Of Equal Right and Dignity

Cañizares Llovera
Cardinal Cañizares Llovera’s luminous introduction to the doctoral dissertation of Benedictine Father Alberto Soria Jiménez, O.S.B., monk of Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caídos, speaks for itself. We read the full text last evening in refectory; the following compelling paragraphs made a profound impression on all of us. Need I say that Cardinal Cañizares Llovera is Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Church’s highest authority in matters liturgical? My own comments are in italics.


Equal Right and Dignity

It is absolutely unfounded to state that the prescriptions of Summorum Pontificum should be considered an “attack” against the Council; such an affirmation displays a great ignorance of the Council itself, because the fact of offering to all the faithful the chance of knowing and appreciating the multiple treasures of the liturgy of the Church is precisely what this great assembly desired when it declared: “in faithful obedience to tradition, the sacred Council declares that holy Mother Church holds all lawfully acknowledged rites to be of equal right and dignity; that she wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 4).

What was the mind of the Second Vatican Council? Was it not that all the faithful should be given “the chance of knowing and appreciating the multiple treasures of the liturgy of the Church”? From Sacrosanctum Concilium, article 4, two things are of capital importance. The first is that all lawfully acknowledged rites are of equal right and dignity. The second is that the Church wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way. This principle applies not only to the many and varied rites of the Eastern Catholic Churches, but also to the Usus Antiquior of the Roman Rite, and to the variants of it that are proper to certain local Churches and religious Orders.


Another aspect to which this work we present calls attention, and that it is urgent never to lose sight of, is the negative repercussion that these intra-ecclesial debates can have in the field of ecumenism. Amidst the controversy, it is often forgotten that the criticisms made against the rite received from the Roman Tradition also apply to the other traditions, first of all to the Orthodox: almost all liturgical aspects that those who have been opposed to the preservation of the ancient missal strongly attack are precisely the aspects that we had in common with the Eastern Tradition! A sign that confirms this, in contrast, are the enthusiastically positive expressions that arrived from the Orthodox world with the publication of the motu proprio. This document becomes in this way a key aspect for the “credibility” of ecumenism because, according to the expression of the president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the Unity of Christians, Cardinal Kurt Koch, “it promotes in fact, if we may call it thus, an ‘intra-Catholic ecumenism.’ ” We could consequently say that the premise ut unum sint presupposes the ut unum maneant, in such a way that, as said Cardinal writes, “if the intra-Catholic ecumenism failed, the Catholic controversy on the liturgy would also extend to ecumenism”.

Here the Cardinal makes a most astute observation: Almost all liturgical aspects that those who have been opposed to the preservation of the ancient missal strongly attack are precisely the aspects that we had in common with the Eastern Tradition”. The attack by contemporary Western critics on certain elements of the  ancient missal is, in effect, an attack on the corresponding elements that the Eastern Churches preserve, venerate, and cherish. What are some of these elements? The multiplication and repetition of signs of the cross; the one year cycle of the liturgical lectionary; the silent Canon; the surrounding of the sacred mysteries with a certain hiddenness; the position of priest and people facing together in the same direction; the repetitive nature of certain elements of the liturgy; the clear expression of the sacrificial nature of the Holy Mysteries in the rites and prayers of the Offertory; the exuberant richness of the sanctoral cycle. I could point to other elements, but these are an adequate representation of the Cardinal’s thinking on this point. One thing that stands out glaringly in the post–Conciliar reform of the Roman Rite is that the liturgical traditions and practice of the Eastern Churches were given scant attention. The chief points of reference were exclusively western, and were, in fact, situated within northern European Protestantism. Even the allusion to Eastern Christian practice with regard to the proposed rite of concelebration was misconstrued and, in the end, implemented in a manner that places it at odds with concelebration as the Eastern Churches understand and, even today, practice it.

In Anglo–Saxon and Northern European countries, even very simple layfolk sensed something undefinably and vaguely Protestant about the ethos of the “New Mass”. Many felt betrayed. Most were confused. The closer any given population was to a predominantly Protestant demography, the more did the Protestant influence come to bear upon the actual ars celebrandi. Thus, while Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean countries were less affected by the Protestant liturgical ethos; its impact on Catholics in Germany, Holland, Belgium, France, and the English–speaking countries, is undeniable. The protestantization of the ars celebrandi led, inexorably, to a protestantisation of the lex credendi. One who begins to worship like a Protestant will, with the passage of time, find himself thinking and believing like a Protestant. This phenomenon is evident today in the massive loss of faith in the real presence of Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist and in the sacrificial nature of the Mass.

Pastoral Solicitude for the Ecclesially Marginalized

Benedict XVI displayed, with his legislation, his fatherly love and understanding for those who are especially attached to the Roman liturgical tradition and who risked becoming, in a permanent way, ecclesially marginalized; it is in this way that, speaking of the matter, he clearly recalled that, “nobody is in excess in the Church,” showing a sensibility that anticipated the concern of the current Pope, Francis, for the “existential peripheries.” All these undoubtedly present a strong sign for the separated brethren.

Those of us who are old enough to remember the imposition of the Novus Ordo Missae at the local level on that fateful First Sunday of Advent in 1969, will recall the stern appeals to “obedience”; the brutal sweeping aside of the most reasonable, respectful, and worthy objections and questions; and the impression of febrile haste that attended the whole process. There was, in most countries, little in the way of pastoral sensitivity for the “existential peripheries”. On the contrary, all were expected to march in lockstep conformity to the newly devised liturgical code, with little concern for its lack of organic continuity with the past. Those who objected, questioned, or expressed reservations about what was being imposed, were taxed with being disobedient, hostile to “the spirit of the Council”, and out of step with “the Church”.

Appeal to the Young and Numerous Vocations

But the motu proprio also produced a phenomenon that is for many astonishing and is a true “sign of the times”: the interest that the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite elicits, in particular among the young who never lived it as an ordinary form and that manifest a thirst for “languages” that are not “more of the same” and that call us towards new and, for many pastors, unforeseen horizons. The opening-up of the liturgical wealth of the Church to all the faithful made possible the discovery of all treasures of this patrimony to those who still ignored them, with which this liturgical form is stirring up, more than ever, numerous priestly and religious vocations throughout the world, willing to give their lives to the service of evangelization.

Herein lies the good news. The Usus Antiquior has proven itself a seedbed of fervent priestly and religious vocations. These are not stereotypical rigid “traddies” wedded to a certain ideological and political stance; they are young people who have discovered the beauty of the Church’s tradition, and want to live out their faith in organic continuity with the liturgy and doctrine of the saints of every age.

It is not at all unlikely that, within less than fifty years, the number of priests ordained for, or habitually celebrating, the Usus Antiquior form of Holy Mass, will outnumber those attached to the Novus Ordo Missae. One of the significant characteristics of communities attached to the Usus Antiquior is the presence of large families of young children. These children, being raised in the wonder and beauty of the Usus Antiquior are the priests and religious of tomorrow.

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