The Forgotten Francis Decrees
On the twenty-second of February, 2020. The Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter.
Documents of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, released with the approval of the Supreme Pontiff Francis, approval that had been granted in an audience of 5 December, 2019.
These spring decrees are not nearly as well-known as such papal mandates as Traditionis Custodes from the summer of 2021. In fact, they might well merit to be called the Forgotten Decrees of Francis.
Quo magis provides a selection of optional texts of seven new Prefaces for inclusion in the 1962 Missale Romanum: for the Angels; the Baptist; the Martyrs; All Saints and Patrons; the Most Holy Sacrament; the Dedication of a Church; Nuptial Masses. Cum sanctissima offers rubrical supplements to the Missal (and Breviary) that permit the celebration of saints added to the Martyrologium Romanum since 1962. The rubrics include details on which texts to use for these newer saints, and explicitly reference a supplement that will be published to include Mass and Office propers for a selection of such potential celebrations. Once again, all is optional. An interesting “correction” of the 1962 rubrics is included: during Lent and Passiontide, there is freedom to celebrate saints whose observances were hitherto severely constrained. Again, maximum freedom is allowed by the optional status of all the new rubrics.
These two decrees are presented with explicit reference to the vision outlined by Benedict XVI in Summorum Pontificum from 2007. They respond exactly to Benedict’s vision of possible enrichment of the corpus of Prefaces, and of the possibility of celebrating post-1962 saints using the classical Roman Rite.
It is not the purpose of my article to comment on the import and content of these decrees (see Kwasniewski’s analysis here). Those who wish to avail themselves of the provisions are free to do to; those who wish to ignore them are also afforded the same courtesy: all the changes offered in both documents are facultative and non-obligatory; the only area in which one is bound not to do something is with respect to the specific provision that certain III Class feasts cannot be supplanted by new celebrations (a calendar list is provided).
My point is to focus on how these two Francis-approved, 2020 documents are essentially now lost to oblivion. Though not, significantly, before they engendered a fair amount of controversy.
Both documents generated a storm of opposition. The opposition was not from “fixed in amber” 1962 devotees who object to any change to that Missal. No, the optional nature of the decrees silenced any such protest, one might think. If one was worried about possible changes to the 1962 books, this was a relieving dyad of documents: one could, after all, simply ignore them both as one wished.
The opposition was from the progressive liturgical establishment, whose headquarters is at San Anselmo in Rome. The progressive liturgical establishment did not ignore these documents. Not remotely.
Quo magis and Cum sanctissima enraged progressive liturgists. Both decrees confirmed that the classical Roman Rite was part of the rich liturgical tradition of the West. Both decrees emphasized and highlighted how the classical Roman Rite was a living liturgy, not some museum piece fixed forever in 1962.
Both decrees came also on the heels of Francis’ granting of permission for certain locales to use the pre-1956 Ordo Hebodamadae Sanctae. Not only was Francis granting faculties to the sons of Lefebvre: he was also breaching the 1962 wall back before the drumbeat of 1950s era precursors to the Pauline Novus Ordo, and he was now codifying how the classical liturgy could live on with new sanctoral propers as if organic development (as opposed to inorganic rupture) had actually happened in the 1960s and 1970s.
Noted San Anselmo liturgist Andrea Grillo quickly started a petition essentially aimed at ending the use of the classical rite (published at Munera and again at Pray Tell). Liturgical luminaries in both Europe and North America signed the document. Quo magis and Cum sanctissima inspired a determined campaign by liturgists of more left-leaning tendencies to end once and for all the Age of Benedict, an age they had always held in contempt and for which their pens were filled not with the ink of sycophantic calls for “obedience,” but with the veritable poison of derision, of criticism of the man who had incurred their collective ire as long ago as 1968. Despite frequent assertions that not many people wanted or even cared in the least about the classical liturgy, Grillo and his colleagues never missed a chance to call for the abrogation of Summorum Pontificum.
Traditionis Custodes was the granting of Grillo’s petition.
The promised supplement for the Missal and Breviary that would provide texts for certain newer saints is perhaps never now to see the light of day. What point would there be in producing such a text? Traditionis Custodes makes it clear that in Francis’ vision, there is no stable future for the classical liturgy. Every Roman is expected to move sooner or later to the “unique expression of the Roman Rite” (the fate of the liturgies approved for the Anglican ordinariates is unclear in the imprecisely worded, logically inconsistent language of the motu proprio). There is no need for the supplement to the classical Missal that was promised in the late winter of 2020, since in the midsummer of 2021 that Missal was given its death warrant. Indeed Quo magis and Cum sanctissima are decrees of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a congregation that does not need even to have competence in matters concerning the classical liturgy as of July, 2021.
For we have moved from February 2020 and decrees that clearly provide for an announced future provision for the use of the 1962 liturgy, to July 2021 and the envisaged end of the use of the 1962 books, an end that will be presided over by other curial dicasteries. Already as of this writing, the prefect of one of those dicasteries has put in print the falsehood that Paul VI “abrogated” the classical liturgy – a falsehood that not even Annibale Bugnini, the de facto patron saint of progressive liturgy would try to assert.
The hyper-über-papal media maximalists of the Francis pontificate did not produce blog entries and essays in celebration of Quo magis and Cum sanctissima. There were no articles reminding us of the obligation of unquestioned obedience to every new airplane presser statement, let alone official decree approved by Francis. The same mouthpieces of the pontifical oracle who revel in celebrating such glories of the Bergoglian reign as the Pachamama embarrassment were less enchanted with Francis’ approval of two decrees that were entirely consistent with the trajectory of liturgical decisions for the past two pontificates.
Rather, there was the aforementioned tantrum (and tantrum it was) of the progressive liturgical establishment, a diverse lot united in certain core tenets, chief among them the curious doctrine that Benedict XVI was no liturgist and thus could not be trusted to speak on liturgy, while Francis is no liturgist and yet can be trusted to be the very vox Dei when it comes to any pronouncement on the liturgy.
Except, that is, when Francis approved these two decrees that Grillo and friends did not like.
Suddenly papal decrees could be not only ignored, but also protested against with vigor. The protests in this case yielded the bitter fruit of the summer of 2021. In the roster of post-Vatican II popes, there is apparently a hierarchy: Paul VI and Francis are entirely to be trusted on liturgy, and John Paul II and especially Benedict XVI less so. Francis is the new Paul, and history has been reset as it were to 7 August, 1978.
Except, again, when it comes to the two lost, forsaken, abandoned and ignored decrees of Francis that remind one of John XXIIII’s Veterum Sapientia when it comes to the question of forgetting an ecclesiastical document almost before the ink is dry: Quo magis and Cum sanctissima. Who would have thought that the effort to bring the 1962 “up to date” to accommodate new saints and blessed would be opposed so stridently not by devotees of the “Amber Missal of 1962,” but by progressives who would, one might think, applaud Francis’ desire to update, as it were, the 1962 liturgical books.
Traditionis Custodes, I would argue, was not so much the bad fruit of questionably and selectively interpreted episcopal polls and questionnaires (much less of petulant behavior by traditionalists) as of Francis’ own approval of the enrichment of the body of Prefaces and modernization of the sanctoral of the classical Missal. The decrees of February, 2020, triggered the nuclear option of July, 2021.
In a recent defense of Traditionis Custodes as an alleged “Gift” to the church, Blaise Cupich highlighted the fact that the 1962 Missal does not celebrate more recently canonized saints. Copies of Cum Sanctissima were not, it would seem, sent to Chicago.
Who knows if some future publisher of missals for the classical liturgy will include the Prefaces of Quo magis or the rubrics of Cum sanctissima. Perhaps editors are waiting for the announced supplement that may prove to take longer to produce than the supplement to the Pauline Breviary that has taken already more than half a century to release. What matter when Quo–Cum are the forgotten Francis decrees, consigned to liturgical limbo.
Consistency has never been a hallmark of this pontificate, and so there is little surprise that Francis overturned not only his predecessor, but also himself.
Dr. Lee Fratantuono finished degrees in Classics at Holy Cross, Boston College, and Fordham. He has authored over a dozen books and some sixty articles on Greek and Latin literature and Roman history, including commentaries on books of Virgil, Ovid, and Tacitus, and monographs on Lucretius and Lucan.