The tenth anniversary of Summorum Pontificum – Pope Benedict XVI’s statute which granted priests the liberty to celebrate the “old Latin Mass”, now known as the Extraordinary Form (EF) – passed on July 7 as one would have expected. Traditional Catholics attracted to the EF were grateful for the more liberating posture of liturgical law and spoke, as they customarily do, about how the wider offering of the EF had a salutary effect on how the Novus Ordo, or Ordinary Form (OF), is celebrated.
The anniversary, though, did include an unexpected note from a most authoritative source. Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, marked the anniversary with an article in La Nef, a French publication. Not available online, it has been reported on in English by the Tablet.
Cardinal Sarah wrote in favour of the “mutual enrichment” of the two forms of the Roman Rite, a phrase of Benedict XVI’s arguing that both forms have riches that would enhance the other if incorporated.
Over the past 10 years, this has been interpreted in EF circles in a mostly unilateral way: the OF ought to adapt the practices of the EF. Cardinal Sarah is certainly in favour of this – he has argued in the past for ad orientem celebration of the OF, greater use of Latin, and more periods of silence, including some of the priestly prayers. In La Nef, he goes further, recommending that Holy Communion be received kneeling and on the tongue; that the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar be restored at the beginning of Mass; and that the priests keep united after the consecration those fingers which have touched the sacred species.
All of which is music to the ears of those devoted to the EF. But the key concept Cardinal Sarah advanced may sound a challenge too. Sarah suggested that the expression “reform of the reform” be abandoned precisely because it has a unilateral connotation – the Novus Ordo ought to be enriched by the traditional liturgy only.
“ ‘Reform of the reform’ has become synonymous with dominance of one clan over the other,” the cardinal wrote in French. “This expression may then become inappropriate, so I prefer to speak of liturgical reconciliation. In the Church, the Christian has no opponent!”
Reconciliation means movement from both “clans”, as it were. That is likely to encounter opposition from some, perhaps many, traditionalist quarters.
Sarah proposes that efforts be made to have a shared calendar and a shared lectionary, so that both the EF and OF would celebrate more feasts together and have the same Scripture readings at Mass.
That poses a twofold challenge. First, it requires the EF community to acknowledge that some aspects of the OF, particularly its reformed calendar and its lectionary – which includes far more Scripture than the EF one – are actual improvements and possible enrichments for the EF.
There are certainly some in the EF community who are happy to acknowledge this and would be pleased to see a shared calendar and lectionary. But others, not an insignificant part, consider the entire OF to be an impoverishment with little, if anything, enriching to offer. In the background, of course, is the Society of St Pius X, which would be deeply suspicious of any talk of changing the EF Roman Missal, 1962 edition.
For example, EF devotees often speak about the simplified OF calendar as being too banal – “Ordinary Time” instead of Sundays after Pentecost – and consider it a mistake to have abandoned Passiontide and the octave of Pentecost. They are right about that, but thinning out the number of feast days of obscure saints and incorporating the more recently canonised is more controversial.
A shared lectionary would require a shared Sunday calendar at least, which could not be achieved without significant changes in both the current EF and OF calendars. And while there is wide consensus that the OF lectionary is superior, it is not universal, and any move towards it would encounter stiff opposition. Sarah knows of such positions, and warns us against treating the EF as a “museum object” locked forever in 1962.
Moving towards Cardinal Sarah’s vision begins, though, not with practicalities but with a change of heart. That is likely why he chose the term “reconciliation”. Reconciliation requires a change of heart, a willingness to see the good in the other, and an openness to make things different in order to accommodate that good.
For the 10 years since Summorum Pontificum, those who prefer the EF have expected such an attitude from the OF. Cardinal Sarah now suggests that it is required of both clans, united in one Church, around one altar.
Fr Raymond J de Souza is a priest of the Archdiocese of Kingston, Ontario, and editor-in-chief of Convivium.ca
This article first appeared in the July 21 2017 issue of the Catholic Herald. To read the magazine in full, from anywhere in the world, go here