Rorate Caeli

Apostolic Letter Desiderio desideravi: An Admission of Failure

Contemporary results of liturgical formation in the Novus Ordo, February 2022 (Holy Family, Inverness, Archdiocese of Chicago, USA) 


I do not see how it is possible to say that one recognizes the validity of the Council — though it amazes me that a Catholic might presume not to do so — and at the same time not accept the liturgical reform born out of Sacrosanctum Concilium... (Desiderio desideravi, 31)

So writes Pope Francis in his Apostolic Letter Desiderio desideravi, released today, on the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, which acts as yet another indicator - if any more were needed! - that the generous, forward-looking vision of Benedict XVI has been replaced with a miserly and insular ignorance masquerading as "listening, dialogue and participation." Remarkably, on the same day he reaffirms Traditionis custodes, the Pope had this to say in his morning homily

The Synod that we are now celebrating calls us to become a Church that gets up, one that is not turned in on itself, but capable of pressing forward, leaving behind its own prisons and setting out to meet the world, with the courage to open doors... A Church without chains and walls, in which everyone can feel welcomed and accompanied, one where listening, dialogue and participation are cultivated under the sole authority of the Holy Spirit. The Church that is free and humble, that “gets up quickly” and does not temporize or dilly-dally before the challenges of the present time. A Church that does not linger in its sacred precincts, but is driven by enthusiasm for the preaching of the Gospel and the desire to encounter and accept everyone. Let us not forget that word: everyone. Everyone! Go to crossroads and bring everyone, the blind, the deaf, the lame, the sick, the righteous and the sinner: everyone! This word of the Lord should continue to echo in our hearts and minds: in the Church there is a place for everyone. Many times, we become a Church with doors open, but only for sending people away, for condemning people. Yesterday one of you said to me “This is no time for the Church to be sending away, it is the time to welcome”. “They did not come to the banquet…” – so go to the crossroads. Bring everyone, everyone! “But they are sinners…” – Everyone! (Francis, Homily, 29 June 2022)

Yes, a "Church for everyone"... except, that is, for those who love the traditional Roman Rite. For it is crystal-clear that Francis does not understand why we cherish and desire the usus antiquior; even worse, he does not even care to try to understand. He is completely and utterly uninterested. We are all just "rigid", "restorationist", "closed-minded", "ideologues"... well, we all know the drill by now. Beatings will continue until morale improves! And at the end of his letter, Francis rather ironically writes: "Let us abandon our polemics to listen together to what the Spirit is saying to the Church. Let us safeguard our communion. Let us continue to be astonished at the beauty of the Liturgy" (DD 65). From the Pope who has reignited the liturgy wars with gusto, this is all deeply insulting.

But these constant insults and lack of "dialogue" have other serious ramifications with regard to the Pope's apparent understanding of Vatican II. As we see above in DD 31, he (or is the ghostwriter's hand of Grillo?) seems to be labouring under the impression that the post-conciliar liturgical reforms are absolutely identical with the intentions of the Council Fathers, and thus with the Council itself. At the very least, a nakedly-positivist attempt is being made to convince everyone that this is the case, merely by declaring it to be so.

So the facts must be stated very clearly: the Concilium Vaticanum Secundum is not the Consilium ad exsequendam. There is a clear and completely legitimate distinction between the Second Vatican Council and the reforms implemented in its name. Questioning the work of the Consilium, or subjecting it to detailed critical scrutiny, is in no way a "denial" or "non-acceptance" of Vatican II. Otherwise, where does that leave Francis's predecessor?

In part it is simply a fact that the Council was pushed aside. For instance, it had said that the language of the Latin Rite was to remain Latin, although suitable scope was to be given to the vernacular. Today we might ask: Is there a Latin Rite at all any more? [...] [T]he new Missal was published as if it were a book put together by professors, not a phase in a continual growth process. Such a thing has never happened before. It is absolutely contrary to the laws of liturgical growth, and it has resulted in the nonsensical notion that Trent and Pius V had “produced” a Missal four hundred years ago. The Catholic liturgy was thus reduced to the level of a mere product of modern times. This loss of perspective is really disturbing. (Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, [Ignatius Press, 1986], pp. 84, 86)

The problem of the new Missal lies in its abandonment of a historical process that was always continual, before and after St. Pius V, and in the creation of a completely new book... I can say with certainty, based on my knowledge of the conciliar debates and my repeated reading of the speeches made by the Council Fathers, that this does not correspond to the intentions of the Second Vatican Council. (Letter: Joseph Ratzinger to Wolfgang Waldstein, 1976: quoted in “Zum motuproprio Summorum Pontificum”, Una Voce Korrespondenz 38/3 [2008], pp. 201–214)

Anyone who nowadays advocates the continuing existence of [the traditional] liturgy or takes part in it is treated like a leper; all tolerance ends here. There has never been anything like this in history; in doing this we are despising and proscribing the Church’s whole past. How can one trust her at present if things are that way? (Joseph Ratzinger, God and the World [Ignatius Press, 2002], p. 416)

Since the man described by Robert Cardinal Sarah as the "Pope of the liturgy" is conspicuous by his absence in Desiderio desideravi, sadly I think we all know where this leaves the work of Ratzinger - at least until, God willing, happier times come in the future. Given the currently fashionable anti-Ratzingerian attitude in Rome, however, it is curious that none other than Romano Guardini, whose Vom Geist der Liturgie inspired Ratzinger's own Spirit of the Liturgy, is cited four times in Desiderio desideravi (nn. 34 [twice], 44, 50). And what opinion did Guardini have of the liturgical reforms before his death in 1968? "Klempnerarbeit" - botched work! Well, who are we to disagree with one of the fathers of the Liturgical Movement?

More than perhaps anything else, though, Desiderio desideravi is a stark admission of the failure of the post-Vatican II liturgical reforms. If a rite specifically reformed for "modern man", one more accessible, clear, didactic and easy to understand, stripped of all unnecessary symbols and repetitions, clothed entirely in vernacular languages and popular songs, has not resulted in the Christian faithful being "thoroughly imbued with the spirit and power of the liturgy" (SC 14), then haven't the post-conciliar liturgical reforms been a colossal waste of time? The Pope himself even alludes to this failure: "Therefore, the fundamental question is this: how do we recover the capacity to live completely the liturgical action? This was the objective of the Council’s reform" (DD 27). If this objective hasn't been met by the Novus Ordo more than 50 years later, then will it ever be?

Of course, as we have seen above, the failure of the post-conciliar reforms is now a forbidden topic in Rome - to raise even the possibility of this is currently being treated as a "non-acceptance" of the Council. And with a "reform of the reform" also completely off the table... Well, as Bugnini himself once asked: Quo vadis, Liturgia? (Notitiae, n. 2, February 1965)

Preliminary results of liturgical formation in the Novus Ordo, June 1971, "Hofheimer Mess-Festival", Germany