Fr. Richard G. Cipolla, Ph.D., D. Phil.(Oxon.)
It is with great pleasure that I offer my introductory remarks at this conference sponsored by the Society of St Hugh of Cluny. This talk does not pretend to be either scholarly or profound. Although I would not go so far as to describe this talk as an amuse bouche, perhaps it can be taken as a hearty Umbrian antipasto. We shall need to wait until tomorrow for the main course: to hear the words of scholars who are also men who love the Church and who love the traditional Roman Mass. We are blessed with the presence of Professor Luc Perrin, Dr. Lorenz Jaeger, , and Msgr. Ignacio Barreiro Carámbula, S.T.D., Acting President of Human Life International. We look forward magno cum studio to hearing them speak tomorrow.
What I wish to do, as a parish priest for whom the discovery of the Traditional Mass was a revelation and is an incalculable blessing to my priesthood, is to talk about the agenda in this post- Summorum Pontificum and Universae Ecclesiae- time in which we live and worship in the Catholic Church. By agenda, and this I say as a Latin teacher, I do not mean a list of topics to be brought up at a meeting. I mean agenda in the strictly gerundival sense: things needing to be done, things that must be done. The gerundive in Latin always bears a sense of urgency, and at this time in the Church, there surely is a sense of urgency about the liturgical situation that has prevailed for nearly a half century now, whose negative fruits are widespread and well known. But in this time, there is also, for me at least, a sense of urgency with regard to the full implementation of Summorum Pontificum and Universae Ecclesiae in the whole Church.
It is certainly true that there are various interpretations of those two documents. One interpretation, the most common taken by bishops and priests, is that this is purely a kindly act on the Pope’s part to allow the few in the Church who have a liking for the Traditional Mass to celebrate that rite with more freedom than was possible after the promulgation of the Missal of Paul VI. To say that this interpretation does not include a sense of urgency is a real understatement. Another interpretation takes the form of a deliberate misreading of the sense of the documents and a conscious blocking of the generous application of the pastoral freedoms guaranteed by SP and UE regarding the celebration of the Traditional Roman rite.
That I do not subscribe to either of these interpretations of the documents should be obvious from where I stand before you. For me, the interpretation of SP and UE, especially the former as a Motu Proprio, must be consonant with the teaching of Joseph Ratzinger on the Liturgy in his years as Cardinal as well during his pontificate. Papa Ratzinger’s writings on the liturgy, especially the Mass, are many and well known. From these writings it is clear that he understands the liturgical situation in the post-conciliar period to be problematical. Some of the problems he addresses in his writings are the lack of continuity between the Missal of 1962 and the Missal of 1970; the lack of an ars celebrandi that is beautiful and in continuity with the Church’s liturgical tradition; the banality of much music used at Mass after the Council; and most importantly, the loss of the sense of, and the understanding of, the sacred.
I believe that SP and UE must be understood in the context of the Pope’s writings on the liturgy and as his positive response to the very real problems that exist in the liturgical life of the Church after the Second Vatican Council. To take the “vanilla” view that this is merely a kind gesture on the Pope’s part for the few that like traditional things, or to take the vinegar view that that the TM is a threat to the status quo and must be resisted at all cost: to take either view within the context of Ratzinger the theologian seems at best disingenuous and at worst dishonest.
Therefore the agenda I propose are based on the assumption that the widespread celebration of the Traditional Mass in the Church today and in the near future is necessary for the liturgical reform that is so sorely needed today. You notice that I have not used the terms “ordinary form” and “extraordinary form”. I did not and do not use these terms because they can be quite misleading, especially in English. In addition to the hermeneutical problems with these terms, there are certainly theological problems in the declaration that there are two forms of the Roman rite. I am willing to live with the theological ambiguity in this declaration, for it at least gives us some breathing time to figure out what the two forms of the one rite can mean and to allow the Traditional Mass to gain a real foothold in the liturgical life of the Church. But I prefer not to compound the problem by a false understanding of what “ordinary” and “extraordinary” mean in this context in English. Many English-speaking people have understood the adjective “extraordinary” as meaning rare and a bit outré. And they would understand “ordinary” as the norm, what should be. But this certainly is not is what it is meant in SP. Ordinary means what most parishes celebrate today. It is just a statement of what is obvious, what is the case today. And so extraordinary means what is not the usual rite that is celebrated in most parishes. In this light, I hope we can look forward to the time when the Traditional Mass is the ordinary form, even though it will always be extraordinary, that is superlative, in character.
Commentary on a full agenda would take quite a long time. I will offer two items that head my own list of the agenda. The first is this: the Traditional Mass must be celebrated on a regular basis in as many parishes as possible. How will this be accomplished? Not very easily, but it must start somewhere. And I want to start with the concrete example of this parish church of St Mary in Norwalk, CT. We started offering a Missa Cantata on Sundays well over three years ago as one of the scheduled Sunday parish Masses. It began, because of the bishop’s directive, in the downstairs chapel. Within six months it was obvious that the Mass had to be moved to the main church because of the numbers attending this Mass. And so, with the bishop’s permission, we came from the quasi-catacombs into the full light of the main church. Since then we have celebrated a Solemn Mass every Sunday and most holy days. We have a professional schola that sings chant and polyphony at these Masses. We have a complement of at least 20 boys who have learned to serve the Solemn Mass that is offered every Sunday at 9:30 in the morning. This Mass attracts parishioners from the whole of Fairfield County, some of whom travel over an hour to come here. And many of these new parishioners are young couples with children. More and more of our Hispanic parishioners are coming to the Traditional Mass. Furthermore, the way the Novus Ordo Masses is celebrated in the parish, the ars celebrandi, especially on a Sunday, bears the mark of mutual enrichment that the Holy Father spoke about in SP. The main Novus Ordo Mass on Sunday is a Sung Mass at the high altar celebrated ad orientem. The presence of the Traditional Mass in the parish was the main spur for the complete restoration of the sanctuary that was completed some two years ago. . We are the only parish in the diocese that has installed altar rails, after the original rails were destroyed in the iconoclasm of the 1960s. The marble sanctuary floor, the restored high altar, the sedilia, the restoration of the two side altars that had been ripped out by the iconoclasts: all of this was done because of the real presence in the parish of the Traditional Mass. The next phase will begin in two weeks with the painting of the apse, the triumphal arch and the vaulting in the sanctuary and in the bays containing the side altars. The marble reredos behind the high altar that had been destroyed by the Catholic Roundheads will be replaced by a large painting of the Assumption of the Virgin by a well- known Manhattan artist. And all of this, which costs money, has been and will be accomplished by a parish that is certainly not a wealthy parish by any means.. The presence of the Traditional Mass in this parish has rejuvenated the parish not only liturgically but spiritually as well. The number of Confessions heard on a daily basis is strong evidence that the spiritual and sacramental life of this parish is flourishing.
How did this happen? The short answer is: by the grace of God. The longer answer is more complex. What has happened at St Mary’s in the first place would be impossible if our pastor were not a man of courage, vision and faith. Let me rephrase that in the indicative rather than the subjunctive. Our pastor, Fr. Markey, is a man of courage, vision and faith, and also prudence. He understands the importance of the role of the Traditional Mass not only in this parish but also in the Church of the future. This is a parish in which all the priests, despite having different personalities and different takes on many things, are of one mind and one heart in their love for the Traditional Mass and in their understanding of its importance in the necessary task of re-forming Catholic culture. The parish has a remarkable deacon who has discovered his vocation in the context of being deacon at Solemn Mass. The parish has a remarkable young choirmaster who not only knows and loves the music of the Church, but also is filled with a missionary zeal that goes beyond the boundaries of this parish. The whole parish, from religious education to youth group, benefits from the blessings that the real presence of the Traditional Mass provides.
Fr. Markey has begun evenings of instruction for local priests who are interested in learning how to celebrate the TM. This program will continue and we hope will grow in the coming years. There are a good number of priests, especially young priests, who want to connect with the Tradition of the Church by learning to celebrate the Traditional Mass. This is part of the missionary effort that must be part of the process and fruit of SP and UE. This parish, and those few like it in this country, can never become merely churches in which the liturgy is celebrated with great beauty and solemnity. The vinegar crowd that I referred to at the beginning of this talk would like nothing more than to have a few churches that they would call ‘high church” to please the traditionalists and the aesthetes. Never. Numquam. Mai. Jamais. Jamás. Nie. These parishes must be totally Catholic in the deepest sense and must be centers of Catholic renewal and must be lights on a hill that will help other lights to shine, to shine vibrantly in a world in love with the drab greyness of secularism.
This is what must happen in many if not all parishes in this diocese and dioceses all over the world. I know the obstacles. I know the problems. But this is an integral and most important part of the agenda for the full implementation of SM and UE in the Church. And it will be done by priests who celebrate this Mass not out of some antiquarian interest, or because of high church tendencies, but who will celebrate this Mass because of the joy of entering into the worship of the full Church: militant, expectant, and above all, triumphant. And it will be done by laity who have discovered the pearl of great price and are willing to do what has to be done to let others know this pearl exists and urge others to make this pearl their own.
The second item on my agenda is more complex and yet just as important as fostering the use of the Traditional Roman Mass in as many parishes as possible. I would characterize this agendum as theological. It is agreed upon by all that there are real problems associated with the relationship of the Novus Ordo rite of Mass and the Council that preceded it that asked for liturgical reform. There needs to be a continuing and open theological discussion about the methodology, presuppositions and the question of continuity with the Tradition with respect not only to the Novus Ordo rite of Mass, but also, I would submit, to the beginning of the Bugnini reforms of Holy Week in 1955. Dr. Lauren Pristas has already begun to do this in her series of articles on the Collects of the Novus Ordo rite. Her careful scholarship has shown that there was a bias within the Consilium entrusted with the revision of the collects against any words or phrases that the members of the Consilium thought might offend modern ears, especially things referring to sin and grace. She shows that even when the collect was taken from an early source, the Latin words in the original collect were changed according to the bias of the Consilium. One would think that this would cause disquiet among at least the Magisterium. That is has not done so can be explained by the irrational notion that seems to have prevailed and still prevails within the Church that whatever happened to the liturgy before and after the Second Vatican Council must be the will of God by definition—because it happened, it must be meet and right.
When stated in this way, it should be obvious that not only is this way of understanding an ecumenical council and liturgical reform novel and not traditional, it is also unreasonable. Surely the understanding of the meaning and role of any ecumenical council and its documents must include the question of historical context, historical perspective, and hermeneutics. Never in the history of the Church have the documents of any council been understood as having fallen from heaven to be swallowed whole by all faithful Catholics. This unreasonable attitude, combined with a brand of Ultramontanism that would make Pius IX blush, has been one of the central problems in the post-conciliar Church and has resulted in a real failure of that re-evangelization of the Church and the world that was the hope of the Second Vatican Council. The novel and ultimately romantic notion that the reform of the liturgy should be based on what amounts to a historical-critical methodology based on tenuous and changing scholarship and hankering for an imaginary early Church is what it would seem Pius XII strongly spoke against in Mediator Dei. But he spoke against this just as those he entrusted to organically reform the liturgy were proceeding on exactly this rationalistic and romantic basis.
The Church cannot be fully who she is and must be in this increasingly secular world without first grappling with these questions theologically, that is: faithfully, prayerfully, reasonably and charitably, all within the context of Holy Tradition. In order to do so, one must be able to question whether the basis of the pre- and post -Conciliar liturgical reform is consonant with the Tradition of the Church. One must be able to question the basis and nature of the authority of the Pope with regard to the Liturgy. Is he, as Benedict XVI, so aptly said, the guardian of what has been handed down to him, or is he an agent of change and innovation in the Liturgy? Surely no one in this room doubts the Pope’s authority to oversee and to regulate the Liturgy. But does this power extend to do what Paul VI seemed to do in 1970: to suppress the Traditional Roman rite and introduce something related to that rite but in many ways radically different? One should be able to openly discuss this question and by doing so not be accused of disloyalty to the Pope or to his office or to the Magisterium. Sentire cum Ecclesia should never be reduced to merely sentire cum Papa or sentire cum peritis. And more emphasis should be given to the sentire, which in this context means to think. We need to reread what Blessed John Henry Newman says about these matters. I often wonder what he would think about the current situation in the Church vis -a -vis the Second Vatican Council and the liturgical reforms.
This indeed is a huge task, but it must be done. The debate going on currently, especially in Italy, about the hermeneutic that should be applied to an understanding of the Second Vatican Council, is necessary and salutary. And this debate must be expanded to the Bugnini led liturgical reform. This is the beginning of the task, a task that is labor ,a task that Vergil would call tantae moles. And this labor pro ecclesia, this labor caritatis, will be carried out not by my generation who seem incapable of being objective about the situation of the Church today. It will be carried out by the generations to come, not only because they will have the advantage that time affords to see things with greater clarity and objectivity; but also because the next generations will have the advantage. Deo volente, of being in touch with the Tradition in its fullest form, its most beautiful form, in its deepest form: they will be in touch with the Traditional Roman Mass, and it is there that they will find the courage and the freedom to do what has to be done so that the Church can be once again the light on the hill.