Rorate Caeli

“The Motu Proprio cut off the head of Benedict's line, and Desiderio buries its corpse” — Article by Luisella Scrosati

In the city of Rome they seem not to have digested the mounting criticism that has been rising for months against the Motu Proprio Traditionis Custodes. The Apostolic Letter Desiderio Desideravi that Pope Francis signed yesterday, on the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, dedicated to the liturgical formation of the people of God, returns to the fundamental point of the Motu Proprio of almost a year ago, namely, the desire to put a tombstone over the Ancient Rite. In the letter's closing, the pope shows that he has taken the brunt of the mounting criticism, but instead of retracing his steps, he tries to throw water on the fire by urging us to abandon polemics "in order to listen together to what the Spirit is saying to the Church" (No. 65) and guard communion.

The trouble is that it is precisely the Apostolic Letter that has provided ample fuel for the controversy in recent months, as well as set the conditions for a more extensive tearing of ecclesial communion. Plenty of Desiderio Desideravi's paragraphs could be endorsed: the importance of silence (no. 52), of the ars celebrandi (n. 49ff.), of avoiding any personalism of celebratory style (no. 54). Also appreciable is the serene reflection on liturgical theology. But there are some serious problems that cannot be passed over in silence and that will necessarily stimulate even more criticism of the "liturgical line" of this pontificate, especially since Arthur Roche has taken the reins of the pertinent Dicastery.

First problem. According to Francis, the reception of the liturgical reform is a necessary condition for the reception of the Second Vatican Council. In the rejection of the reform he sees an ecclesiological problem: "The problem is first of all ecclesiological. I do not see how one can say that one recognizes the validity of the Council ... and not accept the liturgical reform born of Sacrosanctum Concilium, which expresses the reality of the Liturgy in intimate connection with the vision of the Church admirably described by Lumen Gentium" (no. 31). It is true that there are those who believe that the liturgical reform is an expression of Vatican II and should therefore be rejected; but one cannot pretend that there are also other positions that show how in reality the reform has gone far beyond -- when not even against -- the indications of Sacrosanctum Concilium. And the reform as concretely implemented is even worse.

It would be nice to understand exactly when and where the Council Fathers called for the abolition of the Septuagesima, the Octave of Pentecost, the Rogation Days, the Ember Days (in truth left ad libitum to the decision of the lazy Episcopal Conferences), the remaking from scratch of the Offertory rite. Just as it would not hurt to understand on the basis of what text of the Council in fact the Latin language is no longer to be used and Gregorian chant, from being the "proper chant" of the Roman liturgy (SC 116), has instead become its Cinderella. Even historically, there is no denying the fact that the Missal that most closely embodied the directions of SC is, regardless of how one appraises it, that of 1965 and not that of 1969.

In this way, the Holy Father does nothing more than misconstrue -- without even accepting constructive confrontation -- all those positions critical of certain aspects of the reform, which nevertheless do not at all reject Vatican II. Moreover, there are texts of the Council of which it is by no means clear why they should not be able to be the object of improvement and, in their non-dogmatic aspect, of reconsideration. So if one really wants to extinguish controversy and rebuild ecclesial communion over the liturgy, one should at least listen respectfully to opposing positions, not disqualify them indiscriminately as anti-conciliar.

The continuation of paragraph 31 raises the second major problem of the Apostolic Letter: "For this reason -- as I explained in the letter sent to all the bishops -- I felt it my duty to affirm that 'the liturgical books promulgated by the saintly Pontiffs Paul VI and John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of the Second Vatican Council, are the sole expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite' (Motu Proprio Traditionis custodes, art. 1)."

With all due respect to papal authority, the Pope cannot erase reality with a simple statement. Sooner or later some elementary questions will have to be answered. If the books that resulted from the liturgical reform are the only expression of the Roman Rite, then the 1962 liturgical books -- in use by express authorization of even the present Pontiff -- what are they? What do they express? And before the reform, what did those liturgical books express? That the Roman Rite does not begin with the Second Vatican Council is a fact with which peace will have to be made sooner or later... and due consequences will have to be drawn from it as well.

Third problem. By means of the foregoing two points, Francis puts himself in a position of definitive break with the pontificate of Benedict XVI (who, by the way, is not mentioned even once in the Apostolic Letter, despite having made the liturgical issue the heart of his pontificate). But it's better that way, rather than pulling him by the cassock, so to speak, as was done in Traditionis Custodes, with a claim that working in a direction diametrically opposite to Benedict's does not mean going against the line he has taken. That was a failed attempt at mental equilibrism. If the Motu Proprio had in fact cut off the head of Pope Benedict's line, Desiderio Desideravi buries its corpse.

How then is one to call for an end to controversy in order to regain ecclesial communion? If a pontiff decides to place himself in total rupture from those who preceded him, how then can he appeal for communion? If a pontiff disavows what the Spirit inspired his predecessor to do, how can he make an appeal that we should listen to the Spirit?

Finally, there is a problem of proportion. Francis offers yet another jab at the "lace-makers," reiterating that "the continual rediscovery of the beauty of the Liturgy is not the pursuit of a ritual aestheticism which takes pleasure only in the care of the outward formality of a rite or is satisfied with a scrupulous rubrical observance" (No. 22). Having hurled the stone, he immediately withdraws his hand, explaining that "this statement is in no way meant to approve of the opposite attitude that confuses simplicity with a sloppy triviality, essentiality with an ignorant superficiality, the concreteness of ritual action with an exaggerated practical functionalism." On the contrary, "every aspect of celebrating must be attended to [...] and every rubric must be observed" (no. 23).

Very well. It would be necessary, however, for this care for forms and rubrics to be translated into something concrete. Whereas, instead, to date, there is only a systematic severity toward those who are attached to a rite that knows centuries of history, while instead not even a finger has twitched to curb the continuous liturgical abuses that occur on all sides in what he considers to be "the Mass of the Council": bishops riding bicycles into church, words of the Missal changed around, liturgical vestments made optional, homilies given by lay people (and maybe even gays), priests dressed up as clowns, dances of various kinds, architectural and musical horrors.

If the Pope used even half of the determination he employs in persecuting "traditionalists" to solve the liturgical abuse crisis, we would already be well on our way. And the sincerity of his claims might be credible. Instead, the serious, repeated, and growing liturgical abuses get just a timid earful; while those who love the ancient Mass get the condemnation of extinction.

Luisella Scrosati
La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana
June 30, 2022