Wider Use of Traditional Mass and ‘The Ecclesiology, Stupid!’

It appears certain that the Holy Father is soon to come out with a motu proprio (a legal document “on his own authority”) allowing a wider use of the Traditional Mass. What is not certain are the exact conditions of its use or how much authority the bishops have to forbid the Mass in their dioceses. Many progressives are opposing the pending move, while there are traditionalists saying that it is not enough.

For our part, based upon current reports, we anticipate this as a good development, a step in the right direction. It will benefit the faithful. If the wider use of the Mass happens by way of another indult, as reports indicate it will be, there is a problem that will have to be addressed eventually. An indult is a permission contrary to law (i.e., the Spanish indult allowing the eating of meat on Friday). To “allow” the traditional Mass by indult makes it seem as if it is otherwise forbidden; but that is not the case. Since the present law of the Church includes no prohibition of the traditional Rite — as many expert canonists have testified and some high-ranking ecclesiastics have affirmed — this is a “legal fiction” at best.

Be that as it may, the Holy Father is weathering serious criticism for the move, such as the moronic objections of an Australian Communist newspaper, Green Left Weekly (“Behind the Pope’s push for Latin mass”). On a much more serious note, dissent and discord have surfaced in France, which, in many respects, is the capital of traditionalism. Five bishops and thirty priests signed an open letter in which they criticized the move and indicated that they did not want to welcome members of the SSPX (and presumably other traditionalists). These liberals see the program of a wider use of the traditional Mass as part of a greater problem: the traditionalists’ adherence to pre-Vatican II theology.

The Reuters story that covered this dissent (“French clerics criticize Pope’s Latin mass plans”) reveals that the animosity toward tradition is great and that the issues go beyond the ritual itself. Here are some excerpts, with my emphasis added:

Unswerving loyalty to the old Latin, or Tridentine mass, often goes hand in hand with a rejection of the Vatican II reforms, which opened the church to respect for and cooperating with other faiths and switched to a modern mass conducted in local languages.

“This could create grave difficulties, especially for those who have remained loyal to Vatican II,” Toulouse Bishop Robert Le Gall told the Catholic daily La Croix.

In an open letter, 30 young priests said Benedict, 79, should encourage them “to work in the world as it is … rather than plunge us back into the liturgical life of another age.”

The Vatican has already provoked protest in Bordeaux by readmitting five SSPX priests who preformed a Tridentine mass in a church they occupied there.

“We can be charitable and welcoming but we also have to be honest,” Besancon Bishop Andre Lacrampe told the daily L’Est Republicain. “I’m not ready to receive them because one cannot erase Vatican II with a stroke of a pen.”

There are very deep and painful theological reasons behind this schism,” [i.e., the putative schism of Archbishop Lefebvre] Angouleme Bishop Claude Dagens told the Catholic weekly La Vie. “You can’t pretend that Archbishop Lefebvre’s break with the church was only caused by the liturgy.”

Please keep these italicized passages in mind as you read the next piece, which will attempt to shed some light on the deeper issues at hand.

Beyond the Mass: The Ecclesiology, Stupid!

Anybody up on U.S. Politics will recall the statement attributed to Democratic Party strategist James Carville for the 1992 Clinton presidential campaign: “It’s the economy, stupid.” Well, in Church matters, the issue is not the economy, but ecclesiology, the theology of the Church. Included in this study are such issues as the authority of the Church to teach (her Magisterium) and her claim to be the true Church outside of which no one at all is saved. These two issues share a common border in men’s minds today, given the fact that the perennial teaching on the dogma has been compromised by confusion regarding the Magisterium. In other words, people think that, despite what was always taught and believed, the Church has changed her dogma to mean that non-Catholics can, after all, be saved in their false religions.

Other issues covered in the study of ecclesiology are the Church’s divine foundation, her hierarchy, her sacraments, her power to institute laws, what constitutes membership, and her authority in civil affairs. Besides the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus, some of the more pressing issues in ecclesiology today are all those questions which touch upon sedevacantism, i.e., the erroneous theory that Benedict XVI and perhaps four of his predecessors were not valid popes. (There are different sedevacantist theories on whether John XXIII was really the pope.)

As we pointed out in the last issue, the dominant perception in the world is that Vatican II changed Church teaching, practice, and the Church herself. In the progressive camp, this is affirmed gleefully. The only hope they have is that the changes will keep coming harder and faster. In the traditional or conservative camp (using these words very broadly), the reaction has varied greatly. The sedevacantists deny that Vatican II was a council at all, since it was convoked and promulgated by anti-popes. Conservatives (e.g., The Wanderer, CUF, et alia) have reacted to it by carefully pointing out (often rightly so) that the texts of Vatican II do not justify the extreme progressive agenda inflicted on the faithful “in the spirit of Vatican II.” But these same conservatives would go on to say that Vatican II itself was a good thing and had nothing in any way novel or harmful in its contents.

Between these two extremes in conservative / traditional thought is ours: Vatican II is the Twenty-First Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church, but it did not issue irreformable statements of dogma. Therefore, except where it merely reiterated what was already infallibly taught, its decrees are not irreformable or infallible. Logically, then, its documents can contain errors subject to correction by the Supreme Pontiff.

I will back up these statements briefly, but first, let me show why all this is related to the above piece about the controversy surrounding traditionalism in France. At the epicenter of this controversy is Father Philippe Laguérie, the superior of the newly founded Institute of the Good Shepherd. In a French traditionalist chat session on the Internet, Father Laguérie was asked if he had ever been a sedevacantist, as was rumored. He denied it, showing that his view of the Council is akin to our own:

“I have never been a sedevacantist. In 1979, the date of my ordination, the sedevacantist quarrel broke out in the Society. Not one of my confreres, I say again and again not one, in the Society had the means to respond theologically to this quarrel. The Dogma Professors at Ecône used to teach that the Universal Ordinary Magisterium was not infallible, or that it depended upon the consent of the Church whilst the First Vatican Council says exactly the contrary. Not having at the time the intellectual means to refute the sedevacantists, I took two years to study the question. In the end I concluded that the Universal Ordinary Magisterium is infallible but that Vatican II was not part of the Universal Ordinary Magisterium, even though Fr. Lucien, (the most brilliant theologian of the time) used to say it was. Since then I have never been of that [sedevacantist] mindset. What I detest about the sedevacantists is that they do not even dare to confess their own guilt.”

The reformable, non-infallible character of Vatican II was implictly approved by the Holy See when the officials said of Father Laguérie’s new community that, “The members of the institute may engage in a criticism of the Second Vatican Council that is serious and constructive…”

It’s no wonder the French clerics are up in arms. Whether or not the movement is a large one, the traditional revival they are facing threatens to undermine their pet novelties in a radical way.

Regarding the authority of the conciliar texts, there are many authoritative statements that back up the position I stated above. In a footnote to Lumen Gentium, the Theological Commission officially clarified that the Extraordinary Magisterium was not exercised at Vatican II, unless specifically stated:

“In view of the conciliar practice and the pastoral purpose of the present Council, this sacred Synod defines matters of faith and morals as binding on the Church only when the Synod itself openly declares so.” (Page 191 in the Daughters of St. Paul edition, The Sixteen Documents of Vatican II.)

After the Council, Pope Paul VI said it even more plainly:

“There are those who ask what authority, what theological qualification, the Council intended to give to its teachings, knowing that it avoided issuing solemn dogmatic definitions backed by the Church’s infallible teaching authority. The answer is known by those who remember the conciliar declaration of March 6, 1964, repeated on November 16, 1964. In view of the pastoral nature of the Council, it avoided proclaiming in an extraordinary manner any dogmas carrying the mark of infallibility.” (General Audience of January 12, 1966, my emphasis.)

If Vatican II is not part of the Extraordinary Magisterium or the (infallible) Ordinary and Universal Magisterium, then what is it? Going by present criteria, it would be considered of the “Authentic Magisterium,” or merely Ordinary Magisterium (go here to see explanations of this nomenclature). As such, it can be corrected by the Roman Pontiff.