Further Restrictions on Traditional Rites Coming? The Old versus the New Roman Rite of Baptism

Edward Pentin is the journalist to follow — if you’re forced to follow only one journalist — on the matter of Traditionis Custodes and its implementation. The well informed British journalist has recently written a couple of articles that speculate that the severe, unreasonable, and some say uncanonical restrictions on tradition that have emanated from the Vicariate of Rome may be a “test balloon” to see just how far a radical implementation of Traditionis Custodes might go. There is a lot to these articles, and I recommend them both to readers: Archbishop Roche and Cardinal Braz de Aviz Refuse to Be Drawn on ‘Traditionis Custodes’ Application Document and Traditional Catholics Sound Alarm As Rome Suppresses Most Old Rite Sacraments.

I would like to quote from the latter and tell an anecdote of my own regarding the traditional versus the new rite of Baptism:

Referring to the traditional rite of baptism as an example, they contended that the old rite conveys more clearly truths of the faith such as the reality of Satan, the need to be cleansed of original sin, and the call to holiness (it has stronger and more repeated exorcisms, they argued, and the use of exorcised salt). They also said it imparts additional graces as its extra prayers each call down graces from God and the entire rite is more sacred and solemn.

Father Claude Barthe, an expert author on the traditional liturgy and priest of the Diocese of Fréjus-Toulon in France, said he believed the doctrinal message conveyed by the modern baptismal rite is “clearly weaker in at least one respect: the aspect of fighting the devil, which so strongly characterizes the traditional form of baptism, and is practically blurred.”

Msgr. Charles Pope, dean and pastor in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC and a Register contributor, agreed “to some degree” with the priests and Father Barthe on the baptismal rite. But he hesitated to describe the new baptismal rite as “weaker” as the Sacraments have power ex opere operato (“from the work performed”). He preferred to speak, as St. Thomas Aquinas did, of the “fruitfulness” of the rite.

When I was at Holy Apostles in the early 1990’s, one of the most beloved faculty members was the brilliant, eccentric, and much abused Benedictine monk, Father William G. Heidt, O.S.B. This somewhat whitewashed bio gives an idea of his accomplishments — amusingly noting that he was “less than enthusiastic about certain liturgical changes introduced after the Council.” The author is more frank when he correctly notes that “He could not accept some of the new approaches in biblical interpretation….” I witnessed both of these aversions when I joined some of my friends one day who were enrolled in one of Father Heidt’s classes (I never had him for any classes, though I did have one or two late-night refectory colloquies with him that I greatly valued, and one or two consultations with him in his stuffy, book-full room).

In the class I audited, Father Heidt went on one of his famous tangents. It was, as some of my students might describe it, “epic.” In this class, part of a Scriptural course on the Old Testament (if memory serves me), he mentioned the Hebrew word נָחָשׁ nachash, which means serpent or viper. It’s the word that Moses uses in Genesis 3 to speak of Eve’s tempter. Here is where the tangent began. As I recall it, Father asked the rhetorical question, completely out of the blue, “What’s wrong with the New Rite of Baptism?” — which he proceeded to answer by saying that it fails to mention the nachash, as if we somehow no longer want to offend him. I wish I could quote him accurately, but I will simply say that Father Heidt’s words critiquing the new rite of Baptism in light of the traditional rite were amazingly harsh and categorical. The “Trads” in the class were amazed that nobody else seemed to notice the full force of what was being said. We were trying not to nudge each other to death as Father Heidt kept speaking these words that delighted us.

I could not help but remember this episode when reading Father Barthe’s and Monsignor Pope’s words on the subject, as related by Edward Pentin. Father Heidt would have pulled no punches had Pentin been able to interview him. His frankness got him in trouble.

One last recollection of Father Heidt while I’m at it. It is not unrelated to the subject of Baptism. There was a controversy over extra ecclesiam nulla salus at Holy Apostles while I was there. Seminarians were asking various professors their take on the question. During one of his classes, someone asked Father Heidt what he thought. As a friend related to me, Father Heidt affirmed categorically that there is no salvation outside the Church. When one student asked, “But didn’t Father Feeney get excommunicated for saying that?”, Father Heidt responded, “If you’re going to excommunicate Leonard Feeney for teaching ‘no salvation outside the Church,’ you may as well excommunicate the Apostles. That’s exactly what they believed.”

End of class discussion.

Needless to say, I cherish the very limited time I had with this gifted, intelligent, lovable, orthodox, and much abused monk.