Monday, 17 February 2014

A Fashion that Comes and Goes (or Trads and the "spirit of Summorum Pontificum")

At the time that Pope Benedict XVI issued his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum and the accompanying letter to Bishops, I posted to the following effect:
Traditional Catholics seemed to me to take the parts of Summorum Pontificum that they liked (a greater juridical freedom to celebrate the Extraordinary Form) and leave to one side the parts they did not like (insertion of new prefaces and saints into the Extraordinary Form, the agenda of mutual enrichment)
Summorum Pontificum did not establish an equality of status between the Extraordinary Form and the Ordinary Form - as these terms themselves, used in the juridical provisions of the motu proprio, clearly indicate - and did not justify the kind of promotion of the Extraordinary Form that we then saw from certain quarters; indeed, Pope Benedict's accompanying letter argued that it would be the Missal of Pope Paul VI, celebrated reverently and in accordance with its rubrics, that would unite parishes
After Summorum Pontificum, it was not possible in juridical terms to consider the Extraordinary Form to be in any way "more traditional" than the Ordinary Form, and that, in consequence, Traditional Catholicism as a movement in the Church could not define itself only in terms of attachment to the Extraordinary Form
I think I was, at the time, described as having a "minimalist" interpretation of Summorum Pontificum.  I would say that others were adopting a "spirit of Summorum Pontificum", seeing it as a green light to promote the Extraordinary Form over the Ordinary Form. Under Pope Benedict XVI I think there was a mistaken sense that "the Traditional Mass was back". The election of Pope Francis has certainly pricked that bubble. But it was never the case that Summorum Pontificum envisaged or intended a "restoration", and I believe that a careful reading of the motu proprio and accompanying letter to Bishops bears this out. This "spirit of Summorum Pontificum" represents a certain fashion that, like the "spirit of Vatican II", will see its day and then pass away. (As far as the notion of "restoration" is concerned, Fr Hunwicke appears to lack the discretion in this regard that those longer in the Roman fold manifest.)

Rorate Caeli quotes one part of Pope Benedict's letter to Bishops, thereby mischievously playing off Pope Benedict against Pope Francis. But in reflecting on Pope Francis reported remarks about fashion in regard to the Extraordinary Form, it is worth reading another part of that same letter (my italics added):
The use of the old Missal presupposes a certain degree of liturgical formation and some knowledge of the Latin language; neither of these is found very often.  Already from these concrete presuppositions, it is clearly seen that the new Missal will certainly remain the ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, not only on account of the juridical norms, but also because of the actual situation of the communities of the faithful.
I believe Pope Benedict here correctly assessed the situation of the vast majority of dioceses in the universal Church - attachment to the Extraordinary Form, including that emerging among young people, remains an interest for a small minority in the Church (despite the contrary impression that can be gained from Catholic blogs, and recognising that Summorum Pontificum has given that minority a numerical boost). In this sense, to use Pope Francis' term, it does have something of the character of a fashion - and it is interesting to look at exactly how the report of Pope Francis' words expresses this:
I find that it is rather a kind of fashion.
It is a nuanced wording, with a particular sense to the word "fashion" that should not be identified with a statement that young people attached to the Extraordinary Form simply do so "to follow a fashion" in the same way that people might dress in a particular way. This does not mean that the attachment of young people to the Extraordinary Form should be disregarded and no provision made for it; but it does mean that the provision should be suitably proportionate in scale.

It is also worth noting a certain even-handedness in Pope Francis' reported remarks:

.... I consider greatly important to go deep into things, because if we do not go deep, no liturgical form, this or that one, can save us."

We also need to recognise that Pope Francis is credited in Rorate Caeli's report with "affection, attention and sensitivity" when speaking on this matter, in order not to hurt anyone.

[In parentheses, I suspect that the position of a country like the Czech Republic is significanctly different than that of countries like England and Wales. I think a discovery of freedom after a time of repression, and a very particular cultural heritage, might well create a particular style of interest in the Extraordinary Form that would not be found in mainstream Western countries. Others might be able to comment on this more fully than me.]

If Traditional Catholicism, with its definition (so far as I can tell, and I have yet to be convinced otherwise) by way attachment to the Extraordinary Form, is not to be just a fashion in Pope Francis' sense, I do think it needs to demonstrate a responsibility towards the Ordinary Form, to be more universal in its outlook. It needs to overcome the "spirit of Summorum Pontificum" and move from being a fashion with a limited appeal to being a more natural part of the life of the whole Church.

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