Rorate Caeli

Andrea Grillo: An astonishing interview of the main lay ideologue behind Traditionis Custodes and the desire to ban the Traditional Mass

(Chartres Pilgrimage)

While Archbishop Viola, Secretary of the Dicastery for Divine Worship, is the main clerical ideologue interested in the ultimate ban of the Traditional Latin Mass, the main lay ideologue is Italian lay theologian Andrea Grillo, whose ideas and words are the very essence of the first partial ban instituted as "Traditionis custodes".

Italian blog Messa in latino has just released an interview with him, from which it can be gleaned how exactly the Francis pontificate sees faithful attached to Tradition and the traditional rites of the Latin Church. It is nothing short of an astonishing interview: the hatred and disgust for his fellow Catholics expressed in his words (for instance, calling the multitudes of young people attending the Chartres Pilgrimage in France, "little more than a sect that experiences infidelity as salvation") are not reserved even for the worst enemies of the Church.

From Messainlatino, English translation by Diane Montagna:

1. Messainlatino: Why, as it appears at least to us, does it seem that at all costs there is no desire to give free space in the Catholic Church to traditionalists who are faithful to Rome (like so many other lay movements), and that they are only regarded as faithful to be re-educated?

Professor Grillo: The first question contains numerous inaccuracies that undermine the very meaning of the question. I will try to illustrate them one by one. Those you call “traditionalists faithful to Rome” are actually people who, for various reasons, are at odds with Rome, and not in a relationship of fidelity. The point of contention does not simply concern a “ritual form” but a way of understanding relations inside and outside the Church. It all begins with the misunderstanding generated (in good faith, but through a completely wrong judgement) by the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, which had introduced a “ritual parallelism” (between the Novus Ordo and Vetus Ordo) that has neither a systematic nor practical foundation: it is not theologically sound and generates greater divisions than those that were present previously. The idea of “fidelity to Rome” must be challenged: to be faithful to Rome, one must acquire a “ritual language” according to what Rome has communally established. One is not faithful if one has one foot in two shoes. Having demonstrated this contradiction, the merit of Traditionis Custodes is that it re-establishes the one “lex orandi” in force for the entire Catholic Church. If someone tells me he is faithful at the same time to the Novus Ordo and Vetus Ordo, I reply that he has not understood the meaning of tradition, within which there a legitimate and insuperable progress that is irreversible.

2. Messainlatino: After the Paris-Chartres 2024 pilgrimage (with 18,000 people, an average age of 25, diocesan bishops, a cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, and extensive media coverage) do you believe that the Church must now consider pastoral care for the “traditional” charism as well (like other movements that have arisen since the Second Vatican Council), or can it continue to deny the massive vitality of the ancient liturgy?

Professor Grillo: What are 18,000 people compared to the great multitude of the Catholic Church? Little more than a sect that experiences infidelity as salvation, and is often linked to moral and political positions, and very concerning customs. It isn’t by changing words that things get better. Tradition and traditionalism cannot be equated. Traditionalism is not “one among many movements” (even though it may have characteristics that are partly similar to some of the more fundamentalist movements that were inappropriately favored over the last 40 years), but a form of “denial of the Second Vatican Council” that cannot but be clearly obstructed within the ecclesial experience. The Church is not a “club of notaries or lawyers” who cultivate their aesthetic passions or plan to instrumentalize the Church as “the most famous museum”.

3. Messainlatino: In your view, how is it that, especially in the Anglophone and Francophone regions, there is a considerable increase in the number of faithful, seminarians, conversions, financial offerings, and large families in traditionalist areas (while there is a clear and serious qualitative-quantitative crisis in Novus Ordo parishes, at least in the western world)?

Professor Grillo: We are dealing here with a distorted vision. Especially in the western word, the faith is facing a crisis that began more than a century ago and has accelerated dramatically in the last 50 years. But the crisis is not responded to by restoring the “honor society” way of life. It isn’t “cappe magne” or “dead languages” that strengthen the faith. These only reinforce bonds of identity, forms of fundamentalism, and intransigentism that are no longer those of 100 years ago, but that have taken on unprecedented forms where a “Catholic” identity—which in terms of its Catholicism is little more than an idealized label—is espoused with the height of post-modern life. This is not an ecclesial or spiritual phenomenon; it is a phenomenon of customs and forms of life that has little to do with the authentic tradition of the Catholic Church.

4. Messainlatino: So, in this situation of a dearth of seminarians and a death toll of young faithful, why in your view does Pope Francis, at least apparently, seem to consider only traditionalist faithful (who pray “una cum Papa nostro Francisco” and are growing more and more) as enemies?

Professor Grillo: First, the “dearth of seminarians” and “young people fleeing” is not just a negative fact: is the sign of a necessary travail for the entire Church. The “easy” solutions (i.e., let us fill traditionalist seminaries with militarized young men modelled on 17th or 18th century priests) are only blunders, whose costs are primarily borne by those involved. They don’t generate a life of faith but often great resentment and personal hardening. I wouldn’t worry about Pope Francis perceiving this as a danger. I was much more concerned that his predecessors saw it as an asset. Nostalgia is never an asset, even when it deludes one into thinking that the Church has nothing to reform, but only finds all the answers in the past. Praying “una cum Papa” isn’t achieved with mere chatter, but by sharing with the Church, and above all the Pope, the one Ordo in force. Otherwise, one chatters but lives in opposition to tradition.

5. Messainlatino: Is it possible that a ritual form that, for a very, very long time, was the “normative” one of the Catholic Church, can now no longer have a place, along with so many other rites of the Catholic Church itself (inter alia the Mozarabic, Ambrosian, Chaldean, St John Chrysostom, Armenian, etc.)? Why not make the traditional charism coexist in the great diversity of ecclesial charisms: “We must not be afraid of the diversity of charisms in the Church. On the contrary, we must rejoice in living this diversity” (Francis, 2024)?

Professor Grillo: Here again, the question reveals a rather weighty misunderstanding. On the other hand, I recognize that your question echoes one of the strongest (and least justifiable) motivations that marked the season (of Summorum Pontificum) to which you have become so attached that you have almost made it your banner. At the heart of that document, in fact, was an argument that went like this: “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too”. Where does this principle come from? Not from theology, but from nostalgic emotion for the past. Such a principle tends to “fixate the Church” on its past. Not on the “depositum fidei”, but on the vesture it wore in a season, as if it were definitive. That there have been, throughout history, ritual forms that are recognized in their “otherness” depends on the “specific” tradition of places, or religious orders. No one could have ever thought that, at the universal level, anyone would be allowed the freedom to remain in one version of the Roman Rite or in the version that has been surpassed by a general reform. And “the right” cannot use the great Pauline ideas in such a shameless way: the freedom of charisms cannot be thought of as feeding an “anarchy from above”, as the implementation of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum irresponsibly did. Much better would have been to work “at a single table”, so that everyone could contribute to enriching “the only ritual form in force”.  The wager of a mutual improvement between the Novus Ordo and Vetus Ordo was a totally inadequate strategy and theology, fueled by ideological abstractness.

6. Messainlatino: You have levelled heavy criticism at the traditional liturgy. Do you think that the faithful who prefer it also have the right to make similar criticisms of the liturgical reform, or do you think that the critical analysis of the liturgy can only go in the direction of the theological current of which you are an authoritative exponent?

Professor Grillo: I don’t reason according to “factions” or “parties”. I only try to read the tradition and discover what we can do and what we are not allowed to do. Everyone can critique any step of tradition. I am interested in is the steps being argued. The arguments of traditionalists are weak because they deny what best describes tradition: namely its service to change. Those who challenge the liturgical reform have every right to speak out, but they cannot claim that their arguments are “self-evident”. For example, one cannot infer from one’s criticism of the “reform of Holy Week” the right to resort to the rites prior to “any reform” of the Triduum, i.e. the rites prior to the 1950s. Those who act in this way not only do not contribute to the ecclesial debate, but objectively place themselves outside Catholic tradition; and however much they reaffirm their “fidelity to the Pope”, they are in fact refusing it. It is not so easy to avoid becoming “sedevacantist”, in deeds before words.

7. Messainlatino: One final question. We believe that the liturgical reform has failed overall (as can be seen from the empty seminaries and churches, merged parishes and dioceses, etc.), and that it has contributed to the crisis of the Church. We also think that, to defend it, attempts are being made to portray as expected results what appear to us to be negative consequences. How would you try to change our minds?

Professor Grillo: There are cases, in the theological and liturgical debate, in which the use of arguments can be doomed to failure. I never give up (I would not be a theologian if I did not trust in argumentation), but I recognize the difficulty. I use reasoning in these cases that is often difficult to understand. Even the well-known journalist, Vittorio Messori, has often fallen into the same error as you have. You say, “the liturgical reform has failed” and you reason in terms of numbers. You think like this: if something in history is before something else, then what is before is the cause of what comes after. It is not difficult, thus, to believe that the responsibility for the evils of the 70s-80s-90s, up to 2024, lies with the Second Vatican Council, and particularly the liturgical reform. This way of reasoning, however, is not historically well-founded. The crisis in the Church began in great part before the emergence of liturgical thinking: Guéranger and Rosmini speak of a “liturgical crisis” as early as 1830-40. Festugière at the beginning of the 20th century said, “nobody knows what it is to celebrate any more” ... but you not only ignore all of this but tend to simplify things and think that “if the reform had not taken place” we would still be in the Church of the 1950s. To change your mind, I think we should first reflect on the relationship between liturgy and ecclesial experience. Being a disciple of Christ isn’t a matter of belonging to a high society club or an association aimed at speaking a strange language or identifying with the past, cultivating reactionary ideals. Tradition is not the past, but the future. Since the Church and faith are a serious matter, they cannot be reduced to the association of those who cultivate nostalgia for the past.