Two Views on Liturgical Reform: Joseph Shaw (Latin Mass Society) and Anthony Ruff (Pray Tell)

Joseph Shaw, chairman of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales, and Fr. Anthony Ruff OSB, moderator of Pray Tell blog, respond to nine questions on liturgical reform and the recent motu proprio Traditionis custodes of Pope Francis.

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Does a pope such as Paul VI have the authority to replace the Church’s historic liturgy with a reformed one?

RUFF: Yes. In fact, the pope has the obligation to do so when an ecumenical council such as Vatican II so decrees. Vatican II made it clear that the traditional liturgy needed reforming and would not continue in its unreformed state. Pope Paul VI simply followed this mandate of Vatican II. He did give the so-called “Agatha Christie indult” (requested by many non-Catholics along with Catholics, for reasons as much cultural/artistic as religious) for England and Wales, it is true, but only if the liturgy used the revised Missal of 1965 and incorporated the substantial reforms of 1967. In this Paul VI granted an exception in a spirit of generosity, while making clear what he thought Vatican II demanded of the entire church.

SHAW: The power of the Supreme Legislator is ‘full’, in the sense that it is not limited by any human authority; nor is there anything like a Bill of Rights or Constitution which places limits on it. Nevertheless it exists within the context of the mission of the Papacy, which indicates its sphere and purpose. The Pope could not command Catholics to support a particular sports team: this would be outside his sphere. Nor could he forbid the reconciliation of repentant sinners on their death-beds: this would be directly contrary to the salvation of souls which is the purpose for which he exercises power.  To forbid a Rite approved for use and praised by Popes, Saints, and Doctors for over a millennium also seems opposed to the purpose for which the Papacy exercises legislative power. In any case it is telling that no Pope has ever attempted such a thing: as we know Pope Paul allowed the TLM to be celebrated under certain conditions, particularly in England and Wales, and Pope Francis is acting in a similar way.

Would it be appropriate for the Church to prohibit or abrogate the historic rite found in the 1962 Missal? Has any Pope successfully abrogated the ‘former Missal’?

RUFF: Summorum Pontificum had claimed that the 1962 Missal was never abrogated. But now, Traditionis custodie has abrogated SP (while noting its claim without explicitly affirming it). Abrogated or not, the real question is whether continued use of the 1962 Missal reflects the mind of the Church, and I do not think it does – or at most, this is a concession, not a right. Though Vatican II was not primarily a doctrinal council, it was pastoral in an unprecedented, comprehensively reformist way, which gives it a unique authority to revise previous understanding of what liturgical tradition is. The question of whether it’s appropriate for the Church to prohibit the previous rite is identical to the question of whether Vatican II’s statements on the liturgy are legitimate and correct – and I think they are.

SHAW: The liturgy has been reformed many times in the history of the Church, but the English word ‘reform’ may give a misleading impression. Vatican II, like earlier documents, speaks of ‘instauratio’, and uses the verbs ‘instaurare’, ‘restituere’, and ‘recognoscere’. These have the meaning of checking, correction, and restoration, not change to a new shape. Again, Sacrosanctum Concilium asks that rites ‘be restored to the vigour which they had in the days of the holy Fathers’ (SC 50). This does not suggest an historic liturgy being ‘replaced’ by another ‘reformed’ one. What actually happened after the Council, however, is another matter.

Does the reformed Missal of 1970 reflect the intentions of the Second Vatican Council?

RUFF: Yes. The front of every Missal says “renewed by decree of the most holy Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican,” and I’m going to go with that. The Catholic Church believes that the post-Vatican II Missal is in accord with what the Second Vatican Council intended. The liturgical reform could have been more drastic, or less so, and still fall well within the wide range set forth in the Council’s principles. This oft-repeated claim that the reformed Missal betrayed the Council needs to be named for what it is: a highly selective cherry-picking of the “tradition and continuity” parts of Sacrosanctum Concilium that overlooks the “reform and revision” parts of the same document.

SHAW: It is difficult to speak of the ‘intentions’ of a document, particularly one specifically crafted to permit developments unforeseen by those voting on it (as Annibale Bugnini made clear to his collaborators: see Chiron’s biography). Nor is it easy to talk about the intentions of a group of men who were deeply divided, as the Council debates reveal. Nevertheless the liturgy as typically experienced today clearly conflicts with the Council’s mandate to preserve Latin (SC 36.1), to give the chief place (principum locum) to Gregorian Chant (SC 116), and to keep changes to a minimum (SC 23), to name but three issues. Other passages, of course, are cited to justify this.

Is there an obligation on Catholics in general to help preserve something of great spiritual value such as a liturgical form?

RUFF: Well yes, to the extent that church teaching, Vatican II, and papal statements enjoin this upon us. The Church obligates us to accept the liturgical reform, and to trust that it preserves the spiritual values which express “the real nature of the true church” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 2). I do not see in Church teaching any obligation to preserve liturgical forms in and of themselves. Liturgical form is not absolute or untouchable – and here, one has to be on guard against idolatry in ascribing too much value to the externals.

SHAW: Certainly. The Fourth Commandment (Honour thy father and mother) has always been understood as implying an obligation towards such monuments of tradition. There is also a fundamental principle of gratitude towards the achievements of others, and the general principle that things of value be preserved whenever possible (see the tradition of interpretation of Deuteronomy 20:19). Again, since this is a Rite currently attended by people around the world (over a million of them, according to Wikipedia), it directly implicates the spiritual good of our fellow Catholics. The spiritual harm done by the sudden disappearance of the older Mass in 1969 is noted by Pope Benedict in his 2007 Letter to Bishops, and this consideration motivated Pope Francis not do this again (see his Letter to Bishops).

Does the affirmation of a diversity of rites in Sacrosanctum Concilium no. 4 legitimize the continuance of the pre-Vatican II liturgy?

RUFF: No – this is confusing two very different things. Sacrosanctum Concilium affirmed a diversity of rites, Roman and other, which grew up over the centuries in various regions and religious orders, and foresaw that these various rites could continue (albeit in a reformed version). Articles 37-40 also foresaw that the reformed Roman liturgy would be celebrated with variety in various communities and cultures – but in all cases according to the reformist principles of active participation, multiple lay ministries, greater use of Scripture, and so forth. All this is something different from the simultaneous use of two versions of the same rite – one unreformed and one reformed. That is a type of diversity without much precedent historically, and not foreseen by Vatican II.

SHAW: The Council Fathers did not have in mind the eventual great contrast between the liturgy as reformed after the Council and the previous Missal, but the principle they expressed certainly covers this. Precedents include the preservation of the archaic and arguably obsolete Mozarabic liturgy, used in just a few places in Spain, and the similarly ancient and redundant Liturgy of St Basil, preserved for use just ten times a year in preference to the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom in some of the Eastern Churches. Even a liturgy otherwise set aside, if it is of particular antiquity and spiritual value, should be preserved as a living Rite alongside what otherwise replaces it.

Within the diversity of postconciliar liturgical practice, does it make sense to claim, as Pope Francis did in Traditionis custodes, that the 1970 Missal is the “unique [Italian: only] expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite”?

RUFF: Yes. He didn’t say that the 1970 Missal is the only lex orandi of the Catholic Church, he spoke of the “Roman Rite.” In this he follows Vatican II and Paul VI. He did not say that the 1962 Missal has no lex orandi, or is opposed to the Church’s lex orandi. The 1962 Missal reflects the Roman rite’s lex orandi to the extent that it reflects the Church’s liturgy as found in the 1970 Missal. There is continuity between 1962 and 1970 in the sense that the core features of the reformed liturgy, which oftentimes derive from Catholic tradition of earliest centuries, are found in the 1962 Missal but in an occluded and obscure manner which needed to be made more apparent.

SHAW: If the ‘Roman Rite’ includes all the members of the family of Western Rites and Usages, such as the Ordinariate Use, the reformed Ambrosian Rite, the reformed Carthusian Rite and so on, then it seems obviously false: the 1970 Missal is not the only (even, post-Vatican II) expression of the Church’s lex orandi. If ‘Roman Rite’ is understood narrowly, to exclude the alternative, approved liturgical forms, then the statement become a tautology: the reformed Missal is the only expression of the lex orandi of the reformed Missal. Clearly something significant is intended but the drafting has left the meaning obscure. At any rate, any Rite approved by the Church must be considered an expression of the Church’s lex orandi in a broad sense, including the Rites of the East, and rites no longer in use, Sarum Rite. To say otherwise would surely entail undesirable ecclesiological consequences.

Is it appropriate for Pope Francis to contradict his immediate predecessor, as he did in Traditionis custodes?

RUFF: It’s unfortunate that we’ve had this whiplash effect from Paul VI to Benedict XVI, and now back again with Francis. Benedict contradicted Paul VI, and now Francis has contradicted Benedict. Or to put it less starkly, Francis is following Paul more than Benedict. The best outcome of this confusion would be a constructive investigation of what Vatican II taught. I believe the conclusion will be that Francis is following Vatican II.

SHAW: As a matter of policy, Popes can certainly contradict each other, even though Papal policy often involves theological judgements. The repeated changes of policy over the Franciscans’ vow of poverty in the Middle Ages, and in modern times over the Chinese Rites, are examples of this. Pope Francis is giving an example of a sharp policy reversal which his own successors can follow if they choose. More troubling is the theological contradiction implied by the question prior to this one, but as noted I am not able to determine what this statement in the Apostolic Letter actually means.

Did the lifting of restrictions on the 1962 Missal promote unity in the Church? Did it produce spiritual fruit?

RUFF: I don’t have enough familiarity with the communities and individuals involved to make a judgment. I’m more familiar with online blogs and television broadcasts, where I see plenty of bile, negativity, exalting of 1962 over 1970, promotion of historical and theological misunderstandings, and harsh criticism of Vatican II and the Church’s reformed liturgy. I don’t know to what extent attendees at preconciliar worship are influenced by these negative forces. I know that many of these attendees are very devout and live lives of real Christian commitment, and that many vocations to religious life and priesthood come from these communities, which is to be commended. If only all this spiritual energy were brought into alignment with the reformed liturgy!

In any event, the primary argument of TC is not a pragmatic one about whether or not traditionalist communities are guilty of the vices Pope Francis names. Even if traditionalist communities are coexisting in perfect peace with the rest of the Church, Francis’s primary argument is that their liturgical practice is not in line with the Church’s intentions.

SHAW: The Indult of 1988 promoted unity in the obvious sense of the reconciliation of some priests of (or associated with) the SSPX to obedience to the Pope, when they formed the Fraternity of St Peter, the Apostolic Administration of Campos, Brazil, and some French Benedictine Communities. Summorum Pontificum brought in the priests who became the Institute of the Good Shepherd, the Institute of St Philip Neri in Berlin, the Sons of the Holy Redeemer in the Orkneys and New Zealand, and so on. Each of these groups of priests brought in bodies of the lay faithful as well.

These communities, and those who gathered around diocesan priests who took up the celebration of the old Missal, include many converts and reverts, many who have deepened their faith and reformed their way of life, many who have discerned vocations, and many who have married and raised children.

Furthermore, these concessions have vastly lowered the temperature of the debate, lessened bitterness, and built trust on both sides, even if this work, most obviously with regard to the SSPX, remains unfinished, and is now at serious risk.

If this doesn’t represent spiritual fruit, I would like to know what does.

What should happen now? What’s the best way forward after Traditionis custodes?

RUFF: There is a lot of hurt and confusion, and there is a need for sensitivity and compassion on all sides, and especially from the bishops. The people who have found sustenance in the preconciliar liturgy should not be faulted for following what they thought was right and what the Church seemed to approve of. In a sense, they have been misled. Given the checkered history of how Church authorities have guided liturgical reform in the last 56 years, authorities should now be patient in granting exceptions and not expecting immediate, full compliance with Traditionis custodes. We can take as much time as we need in all this – as long as the goal is clear and we’re moving gradually in the right direction. The goal is that the entire Roman rite celebrates the liturgy of Vatican II in all the spiritual profundity and sacrality which remains to be discovered in the 1970 Missal, so that there is less reason for people to seek out the 1962 alternative.

SHAW: Bishops have been asked to assess, in effect, whether the Traditional Mass should be permitted for the good of souls, in the short and medium term. Pope Francis envisages that they will allow it, at least in many cases, and sets out regulations for this. Those who believe that the ancient Missal has spiritual value will be making the case for this, and I hope bishops continue to respond in a pastoral way, as a great many already have. In the longer term, any future Pope will have to consider the same question at the global level: does this form of the Mass have spiritual value? I hope that he will agree with us that it does, not least because of the theological problem Pope Benedict identified about suppressing this Mass: “It was important for me that the Church is one with herself inwardly, with her own past; that what was previously holy to her is not somehow wrong now” (Last Testament pp. 201-202).