Follow-up: Is Summorum Pontificum Divisive?

How comes it that an institution inherently dedicated to what is fixed in life has been such a splendid example of all that is changeful in it? Nothing, apparently, alters like the unalterable.

— Clifford Geertz, Islam Observed (Chicago, 1971), p. 56

Even to begin a debate about Summorum Pontificum (SP) we have to bracket some obstacles about Catholic Traditionalism (CT).

First: CT, and even more, Internet Catholic Traditionalism (ICT) are exemplars of modernity: lifestyle choices rather than life in a living tradition. The very term “traditionalism”, which CTs now embrace with enthusiasm, is fundamentally modern. It’s no accident that ICTs, especially, traffic in near-pornographic photos of liturgies and in liturgical accoutrements or “gear”. It’s no accident that the CT movement has been powered by the very engine of modernity, the Internet. The best analogy may be with the period instruments movement or with fancy dress parties that attempt to be “authentic” recreations of, say, the Tolkein novels. But it would be rare to find a player dressed in a pointy hat and a robe who insisted that he was truly Gandalf the Wizard.

Second obstacle: CTs cannot agree what is traditional. SP authorized the use of the 1962 Missal. But a quick look at the ICT world will turn up lively debate even about this liturgy. Some insist that everything started to go wrong in the 1950s, when the Holy Week rites were changed. Others want to go further back. Some blame Pope Pius X. How many changes do we have to undo to find the unchanging Mass of Ages?

Set all that aside. My concern with SP, and even more, with the ill-conceived Universae Ecclesiae, is that you can’t separate a part from the whole. Change one element and it’s very tough not to change more.

Consider a hypothetical parish where the 10 am Sunday Mass is celebrated with the 1962 Missal, the 11 am in the Ordinary Form. The laity receive the chalice at the second Mass, not the first, where they are told that the priest’s hands are consecrated to touch the chalice, but theirs are not; it would be a sacrilege for them to do so … at least until the 11 am Mass. I won’t start on female lectors or altar servers.

The clash here is not between two different liturgies, but two different belief systems. This is why most CTs now insist that SP is simply a step toward rolling back the Ordinary Form. How far is another question, but rolling it back for sure; or that, as one ICT exponent recently put it, that despite the legal fudges of two forms of the Roman Rite, we might as well call them two distinct rites.

In this specific regard, the most rabid ICTers agree completely with Anthony Ruff: there is a theological contradiction here. Anthony would assert, and I agree, that the way forward is fully to accept the Second Vatican Council and the liturgical developments that flow from it. Many CT and ICT proponents challenge this. They are well aware that SP was indeed divisive (“a sign of contradiction”, as Peter Kwasniewski puts it in a recent post at New Liturgical Movement). But they claim that this division is for the good.


  1. Certainly modern “traditionalism” is play acting to the highest degree, more focused on costume and set, as you have written Jonathan. As I have written earlier, this play-acting has driven me from the extraordinary form Mass I love. Honesty and love might be characterized by the austere low Masses I would say if I were a priest. The Society for Creative Anachronism types particularly dread low Mass. Let these types them live in Mass as a pseudo-medieval playland. This mindset will exhaust their piety quickly, especially if four out of the five days of the weak they must attend the low daily requiem.

    [Eds. and Jonathan: sorry, off topic] If I were a priest//If I were a priest//If I were a priest … I am tired of a Lord who persistently tugs at me to be clergy. “I’m not the man, you know my flaws, I am broken beyond broken. Don’t ask me.” And yet Lord still calls. The focus of ordination can include but should not include play-acting, but I am staunchly against this, in any form. The play-acting you write of here Jonathan is unalloyed pride. I will be cancelling my landline soon, but this will do nothing to quell the Lord.

  2. Pope Francis, in the context of relationships with the Eastern Orthodox, recently reminded us our “communion … must not be a bland uniformity”.

    And indeed that we can “preserve together the same truths of faith while cultivating a variety of theological, spiritual and canonical traditions”.

    This teaching of Pope Francis, being a full expression of the spirit of Vatican II, seems to me how we should approach this diversity within the Church. And indeed it is how Pope Francis approaches it.

    1. @Mariko Ralph:
      Mariko, I agree with your point about diversity, and about Pope Francis’s views.

      My question is: do the traditionalists embrace this diversity?

      We have some thoughtful commenters on Pray Tell, lovers of the older Mass. Some publicly identify themselves as traditionalists.

      Do they see the Mass of Paul VI and the liturgical teaching of Sacrosanctum Concilium — I am aware that these are not identical — as legitimate, valuable (not just valid) ways to worship God? As ways that preserve the truths of faith? As valuable additions to the diversity of Catholic worship? Are these developments to be cherished and retained? Or are they aberrations, to be corrected, suppressed if possible — and if not possible, to be eased out of use as quickly as it is practical to do so.

      I think it’s the latter. But I would invite adherents of the older Mass to comment.

      I doubt, by the way, that many of them would care about Pope Francis’s views on diveristy, or on liturgy; especially not those who view him as having fallen into some degree of heresy.

      1. @Jonathan Day:

        If I may, I would suggest you neglected an even more modern component, perhaps because it’s something right in front of our noses: the consumerist component, whereby people who want to “sell” something seed anxiety – but of course often in highly rationalized form (quite consequentialist) – in people so that they consume what is wanted to be sold. (Often, of course, what is “sold” is a layered combination.) St Blog’s has more than tons of this going on: it’s nearly the very oxygen of too many sites.

        Anxiety is not of God, and hence is *not* God’s work, and people who however sincerely intend to do God’s work should repent of sowing it. Then end does not justify that means.

  3. Jordan, to be clear: I don’t think that traditionalists are primarily focused on costume and set, or that they are play-acting. I would not doubt their love of God.

    All I am saying is that theirs is a very modern pursuit, and their story a very modern one, reflecting a distrust in institutions that has affected governments and businesses around the world, not just the Church.

    The unvarnished version goes something like this: the Church was essentially unchanged for many centuries; but around the start of the 20th, “the smoke of Satan” crept in, mostly via liturgical reform. Popes starting with Pius X promoted lay participation, the vernacular, reduced fasting requirements, changed Holy Week, etc. An ecumenical Council introduced dubious theology and launched a liturgical reform that broke with Tradition.

    Or perhaps it didn’t, but the evil Hannibal Bugnini took charge of implementing the Council’s wishes and thoroughly messed up the Mass, creating a synthetic rite that was Protestant, Jewish, syncretist, anything but Catholic. Clown Masses and female altar servers necessarily followed. Popes Paul VI, John Paul I and II and Benedict XVI were all caught by Bugnini’s evil spell. Benedict resisted a bit, but he never celebrated the old Mass in public, and eventually abdicated. The Church and the Academy were in thrall to modernism. Professors who held to Tradition were driven out, taking refuge in obscure institutions. Faithful candidates for the priesthood were expelled from seminaries.

    And then Pope Francis appeared on the balcony, and things went from bad to worse…

    But a faithful remnant, finding and supporting one another through the Internet, keeps Tradition alive. The Internet provides a voice for academics rejected by the Academy and clerics sidelined by the institutional Church, including by the pope.

    Not play-acting at all; just living out a very modern story.

    1. @Jonathan Day:

      Jonathan: I apologize for projecting my ideas onto you. That was poor technique and not in keeping with your well laid out arguments. Next time I must read your arguments more closely (perhaps I am unable to).

  4. Jonathan,

    My understanding is that, in accordance with Universae Ecclesiae 19 etc, accepting the legitimatcy of the reformed Mass is a requirement to take advantage of Summorum Pontificum. I further understand, based on various reports, it is a requirement which must be accepted by Traditionalist groups in schism before than can return to full communion.

    Therefore, in charity and good faith, I think we do need to assume those who attend the old rite under SP mostly accept these requirements.

    On that basis, nor do I think it appropriate to restrict the old rite based on associations with others who don’t meet these requirements. That was the logic of the counter reformation when it suppressed vernacular liturgy – A logic Vatican II decisively rejected.

    Finally, from an ecumenical perspective, I would caution against seeking a uniform reciprocity. A sizable minority of the Eastern Orthodox, also quite vocal on the Internet, think us heretics just as much as some Traditionalists do. This does not however stop the Church from being as generous as it can towards their legitimate theological and liturgical beliefs.

    1. @Mariko Ralph:
      Mariko, as best I can tell the “acceptance” required by UE is, in practice, begrudging admitted: yes, the reformed Mass is potentially valid, but its worthiness, its benefits for the faithful, are almost always dismissed. There are plenty of traditionalist priests who insist that they will never celebrate using the reformed Missal. Many would assert that the project of reform was itself misguided and that the old Mass is “unreformable”.

      I take your point about uniform reciprocity.

  5. The Cathedral of St John the Baptist in Savannah, Georgia holds a Latin Mass every Sunday at 1 pm. It’s my understanding that it is the Extraordinary Form, but I’m happy to be corrected there. In any case, it doesn’t divide the Cathedral parish, and it doesn’t have to divide a parish.

    It seems to me that on either extreme of this conversation, there are those who want to ban things. There are ICTs who want to ban the Novus Ordo. There are folks who wish SP would go away and can’t understand why anyone would want to see the Extraordinary Form. The straight path, as it were, which is so often where Catholicism lies, has room for both, just as it has room for the sui juris, the Ordinariate form of the Roman Rite, the Dominican rites, the Milanese Rite, etc.

    I’ll concede that I’m not a normal sort; I have an MA in Latin, taught it for several years, and prefer it, whether it’s in the Ordinary Form or the Extraordinary Form. If folks want their “Peace Is Flowing Like a River” and their guitars, why is it so unreasonable that some of us should be able to enjoy Mozart and / or organ music (organ music, I might add, that was given explicit pride of place in SC in Vatican II)?

  6. If CTs are a modern breed, is it not possible that it is due to a particularly modern source, namely the wholesale overhaul of the liturgy?

    Indeed, the practices of the Extraordinary Form are recreations to some degree of a practice several decades suppressed (more or less). But how is it that scholars could “so accurately” recreate forms of the rite from the second century, as the reformers after Vatican II seemed to imply.

    I don’t wish to question the validity of the Ordinary Form, as I am an OF Catholic, so to speak. Rather, I feel as though it is worth reflecting on the Liturgical Movement that led up to SC, and then compare that with the reforms afterwards. I don’t think the attempts to make the liturgy more coherent for the faithful was as successful as intended or claimed.

  7. Jonathan – thank you for your framing and naming the reality that the ICTers actually fall into and utilize some of the most outrageous modern means of shaming folks via internet, tweets, fake news, etc.

    Any articles around this subject brings to mind:

    “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.”

    ― Jaroslav Pelikan, The Vindication of Tradition: The 1983 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities

    ICTers practice the art of traditionalism – their very points of view deny Tradition (with a capitol T).

  8. “The clash here is not between two different liturgies, but two different belief systems.”

    Quite true: one might even say, two religions. This can be verified on many levels. Just zoom in on the dogmatic teaching of the Council of Trent and see where the chips fall.

    “Traditionalism” is a convenience name. It describes Catholics who believe and try to live what Catholics believed and lived for centuries, before the modernizers who “know better” came in and turned everything upside down. I hope for the day when “Catholic” can once again simply mean “traditional Catholic,” which, admittedly, is a redundancy.

  9. In some respects, Tom Lehrer understood Vatican II quite well when he summarized the Council saying, ” Among the things they did, in an attempt to make the church more… commercial…”

    Modernism vs traditionalism seems to be the price we pay for the changes. Unfortunately, neither “side” seems to be winning the hearts, minds, and – most importantly – souls of the people. Perhaps if we argued and name-called and acronimized a bit less and remembered what this “Church” is supposed to be doing, we could make some progress.

  10. Perhaps arguing that Tradition-minded Catholics are hypocrites for using modern technology is not the best use of our intellects.

    SP was a means of allowing Catholics who felt disenfranchised to have a worshipping voice in the Church again. How can this particular form of diversity be the only divisive one?

  11. Conor, the argument isn’t that traditionalists are hypocrites for using the Internet. It is that they profess vehement opposition to “modernity” while acting in ways that are thoroughly modern. The Internet is one way of doing that. Nobody accused anyone of hypocrisy; a degree of naïveté, perhaps, but not hypocrisy.

    Nobody said that SP or the old Mass was the only source of divisiveness. Some moves on the part of liturgical progressives have also been highly divisive. But those aren’t the topic of this discussion.

    Nobody said that “allowing Catholics who felt disenfranchised to have a worshipping voice in the Church again” was a bad thing. But SP and UE tried to do this by setting priests against their bishops, and by freezing many things that went with the older form of Mass — the calendar, for example, many of the associated rules about liturgical participation and the role of the laity, as well as elements, especially in the Liturgy of the Hours, that seem to be anti-Semitic. On this see Rita Ferrone’s “Anti-Jewish Elements in the Extraordinary Form”, Worship vol. 84, no. 6 (November 2010), 498-513. Unfortunately this isn’t available online, but a summary can be found here.

    Pope Benedict clearly didn’t view the old Mass as a text that is inherently unreformable, frozen for all time; he spoke of the old Mass and the new influencing one another, and he himself revised the Good Friday prayers.

    But many Traditionalists – especially of the Internet variety – do view it that way. A curiously modern notion, and one that I fear SP has helped foster.

  12. From Voices from the Council (OCP):

    Interviewer: What would you say to those people who don’t want to know the Missal of Paul VI, and to those who, while respecting it, regret that it was imposed to the exclusion of the Tridentine Missal?

    Pierre Jounel: I would say to them that they use computers, that they live with the instruments of the culture of their time, and that they have no reason to get stuck on the 1570 date when the Missal of Pius V was promulgated. Why should the liturgy be frozen then, when it had been periodically renewed up to that date? These people lack historical knowledge. Msgr Lefebvre was absolutely convinced that the ancient formula for Confirmation goes back to the time of the apostles, when in fact it only dates back to the 13th century.

    [Commentator:] Jounel then goes on to demonstrate how Paul VI followed exactly the same procedure with his Missal as Pius V had with the Missal and Breviary in 1570, Clement VIII in 1595 with the Roman Pontifical, Pius X with the psalter of the Breviary in 1911, and Pius XII with the Holy Week rites in 1955. In all these cases, the previous usage was abrogated and replaced by the new. This is the Church’s constant practice.

    [Benedict XVI, please note!]

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