Matias Augé, former consulter to the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship, states that Pope Benedict’s readmission of the celebration of the pre-Vatican II liturgy has not contributed to that “interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church” which the Pope had hoped for, but rather “the divisions have been deepened even more.” He recently blogged on the document Summorum Pontificum, issued by Pope Benedict XVI on July 7, 2007, which took effect on September 14 of that year and allowed the preconciliar liturgy to be celebrated by any priest without permission from his bishop.
In the accompanying letter to the world’s Catholic bishops, the Pope asked in 2007 that a report be submitted to the Holy See after three years, so that if serious difficulties have come to light, ways to remedy them can be sought. “We hope that the Holy See will make public the results of these reports,” Augé wryly writes – as if the Holy See would be that transparent.
Augé notes that Pope Benedict considers the liturgy as reformed since the Second Vatican Council the “ordinary form” and the unreformed rite the “extraordinary form.” The latter, according to the Pope, is not for everyone, for it presupposes “a certain degree of liturgical formation and some knowledge of the Latin language”. Augé considers these words of the Pope “eloquent,” and emphasizes that SP, while directed to the entire Church, is intended to meet the just desires of particular people. Augé does not think this is a restrictive or minimalist interpretation of the document; it is simply based on the words of the document itself.
Augé does not deny that some have given a minimalist interpretation to SP and obstructed its implementation. He is presently writing, though, about the multiplication on many blogs of traditionalist voices with “maximalist” interpretations since SP was issued. “In my opinion, they go beyond the letter and the spirit of [SP]. The extraordinary form is exalted as the Mass of all times, the true and sole expression of Roman and Catholic tradition, and so forth. At the same time, traditionalist quarters have not spared critique of every sort, sometimes weighty, against the reform of Paul VI, against Paul VI himself, and against his collaborators: Paul’s reform is alleged to be Masonic, influenced by Protestantism, and not free of heresy. As Augé notes, such voices thereby ignore that Pope Benedict wrote of the “‘spiritual richness and theological depth’ of the missal of Paul VI, richness and depth which are seen when this is celebrated ‘with great reverence in harmony with the liturgical directives’.” Augé observes that some traditionalists predict that the reforms of Paul VI will disappear within 20 or 25 years!
The letter of Pope Benedict accompanying SP called for “an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church.” Augé writes, “In my opinion, at a distance of three years, not only has a reconciliation not been achieved, but the divisions have been deepened even more.” Augé refers to the Pope’s expressed wish that feast days of new saints and some of the new prefaces be inserted into the old missal. Thus far, the Holy See has not done this. How would it be done? Which texts, by what criteria, on what days? Augé thinks it would be a case of “pouring new wine into old wineskins.”
Augé also notes the positive fruits of SP to be seen among those who celebrated with the liturgical books of Paul VI. While there are still abuses and aberrations, there is also a growing recognition that the rite comes before individual innovations and must be respected and correctly interpreted. There is greater attention to silence and reflection which improve the quality of participation. Priests are more aware that they should not pull the assembly’s attention onto themselves. One appreciates Augé’s positive assessment. But one may wonder SP has contributed anything of substance to these positive developments, or whether, rather, these developments haven’t been fostered by responsible leaders of liturgical renewal sing long before SP ever appeared.
Summary and translation by AWR.