Fr. Hunwicke - april 2011

Ratzinger on Liturgical Law

...a blog series from Fr. Hunwicke's Liturgical Notes

A valued and learned friend has copied to me a paper in the January 2011 number of Worship, by a North American canonist called Chad Glendinning. Because I believe that (a) it summarises lucidly and usefully the current state of opinion among experts about the subject with which it deals; and that (b) its conclusions completely misunderstand that same subject, I plan ... most unwisely, because I know nothing about Canon Law ... to deal with it in some detail. Needless to say, you are welcome to comment immediately, but this series of pieces is intended to stand as a whole and you might find yourself either making a comment which anticipates my future argument, or writing exactly what I shall rebut in the next piece. No harm, of course ...

The subject concerned is the statement in Summorum Pontificum that the traditional Roman Mass had never been lawfully abrogated. The problem about this is that the praxis of the Roman Curia since the promulgation of the Pauline Missal* appeared to have been based on an assumption of abrogation of the preceding rite. And Cardinal Ratzinger himself had once spoken with regret about that 'abrogation' ... and you can't regret something which has not been done.

Mind you, I have always felt, and have written in this blog about the fact that, there was an oddity about the failure of the Pauline Decree explicitly to abrogate the earlier Missal in view of the very clear abrogation in the corresponding document about the Breviary (and Summorum Pontificum did not claim that the old Breviary "had never been abrogated"). But I propose to accept, for the sake of argument, Gendinning's demonstration that supersession implies abrogation. Nor do I intend to write about the Commission of canonist Cardinals which is said to have delivered, some years ago, an opinion that the Old Missal had never been abrogated - although I would welcome information at this moment on the thread about this matter.

My intention is to examine the earlier teaching of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger on the post-Conciliar events and to suggest that his judgement as Pope upon the non-abrogation of the Old Missal is a theological statement as important as, and indeed very closely related to, his teaching in his justly celebrated Address to the Roman Curia about a Hermeneutic of Continuity. Unlike Glendinning and the canonists he quotes, I see Papa Ratzinger's pronouncement in this matter as another sign of his very considerable greatness. And as an ecumenical step of very profound significance.



I believe that Cardinal Ratzinger, the first Anglo-Catholic Cardinal, pioneered a new approach to the concept of what is, liturgically, licit. It is an attitude which has strong links with the views of Anglican liturgists such as Dom Gregory Dix and Prebendary Michael Moreton, with the attitude to liturgical liceity which was held by the great Anglo-Papalist priests such as Fynes-Clinton, Baverstock, Hole; and is ecclesiologically significant. It appears also to have links with Orthodox ecclesiology. Here are two passages which the cardinal wrote in 1998.

"Pius V ... decided to introduce the Missale Romanum, the Mass book of the Church of the City of Rome, as indubitably Catholic, in all places where it could not be demonstrated that the liturgy was of at least 200 years'a antiquity. In other cases the liturgy in use could be retained, since its Catholic character could be considered certain. There was therefore no question of forbidding the use of a traditional Missal which had been juridically valid until that time ... " " ... It is good here to recall what Cardinal Newman observed*, that the Church, throughout her history, has never abolished nor forbidden orthodox liturgical forms, which would be quite alien to the Spirit of the Church. An orthodox liturgy, that is to say, one which expresses the true faith, is never a compilation made according to the pragmatic criteria of different ceremonies, handled in a positivist and arbitrary way, one way today and another way tomorrow. The orthodox forms of a rite are living realities, born out of the dialect of love between the Church and her Lord. They are expressions of the life of the Church, in which are distilled the faith, the prayer, and the very life of past generations, and which make incarnate in specific forms both the action of God and the response of man. Such rites can die, if those who have used them in a particular era should disappear, or if the life-situation of those same people should change. The authority of the church had the power to define and limit the use of such rites in different historical situations, but she never just purely and simply forbids them!"



Sometimes a parallel is suggested between S Pius V, revising the Roman Rite after and by mandate of the Council of Trent, and Paul VI, revising it after and by mandate of Vatican II. This is, I believe, a gross misunderstanding (i) of what S Pius was about, as he describes his own actions in Quo primum; and (ii) of the considerable differences between those two events.

S Pius has been seen as suppressing variant dialects of the Roman Rite - such as the English Sarum Rite - in the interests of a centralising uniformity. This analysis does not fit the facts. In the later sixteenth century, there was a fair amount of liturgical experimentation - and S Pius intends to suppress such innovations in the Eucharist (just as he suppressed Quignonez' 'novum Breviarium'). He does not intend to suppress established rites with a couple of centuries' history. Let us look at his words enforcing his new edition "... nisi ab ipsa prima institutione a Sede Apostolica adprobata, vel consuetudine, quae, vel ipsa institutio super ducentos annos missarum celebrandarum in eisdem ecclesiis assidue observata sit: a quibus, ut praefatam celebrandi constitutionem, vel consuetudinem nequaquam auferimus; so there ... just my point ... but he goes on sic, si Missale hoc ... magis placeret ..." and ah!, you cry, so - with a nudge and a wink - S Pius is encouraging churches with a 200 year prescription to change over to his new edition! But No! ... he goes on "de episcopi, vel praelati, Capitulique universi consensu ...". "Capituli universi consensu!" So, apparently, even just one bolshie traddie Canon on a Chapter could veto the desire of some episcopal johnnie-come-lately to introduce the Pian edition of the Missal into the diocese! What we have here is not a policy of universal standardisation by an autocrat, but the mandated preservation of the old and sanctified dialects of the Roman Rite combined with a firm suppression of recent faddery.

Add to this, the process which S Pius employed to produce his new edition: the examination of old versions in the Vatican Library; the collection of other exemplars; a reading of old liturgical authors. His missal was "recognitum iam et castigatum". It was not, like the Missal of Paul VI, a rite marked on every single page with revolutionary innovations. Nobody denies that the 'Tridentine' Missal differs very little from earlier editions. Nobody claims that alterations were made in the Canon which had no basis in its textual history; that a dozen or so alternative 'Eucharistic Prayers' were added; or that the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels of every single Sunday were changed. Nobody can deny that all this is true of the Pauline Missal**.

One pope publishes a very light standardisation with a 98% unchanged text; another pope publishes a vastly different rite. I now address an ad hominem argument to those who believe that the two events match each other: if that earlier pope deemed it wrong that variant dialects of the Roman Rite (not so very different from the Rite he had edited) should lightly be set aside when they had a couple of centuries behind them, then, a fortiori, it would be incongruous for the later pope to think it right, or inevitable, that all the earlier dialects of the Roman Rite (representing, in their developed forms, something like a thousand years of history) should be set aside ... without even a mention that he was mandating such an unheard-of revolution.

I do not like some propaganda of the SSPX which appears to suggest that Quo primum made the Pian edition immutable. Certainly no future Pontiff deemed it immutable; they presided over its organic evolution. But the Pauline missal was not just one more light, slight, evolutionary revision of the Pian Missal. Those who most strongly argue that the Pian events and the Pauline events were parallel and congruous can hardly avoid the conclusion that Paul did not desire ... any more than Pius intended ... to consign the traditional forms of the Roman Rite to the rubbish dump.

I offer these thoughts as my meditation upon the words I quoted in my last post from Cardinal Ratzinger: that it is contrary to the Spirit of the Church to abolish the rites which have served the piety and lives of generations of Christians.



In 1999 Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: "Rites ... are forms of the Apostolic Tradition and of its unfolding in the great places of the Tradition." ... He had in the same book previously observed that these places, Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch, all are "connected with Petrine traditions" ... it is not only in Rome that Peter speaks in the Paradosis. He goes on: "The liturgy cannot be compared to a piece of technical equipment, something manufactured, but to a plant, something organic that grows and whose laws of growth determine the possibilities of further development". Notice that he uses the term 'laws' in a way which has nothing whatsoever to do with enacted legislation. He is discerning principles of ecclesial life which go deeper than Canon Law. As Ratzinger continues, it seems to me that he shows a markedly limited enthusiasm for the intrusion into Liturgy, in the West, of the juridical authority of the papacy."The more vigorously the papacy was displayed, the more the question came up of about the extent and limits of this authority, which, of course, as such had never been considered. After the Second Vatican Council, the impression arose that the pope really could do anything in liturgical matters, especially if he were acting on the mandate of an ecumenical council. Eventually, the idea of the givenness of the liturgy, the fact that one cannot do with it what one will, faded from the consciousness of the West [observe his emphasis that he is speaking of Western phenomena]. In fact, the First Vatican Council had in no way defined the pope as an absolute monarch. On the contrary, it presented him as the guarantor of obedience to the revealed word. The pope's authority is bound to the Tradition of faith, and that also applies to the liturgy. It is not 'manufactured' by the authorities. Even the pope can only be a humble servant of its lawful development and abiding integrity and identity."

Ratzinger pauses briefly to say that "Here again, as in the questions of ikons and sacred music, we come up against the special path trod by the West." The significance of this is that, when he was dealing with those topics in his previous chapter, the cardinal was far from viewing East and West through equally benign spectacles. On the contrary, he gently chided the West for never having achieved a 'real reception' of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, Nicaea II. Here, as there, the balance of his sympathies appears to rest with what he understands to be the Eastern tradition. ("We come up against ..." is a significant phrase.) He admits a place for the more innovatory instincts of the West, but concludes: "it would lead to the breaking up of the foundations of Christian identity if the fundamental intuitions of the East, which are the fundamental intuitions of the early Church, were abandoned. The authority of the pope is not unlimited; it is at the service of Sacred Tradition."[My italics.]

It seems to me that Cardinal Ratzinger's concerns are less with Canon Law than with an unwritten law inscribed in the very nature of the Church (the embodiment of authentic tradition), which trumps the law embodied in transient canonical codes and enactments. He is not concerned to join in the scrimmage of canonists as they examine their manuals and gather their precedents in order to discover exactly how a particular decree of Paul VI might or might not be glossed. What he is writing is Theology. His subject is the Spirit-filled life of the Catholic Church.



Chad Glendinning quotes A S Sanchez-Gil as feeling that the Roman Missal, along with other liturgical books, cannot be reduced to a collection of liturgical laws. This is along the right lines, but does not, I feel, go nearly far enough. The great Anglican liturgist, Prebendary Michael Moreton, now striding eruditely through his nineties, sees the Canon Romanus - if I understood him aright in the six years during which we conversed - in a position not unlike that of the Canon of Scripture; a given in the Tradition which it is not for us to treat as disposable. He speaks of the Canon as having auctoritas given to it by tradition, which far surpasses the merely canonical, legalistic, authorisation, which fly-by-night 'Eucharistic Prayers' composed by the Top Experts of one single decade might have. I think it may be a coincidence - because Fr Michael, unlike me, is not a pedantic papalist who tries to keep up to date with the documents which flood out from Roman dikasteries - that his term auctoritas occurs also in John Paul II's instruction Ecclesia Dei. It is a profound term with roots deep in the sense of the Orthodox as well as of Traditionalist Catholics that there are weightier imperatives than Canon Law. I remind you of the startling fact that the Patriarch of Moskow welcomed Summorum pontificum as an ecumenically positive action.

Glendinning informs us that Summorum pontificum, if it is not an "imprecise use of canonical terminology" (really, Chad, who is the Supreme Legislator?), is "a rather overt denunciation of the pope's predecessors and of the praxis curiae". In a funny sort of way, I think this last bit is right. Benedict XVI is superseding the assumptions underlying the enactments of his predecessor Paul VI, and, unobserved by Glendinning, he is doing so on grounds which he had previously, before his election to the See of Peter, explained thoroughly lucidly in the two passages which I copied from his works in the second post of this series. Our Holy Father even restates the views of Cardinal Ratzinger, in the Letter to Bishops which accompanied Summorum pontificum: "What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden forbidden". Note Cannot! We are talking about non potests rather than non licets. As for curial enactments, well, I think it has to be pointed out that the pope is not only, as Glendinning concedes, the Supreme Legislator, but, as Vatican I defined, also the Supreme Judge of the Church. If his statements in Summorum pontificum go contrary to what Roman dikasteries have prescribed or implied, this is surely analogous to a court of appeal overriding an earlier judgement by a legislator of inferior jurisdiction. (Or, if it isn't, why not?) J Baldovini, quoted by Glendinning, wrote that "even someone with supreme legislative authority cannot undo historic facts". But Benedict XVI is not misdescribing (or even describing) historical facts, I suggest, but defining what the deepest law of the church is. He bases himself upon a view of history, Theology, and law which is broader than the juridical bases of those previous enactments. That is in fact what makes his declaration so significant; so much more in line with a Catholic - and Orthodox - and Anglo-Catholic - concept of Liturgy.

I can't help wondering if Papa Ratzinger is subconsciously sketching, with a few strokes of his pencil, what an Orthodox Latin West might look like - and how an Orthodox papacy might function. It is all very well to have ecumenical commissions; but nothing would promote the unity of the two lungs of Christendom more than for Orthodox to be able to look at the actual life of the Roman Magisterium ... and to feel an uncanny sense that they were to a degree looking into a mirror. Of course, in human terms the odds are that few here in the Latin West will really understand his project; that the liturgical and moral anarchists, the homosexual ideologues and the feminists, will continue their frenzied denigrations of the old Bavarian gentleman; that in a few years he will be dead and his vision forgotten as the vaticanologists feverishly speculate on the 'policies' of his successor. But, in my eyes, for as long as it lasts it is exhilarating; Benedict's Age is a good age in which to be alive, an age of the very truest instauratio catholica. And, just possibly ... who knows ... after all, there is a God ...

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*Glendinning points out the oddity of Paul VI (followed by John Paul II) promulgating a rite which had, at the point of promulgation, not quite been written.

**Well, I suppose that in the Pauline Missal two or three Sundays after Epiphany somehow managed to keep their collects. And Palm Sunday.

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