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Father John Zuhlsdorf Analyzes "Summorum Pontificum"


ROME, JULY 9, 2007 (Zenit) - Benedict XVI's letter on the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope John XXIII is an opportunity for Church members to widen their hearts, according to liturgy expert Father John Zuhlsdorf.

On Saturday, the Vatican released the apostolic letter issued "motu proprio," on one's own initiative," titled "Summorum Pontificum," along with an accompanying letter to bishops.

For an analysis of the documents, we turned to Father John Zuhlsdorf, Administrator of the Catholic Online Forum and the author of the column on liturgical translation titled "What Does the Prayer Really Say," published in the national Catholic weekly journal The Wanderer.

The column turned into a popular blog of the same name.


Q: What is a "motu proprio?"

Father Zuhlsdorf: A "motu proprio" is a document issued by a Pope "by his own motion," that is, on his own initiative and signed by him. It very often is a rescript, or a written response sent back about a question put to him, or on some burning issue.

Famous "motu proprio" letters are "Tra le Sollecitudini" of Pope St. Pius X in 1903 on Sacred Music and, of course, John Paul II's "Ecclesia Dei Adflicta" in 1988 after Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre consecrated bishops without pontifical mandate.

Q: Can you summarize the main points of the document?

Father Zuhlsdorf: There are not many new things in "Summorum Pontificum." Many of its provisions were already in place after "Ecclesia Dei Adflicta," which broadened, but in a vague way, the restrictive legislation in the 1986 document "Quattuor Abhinc Annos." This 2007 "motu proprio" removes ambiguities and resolves disputes. It levels the playing field in a way the previous documents did not.

For example, it makes clear that use of older liturgical books was never totally forbidden. The old form wasn't "abrogated." Some thought it was. All priests will be able to say Mass with the older "use" in private. That had been a disputed point.

In the matter of public Masses, where there are stable groups of people who desire them, pastors can schedule a regular Mass in parishes. There are some reasonable restrictions for Good Friday, Holy Thursday and the Easter Vigil.

Parishes or oratories can be erected where only the older liturgical books are used. Bishops could do that before, of course.

As the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei" clarified years ago, it is possible, not obligatory, to use the lectionary of the Roman Missal promulgated by Paul VI, the new readings, in the Missal of John XXIII. It was never spelled how that would be done. "Summorum Pontificum" doesn't either. The Pontifical Commission will have to figure that out.

The older books may be used for other sacraments as well: baptism, penance, extreme unction. Only bishops will be able to confer confirmation and holy orders, of course. Priests will be able to use the pre-conciliar Roman Breviary instead of the usual Liturgy of the Hours.

A new point is that the older form of Mass is regarded by the Pope as an extraordinary "use" of the one Latin Rite, while the Missal of Paul VI, or "Novus Ordo," remains the ordinary "use." Benedict stresses there are not two rites, but one rite in two expressions or "uses." This has been a matter of deep debate.

Many say the "Novus Ordo" is so different from the Missal of John XXIII, or Tridentine form, that it constitutes a different rite -- the rupture with tradition was supposedly that profound. There are good arguments for that claim, but the Holy Father is leading us in the other direction on this question.

Another new point, though we will see how this works, is that the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei" will have to be reinvigorated, and given its due role.

The document aims to promote unity and people's rights. Critics of the Pope's move, not a few bishops included, have warned that this derestriction will cause disunity in parishes and dioceses, chaos will reign, the council will be undermined, and the clock will start whirling backward.

Frankly, I think most of the opposition from bishops was really motivated by concern that this document would restrict the bishops' own authority. Benedict XVI built in safeguards for the bishops to exercise oversight in their dioceses. That is good and prudent. It must be so.

But he makes it clear that there is a new model to be followed by everyone, bishops included. This cannot be emphasized too much. By this "motu proprio," Benedict XVI asserts that traditionally minded Catholics are not to be seen as the nutty aunt to be locked up in the diocese's attic. They have valuable contributions to make. They have rights.

One of the most important aspects of this "motu proprio" is that it underscores the rights of priests and laypeople. It does not cut the legs from under the bishops. But it is a shot in the arm for lay people. The Pope is showing confidence in lay people with a concrete act, but also to priests and bishops. This is a beautiful continuation of John Paul II's call for mutual respect and generosity.

Benedict XVI is asking everyone to open their hearts. In his explanatory letter he even quotes 2 Corinthians 6:13: "Widen your hearts!" When you read "Summorum Pontificum" with a wide heart, no one need fear that rights will be trampled or due authority undermined.

Q: Why is the "liberalization" of the1962 Roman Missal necessary after the world's bishops were granted permission to allow this rite to be celebrated over 20 years ago?

Father Zuhlsdorf: At first there was a very strict permission granted by John Paul II in 1986 to use the 1962 "Missale Romanum." After Archbishop Lefebvre illicitly consecrated bishops in June of 1988, Pope John Paul issued his "motu proprio" "Ecclesia Dei Adflicta" which effectively relaxed the restrictive permission of 1986, but in a vague way.

In that document John Paul II called, actually decreed by his apostolic authority, for bishops and priests to be generous and to show respect to those who wanted older expressions of the liturgy. Some did. More didn't.

Meanwhile, the gap between the late Archbishop Lefebvre's group, the Society of St. Pius X, has in some respects grown wider, in some respects less. The dispute over the use of the Missal of Paul VI, or "ordinary" use, has not settled down, in spite of numerous disciplinary documents issued by the Holy See. It is as if we have lost sight of where our liturgy comes from and what it is supposed to be.

Long before his elevation to the See of Peter, Benedict XVI wrote and spoke about the continuity our liturgical rites and practice must have with our Tradition. Liturgy grows organically over a long period from living the faith and coming in contact with various cultures.

The Missal of Paul VI was, in some ways, pasted together on desks by experts, some of whom it must be said had their own ideological agendas. Together with an unbridled attitude of "out with the old," there was a perceived rupture in the Church's liturgical tradition.

This break in the Church's liturgical life has not borne exclusively happy fruits. Among other wounds, it gave an impression that if the liturgy could change almost overnight and old forms be banished, anything could change -- even doctrine.

But let's cut through the theory. Restoring the older way of saying Mass is simply the prudent thing to do. As Benedict XVI has written, it was unreasonable to ban so suddenly a form of the Mass that shaped Catholic identity for centuries. That did damage to our Catholic identity. We have to heal the wounds.

Q: Many commentators view the "motu proprio" as an attempt to heal the schism between the Holy See and traditionalist sects. What is your view?

Father Zuhlsdorf: This ought to help remedy the break between the Society of St. Pius X and the Holy See.

My view is that extending this faculty to all priests will help, but it won't solve anything. There are deeper issues that will not be easily resolved.

The matter of what book a priest can say Mass from, or lifting the excommunication imposed on the bishops of the Society of St. Pius X, can both be resolved with the stroke of the Pope's pen.

But yet to be resolved are theological issues such as the Second Vatican Council's teaching about religious liberty and how the Church is to interact with the world. That is why I don't think this "motu proprio" is primarily about the break with the Society of St. Pius X.

People on both sides of the issue have long looked at the other with what I call "funnel vision." When we look at each other with Christ's heart, through "the invisible wound of love" as Richard of St. Victor called it, many problems melt away. It is time to heal.

Q: Other analysts argue that the purpose of the "motu proprio" is to help foster genuine liturgical renewal of the Missal of Paul VI -- along the lines of a "reform of the reform." How might this occur?

Father Zuhlsdorf: As I said before, liturgy grows organically over a long period from living the faith and coming in contact with various cultures. Historically, different rites of Mass influenced each other.

What will happen with the derestriction of the older form of the Mass will be a cross-pollination, as it were, use of one Mass influencing the other. This is already the case.

Since Pope John Paul II's original derestriction, many young priests have become interested in older forms of Mass. They didn't really know the "Tridentine" Mass, but they also aren't lugging around the baggage of the 60s and 70s. They aren't trapped in that false "Spirit of Vatican II."

The same goes for some older priests who get reacquainted with the "extraordinary" form of the Mass after years without contact. When they start studying the older form, they adjust the way they celebrate the "Novus Ordo." They begin to re-root their style of celebration of Mass in our profound tradition.

They develop a different sense of the "ars celebrandi," the proper liturgical manner and attitude spoken of by Pope Benedict in his post-synodal exhortation "Sacramentum Caritatis."

In an ironic sense, I have heard some quip that the "Novus Ordo" gets better the more you celebrate it as if it were the older form of Mass.

On the other hand, people using the older form of Mass have learned from the last few decades of the "Novus Ordo." They probably say and participate in the Tridentine Mass better now than people did before all the changes.

The lack of the older missal for so long increased our appreciation of its riches. The good and the bad experiences, even the abuses, have taught us lessons.

When I watch priests celebrate the older form, I can tell they are acutely aware that there are actually people in the pews. There is a strong connection between the priest and congregation. The bottom line is that the different uses will have an influence on the whole liturgical life of the Church. We will all be enriched. There are no losers here. We are all winners.

Q: What does the "motu proprio" have to do with what the Holy Father calls "the hermeneutic of continuity?"

Father Zuhlsdorf: Let's make a couple of distinctions. I try to examine important documents by considering what they say to the Church -- "ad intra" -- and also to the world -- "ad extra."

From the "ad intra" point of view, Benedict XVI wants to heal breaks in continuity in various spheres of the Church's life. The derestriction will, as I said, re-root celebrations of Holy Mass in our deep liturgical tradition.

In his 2005 Christmas address to the Roman Curia, the Holy Father spoke of a "hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture" after the Second Vatican Council. A "hermeneutic" is a principle of interpretation, like a lens through which you examine a question. For many it was as if nothing good or worth preserving happened before Vatican II. Anything old was bad.

The council documents don't call for a rupture. A false "Spirit of Vatican II," of discontinuity and rupture, captivated many influential people in the Church. This "hermeneutic of discontinuity" was applied in parishes, seminaries, universities, chanceries, and in Catholic media. It created fractures in nearly every aspect of the Church's life after the council.

This "motu proprio" is a concrete step in Benedict XVI's promotion of a new way of seeing how past, present and future are connected. He proposes a "hermeneutic of reform," as he called it in that same Christmas address in 2005.

You will hear some use the cliché that this is a move to "turn the clock back." They misread the motive. It is a way to implement the Council more authentically. The derestriction of the older form of Mass must be seen as just one part of Benedict XVI's vision for reform. He is rebuilding continuity with the Church's tradition. "Ad intra," the document is all about healing.

Rebuilding continuity leads us to what the "motu proprio" says "ad extra," to the larger world.

Everyone knows about the efforts to silence and belittle the Catholic Church in public debate, politics and academic settings. Catholics are marginalized if they open their mouths. In short, faith is being shoved off to the side as mere a "private" matter, not to be expressed in public.

Benedict XVI holds that the Church has a right to her own language, symbols and identity. We have a right to express ourselves in the public square with our Catholic identity intact. We must make a contribution as Catholics.

At the same time, Benedict XVI defends the concept of properly understood laicality, but insists on bringing Catholic concerns out in public. In Italy this has started to cause unrest. The Italian bishops are rediscovering their voice in the piazza and their opponents are furious.

For this dimension of Benedict XVI's vision to bear fruit, we must begin to rediscover and reintegrate an authentically Catholic identity. The "motu proprio" to derestrict the form of Mass that shaped Catholic identity for centuries is a major move in the Pope's project to recover continuity with our tradition, to start the healing, and therefore reinvigorate the Church in an ever more secularized and relativistic world.

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Zuhlsdorf, Letter, Missal, Summorum, Pontificum, Liturgy

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