~a beautiful letter from Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut
Somewhere, buried amid my elementary school report cards, essays, and other childhood memorabilia is the Mass card that was given me when I became an altar server. Its specific purpose was to help train servers on how to respond to the Mass prayers in Latin. Since we were unschooled in Latin, the card offered phonetic pronunciations of the Latin responses. Included on the card were prayers at the foot of the altar as well as responses for the Gospel, the Preface, the blessing, dismissal, and the Last Gospel.
My classmates and I took pride in learning these replies by heart and in achieving clear pronunciation of the Latin words. We were also fascinated by the intricacy of the Mass; under the tutelage of our assistant pastor, we learned to serve the High Mass and the Low Mass with effortless precision. Forty Hours, Confirmations, funerals, and weddings, as well as Holy Week (the rites for Holy Week had already undergone an initial revision) were special challenges which we relished.
Those memories came back to me this past week when I read Pope Benedict's new documents permitting a more frequent use of the Mass and Sacraments as they were celebrated prior to 1970 - using both the ceremonial forms and the Latin language as found in the Roman Missal issued by Blessed Pope John XXIII in 1962. The first of Pope Benedict's documents on this subject is an Apostolic Letter entitled Summorum Pontificum and given Motu Proprio, which means it sets down provisions or norms by the Holy Father's own proper authority. That said, the Holy Father spent a good deal of time in prayer, reflection, and consultation with bishops and experts before he issued these new norms.
The second document is a pastoral letter addressed to bishops wherein the Holy Father treats pastoral concerns that his new directives might be expected to raise; this is coupled with words of encouragement to us members of the college of bishops who are his co-workers in proclaiming the truth and love of Christ.
These new norms will go into effect on September 14, 2007, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. In the coming weeks, I will seek the advice of both clergy and laity as we study the norms found in the Holy Father's Apostolic Letter and how they will apply to our diocese. In the meantime, however, since these directives of the Holy Father are, to some degree, "in the news," I thought it best to offer you a few pastoral reflections and perspectives, based on what the Holy Father has said and written.
First, I want to speak about the enduring value of the extraordinary form of the Mass according to the Roman Missal of 1962. This Missal, though issued relatively recently, recapitulates centuries of liturgical development. In thinking back to my own youthful experience of the liturgy, I am reminded not only of its antiquity but also of the formative role it played in the lives of almost everyone I knew, including my parents. The Mass and the Sacraments in this form nurtured the faith of great saints, Catholic intellectuals, and untold millions of ordinary Catholics.
One of my prized possessions as a youth was the Saint Andrew Daily Missal which contained Mass prayers in Latin and English, together with explanations of the rite. Following along with this Missal, my classmates and I had a clear understanding of the parts of the Mass together with their significance.
In making this form of the Mass and Sacraments more readily available today, Pope Benedict is not suggesting that the liturgical renewal following the Second Vatican Council was mistaken, nor is he attempting to "roll the clock back," as some may fear. The Mass according to the Missal of Pope Paul VI (the Third Edition of which was issued by Pope John Paul II) will continue to be the ordinary form of the liturgy, whereas the previous form will remain extraordinary.
Far from rejecting the renewed liturgy, the Holy Father is making an important point: the ordinary form of the liturgy (that of Pope Paul VI) is in continuity with the older usage; thus there are two forms (ordinary and extraordinary) in the one Roman Rite. This is not just a technical point. It means that you and I stand in communion, in a continuity of faith and prayer, with those who have gone before us. We are one with those who for centuries worshipped in liturgical forms which in the West gradually took shape until they were more or less standardized by Pope Pius V following the conclusion of the Council of Trent in 1563.
Perhaps, in the strenuous efforts to reform the liturgy following the Second Vatican Council, there was insufficient appreciation of the important role which these venerable liturgical forms continued to play in the spiritual lives of many, not only those in advancing years but also a surprising number of young people. Perhaps it took a few decades of experience for this to be clearly seen; this has been observed in the two parishes in the diocese were the older usage is celebrated. So with a mix of gentleness and firmness, the Holy Father is encouraging us to embrace all things Catholic in a spirit that seeks the unity and common of the Church.
Various other pastoral concerns have been voiced. Some have wondered aloud whether this undercuts the authority of the local bishop to regulate the liturgy. I truly do not believe that it does. The role of the local bishop is not to "invent" the liturgy but rather to ensure that it be faithfully and prayerfully celebrated in accord with the teaching and discipline of the Church. Echoing the thought of Saint Paul, we bishops, together with our priests, are "stewards" of the liturgy, not its owners.
An ancient adage tells us that "the law of praying is the law of believing." This means, among other things, that the liturgy is to reflect in beauty and simplicity the faith of the Church. The first job of a bishop is to teach the faith - primarily through the preaching and instruction which he delivers or that which is delivered on his behalf by pastors and parish priests. For the vast majority of Catholics, however, this occurs within the liturgy. The Holy Father has provided the bishops of the world with an opportunity to teach about the nature and role of the liturgy in the lives of all the faithful.
Some have also wondered if these new directives will bring about unity with those who have effectively left the Church following the Second Vatican Council, not only over liturgical reforms but also over aspects of conciliar teaching. They worry that efforts to re-unite these dissident groups might produce a greater disunity among the vast majority of Catholics who seem relatively satisfied with the liturgy as it was restored and renewed following the Council.
In weighing such concerns, we should recognize the pope's global perspective on this question; it is estimated that, worldwide, some 400,000 individuals, including nearly 500 priests, are involved in such groups, the largest being the Society of Saint Pius X founded by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.
No one imagines that the Motu Proprio will bring about automatic reunification with such groups, for the issues go beyond the liturgy. However, it may help many to find their way back to full communion with the Church. This is a worthy pastoral goal which all of us should reflect on with serenity and open-heartedness. We should also be attentive to the wise provisions that the Holy Father has put in place so as not disrupt the ordinary flow of parish life.
Concerns were also voiced in the media about the effect the Motu Proprio might have on Roman Catholic-Jewish relations. Prior to the Missal of 1962, the Good Friday Liturgy contained prayers which, lamentably, were indeed anti-Semitic. "Are we returning to such forms?" it was asked.
As just indicated, such references were already removed in the Missal of 1962; furthermore the older usage cannot be used at all during the Triduum, that is, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Thus the Motu Proprio should have no effect, one way or the other, on Roman Catholic-Jewish relationships. Rather, the Church's commitment to dialogue and cooperation with the Jewish community will continue unabated.
To read the text of the Apostolic Letter, the Pope's letter to bishops, and a useful Q&A on the subject, click here. I urge you to read these documents for yourself. Again, after appropriate consultation, I will offer guidance on the implementation of the Motu Proprio that will be faithful to its spirit and its letter.