#2 Concrete Act for the Unity of the Church: Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum

“Now with the mind of Christ set us on fire,
that unity may be our great desire…”
(John Raphael Peacey)

Lots has been said and written about the Moto Proprio Summorum Pontificum (suitably in Latin only on the Vatican website, but see this English Translation) to this point. I am quite happy with it–as if that matters in the scheme of things–and there is nothing about the provisions of the MP itself which concern me–which perhaps matters even less.

What I really like is the Explanatory Letter which Pope Benedict personally wrote to go along with it. Papa Benny wears his heart on his shirt-sleeve in this letter. You know that what you are hearing is absolutely what the Pope himself has thought on the matter for quite some time. Almost as if he were saying (to paraphrase Trollope’s Mrs Proudie) “Joseph Ratzinger thinks and I agree”…

Many people who clearly accepted the binding character of the Second Vatican Council, and were faithful to the Pope and the Bishops, nonetheless also desired to recover the form of the sacred liturgy that was dear to them. This occurred above all because in many places celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal, but the latter actually was understood as authorizing or even requiring creativity, which frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear. I am speaking from experience, since I too lived through that period with all its hopes and its confusion. And I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church.

Moreover, the Holy Father shows great awareness of the forces that have been mustered against this move to derestrict the use of the Roman rite according to the 1962 Missal. I am sure that he has had no shortage of people over the last six months more than willing to tell him exactly what was wrong with the idea. (The opposition this papal brainwave met can really only be compared to the opposition Blessed John XXIII himself experienced from the curia when he suggested that it might be a good idea to hold an ecumenical council…) But he will not let this move be brushed aside as simply trying to please some aging die-hards who have never accepted the changes that followed the council forty years ago. He is aware that

in the meantime it has clearly been demonstrated that young persons too have discovered this liturgical form, felt its attraction and found in it a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, particularly suited to them.

Of course, he has the SSPX in view. Of the Church’s relationship with them he quotes St Paul who said:

“Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return … widen your hearts also!” (2 Corinthians 6:11-13). Paul was certainly speaking in another context, but his exhortation can and must touch us too, precisely on this subject. Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows.

On the theme of unity, it is hardly surprising that the Bishop of Rome should emphasise that, despite this new derestriction of an older form of the Roman rite,

it is not appropriate to speak of these two versions of the Roman Missal as if they were “two Rites”. Rather, it is a matter of a twofold use of one and the same rite.

There is one Roman rite for the one Roman Church. I think this means that in many ways the current situation–in which we have an “ordinary form” of the rite (formerly known as the “novus ordo”) and an “extraordinary form” (formerly known as the “Tridentine”)–is itself transitional. As Peregrinus has pointed out in the comments section of the blog below on the Good Friday prayers, is it inconceivable that there will not be further editions of the “extraordinary form”, especially as the Motu Proprio and accompanying letter have indicated that there will be modifications (eg. “new Saints and some of the new Prefaces can and should be inserted in the old Missal” [Letter], vernacular lectionaries may be used [Art 6]). I find it most intriguing that the Holy Father should believe that

the two Forms of the usage of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching.

To me this undeniably indicates that a future organic growing together is envisaged. What this might entail in the long run, however, is anyone’s guess. It is no mystery, however, what outcome the Holy Father would desire. The result of this “mutual enrichment” would be that

The celebration of the Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI will be able to demonstrate, more powerfully than has been the case hitherto, the sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage. The most sure guarantee that the Missal of Paul VI can unite parish communities and be loved by them consists in its being celebrated with great reverence in harmony with the liturgical directives. This will bring out the spiritual richness and the theological depth of this Missal.

You see again that, when it comes to our Holy Father, unity IS his “great desire”–especially at the altar of God.

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