line with the new regulations expected for March: “informed circles” in Rome assume that they will be “equalized” with the diocesan clergy to the extent that they too will be subjecte to a “first Sunday in the month” rule, at least for public apostolates. Whether this will also apply to internal use—and how a corresponding rule would be enforced—has apparently not yet been decided.

Nor is there to be any possibility for the faithful to avoid the Missal of Paul VI: whoever wants to fulfill his Sunday and feast day duties—and which trad doesn’t want to do that?—is to be able to do so in the future to a large extent only by participating in the “ordinary parish celebration”—even if there Father Aminot Cool and the Eucharistic dance team from the senior women’s circle under the direction of an instituted catechist bring tears to the eyes of anyone who still thinks of Golgotha during Holy Mass. The formation of communities, even informal ones, which like their ancestors and the saints of all previous generations want to serve God exclusively according to the liturgy of Pope St. Gregory, is to be prevented at all costs. Where they already exist, they are to be crushed or excluded—for the sake of unity—which in the Domus Sanctae Marthae can only be imagined as uniformity.

Such a procedure, in which the occasional celebration of the old Mass would be combined with the demand for regular participation in the new liturgy (and adoption of its new lex credendi), would have the advantage of being able to be presented as a “compromise”: “Look, no one wants to take away your old Mass, and the celebration in the direction of the liturgical East nowadays really no longer corresponds to the thinking of our time....” This approach could also be perceived by priests as a way out, which would spare them many a conflict of conscience—at least until the next round of restrictions tightens the noose again a little.

If this should be the strategy—we will know more by the anniversary of TC in July at the latest—this poses some difficult questions and tasks for the traditional movement. Some of them shall be formulated here, even if we are not certain of being able to answer them in future contributions:

1. How will the defenders of the traditional liturgy justify in the future their refusal to use the books of Paul VI—when they do not want to deny their legitimacy and fundamental suitability for the celebration of Holy Mass?

2. How will they justify refusing to obey clearly formulated declarations of will and orders in a matter to which the present Pope and his entourage apparently attach the highest priority?

3. How do they want to relate to the assertion that the books promulgated by Paul VI are the fulfillment of a mandate “of the Council” and that rejection of the liturgical reform means rejection of the Council—of its documents promulgated by Paul VI—and is therefore a schismatic act that not only threatens, but cancels out the unity of the Church?

Only in the very short term (at best) will one succeed by means of evasions or subterfuges. The “liturgical peace” desired and promoted by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI was a great good; but it is a thoroughly dubious merit to be unable to avoid putting this (and a dozen other) questions on the agenda in all their sharpness and with all their potential for division.