Pope Francis and the pre-conciliar liturgy, or the end of recess

But what a fly has stung Pope Francis to sign, in the middle of summer, a newMotu Proprio Traditionis Custodes (TC), dedicated to the use of the preconciliar liturgy ? This text, whose expectations are specified in a cover letter with an unusually firm tone, can be understood, in a deregulated liberal landscape, as an end of recreation whistled in the direction of a part of Catholicism marked by what it considers as a “liturgical question”. However, the stakes of this act are, as often in liturgical matters, at least as much of an ecclesiological and doctrinal order as strictly liturgical.

The motu proprio puts an end to an exceptional situation

At the ecclesiological level, TC puts an end to an exceptional situation that had generated two previous texts, the Motu proprio Ecclesia Deiof John Paul II and above all Summorum Pontificum (SP) of Benedict XVI. SP had in fact significantly moved the center for regulating the adaptations of the liturgy recognized by the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of Vatican II, from the bishops to the parish priests: in fact, the latter then obtained the faculty to decide to propose a mass according to this which had then become the extraordinary form of the unique Roman rite, if they could justify its request by a stable group. TC puts an end to an exceptional situation, at two levels: that of the local Churches by restoring the bishops in their prerogatives, that of the Apostolic See by abolishing the procedure Ecclesia Dei. Thus he brings back the use of the preconciliar liturgy in the common law of the liturgical regulation of the Church.

By asserting that there is only one expression of the Lex orandi of the Roman rite, that contained in the reformed liturgical books promulgated by Paul VI and John Paul II, article 1 of TC has real doctrinal significance. By putting an end to the distinction between ordinary and extraordinary forms of the unique Roman rite, expressions introduced by SP that it is no longer possible, strictly speaking, to use, TC does not allow this to be treated equally. that we can call ordo vetus (VO) and novus ordo (NO). The expression “traditional mass” cannot, moreover, in this logic be applied to the VO, as it is often abusively, since it is the NO, the Mass of Paul VI, which is the expression of the living tradition of the Church, promulgated by a solemn act of the Petrine magisterium, at the request of an ecumenical council.

It is also in this sense that we can understand what François is aiming for when, in the covering letter, he denounces “an instrumental use of the Missale Romanum of 1962 ”which he interprets as a rejection of the Council at least as much as of the liturgical reform. Less than an explicit refusal of conciliar teaching, which may exist in certain circles, it is also a question of this experience lived by those who practice the two ordines, that the liturgy manifests and shapes a relationship with the Church, A mystery which is specific to it and which it is therefore not tenable in the long term to operate with such a disparate team between a pre-conciliar liturgy and a theology, in particular an ecclesiology, expressed according to the categories of Vatican II.

→ READ. How do we enter the liturgy?

Finally, without formally specifying it, TC also takes a position on one of the ways of resolving the liturgical crisis opened up by Benedict XVI in the cover letter of SP: the famous mutual enrichment between the two forms of the unique Latin rite, and the prospect of a way out of the crisis through a kind of convergence with the gradual emergence of a via media… If there is only one expression of the lex orandi of the Roman rite, the “ritual tinkering” which we have been witnessing for some time and which claim to fill the “rubric silences” of the NO by rites or practices “bequeathed” by the VO, in defiance of the coherence of each of the celebratory ethos, and which are far from meeting the requirements of content and regulation of enrichment specified by Benedict XVI in SP, must be considered with the same rigor as the famous post-conciliar abuses, as legitimately as they are generously denounced.

Bringing the liturgical question to its rightful place

Finally, this text by Francis cannot probably be understood in the light of the French situation, of which it manifests a certain “provincialization” in the pastoral and missionary strategy of the universal Church. It would be necessary here to evoke the underlying political and sociological questions since its origins in our country, with its very deep historical roots, of a crisis of which the liturgical aspect is often only the standard. The taking into account of the sociological dimension of the question, in France, is also essential to interpret the massive affirmations on the youth and the missionary and vocational vitality of the communities attached to the VO, and not to be deceived by an optical effect. largely interpretable by simply taking into account the sociological composition of these groups.

We must probably consider other realities, very much alive even if they are less visible, of French Catholicism: I am thinking, among others, of the new Christians from the catechumenate for whom these questions do not make sense, or of these intercultural communities, suburbs, which pose quite different but very real questions to our liturgical practices. Equally active fringes of Catholicism which, by dint of being foreign and silent spectators of the incessant debates on a so-called “liturgical question”, risk tiptoeing out… towards the evangelical communities, which, for their part, will know how to welcome them , with open arms !

May the pope’s whistle lead us to bring this back liturgical question in its rightful place, above all never to interpret these successive texts as a victory of one camp over the other… and to direct our eyes, our energies towards vaster, more open, more oxygenated horizons….


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