On July 16, 2021, the Holy Father, Pope Francis knocked the wind out of a tiny but faithful segment of the Church. His moto proprio, Traditionis Custodes, and its accompanying letter reversed the work of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum and harshly restricted the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass, otherwise known as the extraordinary form. One of the most troubling things about this is that the Pope accuses those attached to the extraordinary form as rejecting the Church since they do not prefer the Novus Ordo of Vatican II.
Whatever the extremist views on the validity of Vatican II is, this is not the majority of those who prefer the reverent and beautiful Mass of the ages. The accompanying letter states Francis made this decision because “the close connection between the choice of celebrations according to the liturgical books prior to Vatican Council II and the rejection of the Church and her institutions.” Thus, Article 3 of the moto proprio tasks each bishop to “determine that these groups do not deny the validity and the legitimacy of the liturgical reform, dictated by Vatican Council II and the Magisterium of the Supreme Pontiffs.”
That said, this argument is what I find a little troubling. It seems ever since the Second Vatican Council, all measure of Catholicity must come from the Council. The Council is now the procession of faith and one is not Catholic unless one adheres to all that the “Spirit of the Council” teaches. Proponents of the various Catholic innovations since the Council must be supported because the interpretations said so. The Magisterium as a whole seems to have lost hold on Catholicism. The word itself is rarely used except to say that Vatican II is part of the Magisterium. Now I understand that the Council was valid and its teachings should be given the respect and adherence as such. But what of the wild interpretations of the Council? What if some of those interpretations seem to go against what the Magisterium has taught for centuries? Is the “Spirit of Vatican II” the new Magisterium as of 1965?
This is easily displayed in this current controversy over the Mass today. Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC), the Vatican II document which calls for reforms in the Mass, is ignored in some major ways in some of today’s liturgical innovations. It clearly states that “sound tradition be retained” and that “there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them (23).” Specifically it calls for the continuation of the Latin language: “Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites (36. 1.).” It goes on to specify:
In Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their mother tongue. This is to apply in the first place to the readings and “the common prayer,” but also, as local conditions may warrant, to those parts which pertain to the people, according to the norm laid down in Art. 36 of this Constitution.SC, para. 54
Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.
With regards to music, it also intended to preserve Gregorian chant:
The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as sacred song united to the words, it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy.
Liturgical worship is given a more noble form when the divine offices are celebrated solemnly in song, with the assistance of sacred ministers and the active participation of the people.SC, 112-113
The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.SC, 116
In the Latin Church the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man’s mind to God and to higher things.SC, 120
SC does not address which way the priest faces and one can infer that it did not intend to make a permanent fixture of the Mass even though Inter Oecumenici (1964, 95) made it lawful. This is reinforced by the Roman Missal (RM) promulgated after Vatican II based on the Council’s reforms. The Order of the Mass says the priest is to be “facing the people” only on certain occasions. This means that he is not facing the people during the remainder of the Mass and should be facing ad orientem (toward the east).
Standing at the middle of the altar, facing the people, extending and then joining his hands, he says:RM, 29
The Priest, turned towards the people, extending and then joining his hands, adds:RM, 127
The Priest genuflects, takes the host and, holding it slightly raised above the paten or above the chalice, while facing the people, says aloud:RM, 132
So it is clear that the “Spirit of Vatican II” has moved from the expectations of the Council itself in some ways. If one were to look at the extraordinary form and the Novus Ordo, one would see the former is closer to the dictates of Vatican II than how the Novus Ordo is being celebrated today with the exception of the choice of readings. So I do not see the issues with preference for the TLM or other variants which more closely hold to the actual teachings of Vatican II. I do not see the need for painful crushing of the hearts of those who have grown to love the pre-reform Mass.
Back to the troubling nature of the “Spirit of Vatican II” versus the Magisterium. Are we not a Church of eternal truths? Do we not profess the same unalterable and inalienable faith in the Creed? Is that not the litmus test of Catholicism and is that not professed in both forms of the Liturgy? Were there Catholics of Trent, Catholics of Nicaea, or Catholics of Vatican I? Will there be Catholics of Vatican III, IV, or XX?
This is a dangerous precedent in my eyes. It moves the focal point of Catholic faith from the Magisterium, formed naturally from consistent truth over centuries, to a single element of the Church which may contribute to the Magisterium in accordance with God’s Providence. A council which God’s omniscience may ignore with the passage of time like the many councils which, regardless of their validity, failed to impart wisdom to the Magisterium, and are known only to Church historians.
This is the fear of those heavy handed ideologues who pedal the “Spirit of Vatican II” while ignoring its words. They see the tragic state of the Church in every metric studied, their ideal vision fading with it, and lash out. The “Spirit of Vatican II” has been an abysmal failure. They are jealous of the shining and vibrant growth that is found in the pews of traditional parishes.
But they ignore the wisdom of Gamaliel who warned the Sanhedrin of acting against the Apostles, “let them alone; for if this council or this work be of men, it will come to nought; But if it be of God, you cannot overthrow it, lest perhaps you be found even to fight against God (Acts 5:38-39, DRC1752).” I pray this is that gasp of a failing utopianism and thank the Lord! For the testing of His Church will bring strength, authentic doctrinal development, and unity. The truth of the Eucharist will be proclaimed by a reverent Mass and those who love the Church, Her faithful Magisterium, and Her tradition filled Mass will not ignore Gamaliel. They know the instrument of salvation is the Catholic Church and will hold firm to Her. They will wait out the latest works of men for it will come to nought.
A Thanksgiving Prayer
Lord, God Almighty, You have found it fitting to use the Holy Father to render a chastisement upon Your Church. A test of faith and unity for Your sheep in a sorrow filled age.
I thank You, Lord for this moment of suffering. May it bring patience, perseverance, perfection, and hope to Your sheep. May it strengthen our bonds to You and Your Church. And may it bring light to a dark, dark age! For we are creatures, made from You, the Almighty Father who gave Your only son, Jesus Christ, for our salvation. The Beloved Son asked of us one thing for Himself, remember Him. This memorial Mass mystically joins Heaven and earth and makes us present at Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. We alone are not able to offer worthy praise, glory, and sacrifice to repay the love You and Jesus displayed so the Spirit brings forth the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ to nourish us. The more reverent, beautiful, pomp, and unworldly our memorial Mass is, the more honored is our Savior! Amen.