5. The Era of Summorum Pontificum 2007-2013
On July 7, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI issued the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. For traditionalists it was a vindication and emancipation that would have been scarcely imaginable a few short years before. For now the Traditional liturgy was acknowledged to be a constituent element of the Catholic faith that had not and could not be abrogated. The Traditional liturgy was declared a right of the faithful. They, not the hierarchy and the clergy, were empowered to request and obtain its celebration. Finally, an avenue of appeal to Rome was provided in the (all too likely) case of conflicts with the local hierarchy.
Less obviously revolutionary but perhaps even more significant in the long term was Pope Benedict’s December 22, 2005 discourse on the “hermeneutic of reform in continuity.” By emphasizing the need to understand the “Council” (there seems to be only one in the Church of today) in the light of the entreaty of the tradition and doctrine of the Church Pope Benedict was (undoubtedly unwittingly) calling the whole Conciliar project into question. For isn’t the driving concept of “Vatican II” the imposition on a suppossedly moribund and retrograde Church of the new truths and vitality proceeding from the modern world?
What was the impact of these momentous developments in the United States? Compared to the spirit and even the letter of the new law it was of course limited. If traditionalists expected the hierarchy to take the initiative to make the traditional liturgy broadly available they would be sorely disappointed. In most cases the bishop no longer “got in the way” of local traditionalist initiatives. In the New York area, for example, it was only a few parishes that immediately and fully “implemented” Summorum Pontificum (“SP”). In most cases episcopal monitoring and authorization continued. As one wag put it, under SP the hierarchy finally discovered the Indult. So Charles Chaput, the newly installed archbishop of Philadelphia, made a parish available to traditionalists – while describing SP in exactly the language of the Indult.
Yet even this minimum was of course a dramatic transformation. The traditional mass now reappeared all over the Catholic landscape, resurfacing in locations previously unimaginable: Jesuit universities, any number of cathedrals, campus chapels, churches of religious orders and even in the parishes of the well-to-do. The mainstream Catholic press now actually began to report traditionalist liturgies and events now and did so in a neutral, even respectful tone. Even the institutions of “conservative Catholicism” which only yesterday had been conducting a war of words with traditionalists now opened their doors – at least partially – to the old mass: e.g., Thomas Aquinas College, Ave Maria university.
But it was the change in the quality of the liturgies that was even more significant than the growth in their number. The traditionalists of 2007 did not aim at recreating some past they had never known but wanted to restore the rites of the Catholic Church in all their splendor. The solemn high mass – prior to the Council a rarity and in the Indult era almost nonexistent – now was celebrated often – in a few places even every Sunday. Solemn pontifical masses became al least in the greater New York area almost an annual event. Vespers, which had disappeared from the American scene – at least on the parish level – even before the Council, here and there now sprang back to life. There was, in all these liturgical efforts, a new insistence on perfection and completeness of the ceremonial, the music, the vestments and the very furnishing and arrangeements of the churches.
There was a significant shift in leadership as well. Spearheading the era of SP was a generation of young priests – in contrast with the predominantly lay leadership of all previous phases of the American traditionalist movement and despite the emphasis of SP on the imitative of lay communities. These priests, born years after the Vatican Council, had no knowledge of pre-conciliar times. In many cases they lacked extensive experience of even the Indult era. They were joined by older priests “young at heart” – ordained well after the Council but unacquainted with anything prior to it. Together, it was a generation that had observed for itself what was going on (mostly wrongly) withe Church and had rediscovered tradition through the example of others, through reading or through – let us acknowledge it- the workings of Divine Providence. They now joyfully responded to Pope Benedict’s invitation. An ever-growing number of seminarians also became interested in the traditional mass. Finally, even the mainstream religious orders – a territory which, except for isolated individuals, had remained off limits to conservatism, let alone traditionalism – now participated at least to some extent in the traditionalist revival. Certain of these orders (like the Dominicans) had their own rites which were now celebrated for the first time in decades.
Not that the “traditionalist tradition” of lay leadership had entirely come to an end. On the contrary: SP saw a new generation of Catholic lay organizations arise. Moreover, the stability of these groupings was far greater than that of their “conservative Catholic” counterparts (and traditionalist predecessors) because of their devotion to the objective liturgical tradition of the Church and their strong links with the existing structures of the Church.
The result was a much greater integration of the traditionalist movement in to the day-to-day life of the “American Catholic church.” There was a new willingness to compromise and to work out a modus vivendi of the various liturgical directions within the church. More and more parishes became in effect “bi-ritual” without awakening the divisive ideological debates of the past. Despite much nonsense written at the beginning, it soon became clear that the old and new rites, the old and new calendars could very well coexist. Recourse to Ecclesia Dei was – in number of respects fortunately – not a constant feature of post-SP life in the United States.
The “fruits of Summorum Pontificum” were not long in coming. For example, Saint Mary’s parish in Norwalk, Connecticut offered both the ordinary and the extraordinary forms. But it was the traditional mass around which the life of the parish soon oriented. Terhe soon followed greater involvement of the laity in the life of the parish, its music, its devotions and its liturgies; more frequent reception of the sacrament of confession; and that ultimate criterion of Catholic success, increased amounts in the collection basket. Vocations of course also appeared. The traditional liturgy, far from being a source of division, became a source of unification of a parish otherwise divided into number of isolated communities: Hispanics, Indians, old-time Italian and Irish parishioners etc. A unique and moving measure of success with two recent deathbed testimonies in favor of the traditional liturgy – including the request for a requiem mass – by two prominent parishioners who had had no previous connection with traditionalism until the era of SP. But perhaps the greatest testimony to the success of St. Mary’s under SP is that of all those most directly involved with the work of the parish – the clergy, the ministers, the musicians, the lay volunteers. – only two or so had any experience with the pre-conciliar Church or even any long – term experience of the Indult.
A further benefit of the new regime was the cooling off in the cold war waged by conservative Catholics against the traditionalist movement. Indeed, some prominent publicists of ”Conservative Catholicism” and “Reform of the Reform” increasingly became supporters of the new course. Others, who could not disguise their disagreement with SP, retreated into silence: in keeping with their principles how could they dispute any action taken by the pope?
It will be noted that the era of SP was once more primarily liturgical: the invitation of Pope Benedict to reflect upon the relationship the council to the whole course of Catholic Tradition was not immediately taken up in the United States. Since the fall of Triumph there was no publication or organization exercising intellectual leadership on these shores. The intellectual component of Traditionalism was still overwhelmingly provided by foreign sources – German, French, English and increasingly Italian. But one positive development in all this was the blossoming of the traditionalist Internet scene. Through sites and blogs traditionalists obtained unprecedented access to news of the Church and the intellectual developments abroad. Moreover, in the post SP “era of good feeling” certain key players of the “conservative catholic “ Internet now joined in publicizing traditionalist developments.
Yet all was not sweetness and light. There were disturbing shadows of the past, and, in hindsight, somber forebodings of the future. The implementation of SP was very uneven – the attitude towards the traditional liturgy in many dioceses remained resolutely hostile. Seminarians and members of religious orders regularly faced sanctions for participating in traditional liturgies. It still remained common for such clerics and aspiring clerics to request anonymity if they showed up in the sanctuary. In 2010, a magnificent pontifical liturgy was scheduled at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. The Archbishop of Washington prevented the participation by the scheduled celebrant, Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos. The next year, Archbishop Wuerl forced the cancellation of the scheduled Pontifical liturgy altogether at the last minute. It has not reappeared since. Moreover, towards the end of this period, ti seems that underground the forces opposed to SP were regrouping. For example, the current worldwide crisis in the Franciscan Friars of the immaculate was launched with the key participation of certain US members with the encouragement of certain “conservative Catholic” elements.
That there were also issues with the traditionalist movement itself cannot be denied. A certain lassitude seems to have overtaken many of the traditionalists. Instead of redoubling their efforts and eagerly seizing the incredible opportunities now made available to them to both celebrate the Traditional liturgy and evangelize others, many sat back and let the clergy take over the running of the traditionalist show. This spread of this passive, inwardly focused attitude so typical of mainstream American Catholicism, could only be disastrous for a still marginalized movement like traditionalism. For as subsequent events would show official favor can be a very fleeting thing. It is a sad fact that many promising traditionalist liturgical initiatives had to be abandoned because of lack of participation.
Do we also need to mention that some of the negative organizational features of the Indult era continued? That no publication of a high level existed that would serve to focus traditional Catholics and inform them of developments? That traditionalists continued to be divided into many different groupings under dominating leaders – either lay or clerical? That it was nearly impossible to get these groups to even inform each other of what they’re doing, let alone collaborate and cooperate? These long-standing difficulties remained – yet it was reasonable to hope that they would be worked out in the course of time.
In summary, Traditionalists had indeed accomplished something tremendous. A cause that had been written off as dead and been subjected to the almost universal opposition of the church establishment had been resurrected. And, most importantly, 50 years after the close of the Vatican Council, the traditionalist movement had been handed over to a new generation – one untainted by the complexes and compromises of the past.