Rorate Caeli

“Ecclesial Communion Is Not Something Decreed: The Vain Attempt of the Apostolic Letter Desiderio Desideravi

The following article was published by Paix Liturgique, Lettre 874, on July 13th (source).

“Let us abandon our polemics to listen together to what the Spirit is saying to the Church, let us safeguard our communion”: these words from the conclusion of Desiderio desideravi (n. 61) are in fact the main  and vain  preoccupation of this Letter, as well as of the pontificate: to remake, one could say to replaster, a broken communion in the Christian people, a break to which the liturgical war bears witness.

Simple reflections...

This long text is presented as a kind of meditation (n. 31), the Supreme Pontiff specifying in the first article that he wishes to “share reflections”. He repeats this intention towards the end of the text in no. 61: “I simply wanted to share some reflections”. It is therefore absolutely not a text with a legal and normative scope. For all that, the will to reduce everyone to the new liturgy is clear, in a more enveloped, more positive way, than in Traditionis custodes, a text which, however, is recalled as the reference text for the moment.

The main writer of the text is obviously a professor at the Roman university of Sant'Anselmo, dedicated to the study of the liturgy, or a member of the Dicastery for Divine Worship, which amounts to the same thing, since the Dicastery's staff now comes from Sant'Anselmo, and, together with other Italian clerics of the same profile, forms a unique melting pot of intellectual activists.

Here and there, however, authoritarian and peremptory judgments are made in a very Pope Francis style, to which the editor(s) have conformed, as is the rule among the draftsmen who prepare speeches or texts for high officials, or which have been added by Pope Francis himself: spiritual worldliness, narcissistic and authoritarian elitism that classifies and controls others, self-referentiality, neo-Pelagianism that intoxicates us with presumption, ascetic moralism, external formality and scrupulous observances...

All in all, a long pamphlet has been put together, both modern and jargon-littered, like the long introductions to the courses on liturgy or sacramental theology that are given at Sant'Anselmo or in the Italian seminaries, whose themes  the rediscovered beauty and richness of the liturgy; wonder; ars celebrandi; necessary formation; etc.  are taken up by progressivist chroniclers. Themes such as the beauty and richness of the liturgy, wonder, ars celebrandi, the need for formation, etc., are taken up by zealous progressive chroniclers or by conservatives who want to be zealous at little cost.

It is true that a certain number of reflections are quite traditional. Cardinal Sarah could have penned them. The Letter rejects the idea (without going into too much detail) that the Mass is a simple memorial. It explains that the liturgy is not the result of a personal quest. That the liturgy is first of all an act of praise, that it gives glory to God. The Pope insists on the importance of liturgical silence (but a modern silence that is not liturgical silence: a simple meditative pause during the ritual, which is something quite different). He notes the great difficulty of modern man in grasping symbols. He reminds us that ritual norms are at the service of higher realities and that the art of celebration cannot be improvised. He warns priests not to “divert attention from the centrality of the altar”. Finally, he recalls the profound truth that the liturgy is the primary source of Christian spirituality.

A second, more careful reading reveals, however, some problematic ideas, especially regarding the nature of priesthood and sacrificial renewal, and the importance and role of the assembly. The pope curiously contrasts worship with the sense of mystery, which he is happy to see disappear with the liturgical reform (no. 25). In some respects, one may fear to find reminiscences of the famous article 7 of the first draft of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal of 1969, which defined the Eucharistic sacrifice as a “gathering of the people of God under the presidency of the priest to celebrate the memorial of the Lord”.

Yet who, among the Christian people invited to be formed liturgically (“it is important today to spread this knowledge beyond the university milieu”, n. 35), will read this professorial pamphlet? It will certainly serve as an incentive to form formation groups to strengthen the retired men and women who, in parishes, animate the Sunday assemblies together with the permanent deacons.

And since the...  we dare not say the devil, since this is an Apostolic Letter  is in the details, we note that all, absolutely all, are invited to the Eucharistic feast, for which “it is enough to wear the wedding garment of faith, which comes from listening to his Word” (no. 5). Faith is enough; grace is not mentioned.

Only one liturgy, that of Vatican II

No. 61 ends with a kind of sophism, a conclusion not called for by the premises:

In this letter I have wanted simply to share some reflections which most certainly do not exhaust the immense treasure of the celebration of the holy mysteries. I ask all the bishops, priests, and deacons, the formators in seminaries, the instructors in theological faculties and schools of theology, and all catechists to help the holy people of God to draw from what is the first wellspring of Christian spirituality.... For this reason we cannot go back to that ritual form which the Council fathers, cum Petro et sub Petro, felt the need to reform...

In short: we cannot not return to the new Mass.

The fundamental passage, of which the entire positive part of the text is in fact the receptacle, is n. 31, in which the tone becomes more precise:

It would be trivial to read the tensions, unfortunately present around the celebration, as a simple divergence between different tastes concerning a particular ritual form. The problematic is primarily ecclesiological. 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, a document that expresses the reality of the Liturgy intimately joined to the vision of Church so admirably described in Lumen gentium. For this reason, as I already expressed in my letter to all the bishops, I have felt it my duty to affirm that “The liturgical books promulgated by Saint Paul VI and Saint John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of Vatican Council II, are the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.” (Motu Proprio Traditionis custodes, art 1)

The polemical point is aimed at those who claim that they recognize the validity of the Council (could it be otherwise, the pope asks?), while rejecting the new liturgy. The substance of the statement is then the repetition of n. 1 of Traditionis custodes: there is, in the post-conciliar Church, only one liturgical law, which expresses the only law of faith.

Salt on the wound

To say such things is obviously not to promote liturgical peace. But the Argentinean Pope clearly assumes this stance: he wants the disappearance of a “non-conforming” liturgy, or at least, for a time, its relegation to the margins: Lefebvrism or ghettoized Ecclesiadeism. Knowingly, the Pontiff and his collaborators thus throw salt on an open wound.

They do so in vain. One cannot imagine that the usus antiquior, whose practice has lasted for sixty years in spite of all prohibitions, persecutions, and restrictions, which in spite of everything fills the churches and chapels where it is celebrated with a youthful congregation and many families, which engenders vocations in goodly numbers, which provokes conversions, is suddenly going to disappear because a pope with authoritarian moods and the little Bugninian professors of Sant'Anselmo who surround him have decided so?

It is true that Benedict XVI’s attempt to restore unity around a “hermeneutic of reform in continuity,” with a softening of the Council, had failed. But it is clear that the maximization of the Council by Pope Francis is not in any better shape. The hemorrhaging of churchgoers, priests, and seminarians continues inexorably. Individualism of belief has become the rule for Catholics. And the tearing apart of the Catholic body has become more pronounced than ever, as the Germanic or Gallican synodal fever proves.

All those who reflect on this situation with a view to overcoming it know that sooner or later, and the sooner the better, a doctrinal, spiritual and, of course, liturgical refocusing will be necessary. But before that, once this page of noise and fury against traditional forms has been turned (not only that of the traditionalists, but also that of the “restorationists” in general  see the Pope’s interview with representatives of European Jesuit magazines, June 15, 2022), we can imagine a period in which, willy-nilly, a healthy freedom will be left to all the living forces that remain: those that produce the fruits of transmitting the Faith, of vocations, and of missionary vitality. At the heart of these forces is the one that cultivates the ancient Roman Mass, a lex orandi free of all error.