Rorate Caeli

RORATE EXCLUSIVE: First translation of pages on 'Traditionis Custodes' from Gänswein's new book

As everyone now knows, Archbishop Georg Gänswein has written a book entitled "Nient' altro che la verità: La mia vita al fianco di Benedetto XVI" (Nothing but the truth: My life beside Pope Benedict XVI) (Piemme, 2023). So far, no English translation has been announced. Rorate has access to this book and is pleased to present the following section, "Interrupted pacification" (pp. 288-291), in English for the first time.

On July 16, 2021, Benedict XVI discovered, leafing through that afternoon's L'Osservatore Romano, that Pope Francis had released the motu proprio Traditionis custodes on the use of the Roman liturgy prior to the 1970 reform. The subject matter was identical to that of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, which he had promulgated on July 7, 2007, and the mode of communication was also the same, through the accompaniment of a letter to illustrate the contents of the new text. Therefore, the Pope Emeritus read the document carefully, to understand its motivation and the details of the changes.

When I asked him for his opinion, he reiterated that the reigning Pontiff has the responsibility for decisions such as this and must act according to what he considers to be the good of the Church. But on a personal level, he found a definite change of course and considered it a mistake, as it jeopardized the attempt at pacification that had been made fourteen years earlier. Benedict in particular felt it was wrong to prohibit the celebration of Mass in the ancient rite in parish churches, as it is always dangerous to corner a group of faithful so as to make them feel persecuted and to inspire in them a sense of having to safeguard their identity at all costs in the face of the "enemy."

After a couple of months, reading what Pope Francis had said on Sept. 12, 2021 during a conversation with Slovak Jesuits in Bratislava, the Pope Emeritus furrowed his brow at a statement of the pope's: "Now I hope that with the decision to stop the automatism of the ancient rite we can return to the true intentions of Benedict XVI and John Paul II. My decision is the result of a consultation with all the bishops of the world made last year."

And even less appreciation was garnered in him by the anecdote told soon afterwards by the Pontiff: "A cardinal told me that two newly ordained priests came to him asking to study Latin in order to celebrate well. He, who has a sense of humor, replied, 'But there are so many Hispanics in the diocese! Study Spanish to be able to preach. Then, when you have studied Spanish, come back to me and I will tell you how many Vietnamese there are in the diocese, and I will ask you to study Vietnamese. Then, when you have learned Vietnamese, I will give you permission to study Latin as well." So he 'grounded them,' brought them back to earth."

As an expert on Vatican II, Benedict remembered well how the Council had instead insisted that "the use of the Latin language, except for particular rights, should be preserved in the Latin rites" (Sacrosanctum Concilium 36) and that all seminarians should acquire "that knowledge of the Latin language which is necessary for understanding and using the sources of so many sciences and the documents of the Church" (Optatam totius 13). Not for nothing, Benedict had noted in the motu proprio Latina lingua, "are the liturgical books of the Roman rite, the most important documents of the Pontifical Magisterium, and the most solemn official acts of the Roman Pontiffs written in that language in their official form, precisely in order to highlight the universal character of the Church."

As is evident in his writings, particularly The Feast of Faith (1984) and The Spirit of the Liturgy (2000), the theologian Ratzinger in the early days was favorable to liturgical reform: this topic was always among his favorites, as he considered it fundamental to the Catholic faith, and it was not by chance that he wanted the first publication of his Opera omnia to be the one dedicated to the liturgy, even though in the project plan it was the eleventh volume.

However, as he saw the subsequent developments of that reform, he realized the differences between what Vatican II wanted and what was instead done by the Consilium ad exsequendam Constitutionem de Sacra Liturgia (Committee for the carrying out of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy), with the liturgy then becoming a battleground for opposing sides, particularly by making the celebration in Latin the bulwark to be defended or the bastion to be torn down.

Benedict was especially committed to the liturgy being celebrated in its beauty, since it is the celebration of the presence and work of the living God, seeing the Eucharist as the Church's most basic and greatest gesture of worship. In his eyes, any reform of the Church had to derive from the liturgy, since it alone can embody a renewal of faith that starts from the center. And as a theologian he affirmed, "Just as I have come to understand the New Testament as the soul of theology, so I have grasped the liturgy as its raison d’être, without which it withers away."

Founding himself on this awareness, with Summorum Pontificum he wanted to make it easier for a priest to celebrate with the ancient rite, overcoming the need for reference to the diocesan bishop and granting competence to the "Ecclesia Dei" Commission. It always remained clear to him, however, that there was only one rite, albeit with the co-presence of the ordinary and the extraordinary. His only motivation was the desire to repair the great wound that had gradually been created, whether voluntarily or involuntarily.

It was not an operation carried out clandestinely, as even some in bad faith have claimed. It was in fact the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that first dealt with the text of the motu proprio [Summorum Pontificum], with the involvement of the members of the feria quarta and plenary. Benedict constantly followed the progress of the text through updates given to him by Cardinal Prefect Levada in the table audiences and, after publication, he regularly asked the bishops during ad limina visits how the application of that legislation was progressing in their dioceses, always getting a positive feeling from it.

That is why to Pope Ratzinger that reference [by Francis] to his "true intentions" seemed incongruous, since, as we read in Light of the World, he had wanted "to make the ancient form more easily accessible above all in order to preserve the deep and unbroken link that exists in the history of the Church. We cannot say: it was all wrong before, but now it is all right. Indeed, in a community in which prayer and the Eucharist are the most important things, what used to be considered the most sacred thing cannot be considered entirely wrong. It was about reconciliation with one's past, about the internal continuity of faith and prayer in the Church."

It also remained mysterious to Benedict why the results of the consultation of the bishops done by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which would have allowed a more precise understanding of every implication of Pope Francis's decision, were not disclosed. Similarly, it turned out to be surprising, for all the analytical and in-depth work done previously, that a transfer and splitting of competence on the issue was done from the Doctrine of the Faith to, simultaneously, the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and to that for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.