A big mistake that some Catholics make is to think of the liturgy as clergy-centered. Honestly, it’s difficult to blame them—priests really do play a great role in liturgical celebrations. For example, without a priest, it is impossible to have a Mass or Divine Liturgy. However, we must understand that liturgical celebrations are always communal. An indispensable trait of Catholicism is its communal nature. Our faith is Trinitarian—we are made in the image of the Blessed Trinity, a communion of loving Persons. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is very clear on the communal spirit of the liturgy:
“It is the whole community, the Body of Christ united with its Head, that celebrates. ‘Liturgical services are not private functions but are celebrations of the Church which is ‘the sacrament of unity,’ namely, the holy people united and organized under the authority of the bishops. Therefore, liturgical services pertain to the whole Body of the Church. They manifest it, and have effects upon it. But they touch individual members of the Church in different ways, depending on their orders, their role in the liturgical services, and their actual participation in them.’ For this reason, ‘rites which are meant to be celebrated in common, with the faithful present and actively participating, should as far as possible be celebrated in that way rather than by an individual and quasi-privately’” (1140).
Without denying the unique role of the priest, in our own way, the lay faithful share in Christ’s priesthood. Sadly, this is often forgotten. Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium explains the distinction and connection of the two priesthoods:
“Though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ. The ministerial priest, by the sacred power he enjoys, teaches and rules the priestly people; acting in the person of Christ, he makes present the Eucharistic sacrifice, and offers it to God in the name of all the people. But the faithful, in virtue of their royal priesthood, join in the offering of the Eucharist. They likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity” (10).
The Pope made headlines again as he issued his latest motu proprio “Traditionis Custodes” on July 16. It reverses the policies laid down by his predecessor Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in Summorum Pontificum. It must be pointed at the outset that the intention of Pope Francis is not to tarnish or demean his predecessor; rather, he is concerned about the unity of the Church. In his accompanying letter explaining the motu proprio, the Pope states that:
“With the passage of thirteen years, I instructed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to circulate a questionnaire to the Bishops regarding the implementation of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. The responses reveal a situation that preoccupies and saddens me, and persuades me of the need to intervene. Regrettably, the pastoral objective of my Predecessors, who had intended ‘to do everything possible to ensure that all those who truly possessed the desire for unity would find it possible to remain in this unity or to rediscover it anew,’ has often been seriously disregarded. An opportunity offered by St. John Paul II and, with even greater magnanimity, by Benedict XVI, intended to recover the unity of an ecclesial body with diverse liturgical sensibilities, was exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce the divergences, and encourage disagreements that injure the Church, block her path, and expose her to the peril of division.”
The other concern of the pope is “the instrumental use of Missale Romanum of 1962” that “is often characterized by a rejection not only of the liturgical reform, but of the Vatican Council II itself, claiming, with unfounded and unsustainable assertions, that it betrayed the Tradition and the ‘true Church.’” The pope has been consistent on this point. Last January 30, in his address to a meeting with a group of catechists connected to the Italian bishops’ conference, Pope Francis bluntly proclaimed:
“This is magisterium: the Council is the magisterium of the Church. Either you are with the Church and therefore you follow the Council, and if you do not follow the Council or you interpret it in your own way, as you wish, you are not with the Church. We must be demanding and strict on this point. The Council should not be negotiated in order to have more of these… No, the Council is as it is.”
In his accompanying letter to the motu proprio, Francis states that “To doubt the Council is to doubt the intentions of those very Fathers who exercised their collegial power in a solemn manner cum Petro et sub Petro in an ecumenical council, and, in the final analysis, to doubt the Holy Spirit himself who guides the Church.”
Pope Francis is not saying anything new. He is returning to what the Second Vatican Council envisioned five decades ago, and with all his vigor is implementing its timely and significant reforms. No faithful Catholic today may use the old Rite to push forward an agenda of rejecting the magnificent council. To do so is to think and live not with the Church, but outside the Church.
In his general audience last October 10, 2012, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the beginning of the Year of Faith, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI quoted St. John Paul II:
“On the threshold of the third millennium Blessed John Paul II wrote: ‘I feel more than ever in duty bound to point to the Council as the great grace bestowed on the Church in the 20th century: there we find a sure compass by which to take our bearings in the century now beginning’ (Apostolic Letter, Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 57). I think this is an eloquent image. The Second Vatican Council Documents, to which we must return, freeing them from a mass of publications which instead of making them known have often concealed them, are a compass in our time too that permits the Barque of the Church to put out into the deep in the midst of storms or on calm and peaceful waves, to sail safely and to reach her destination.”
Many commentaries have already been written on this issue, and surely, many more are to come. My humble contribution is to emphasize the pope’s pastoral attempt to return the liturgy to the entire People of God.
To begin to better understand Pope Francis’s views on the Mass, it is worth reflecting on a passage from his address to participants in the 68th National Liturgical Week in Italy on August 24, 2017:
“The liturgy is life for the entire people of the Church. By its nature the liturgy is in fact ‘popular’ and not clerical, being — as etymology teaches — an action for the people, but also of the people. As many liturgical prayers recall, it is the action that God himself fulfills in favor of his people, but also the action of the people who listen to God who speaks, and then react by praising him, invoking him, receiving the inexhaustible source of life and mercy which flows from the holy signs. The Church in prayer gathers all those whose hearts listen to the Gospel, without discarding anyone: she convokes the small and the great, the rich and the poor, children and elderly, healthy and sick, the just and the sinful. In the image of the ‘great multitude’ that celebrates the liturgy in the heavenly shrine (cf. Rev 7:9), the liturgical assembly overcomes, in Christ, every boundary of age, race, language and nation. The ‘popular’ outreach of the liturgy reminds us that it is inclusive and not exclusive, a proponent of communion with everyone without, however, conforming so as to call each one, with his or her vocation and originality, to contribute to building up the Body of Christ: ‘The Eucharist is not a sacrament ‘for me’; it is the sacrament of the many, who form one body, God’s holy and faithful people.’ We must not forget, therefore, that the liturgy is the first to express the pietas of the entire People of God, extended then by pious exercises and devotions that we know by the name of popular piety, to be enhanced and encouraged in harmony with the liturgy.”
While it is a very important part of our liturgical heritage, the underlying theology of the older rite does not fully integrate or prioritize the active participation of the faithful in the liturgy. Yesterday, Cindy Wooden of Catholic News Service reported on some instructive comments by Archbishop Augustine Di Noia, who served as secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments before his appointment as adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He said:
“The TLM movement promotes the rejection of that which the liturgical movement sought above all: active participation of the faithful in the liturgical celebration of the mysteries of Christ. In TLM, there is little concern for active participation. The traditional Latin Mass, as in the past, becomes the occasion for engaging in various types of private prayer if the participants don’t follow the Mass with a missal.”
The liturgy produced by the Second Vatican Council is beautiful. It touches hearts and makes Christ accessible to the worshipper. The liturgy is the work of the entire People of God. In decreeing that “the liturgical books promulgated by Saint Paul VI and Saint John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of Vatican Council II, are the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite,” the new rite should never be seen as an aberration, but as an enrichment of Catholicism’s rich communal tradition. In reforming the liturgy, the words of the Constitution on the Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium were certainly on the minds of the venerable Council Fathers: “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy.” (n. 14)
In his latest bold act, I stand with Pope Francis.
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