One of our dear Oblates asked me to write something about the tenth anniversary of Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Letter, given motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum. I consider Summorum Pontificum to be the single greatest gift of Pope Benedict XVI to the Church. It is a gift that some received with immense joy and immediately began to put it to profit. Others, entrenched in old ideological prejudices, looked upon the gift with suspicion and mistrust. Still others, even ten years later, remain unaware of the gift. For me, Summorum Pontificum threw open a door into the vastness and light of a liturgical tradition deeper, and higher, and wider than anything the reformed liturgical books, in use for nearly half a century, were able to offer. I say this as one who, for more than three decades, was committed to the reformed rites and wholeheartedly engaged in the reform of the reform at the academic and pastoral levels. Already, well before July 7th, 2007, I had come to see that even the noblest efforts deployed in the cause of the reform of the reform bore only scant fruit. Just when, battle–worn and weary, I thought that I would have to spend the rest of my life in a kind of post–conciliar liturgical lock–down, a door opened before me. The door was Summorum Pontificum. I crossed the threshold and went forward, never looking back. I discovered for myself the truth of Pope Benedict’s compelling words to the bishops of the Church:
What earlier generations held as sacred remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place. (Letter to the Bishops, 7 July 2007)
As I pass in review the ten past years, I can identify at least ten fruits of Summorum Pontificum. Others, in their assessment of the past ten years, may point to different fruits. From the perspective of my own garden, however — admittedly a hortus conclusus, given its monastic context — I see the following fruits:
1. A clearer manifestation of the sacred liturgy as the work of Christ the Eternal High Priest and Mediator. I have long argued that the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, has to be read in continuity with and, in some way, through the lens of the Venerable Pope Pius XII’s encyclical Mediator Dei (20 November 1947). The recovery of the Usus Antiquior has effectively recentred the liturgical experience of many clergy and layfolk on the priestly mediation of Jesus Christ between God and men.
2. The opening, for many souls, of a secure bridge between celebration and contemplation. I am not alone in recognising the penetrating quality of what Saint John Paul II called “adoring silence” before, during, and after celebrations in the Usus Antiquior, especially when the richness of its ritual resources — chant, hieratic order, and sacred gesture — are fully deployed.
We must confess that we all have need of this silence, filled with the presence of him who is adored: in theology, so as to exploit fully its own sapiential and spiritual soul; in prayer, so that we may never forget that seeing God means coming down the mountain with a face so radiant that we are obliged to cover it with a veil (cf. Ex 34:33), and that our gatherings may make room for God’s presence and avoid self–celebration; in preaching, so as not to delude ourselves that it is enough to heap word upon word to attract people to the experience of God. (Orientale Lumen, art. 16)
3. A serene and lucid transmission of the doctrine of the faith. The sturdy givenness of the traditional rites (lex orandi) is at once the platform and the articulation of the Church’s life–giving and unchanging doctrine (lex credendi). The Usus Antiquior, not having the panoply of options that characterises the reformed rites, allows the liturgy to be celebrated without having to be subjectively reconstructed, over and over again, by the assemblage of inter–locking parts.
4. A renewed appreciation for the link between worship and culture. The past fifty years have often been marked by an alienation from the Church’s cultural heritage, notably in the areas of music and architecture. The Usus Antiquior is increasingly, and especially in communities informed by the classical liturgical movement, a place where, as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger said in 1985, “beauty — and hence truth — is at home” (The Ratzinger Report, p. 129).
5. The affirmation of the primacy of latria in the life of the Church, following the principle of Saint Benedict that “nothing is to be preferred to the work of God” (Rule, Ch. XLIII). It is immediately evident that the Usus Antiquior, like all the ancient rites of the Church in East and West, is theotropically driven. This stands in marked contrast both to the prevalent ars celebrandi of the Usus Recentior and to most Protestant forms of worship. These, by placing the accent on didactic and moralising content, are anthropotropically driven, and this at a moment in history when men and women of the millennial generation restlessly seek to “get out of themselves.” For such souls, weary of a world that seeks to cater to their ever–changing needs and appetites, and this not without exacting an inflated price, the unchanging rites of the Usus Antiquior are a tranquil and restful harbour illumined already by the gleaming shores of eternity. Pope Benedict XVI addresses the question incisively:
In the years following the Second Vatican Council, I became aware again of the priority of God and the divine liturgy. The misunderstanding of the liturgical reform that has spread widely in the Catholic Church has led to more and more emphasis on the aspect of education and its activity and creativity. The doings of men almost completely obscured the presence of God. In such a situation it became increasingly clear that the Church’s existence lives in the proper celebration of the liturgy and that the Church is in danger when the primacy of God no longer appears in the liturgy and so in life. The deepest cause of the crisis that has upset the Church lies in the obscurity of God’s priority in the liturgy. (Pope Benedict XVI, Preface of the Russian edition of his Theology of the Liturgy, 2015)
6. Encouragement given to the recovery and renewal of Benedictine monastic life in the heart of the Church. My own monastery, Silverstream Priory, was founded in the grace of the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, only one year after the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum. When, early in 2017, Silverstream Priory was canonically erected, its distinctive reference to Summorum Pontificum was recognised and ratified. In the opening paragraphs of the Apostolic Letter itself, Pope Benedict pointed to the distinctively Benedictine import of what he was setting forth:
Eminent among the Popes who showed such proper concern was Saint Gregory the Great, who sought to hand on to the new peoples of Europe both the Catholic faith and the treasures of worship and culture amassed by the Romans in preceding centuries. He ordered that the form of the sacred liturgy, both of the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Divine Office, as celebrated in Rome, should be defined and preserved. He greatly encouraged those monks and nuns who, following the Rule of Saint Benedict, everywhere proclaimed the Gospel and illustrated by their lives the salutary provision of the Rule that “nothing is to be preferred to the work of God.” In this way the sacred liturgy, celebrated according to the Roman usage, enriched the faith and piety, as well as the culture, of numerous peoples. It is well known that in every century of the Christian era the Church’s Latin liturgy in its various forms has inspired countless saints in their spiritual life, confirmed many peoples in the virtue of religion and enriched their devotion. (Summorum Pontificum)
The past ten years have seen a flowering of Benedictine monasteries dedicated exclusively to the celebration of the sacred liturgy in the traditional form. Impressive numbers of God–seeking young men continue to make their way to these monasteries
7. Joy and beauty brought to Catholic family life. My direct personal experience of this particular fruit of Summorum Pontificum is limited to those young families who frequent Silverstream Priory or who are associated with our community, either because one or both parents are Benedictine Oblates, or by participation in Catholic Scouting, or because the discovery of the Usus Antiquior has infused the piety of the parents and the education of their children with the spirit of the liturgy. It is not unusual to see even the youngest children of these families utterly engaged in the action of Holy Mass and happily familiar with the feasts and seasons of the liturgical year.
8. A renewal of true priestly piety. Silverstream Priory has a heart for priests labouring in the vineyard of the Lord and, consequently, offers hospitality to a steady stream of clergy. The majority of these would be priests under forty–five years of age. Those who do not already offer Holy Mass whenever possible in the Usus Antiquior are eager to be instructed in the traditional rite. The witness of these priests is impressive; access to the Usus Antiquior has awakened them to the mystery of Holy Mass as a true sacrifice and awakened them to their own participation in the mediatorship of Christ, “high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and made higher than the heavens” (Hebrews 7:26). A renewed attention to the complexus of sacred signs that constitutes the liturgy and, in particular, to the rubrics of the Roman Missal has, in more than one instance, transformed a priest’s understanding of who he is standing at the altar. To me, it is evident that Summorum Pontificum has fostered the implementation of what the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council sought to promote:
Priests, both secular and religious, who are already working in the Lord’s vineyard are to be helped by every suitable means to understand ever more fully what it is that they are doing when they perform sacred rites; they are to be aided to live the liturgical life and to share it with the faithful entrusted to their care. (Sacrosanctum Concilium, art. 18)
9. The birth of new expressions of consecrated life that find their source and summit in the traditional liturgy, Holy Mass and Divine Office. It is beyond the scope of these reflections to compile a catalogue of the Institutes and fledgling communities that attribute their existence in the Church, directly or indirectly, to the horizons opened by Summorum Pontificum. Some of these identify with the tradition of canons regular; others engage in missionary works of evangelisation and mercy after the manner of Societies of Apostolic Life. All of these have in common a life–giving reference to the traditional liturgy made available by the dispositions of Summorum Pontificum.
10. An infusion of hope and, for young people, an experience of a beauty that renders holiness of life enchanting and attractive. Pope Benedict XVI recognised, in his letter to the bishops accompanying Summorum Pontificum that not a few young people find in the traditional liturgy a holy enchantment that draws them deeply into the priestly action of Christ and the life of the Church. Pope Benedict wrote:
Immediately after the Second Vatican Council it was presumed that requests for the use of the 1962 Missal would be limited to the older generation which had grown up with it, but 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.
The experience of the Usus Antiquior as an habitual form of worship and expression of sacramental life has surprised young Catholics with an encounter not unlike the one that long ago changed the life of Saint Augustine: the discovery of a “Beauty ever ancient, ever new.” I myself am surprised, even now, to hear again on the lips of the rising generation the very words that, with a holy fear and a secret joy, I memorised over sixty years ago: Introibo ad altare Dei, ad Deum qui lætificat juventutem meam, “I will go in to the altar of God: to God who giveth joy to my youth” (Ps 42:4).