Liturgical Dispute; St. Peter’s Online

Letter on 1962 Missal Causes Skirmish

By Elizabeth Lev

ROME, SEPT. 27, 2007 ( After the sunny skies of August, storm clouds appeared this week in Rome as Benedict XVI’s apostolic letter “Summorum Pontificum” came into effect Sept. 14.

For those who have been sleeping under a liturgical rock this summer, the July 7 papal document, issued “motu proprio” (on his own initiative), gave all Catholic priests much broader permission to celebrate the liturgy according to the 1962 Roman Missal, and the faithful the right to request this form of the liturgy.

This might have passed unnoticed except for a few keen Vatican watchers, but a commotion among the Italian bishops regarding the document had every journalist in Italy focused on Rome.

The Italian episcopal conference met Sept. 16-19 and immediately brought up the question of implementing the apostolic letter. Of the 30 Italian bishops in the assembly, a small number took the opportunity to criticize the document, claiming that the ecclesiology in the old missal was “incompatible” with the new rite.

The Holy Father accompanied the papal document with a letter to the bishops on how to implement the document in which he states: “There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal. In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture.

“What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.”

Perhaps these few dissenters had not opened their mail recently.

The same bishops then requested that the conference as a body prepare an “interpretive document” regarding the implementation of the letter in an “Italian” sense. “Italian” in this context would mean a restricted application.

Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the heroic former head of the Italian bishops’ conference, who rallied the bishops to oppose the gay marriage bill in Italy and the referendum on embryo testing, rose to the occasion.

Together with the present leader of the conference, Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco, and several other bishops, he insisted that the papal document is not to be interpreted but applied.

While objections were being raised in the CEI, an open rebellion erupted in the shadow of Vesuvius. Bishop Raffaele Nogara of Caserta, known in Italy as the “ecumenical bishop” for his openness toward the Islamic communities in his diocese, abruptly canceled a Tridentine Mass days before it was scheduled to be celebrated in the Parish of Sant’Anna.

Bishop Nogara was quoted in Italian newspapers as saying that he canceled the Mass so as “not to set a precedent,” and that he wanted to encourage his diocese to pray correctly, as “babbling in Latin serves no purpose.”

One wonders what the fuss is about. The “Novus Ordo,” the Latin name for the rite established by Paul VI in 1969, is not being supplanted, nor is this a return to a liturgical “stone age.” Michelangelo, Bernini and Mozart made art, churches and music for this rite — can it really be all that bad?

Far from a rollback to pre-Vatican II times, Benedict XVI has sought to fully implement the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. It was, after all, the Vatican II document regarding the sacred liturgy that states: “Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites. But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass … or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended” (“Sacrosanctum Concilium,” No. 36).

On the bright side, many people, from cardinals down to faithful on the street, are excited about the openness to the old missal. Cardinal George Pell, archbishop of Sydney, Australia, was recently quoted in ZENIT as being in full agreement with the Holy Father.

On the other side of the globe, Bishop Michael Burbidge of Raleigh, North Carolina, wrote a beautiful letter to his diocese, noting, “Both the ‘Forma ordinaria’ and the ‘Forma extraordinaria’ of the Mass have been the source of holiness for countless saints throughout history.”

“Summorum Pontificum” is a popular subject in Rome. Reflections in the cafes or piazzas have been overwhelmingly positive with the faithful eager and alive to the possibility of rediscovering the mystery and majesty of the Eucharist through the Tridentine rite.

In this as in many other areas, Benedict XVI has proved to be more “liberal” than people would have thought, expanding the Church’s offerings so that the faithful can worship God in manifold ways.


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