United Kingdom and Ireland
September 14, 2016

“Summorum Pontificum” and the pacifying of the church.

Below is a text of the homily given by Fr. Diaz on September 4th


We celebrate the ninth anniversary of the coming into effect of the Motu Proprio “Summorum Pontificum”. This important document has caused different reactions in the course of these years. Often we have heard the mistaken assertion that this document was just an answer to a “political” problem. But we can find deeper reasons that moved the Pope to promulgate it.


When Joseph Ratzinger decided to publish his memoirs at seventy years of age, he probably thought that the most interesting period of his life was already over. The then Cardinal Ratzinger would not have imagined that, on the contrary, it was just about to begin.


In chapter twelve of these memoirs, entitled “From my life” and translated into English as “Milestones”, he had the following to say regarding the period of liturgical reform: “I was perplexed by the prohibition of the old missal, because never in the history of the liturgy had such a thing happened… The insistence on a prohibition of this missal, which had developed throughout the centuries since the time of the Sacramentaries of the Early Church, was a rupture in the history of the liturgy, whose consequences could be only tragic.”


As far back as 1976, when he was only a simple priest, though already a prestigious professor, he wrote the following reply to a colleague who had asked him for his opinion: “In my view, the authorization ought to be granted to all priests to use the old missal, both now and in the future,” and he said that for such a use there ought to be given “the greatest freedom”. He was to make other statements to this effect in subsequent years.


What brought him to this view was the belief that a rite which had served as a sure path to holiness for centuries cannot suddenly become a threat if the Faith that is expressed within it continues to be seen as valid.


And this is because the legitimacy of the Church’s liturgy lies in the continuity of Her tradition.


This is not only an opinion of Pope Benedict XVI; the Church has always refused to lose Her legitimate traditions. As Pope St Nicholas the Great said, in a text incorporated from the Middle Ages in the traditional body of canon law and quoted by St Thomas Aquinas: “It is ridiculous, and a detestable shame, that we should suffer those traditions to be broken which we have received from the fathers of old”.


Therefore this is not merely a question of emotional attachment or ‘sensibility’ but it is in the interests of the unity, identity and communion of the Church… beyond time.


Here we can call to mind the phrase of Martin Mosebach, the award-winning German writer: “Tradition is the inclusion of the dead in our present life”; or, in the words of G. K. Chesterton, “Tradition is the democracy of the dead,” in the sense that Tradition is the only manner in which the dead (“the most obscure of all classes” as he said) are also able to participate in our world.


It is in this same vein that the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum shows us that the liturgy of the Church must have an intrinsic continuity: what the Church believed to be the Mass in the past, she cannot disbelieve now.


For this reason, for both missals to be legitimate, they both need to be “valid expressions of the same Catholic Faith” and in no way can they be presented as opposing viewpoints or, worse still, irreconcilable about the liturgical action.


For this, those who trust in the doctrinal rectitude and liturgical value of the missal ordinarily used should not fear its coexistence with that used through the centuries. On the contrary, they should believe that this coexistence can bring the aspect of an essential unity of both Missals to the fore.


It is precisely through this effort to defend the continuity that we can understand the fact that the Pope insists that the duplicity of missals may be explained as “two expressions of the Lex Orandi” which they must express just one Lex Credendi, within the disciplinary frame of the Roman Rite, trying thus to avoid the unheard-of phenomenon of the existence of two ‘rites’ of the mass based on opposing principles.


But the legitimacy of a liturgical rite is determined by its identification not only with the principles that governed the Roman liturgy in the past, but also with those that inspire the other rites that exist at present besides the Roman rite, (some of which, incidentally, belong to certain Christian communities with a long tradition).


It is therefore essential that the Church, as well as having a ‘diachronic’ unity, also has a ‘synchronic’ one. For this reason it is necessary both to underline the permanent validity of the traditional Roman rite and to insist that the liturgy in its ordinarily celebrated form does not differ from it in its essence: if the current liturgy were unable to identify itself substantially with the other liturgical forms of the Church, such as those which are celebrated in the context of their legitimate traditions, it would lose the legitimacy of its own fondation. Seeing things from this point of view and using a deeper analyses we could say that the Motu Proprio is paradoxically more a defense of the new rite than of the old one.


On the other hand, a third dimension (and one which is no less important), the future, enters also into play.


‘What does the past matter to me simply as the past? said the “peasant philosopher” Gustave Thibon. “Do you not see that, when I weep for the breaking of a tradition, it is, above all, about the future that I am thinking? … Do not touch the roots! […] When I see a root becoming rotten, I pity the flowers which will dry up tomorrow as they have no sap left.”


This is also a deeper meaning of the famous phrase: “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors: we borrow it from our children.”


Some insist that the motive behind the Pope’s publication of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum was the existence of the decades-old conflict with so-called “traditionalist” groups. That is, without doubt, a very important element, and it was the occasion of the publication of the document, but if we analyse the mind of Benedict XVI, the deeper justification for the Motu Proprio is not in the “political” factor, but rather in the theological one: even if “traditionalists” did not exist, the situation would still have been anomalous and would still have required a re-establishment of the order.


There have always been – and there always will be – people who adapt to changes with difficulty, especially in these increasingly fast-changing times. What is paradoxical about the current situation is that those who fear what they see as a threat to the “liturgical reform”, perform now as “conservative”: they cling tightly to the status quo, manifestly unable to adapt to the “novelty” of this rediscovery proposed by the Pope, and reproduce the attitudes that used to be associated with the so-called “traditionalists”.


On the other hand,  until now, people who were interested in the so-called “Latin Mass” were identified with the attitude of being “against”; however now those who – following the call of Pope Benedict – approach the liturgy inherited from our elders are, more and more frequently, those who have an attitude “for”, whereas those who are “against” are the ones who do not even want to hear a single word about all this, clinging to their forty-year-old “tradition”.



Moreover, with an increasing frequency, those who now welcome with enthusiasm the Pope’s “innovating” teachings and regulations, -regulations that call for a renewed valuation of the liturgical tradition-, not only do not have the mentality just described, but, on the contrary, they show the joy of the discovering of something “new”: the rediscovery of their heritage, the reunion with their roots, and, to resume, to become aware of their belonging to a “family”. Not, obviously, in the way that our modern society currently understands ‘family’, that is, the mere association of individuals sharing a certain period of their lives together, bound only by the weak bond of an agreement that can be easily revoked, without a past to unite them and with an unpredictable future; but rather, as belonging to a true and profound communion of life, with a common ancestry, and a memory in common to be proud of; a family consisting not only of “brothers”, but also of fathers and forebears.


In conclusion, His Holiness Pope Benedict the Sixteenth, in publishing the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, has clearly sought to pacify the Church; but his primary concern is not reconciliation with more or less rebel groups, nor is it the reconciliation of opposing trends that create tension within the institution. Rather, his goal is a reconciliation of the Church with herself, with his common memory, so that she might rediscover her liturgical identity in the richness of continuity.


(Tis text is translated (and slightly modified) from the text of the author published in the “Studies and commentaries” section of the official website of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei (“Studi e commentari”) on 16 October 2008).





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