Cardinal Sarah Asks the Pope to Lift the Ban on “Individual” Masses at St. Peter’s

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.




    1. St. Thomas was correct about a lot of things, but not everything. He defended the death penalty for heretics (ST, IIa IIae, qu. 11, art. 3), taught that original sin was transmitted from father to child though semen (ST, Ia IIae, au. 81, art. 1) and so denied the possibility of Mary’s Immaculate Conception (ST, IIIa, qu. 27, art. 2, ad 2am) ; he did teach that she was sanctified in the womb (ibid., art. 1, by being cleansed from original sin). These (and others) were legitimate theological options at the time, but the Church has decided otherwise since. So as to the relative “value” (a most inappropriate concept!) of one concelebration and multiple private Masses, there is nothing untoward in correcting Aquinas in the light of later developments!

  1. Greetings Father and thank you for posting this.
    I understand that you argue that concelebration of Mass is better than individual celebration. So I ask, can a priest who knows no Italian and is unfamiliar with the Roman Rite, say an Iraqi Chaldean, really concelebrate in an Italian language Mass in the Roman Ordinary Form?
    At the risk of expanding the question I would expect that whilst those with a knowledge of a Latin language (French, Spanish and Portuguese come to mind) might reasonably follow a Mass in Italian that might not apply to a priest from,say, Zimbabwe, Vietnam or the Ukraine.

    1. I’d be surprised if the hypothetical situations you describe (where a priest all alone pops in and asks the sacristans to set him up for a private Mass) occur outside the number who live and work in Rome. At least he would have to be able to communicate with the sacristan.

    2. It’s a fair question. There are all sorts of situations that demand a solution.

      Thought experiment: What if we all had an Eastern Orthodox understanding that, as much as possible, only one Eucharist should be celebrated per day in any church? What if we all had consensus that multiple priests celebrating simultaneously is contrary to the nature of the Eucharist as given to us by the Lord? What if we had to think creatively about a solution for a pilgrimage site with people speaking multiple languages?

      I don’t know where that would take us and don’t claim to have a solution. But at least we’d all be on the right path. I want to hope that all sorts of possibilities, as yet unforeseen, might arise.


  2. I’m sorry to keep harping on this, but i’m just in awe of Grillo’s thesis that the council fathers asserted that no one in living memory had ever participated in an authentic celebration of the Eucharist It makes me wish I had lived in the 1960s and had been one of the first people since before the time of Charlemagne to truly participate in Eucharist.

    1. Alex, this is tendentious and polemical and you know it.
      There are ways to be grateful for the great grace of the Second Vatican Council and also have a generous and compassionate view of everything that went before – ups and downs and everything in-between. It’s all grace.

      1. I agree that it is tendentious and polemical, but I also think that it expresses Grillo’s thesis accurately. No participation 2 before Vatican 2.

        I think that it might be helpful to translate some of Grillo’s blog posts for those who don’t read Italian.

      2. OK – if Grillo in fact says that.

        This is AWR, not Grillo: We can’t hold it against people before Vatican II for failing to celebrate liturgy with a Vatican II understanding. We can surmise that God doesn’t either. We can be grateful for all the amazing faith and good works that came about from those people, despite the liturgical system they had to work with. We can be grateful that all the misunderstandings that came in over the course of 1,000 or 1,200 years gave rise to a theological critique that made Vatican II possible. We can be grateful for the liturgical system we have – and then be humble and repentant for our failures to live up to it. Perhaps we, who have been given so much, should look at why our forebears were able to do so much, often enough more than us, with less.

        The comparison limps, as do all comparisons, but I think of Julian of Norwich saying that “even our sin is behovely [‘lovely, appropriate, necessary].” That’s how I think of all the mistakes (seen from the perspective of Vatican II) that came about in the course of liturgical history. As I say, it’s all grace.


      3. Alex – tell me how you define participation (or how you think Grillo does), and then we can discuss how much there was before Vatican II

      4. Participation 1 = laity as prayerful spectators following along the rite performed by clerics at the altar and allowing themselves to be interiorly affected by what that they witness.

        Participation 2 = laity play an essential role in the rite so that the eucharist is an action of the entire community(both ordained and not ordained).

        According to Grillo, Participation 1 is possible in the Tridentine Liturgy but not participation 2. The Council declared that participation 2 is necessary for an authentic eucharistic celebration.
        Hence, there was no authentic eucharistic celebration before the council unless, the council was wrong, or the tridentine liturgy can in principle be celebrated in this way.

      5. I’d certainly be of the view (though I’m far too young for this to be first hand experience) that as usually celebrated the Tridentine Mass was not open to Participation #2.

        But (and my view not necessarily Grillo’s) I’d also suggest that one of the other changes that Vatican II called for was a move away from quite such a mechanistic understanding of authenticity and validity (e.g. as in SC 11). On that basis, I would suggest that there is an authenticity to the Eucharist as previously celebrated, but the rediscovery of the role of the laity by virtue of baptism leads to an increased authenticity.

        The fixed quantum of authenticity you seem to have in mind suggests to me just the same problem as the vending machine model of grace that Sarah points to.

      6. Depending on what we mean by “authenticity” – properly understood I don’t think it’d be nearly as problematic as the ‘quantitative’ misunderstandings.

  3. “Underlying Sara’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.”

    Keeping in mind that theological discussions does indeed evolve, perhaps it is time to stop isolating and absolutizing the prudential judgments of Vatican II concerning the liturgy. Additionally, we should stop treating what is merely a particular post-conciliar opinion that Vatican II was are re-reading of the entire tradition, an opinion that has never been universally accepted. The theological discussion has evolved and moved on from such a position. The new voices of today need to be heard just as those at the time of the council.

    1. I think your question nicely gets at the heart of the question. Is Vatican II what it claims to be, or not? If this controversy helps the Church get more clarity on that key question, that will be a very good thing.

      I think we need a major papal encyclical on Vatican II and liturgy! Maybe from the next pope? Or from this one yet??


  4. Personally, I think that it’s polemical to phrase things in terms of “accepting Vatican II” and “understanding Vatican II” when what is really at issue is how to understand doctrinal development.

    One party seems to see it in terms of dialectical negation where new forms emerge by cancelling out the old, showing them to be inadequate and incomplete.

    The other party sees it in terms of teleology where new forms express more explicitly what was implicitly present in the old forms.

    This is the real issue that is in play here not whether someone accepts or rejects Vatican II.

    1. Yes. … and no.
      The question remains of which party is closer to the view of Vatican II. So: is the reformed liturgy a more explicit expression of what was implicit in the old rite? Gosh, that’s obviously not the case. What was implicit in the old rite was a clericalism that literally ignored the congregation. (The congregation is not mentioned in the Ordo Missae of the old rite.) I don’t see how you can read Sacrosanctum Concilium as a whole except as a reform that is a critique of what went before.

      1. Well, then we have a problem because papal statements following Vatican II tend to describe the reform of the liturgy in terms of an unpacking of what was implicit.
        Paul VI puts it in terms of unpacking in a October 29th 1963 address to the Consilium (sorry for it being in Latin, that’s all that the Vatican website provides):

        “Liturgia enim robustae arboris similitudinem praefert, cuius pulcritudinem ostendit quidem continua frondium renovatio, sed cuius vitae ubertatem testatur trunci vetustas, qui in humum altas ac firmas radices agit. In rebus igitur liturgicis nulla vera repugnantia intercedere debet inter praesentem et praeteritas aetates; sed omnia ita fiant, ut quaelibet innovatio cohaerentiam et concordiam cum sana traditione prae se ferat, et novae formae e formis iam exstantibus quasi sua sponte efflorescant .”

        In later statements he emphasizes that the two missals agree in substance with one another, which implies that the difference between them is accidental.

        In fact, whenever Paul VI talks about doctrinal development in reference to Vatican II he discusses it in terms of Vincent de Lerins and Newman. (I checked after our last exchange).

        Finally, I think it’s a basic fact that different council fathers and different periti had different conceptions of doctrinal development (e.g. compare Rahner, Kung, Ratzinger and De Lubac on this issue).

      2. A 1963 address doesn’t necessarily describe what came about with the 1969 liturgy. 1963 is not after Vatican II. Also, either of us can find proof passages ad infinitum that emphasize innovation or emphasize continuity, right?

        Enough on Vatican II and liturgical reform, OK? Unless someone has something really new to add.

        Maybe we all have to wait for a mega-encyclical from Pope Francis or his successor on Vatican II and liturgical reform?


      3. But in 1969 Paul VI stated that the missals agree in substance, which implies that the differences are accidental. This seems in line with this address.

        Again, Paul VI always talks of development with reference to de Lerins and Newman.

        I agree with you about ending polemics, it’s just i think that it’s really unhelpful to accuse people of rejecting Vatican II when in reality they simply have a different conception of doctrinal development than you do.

      4. OK – as long as we all start with the *reformed liturgy* as the starting point, and look honestly based on that at how it is an innovation or a development or a continuing. And unpack what the refomred liturgy really means in and of itself. Any agendas of ‘reform of the reform’ or ‘organic development’ or unhelpful if they are obviously an attempt to change or critique the reformed liturgy rather than understand it. I’m not necessarily saying you’re doing that, but others are. Grillo taught me to start with the rite, and for me it changed everything.

  5. Where is the empirical evidence substantiating the view that the liturgical changes brought about by Vatican II have actually been a great blessing to the Church? Is there a single diocese, anywhere in what used to be the heartland of Roman Catholicism–Western Europe–where more Catholics go to Mass and seminaries graduate more priests than before the liturgical changes? In fact, how many dioceses in that former heartland are on the verge of institutional collapse? Were there any such dioceses before 1964?

    I am not contending that Vatican II is responsible for the massive collapse of religious practice since the council. But I do think a dogmatic conviction that liturgy is better after the Council requires something more than finding other factors to blame for a collapse in the practice of Catholicism in diocese after diocese that would have shocked and appalled John XXIII.

    I say this as someone who regularly and happily attends the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, by the way. I do not regard the Ordinary Form as deficient. But neither do I regard what was produced by the Council as so obviously superior as to warrant the re-emergence of a liturgical authoritarianism of the type that did cause widespread harm following the Council as so much that was beautiful and beloved was thoughtlessly tossed aside.

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