Rorate Caeli

The amorphous “Roman rite” and the authentic Roman Rite: A keen analysis by Michael Charlier

Not the Rite of Zaire...

Liturgical No-Man’s Land or Rite Church

Sunday’s Mass celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica in the “Rite of Zaire” has raised questions (e.g., here) about the relationship of this “rite” to the Novus Ordo liturgy, and whether this contradicts Pope Francis’s claim that the liturgy prescribed in the Missal of Paul VI is the only lex orandi of the Latin Rite Catholic Church.

Pope Francis himself practically answered this question by saying that he himself once celebrated Mass in this rite in his Episcopal Church (on December 1, 2019) and attended it last Sunday in the same place quasi “in choro.” Presumably he felt prevented by his health ailments from celebrating himself. Both celebrations took place at the altar of the cathedra behind the main altar—probably to offer the not too large African community in Rome a more appropriate setting.

In addition to these practical actions, there are also “liturgical theory” statements by the pope on the subject. Last June, a French edition of the book Pope Francis and the Roman Missal for the Dioceses of Zaire, already published in Italian in 2020, was presented in Rome in the presence of Francis. In doing so, Francis said, among other things: “The Roman Missal for the Dioceses of Zaire is, until now, the only inculturated Roman Missal that has emerged from the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council.”

In his preface to this book (which unfortunately is not available to us), Francis states that this inculturated Missal represents a special invitation of the Holy Spirit to the faithful to take up His diverse gifts to all humanity. Specifically, he expresses there the expectation that the “Rite of Zaire” could form the model of a “Rite for the Amazon.”

According to this, then, there can be no doubt that in Francis’s eyes the “Rite of Zaire” corresponds to the liturgy supposedly intended by the Council and therefore represents a legitimate form of the “sole expression of the Roman Rite.” For this, Francis can also claim literal conformity with Art. 1 of TC: “Libri liturgici a sanctis Pontificibus Paulo VI et Ioanne Paulo II promulgati, iuxta decreta Concilii Vaticani II, unica expressio ‘legis orandi’ Ritus Romani sunt.” In short: everything that has been promulgated and will be promulgated after THE COUNCIL is a valid expression of the Roman Rite—everything that was before is not (anymore).

As is always the case when Francis attempts to make a firm statement, this one only begins to multiply questions for all who have not trimmed their grasp of tradition back to the term of the pontiff currently in office.

Much has been said about the question, “Can what was supreme and holy until yesterday be dangerous or even forbidden today?”—not least by Francis’s predecessor Benedict, who answered with a resounding “No.”

A question that has received less attention is, “What actually is—according to THE COUNCIL—the Roman Rite?” Apparently, the view of Francis and the Sant’Anselmo liturgical school behind him is that everything under the immediate jurisdiction of the Roman See belongs to the Roman Rite. Only the “rite churches” sui iuris, which have relative autonomy, would have independent rites; everything else would be de facto “Roman rite.” Also, then, the postconciliar “reformed” Ambrosian rite of Milan, for example.

This is how one can regard it—if one takes a legal positivist standpoint and, incidentally, wants to follow Francis’s hyperpapalistic fantasies of omnipotence. In terms of liturgical history, this inflation of the term Roman rite rather implies the dissolution of the Roman rite into a series of individual rites, which only show a loose agreement in some basic elements and are connected above all by the fact of approval by the central office.

Even concurrence in having or using the Roman Canon—constitutive of the Roman rite for over a millennium—would have disappeared from the definition, not to mention the common liturgical language and the preference for Gregorian chant that had been expressly affirmed by THE COUNCIL.

Thus the joyful assertion of Joseph Gelineau SJ in 1978 would finally come true: “The Roman rite as we knew it no longer exists.” And the way would be clear for the medium-term achievement of the ideal state envisaged by Gelineau, in which each parish and each community could develop its own liturgy according to its concrete ideas—held together juridically only by a Roman approbation, which would undoubtedly be granted wherever Francis or a successor sharing his lack of understanding of the essence of the liturgy saw the unspirit [Ungeist] of the modernist interpretation of the Council realized.

Our criticism cannot be about strictly rejecting any kind of “inculturation.” Inculturation, in the sense of a certain openness to forms from a local or time-bound way of life, has always existed in the Church—as a cautiously groping process spanning the centuries, limited mainly to external manifestations and behavior in the liturgy. The paradox of the current propagation of a comprehensive inculturation is that the tumultuous globalization of the last three decades has already irrevocably destroyed authentic local cultures in many parts of the world and replaced them with an almost globally spread uniform mash of Twitter and Netflix unculture. No wonder that events like the “Zairean Mass” in St. Peter’s Basilica give the impression of actions by the tourist industry to promote tourism: it no longer has much to do with people’s real lives. And the more globalization determines people’s lives and brings believers from Rome, Paris, Kinshasa, and Tokyo together in one place, the more misguided proves to be the attempt to embellish the divine liturgy with local color that can hardly be found authentically anymore—instead of orienting this liturgy emphatically towards the supernatural. This was and remains precisely the strength of the classical Roman Rite, which made it understandable even where its forms were foreign.

Pope Francis’s commitment to the “Zairean Rite” and other exotic phenomena appears, under the circumstances outlined, as a component of his war against the authentic Roman Rite and against tradition in the liturgy and teaching of the Church as a whole. Just imagine if, at an event, he were presented with a replica of a tiara in the expectation that he would put it on as gleefully as various feathered hats of various pagan deities.

As the balance of power in the Church stands, those who wish to hold fast to the Church’s traditions of doctrine and liturgy have little opportunity to offer institutional resistance to the assault of the modernists and apostates. Francis and his spies can revoke limited tolerations such as those hitherto granted to old-rite communities with the stroke of a pen at any time. These adversaries can block access to churches and chapels and dissolve communities—as long, of course, as local authorities support them in this endeavor.

On the other hand: as far as the measures of Roman headquarters and of local bishops are recognizably aimed at the destruction of the apostolic tradition, the destroyers have no claim to receive obedience—Bishop Huonder has just made that quite clear again in a sermon. In the future, traditional groups in formation will think twice before seeking official ecclesiastical recognition. More than before, they will rely on having their own property for living and for worship—even where they have been tolerated by “good” bishops, because a bishop who has become disliked in Rome for being too close to tradition can be replaced tomorrow.

In his Monday Vatican of July 4, Andrea Gagliarducci reported the observation that Pope Francis is all the more willing to deal with ecclesiastical groups in a halfway civilized manner, the further these groups are removed from his immediate sphere of influence.[*] There is something to be learned from this—even without withdrawing recognition from the holder of the Roman episcopal chair or questioning his office and mission in principle. If Francis does attempt to completely displace the authentic Roman rite from the Church of Rome, and if one or more successors should follow him in this, the question will arise sooner rather than later for all who know that this rite cannot and must not be abandoned, as to how they are to accomplish the maintenance of an independent “rite church,” even if this should bring great difficulties, distress of conscience, and the slander of being “schismatics.” The recognition of such a church of the rite of Pope St. Gregory by the pope of Rome will then follow someday. Perhaps a future Gregory XVII is already a seminarian of a faithful community.

Michael Charlier
July 5, 2022

[*] Thus he has dealt more benevolently with the SSPX and the Orthodox than with “uniate traditionalists,” with the partial exception of the FSSP.