Rorate Caeli

“War on the ancient Mass reveals the bluff of synodality” — Article by Stefano Chiappalone

While there is chit-chat and jibber-jabber everywhere about synodality, leaving everyone to choose the path they prefer, whether alla francese (“the French way”) or alla tedesca (“the German way”) or in salsa amazzonica (“in Amazonian sauce”), the Holy See on one point does not compromise: that Mass is not to be done.


“That” Mass—namely, the form of the liturgy celebrated for centuries until 1970, when suddenly, after a few years of wild experimentation, a new rite was composed at the table and imposed on the people, and the previous one destined to die out.


However, that rite did not die out—and now its opponents try to dissolve it with “mercy” (among other meanings, misericordia was also the name of the dagger with which they used to deliver the coup de grace to a wounded opponent).


The new stiletto-strike at the traditional Roman rite took the form of a rescript made public yesterday and dated February 20, which practically takes away from the diocesan bishop precisely that role of “moderator, promoter, and custodian” of the liturgy affirmed in Traditionis Custodes Article 2 and, indeed, encased in the very first words of the motu proprio (“keepers of the tradition” in fact referring to the bishops). These roles are now suddenly lacking with regard to two aspects that the Holy See has, since yesterday, seized for itself. Indeed, the rescriptum ex audientia Sanctissimi states that in the February 20 audience the Holy Father reserved “in a special way to the Apostolic See” the granting of the use of parish churches or the establishment of new personal parishes and the authorization to celebrate according to the 1962 Missale Romanum for presbyters ordained after Traditionis Custodes. The pope confirms the further “shutdownist” line already expressed (and applied) by Cardinal Arthur Roche with the Responsa of December 18, 2021, which in fact are explicitly cited and approved in the rescriptum.


In the aftermath of the motu proprio, some bishops had derogated from the ban on celebrating in the ancient rite in parish churches (since other houses of worship such as chapels and oratories are widespread in Italy but not in all countries), while the possibility of authorizing new priests to use the missal prior to the reforms was established by the Traditionis Custodes itself as a prerogative of the bishop (Article 4), assigning the Holy See a role of consultation, not of ultimate decision-making. In this sense, one can speak of an even more restrictive amendment to the motu proprio of July 2021.


But Roche had spoken and acted differently, and the Pope’s support for his line is now explicit. Nor are the decisions already made preserved, since the rescriptum states that “should a diocesan bishop have granted dispensations in the two cases mentioned above, he is obliged to inform the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, which will evaluate the individual cases.” In which direction it will evaluate seems clear enough, given precedents—for example, in Savannah, Georgia, where last year the bishop, though favorable, had to “consult” the dicastery, which imposed on him an “expiration date” for celebrations.


At least now it is written in black and white for all to see: the bishops are free, yes—but only to say no. So much for synodality! Those who behave too benevolently will have to reckon with Roche, whose hostility to the ancient rite has been well known since the days of Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum, which he strove to block. It remains a mystery why the then-pontiff in 2012 called him to Rome precisely to deal with liturgy (a curious fact, which shows how much more freedom the voices in dissent had, precisely under the pontificate of the so-called “German shepherd”).


Let us at least appreciate (so to speak) the cleverness: compared to the rumored “apostolic constitution” (which may be coming anyway) or any more striking document, this brief rescript arrives plushly, almost in an undertone, but it strikes deeper, leaving in Cardinal Roche’s hands all the loopholes left for the faithful and priests attached to the traditional liturgy. Do you need priests? Well, I don’t authorize them. The nearest non-parish church is 30 miles away? I deny the dispensation. The enemies of the ancient rite will point to the goal of extinction already explicitly stated in Article 6 of the motu proprio, as well as to the repeated statements of the pontiff and the cardinal.


Herewith, the rich multiplicity of the polyhedron is defeated by the uniformity of the sphere (to use one of the most recurrent mantras in papal language), in defiance of a synodality that is more talked about than practiced; and we see the defeat of another mantra, “reality is superior to the idea” (Evangelii gaudium 233). Since 2021, the idea is reiterated—with an anti-historical fixation—that the only form of the lex orandi is the postconciliar one: the one and only, not even the prevailing, the principal, or the “ordinary form,” but the only one. And there is a reality that, in the name of that idea, is deliberately trampled upon and ignored: the real and concrete faithful, with their personal stories of searching and conversion, whom in many cases that very rite has helped to bring closer to the Church. They are often young people, for whom the traditional liturgy is not nostalgia, but rather a joyful discovery.


Of course, every other day the polyhedron is reactivated. For example, on Feb. 2 when the Holy Father praised the Zairean rite with Jesuits from Congo and South Sudan (“I like the Congolese rite, because it is a work of art, a liturgical and poetic masterpiece”). A rite he has repeatedly expressed his appreciation for, and even presided at in St. Peter’s in July 2022, and which he has called “a promising way for the eventual elaboration of an Amazonian rite.” Congolese rite? Amazonian rite? And what about the insistence on the “unique form” of the lex orandi? What if we look toward the East, where the rites are even more varied? Yet the Pope in Cyprus said: “There are no walls, and let there be no walls, in the Catholic Church, please! It is a common house, it is the place of relationships, it is the coexistence of diversity: that rite, that other rite....” But what is said in the East is belied in the West, returning to erect great walls right in the face of the faithful who derive spiritual nourishment from the traditional Roman liturgy. In front of these, even the flag of “Who am I to judge?” is lowered: the Cardinal Prefect has judged them, that’s for sure, calling them “more Protestant than Catholic,” while the Holy Father has purposely coined one of his neologisms, “indietrists” (backwardists), to go with the more usual “rigids,” “Pelagians,” and so on.


We do not know whether the ancient rite will actually disappear, as some of the current hierarchs hope, in a curious parallelism with the Biden administration’s “witch hunt” (and it was precisely “traditional Catholics” who were in the crosshairs of the leaked document later retracted by the FBI). Certainly, one result is achieved: that of arousing perplexity even in “ordinary” Catholics who perhaps do not attend that ancient rite. Indeed, the number is growing of those who cannot explain such doggedness on the part of the Holy See toward that which, “for previous generations, was sacred and great” and “cannot be ... forbidden or even judged harmful.” So wrote Benedict XVI in the now distant 2007, when “liturgical peace” was being woven, not broken.

Stefano Chiappalone
La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana
February 22, 2023