Settimo Cielo reports: Cardinal Sarah Asks the Pope to Lift the Ban on “Individual” Masses at St. Peter’s.
There is a certain balance and a moderated tone to this missive, with a looking at both sides of the issue. This might seem to give it credibility. But people like Cardinal Sarah would arrive at a different conclusion if the starting point were not the varied individual statements in Vatican II and the code of canon law but the nature of the reformed liturgy itself. That is not just one datum among many, as in Sarah, but the key for understanding all Catholic sacramental theology and indeed, all ecclesiology. Go read Fagioli and Grillo, everyone!
More seriously problematic is Cardinal Sarah’s point 2, with citation of Thomas Aquinas: in “concelebrating a single Mass the gift of grace is reduced” because more individual Masses give us more grace. As I say often in every liturgy course I teach: once we think of grace as a quantity, once we think of the church’s liturgy as a vending machine to get more of something, everything goes off the rails. The sign value of the liturgy, the innate ability of the liturgy to build up the church precisely by being an expression of communal unity, the liturgy as the expression of the nature of the true church – all this is missed. When grace is conceived as a quantity, no good answer to any theological question will be arrived at.
As to what Aquinas meant in context, I leave that to others. But here’s the thing: it is no slight of Aquinas to note that his starting point was not the liturgy of Vatican II. (Nor was it for Pius XII, also cited by Sarah). Underlying Sarah’s argumentation is a misunderstanding of how theological discussion evolves, how doctrine develops, and how Vatican II is a normative re-reading of the entire tradition that guides us in our manner of drawing upon that tradition.
I expect Pope Francis will hold firm. Let us hope that the current discussion, with all its confusion and contention, leads toward a greater understanding of the Second Vatican Council and the reformed liturgy of the Catholic Church. That would be a great grace.