Tags: Pope Benedict XVI, Latin Mass, Extraordinary Form, English Bishops
There is only one candidate for my religious highlight of 2007: that glorious day in July when Pope Benedict XVI healed a disastrous rift in the history of the Western Church by restoring the ancient Latin Mass to its full dignity.
By restoring the Latin Mass the Pope made 2007 a glorious year
The Holy Father’s apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum was a thrilling and shocking event: thrilling for traditional Catholics because its liberation of the older Mass was so much more comprehensive than they had dared hope, and shocking for ossified liberals who believed that the “Tridentine” liturgy was a thing of the past.
In the short term, it might appear that the Pope created a rift rather than closed one. But that is because the liberal hierarchies of many countries – now, thank God, on the verge of retirement – so totally misunderstood what happened on 07/07/07.
Summorum Pontificum is not an attempt to coax fogeys and sectarians back into the Church by relaxing the rules governing the celebration of the old Mass. It is far more radical than that. The document doesn’t relax rules – it abolishes them.
The Bishops of England and Wales need to understand one thing. From now on, Catholics who desire the ancient liturgy DO NOT NEED TO ASK PERMISSION FROM THEIR BISHOP.
The tragedy is that bishops should even wish to restrict the celebration of the older form of liturgy. The Extraordinary Form, as it is now called, will not replace the vernacular Mass as the main Eucharistic worship of the Church. It is a freely available alternative, better suited to some circumstances than others.
Why did it need to be made freely available? First, because the generous provision of the Older Missal envisaged by Pope John Paul II never happened: many bishops treated traditionalist Catholics like lepers. Or, to put it more bluntly, devotees of the Mass of the Ages were the one minority the trendy dinosaur bishops didn’t suck up to.
Second, and more profoundly, it is the particular genius of Pope Benedict to recognise that so many features of the classical Mass that struck the 1960s reformers as anachronisms – the silent canon, the eastward-facing celebration, the precise sacerdotal gestures – are truly timeless. Their cosmological symbolism is so rich, so other-worldly, that they speak far more directly to disorientated young people than the glib mateyness of many vernacular Masses.
July 7, 2007, was one of the greatest days in the history of the Catholic Church. Our bishops may be too myopic and grouchy to recognise this, but perhaps their hearts will be touched in 2008 and the great reform can begin in earnest.