Summorum Pontificum: ten years later. The Fifth Colloquium in Rome, which marks the tenth anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s motu proprio, sustained the importance of an appropriate liturgy to the spiritual aggrandizement of man
Ten years after the promulgation of motu proprio whereby Pope Benedict XVI allowed the Church to celebrate the Mass according to the 1962 Roman Missal, in the form known as the Tridentine Mass, the ‘frontmen’ of what some call “the traditionalist fringe” (but whom I would simply call “good Catholics”) met up for a conference about Summorum Pontificum. The conference took place on September 14th, in Rome, at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, also known as the Angelicum. Among the speakers were Friar Vincenzo M. Nuara, acting as chairman; His Excellence The Most Reverend Bishop Guido Pozzo, Secretary of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei; His Eminence The Most Reverend Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Friar Marino Neri, Secretary of Amicizia Sacerdotale Summorum Pontificum; Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau, Abbot of the Benedectine Abbey of Fontgombault; Dr. Martin Mosebach, writer and essayist (you can find his entire talk here); His Eminence The Most Reverend Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments; Monsignor Markus Graulich, Under Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts; and Dr. Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, former President of IOR (Istituto per le Opere di Religione, the Vatican Bank).
Before I present to our readers a brief summary of the arguments debated by the most prominent lecturers, let me make note of three details that may give us hope in these hard times for the Holy Church. First, the fact that the event was explicitly consecrated to Our Lady of Fatima: a beautiful statute of the Virgin Mary stood next to the podium from whence the speakers gave their talks. Do not forget that Mother Mary is the enemy of all heresies, and we are confident that She will sustain those who struggle to preserve true faith in this epoch of theological darkness. Second, the fact that, in a period in which Pope Francis’s audiences are often deserted by the faithful, in spite of the fact that the media describe him as a popular Pope, the wide room inside Angelicum’s building was ‘sold-out’. Third, that among the people attending the conference there were many clergymen from traditionalist orders, like the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, but also many lay people, and often very young. To remark this circumstance is not mere rhetoric; it means that despite the hostility of modernists, who mock the Tridentine Mass as a boring celebration, ill-suited to attracting people, the traditional rite summons young generations within and without the clergy. And it could not be otherwise, for, as Cardinal Sarah clearly affirmed in his lecture, the purpose of liturgy is to transform the faithful from a spiritual point of view. The liturgy, in all its different moments (listening, praying, kneeling, remaining silent), is the means to establish true communion with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Cardinal Robert Sarah’s talk was focused precisely on the importance of silence as the way to re-establish the primacy of God in the liturgy. His Eminence deplored the man-centered liturgy that often characterizes celebrations of the Mass nowadays. What these mundane approaches (so well exemplified by those rites full of noisy electric instruments, out-of-tune choirs, and anchor-man-priest) end up losing is the awareness that the true subject of the liturgy is God. To the contrary, silence and awe are the appropriate response to the solemnity of the moment when what is only temporal and passing meets the Eternal:
When we encounter the sacred, when we come face to face with God, we naturally fall silent and kneel in adoration. We kneel in humble awe and in submission to our creator. We await His Word, His saving action, in awe and anticipation. These are fundamental dispositions for how we approach the Sacred Liturgy. If I am so full of myself and of the noise of the world that there is no space for silence within me, if human pride reigns in my heart so that it is only myself of whom I am in awe, then it is almost impossible for me to worship Almighty God, to hear His Word or to allow it space to take root in my life.
Along the same lines, Cardinal Sarah emphasized the significance of details too often neglected: for instance, letting not our sacristies become “a place of chatter”, or restoring the ad orientem orientation of the priest and the people during celebrations. This last observation helps us stress one interesting, though perhaps hazardous, element of His Eminence’s speech: the idea that, in the spirit of Pope Benedict’s motu proprio, we should devote our energies to find points of contact between the traditional Latin Mass and the Mass of Paul VI. Cardinal Sarah insists that the ad orientem orientation “is not restricted to the usus antiquor. This venerable practice is permitted, is perfectly appropriate and […] pastorally advantageous in celebrations of the usus recentior“. But one might legitimately ask whether the corruption of liturgy we experience today is precisely the logical consequence of the reforms enacted after the Second Vatican Council.
In his own lecture*, Cardinal Gerhard Müller showed awareness of the fact that some distortions are by nature connected to a certain disregard of the importance to preserve continuity and discipline in the liturgy. And although he did not explicitly mention the Pope, some passages of his talk gave the impression that he was criticizing some of Francis’s initiatives, like Magnum Principium, the motu proprio that increased the freedom of national episcopal conferences in the translation of liturgical texts.
According to His Eminence, the sacred liturgy “cannot be interpreted in an historical sense”, for “it is through the continuity of the liturgical celebration that the Church, as the community of believers, remains identical to its origins and its realization in the different historical periods, and in its diffusion across all peoples around the world”. Cardinal Müller concedes that the liturgy, “as to its linguistic form and its rituals, is subject to a natural and progressive development”, which however ought to be “always consistent with the Church’s Tradition’. The liturgy, therefore, has both a form and a content to transmit, and its purpose is to actualize the history of the Church as “Christ’s self-mediation through the Church, and to display the life of the Church throughout history”. As His Eminence notes, this means that Tradition is not a fruitless or selfish veneration of antiquities, but “the unity of life coming true through the Divine worship, [the unity] of the community of believers, with God as the source and principle of human existence in Jesus Christ, which reveals itself, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, as a dynamic force” in history.
It is not hard to infer from these arguments that if the linguistic form is manipulated, or if the liturgy itself becomes disordered and undisciplined, then even the content that the liturgical form is called to convey shall be altered. This is the kernel of the axiom ‘lex orandi – lex credendi’ that Cardinal Müller firmly established in his lecture: if liturgy is the “objective comprehensive expression of the life of the Church“, the way we pray, the way we try to make, in Cardinal Sarah’s words, a perpetual form of adoration out of our life, shall eventually condition what we believe as well.
Therefore, the sacred liturgy is so important that its corruption might have dramatic consequences on the community of the faithful. The liturgy, in fact, is not only form; as Cardinal Sarah remarked, within liturgy form and substance are the very same thing. And perhaps, as Dr. Ettore Gotti Tedeschi provocatively argued, the enemies of the Church understood this point even better than Catholics themselves.
Dr. Gotti Tedeschi’s talk was probably the most energetic and the most inventive one, all woven around a stimulating comparison with the economy. According to Tedeschi, the purpose of liturgy is to trigger a thorough transformation into the human soul; that is why corrupting the sacred liturgy amounts to corrupt man. And since the economy, which represents an important dimension of our worldly existence, is a neutral tool, whose results are contingent on the moral status of the agent that uses it, a corrupted man will generate a corrupted economic system. This is why Dr. Tedeschi thinks that the present crisis, which is dooming Europe to stagnation, is first and foremost and moral crisis, and cannot be resolved by technical adjustments; the moral dismay we see in the world is not the effect, but the cause of the economic crisis.
But the most provocative aspect of Dr. Gotti Tedeschi’s speech was surely his denunciation of the masonic, or as he calls it, the ‘gnostic’ involvement in the efforts to degrade traditional liturgy. As he noted, there is a striking correspondence between the two acronyms that stand for ‘New World Order’ (in Italian: ‘Nuovo Ordine Mondiale’, NOM) and ‘Novus Ordo Missae’(the Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI). According to Dr. Tedeschi, the masonic/gnostic milieu that attempted to impose the New World Order (starting from former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger) aimed at making the world more easily governable. Doing this implied that all cultures had to be assimilated and melted; for religions like Catholicism, this meant that the entire dogmatic apparatus had to be overturned. The Novus Ordo Missae was, according to Dr. Gotti Tedeschi, the picklock whereby the corruption of theology and, eventually, dogmas, had to be brought about. In their endeavour to accomplish their design of world governance, which entailed the weakening of the strongest dogmatic religion in the West, the masonic creators of the New World Order understood that the primary point on which they had to insist was the perversion of liturgy.
No doubt Dr. Gotti Tedeschi’s thesis is daring; furthermore, the symbolic coincidence between the two ‘NOMs’ works only in languages like Italian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese, but not in English. Regardless of this detail, the former President of IOR surely has a point: he rightly emphasizes that the sacred liturgy is not only a neutral container, but the form whereby a theological substance operates to transform man from the inside. So, if today Catholicism is infected until the highest ecclesiastical hierarchies by heresies and errors, and if many progressive leaders like Hillary Clinton and her former chief of the electoral campaign John Podesta are rallying so as to spread modernism within the Catholic Church, it is reasonable to suspect that the corruption of liturgy has a prominent role.
Let us pray for good clergymen and devout faithful to uphold such an important achievement as the Summorum Pontificum, to promote participation to the Tridentine Mass as much as possible, to resist all efforts to prevent the proper implementation of Pope Benedict’s motu proprio, to contribute to make these yearly pilgrimages successful and spiritually fruitful, and to foster in themselves the kind of conversion of the heart, nurtured by good liturgy, which only will be capable of attracting as many wandering souls as possible to the only Divine harbour where they can be safe.
*Editor’s note: this essay was amended to include a link to the full text of Cardinal Muller’s talk, in Italian, which His Eminence graciously gave us permission to share with our readers.
Alessandro Rico was born in L’Aquila (Italy) in 1991. He received an M.A. in philosophy at the University La Sapienza (Rome) in 2014, he is currently enrolled in a Ph.D. program in political theory at LUISS (Libera Università Internazionale degli Studi Sociali, Rome), and he spent a period as a visiting Ph.D. at King’s College (London) in 2017. He is a journalist for the Italian newspaper La Verità and the Catholic blog Campari & de Maistre. He co-authored two books in 2016 and 2017.