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Liberal authoritarianism and the traditional Latin Mass

English Spanish George Weigel Profile

Let me begin by defining my location in the Liturgy Wars.

I am a Novus Ordoman.

I don’t agree that the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Pius V in 1570 entombed the Roman Rite in ecclesiastical amber, such that it forever remains (as one traditionalist friend recently put it) “the most authentic expression of the Roman Church’s lex orandi [rule of worship].” If that were the case, then the 1962 Missal of John XXIII, which is used in 21st-century celebrations of what is typically called the “Traditional Latin Mass,” is less than fully authentic, as it incorporates changes in the liturgy promulgated by Popes Pius XII and John XXIII.

I believe that the restoration of the Easter Vigil and the renewal of the Paschal Triduum by Pius XII were impressive developments of the Roman Rite, as I think the richer menu of biblical readings available at Mass today was another important achievement of the mid-20th century liturgical movement.

I do not regard Latin as a “sacred” liturgical language and I believe it entirely possible to conduct dignified and reverent worship in English.

I believe that the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy taught important truths, especially about the eschatological character of the Church’s worship as an anticipation of life in the Kingdom of God, and I agree with its teaching that the Church’s worship should be conducted with a “noble simplicity.”

I think the suggestion from some liturgical traditionalists that the survival of Catholicism demands the restoration of the old Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, the old Offertory prayers, and the old Last Gospel is ridiculous: which is also how I view the claims that the Council’s liturgical constitution and its immediate implementation were the result of a cabal of Freemasons, communists, and homosexual clerics.

I prefer gothic chasubles to fiddleback chasubles and I dislike lace surplices.

That being said, I also think that the recent apostolic letter Traditionis Custodes [Custodians of the Tradition], which attempts to repeal Pope Benedict XVI’s generous permission for easier use of the Traditional Latin Mass in the 2007 apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum, was theologically incoherent, pastorally divisive, unnecessary, cruel — and a sorry example of the liberal bullying that has become all too familiar in Rome recently.

Summorum Pontificum was an act of pastoral solicitude for those Catholics who find it more efficacious to worship according to the 1962 Missal, in what Benedict XVI described as the “Extraordinary Form” of the Roman Rite. It was also hoped that the Church’s broader experience of that Extraordinary Form would lead to a re-sacralizing and ennobling of the Church’s worship according to the “Ordinary Form” of the liturgy, the post-Vatican II missal of Pope Paul VI as revised by Pope John Paul II. In my experience, that hope was being vindicated, as the silly season in liturgy was mercifully drawing to an end.

I lived that vindication for three weeks in Cracow this summer, as the seminar I led there — a multinational gathering of Catholics from six countries and cultures — celebrated the Novus Ordo reverently and prayerfully, using Gregorian chant for the ordinary parts of the Mass and traditional Latin chants and contemporary Taizé chants (in both Latin and English) as the entrance, offertory, and communion antiphons. Our seminar congregation’s participation in the liturgy was, as Vatican II hoped, “full, active, and conscious;” it was also dignified, reverent, and attuned to the sacred.

In many American parishes where the Extraordinary Form has been offered as well as the more common Ordinary Form, the unity of the Church has not been impaired. That some proponents of the Extraordinary Form think themselves the sole faithful remnant of a decaying Church is certainly true, and their presence online is depressingly familiar. But it is an empirically unsustainable slander to suggest, as Traditionis Custodes does, that that divisive superiority complex (coupled with an ideologically driven rejection of Vatican II) is the new normal for those who wish to worship at Masses celebrated with the Missal of 1962. Roman judgments should not be based on the hysteria and antics of the Catholic blogosphere.

Progressive Catholicism has typically been characterized by an authoritarian streak — a tendency to bullying and intimidation that certainly bespeaks impatience and may suggest a lack of confidence in its proposals and arguments. In the present pontificate, that has led to an extreme notion of papal authority that might make Pope Pius IX blush. This has not gone over well throughout the world Church, and that fact will have a marked effect on the next papal election.

George Weigel
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Comments from readers

Irena Lathrop - 08/03/2021 03:00 PM
Thank you for this thoughful and well written explanation. Blessed be God forever.
Eduardo M. Barrios - 08/03/2021 08:57 AM
You sound like a lay Pope. It would not hurt a little humility at expressing your opinions. Yes, mere opinions Eduardo M. Barrios, sj
Gustavo - 08/02/2021 03:54 PM
The more you try and persecute us, call us names, send us out to the city's peripheries to worship; The stronger and more emboldened we become. Every day we pray and recruit priests to come back the one true faith established by Our Lord Jesus Christ and to exit the modernist sect created by human hands and evil intentions. If God wills and he chooses martyrdom for us, so be it he will provide the sufficient graces to endure it. To priest out there, pray that the Lord opens your eyes and hearts to come back to the one true faith. Your obedience is to Christ. In the end, Christ wins; for whatever reasons, he is using us weak and sinful servants to be his soldiers here on earth. You may have the buildings(for now), but we have the faith and zeal. Viva Cristo Rey!
Neida D Perez - 08/02/2021 01:58 PM
I wonder about the Rite of Christian Initiation and Latin. How do they deal with the newcomers? To call Pope Francis cruel almost prevents objectivity for the rest of the text.
Roberto Burnett - 08/02/2021 12:45 PM
I concur with what much of the writer has to say, however I do not see Francis posturing as a liberal "bully." I think he has proven through "the patience of a saint" that continually giving an inch to the Rad Trads has left them taking far more than their due. Adherence to Vatican II and reverence for Pope Francis is not blasphemy but the calumny heaped upon His Holiness by certain (vocal) factions in the American Catholic Church, who are hopelessly aligned with right wing republican politics, is deplorable and can no longer be ignored.
Maria E. Maguire - 08/02/2021 12:44 PM
I most certainly agree that the congregation’s participation in the liturgy should ALWAYS BE, as Vatican II hoped, “full, active, and conscious;” it should also dignified, reverent, and attuned to the sacred. That's what HOlY MASS is. Community worship, but the CENTER is the SACRED REMEMBRANCE OF JESUS' SACRIFICE on the cross and HIS AWESOME CELEBRATION OF AN ETERNAL PASSOVER DINNER FOR ALL THE CHURCH forever. BLESSINGS. Maria Maguire P.S. Hope more people will personally join daily and/or weekend masses. No obligation to attend? Whoever thought of the word obligation, I LOOK AT IT AS A WONDERFUL CELEBRATION OF WORSHIP to observe and comply with the 3rd Commandment.
Rafael M. Calvo Forte - 08/02/2021 12:31 PM
Coincido en casi todo con usted, disfruto y vivo la liturgia. Ciertamente ha habido exageraciones y ridiculeces en la celebración de la misa de Vaticano II; pero de eso a volver al Renac3ntismo de san Pío V, es una retroceso más arcaico que el Medio Evo. El latín, según el Concilio Vaticano II se debía usar en misas con más de tres lenguajes diferentes. De acuerdo. Pero me pregunto: Si no ven qué hace el celebrante y no entienden latín, qué se llevan? Sólo el gusto melífluo de comulgar de rodillas ( como esclavos) el santo alimento que se parte, reparte y compare, para que demos de lo que tomamos del altar? Gustos y sentires sin enseñanza que ayude a crecer en la fe, no es criterio ( válido). Hay grupos de piadosas señoras de velos blancos ( para que se noten), que la histeria las carcome y hasta agresivas se ponen. Van de templo y templo a ver dónde es cómo a ellas les gusta. Nunca supe que el gusto era un criterio. Sí coincido que habrá que esperar el,pr cónclave, para ver si es convalidado por las piadosas señoras…

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