Sunday, July 08, 2007

Apostolic Letter on the use of the Roman Liturgy Prior to the Reform of 1970

YESTERDAY POPE BENEDICT promulgated a motu proprio (a letter of his own accord), called Summorum Pontificum, allowing the more widespread use of the traditional Latin liturgy of the form that preceded the changes inspired by the Second Vatican Council.

Here are links to the document:

The official Latin text of Summorum Pontificum;
Unofficial English translation by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops;
Official English translation of a letter to the bishops that accompanies the motu proprio.

Take a look at these sources for commentary and analysis on the motu proprio:

Fr. John Zuhlsdorf
Catholic World News
Catholic News Service
Msgr. R. Michael Schmitz
Jimmy Akin
Links from Against the Grain
Shawn Tribe
Times Online
Summorum Pontificum website


How did we get here, and why is this new letter neccessary?

The 1960s was a heady, optimistic decade, filled with the notions of progress, and the hope that the perennial problems of man would finally be solved. New technologies, new ideas, and new institutions had breathtaking promise for the future. The idea of Enlightenment optimism — the idea that things were always getting better and better and that Man himself could solve all problems — perhaps reached its peak in that decade. The Church was caught up in the spirit of those times too, and this was precisely the time of the Second Vatican Council.

The promises of the reforms of the Council were astounding: the Reformation was over, everyone would become Catholic, and the Church would grow tremendously. This optimism was backed up by money and vocations: the priesthood and religious orders were flooded with reform-minded men and women, donations to the Church reached a new high, and large numbers of new monasteries, schools, and churches were built in anticipation of this predicted great future need.

But such optimism was unfounded, and that became quite apparent by the late part of the decade, when optimism faded and the youth opted for revolution. The Church indeed did grow, but in Africa and Asia, while it declined sharply in the West.

But even at the time of the Council, not everyone liked the changes, but there was an overwhelming sense of 'Progress', an inevitable, neccessary, movement, like a force of nature. There is no stopping progress, and it is all for the best. Everything must change, people thought, whether they like it or not. Old churches simply have to be torn down, or renovated beyond recognition, the liturgy has to change, old ways and traditions must be discarded. Remarkably, there is, it seems, no choice in the matter! Obviously, this conflicts with very basic moral theology, where choice is everything; but even moral theology was abandoned at that time. The doctrine of inevitable progress comes from Hegel, who most prominently influenced the thinking of the Nazis and Communists.

Ecumenism was a major consideration of the reforms of the Liturgy after the Council; the new Mass was translated in the vernacular and was radically simplified; it allowed great flexibility and a distinct reduction in rules and formality; it incorporated more scripture readings; and it was more community-oriented. The new Mass looks and feels Protestant, and that was a specific goal. However, Protestants do Protestantism far better than Catholics can: why settle for an imitation when you can get the real thing elsewhere? New Protestant communities flourished, often made up largely of disaffected Catholics. Ironically, the sole successful ecumenical movement, the pro-life movement, was unforeseen by the Council Fathers.

"Opening up to the world" made the Church more like the world, and if what you find inside of a church is hardly different that what you see in the world, then why even bother? Going to church merely out of a distasteful sense of duty is not an improvement over love and faith.

The sharp decline of the Church in the West was not promised by the reformers, and continued reform in the same direction seems strongly misguided, at the very least.

The reasons for the decline of the Faith are manifold, but certainly a major problem is the loss of the understanding of the proper relationship between man and God, and the newer liturgy has a more "horizontal" emphasis. Wider use of the older liturgy is hoped to be a small, but important step in a restoration of the proper order.

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