Among the Nouvelle theologie theologians who gave us the Second Vatican Council and the post-conciliar Church, it is arguable that next to Karol Wojtyla (St. John Paul II), Josef Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) holds the most prominent place. Setting aside the resentful questions that some Catholics have over his abrupt resignation, in his short pontificate he made a number of important decisions that have had wide ranging impacts on the Church. Perhaps the most famous of these is his motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum, which confirmed that every priest of the Roman Rite can freely offer the Holy Sacrifice according to the rite of 1962 (the “Latin Mass”) without permission from the local ordinary.
Many things have been written about this truly epochal act of the Roman Pontiff, but I have never seen anyone address what I intend to address here, namely, its use of language. In the post-conciliar Church, it has already been pointed out how the use of language has been fundamental in implementing the “renewal” by the enemies of the Church (the liberal Nouvelle theologie party of Concilium: Kung, Schillebeeckx, Rahner, etc.) as well as the well-intentioned, conservative Nouvelle theologie party of Communio (Ratzinger, Wojtyla, et al.). Just consider the words “pastoral,” “active participation,” “renewal,” “spring time,” etc., and you can see how little these words hold a definite meaning, and yet how powerful they are in convincing the faithful to support any given agenda.
As such, we wish to discuss in this brief treatment the Roman Pontiff’s usage in coining the terms “Extraordinary Form” (in reference to the rite of 1962) and “Ordinary From” (in reference to the rite of 1969). With due reverence to Benedict XVI in his official acts, I wish to argue that the terms he used for the rites of the Mass are erroneous and must be abandoned.
The New Mass is the Most Extraordinary Form in History
The only way in which the Pontiff must have meant these terms is in reference to current practice (in 2007 when the document was released). At that time, it was true that the vast majority of the Masses celebrated in the Latin Rite Catholic Church were that of the New Mass. Thus the term already is bound to a certain time and place. As the faithful continue to disappear from the New Mass and continue to gravitate toward the Ancient Roman Rite, will this always be the case? Projecting the current trends decades into the future, this may not always be true. Thus the term, like so much of the post-conciliar optimism, already suffers from being time-bound.
Second, when considered from the view of two thousand years of history, the New Mass is a very extraordinary thing indeed, since all of our fathers celebrated the Ancient Roman Rite back to Trent (some sixteen generations at least). Before that, our fathers prayed the Latin Mass according to the local customs and usages permitted by the Holy See (eg. the Sarum Use as well as the ancient Ambrosian and Mozarabic rites among others).
Thus when we consider the “Latin Mass” as a non-vernacular, western rite encompassing all usages predating 1969, the New Mass becomes the most extraordinary form among them by the bare fact that it is not primarily in Latin and faces the people (among other things).
Another and more salient point is the New Mass’ form of origin. Ratzinger famously censured the New Mass as a “banal fabrication” (French preface to Gamber’s Reform of the Roman Liturgy). The New Mass is the most extraordinary form because it was created by a committee of Catholics and Protestants, whose head famously deceived the pope to implement his own agenda. Even worse, the Pope admitted that he did not even review significant liturgical changes that he approved trusting in these “experts” who were deceiving him.
Perhaps most shocking is the fact that the New Mass mirrors point for point the Anglican Mass of Cranmer, which was created in open revolt to the Catholic Church. Indeed, the New Mass is the most extraordinary form because it was fabricated in collaboration with, and in imitation of the enemies of the Catholic Faith.
The “ordinary” mode of origin for liturgy (as Reid argues convincingly and Ratzinger agrees) is a centuries old, organic development from Apostolic times. This is true for every form of the liturgy except the New Mass. Thus the New Mass is, in every way except current popularity, the most extraordinary form in history.
The New Mass is a Different Rite than the Roman Rite
As was mentioned above, the Latin tradition has various rites but the most prominent is of course the Roman Rite. But when we consider that the Roman Rite is a different rite than the Ambrosian or Mozarabic, in what sense are the Latin Mass and the New Mass two different forms of one Roman Rite?
On close examination, the only important similarity is that they have both been promulgated by Rome and both have an Angus Dei (not present in the Ambrosian Rite). But consider this: the New Mass contains only 17% of the prayers contained in the Ancient Roman Rite. Moreover, the reformers specifically removed phrases (“Hell,” “sin,” “death”) that would be offensive to Modern Man or Protestants. Thus the continuity between the Latin Mass and the New Mass is incredibly strained. Since the Ambrosian and Mozarabic rites are indeed different rites, at what point do the differences between the two “forms” of the Roman Rite constitute two different different rites?
For critics such as Gamber and Reid already mentioned (whom Ratzinger has supported), the differences constitute an aberration to the point of creating a different rite. No Catholic can fail to see and feel the difference, even in the most reverently celebrated New Mass.
Liturgical Disobedience is Only Justified for a Manifestly Grave Cause
In conclusion, anticipating critical remarks, it should be stressed that faithful Catholics can question the non-infallible decisions of the Holy See but only for a grave cause. Ordinarily all faithful Catholics should accept every decision and ruling of the Holy See. In certain rare cases noted throughout history, the faithful have called an erring Pontiff back to the correct path for the Church. But disobedience to the local bishop or the Holy See can only be justified for a manifestly grave cause (eg. a command to commit sin).
Indeed, liturgical “dissent” has already been twice exonerated by the Holy See. First, in Summorum Pontificum: this abrogated Paul VI’s rulings on the Mass and exonerated all those who had dissented from Missale Romanum (1969). Contrast Paul VI saying that “this [New Mass] is a law” (General Audience, November 19, 1969) with Benedict XVI stating the Ancient Roman Rite was in fact “never abrogated” (Summorum Pontificum).
The other area of “filial disobedience” is in the efforts of Credo to critique the translation ruling of Paul VI (Comme le prevoit). This effort was exonerated by St. John Paul II in 2001 with Liturgiam Authenticam, which abrogated Paul VI’s prior ruling and officially pronounced “formal equivalence” to be the official translation method for the New Mass. The Third Edition of the Roman Missal (“the one with ‘and with your spirit’”) was a direct result of this. (Meanwhile, the German and Italian bishops refused to obey this new ruling. Pope Francis then confirmed their disobedience by abrogating both Paul VI and John Paul II with Magnum Princium in 2017).
As many learned and faithful Catholic men have argued, the reform of the sacred rites of the Holy Sacrifice do constitute a manifestly grave cause. It has contributed to a great loss of faith in the Real Presence, and represents a grave scandal to the Eastern Christians. Let the reader review the sources here and examine his conscience before God. Above all, let us all have charity one to another, for all faithful Catholics are doing their best in this crisis.
Put ye on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, the bowels of mercy, benignity, humility, modesty, patience: Bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if any have a complaint against another. Even as the Lord hath forgiven you, so do you also. But above all these things have charity, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ rejoice in your hearts, wherein also you are called in one body: and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you abundantly: in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual canticles, singing in grace in your hearts to God. All whatsoever you do in word or in work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God and the Father by him (Col. iii. 14-17).
Timothy S. Flanders