In a homily preached on 18 July 2021 at the Monastère Saint-Benoît, liturgical scholar Dom Alcuin Reid offers both a reflection on the place of the traditional Latin Mass in the unity of the Church, and a description of how his monastery will respond to Francis’s Traditionis Custodes. He asked us to highlight his call to offer a votive Masses pro Ecclesiæ unitate.
Our Holy Father Pope Francis has, last Friday, enacted legislation in respect of the usus antiquior of the Roman rite — the more ancient form of the liturgy — in the light of his grave concerns that its celebration has endangered the unity of the Church and fostered division within it, including a rejection of the legitimacy of the Second Vatican Council and of the Magisterium of the popes following it. These are grave concerns, and any pope is right to address them when he believes they exist.
The service of the unity of the Church is one of the particular duties of the Petrine ministry for which each pope must answer before Almighty God on the day of judgement. It is beholden to us, therefore, as faithful Catholics, to take his concerns very seriously indeed.
The Church teaches that her unity comes through our each being immersed in the life of the Blessed Trinity — the principalis Unitas of our Saturday Vesper hymn — through baptism in Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is Himself the principle of the Church’s unity (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 813).
She also teaches that the Church’s unity embraces “a great diversity”, the “great richness” of which, “is not opposed to the Church’s unity” (CCC 814). The bonds of this unity are “the profession of one faith received from the apostles”, the “common celebration of divine worship”, and the “apostolic succession through the sacrament of Holy Orders, maintaining the fraternal concord of God’s family.” (CCC 815).
In respect of the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, unity in diversity has been the norm for the Church since her beginning, with Eastern and Western liturgical rites growing up from Apostolic times. In in the (relatively recent) centralisation of liturgical matters in the West following the Council of Trent, different uses of the Roman rite (Lyon, Braga, the religious orders) and even whole rites (Ambrosian, Mozarabic) have been seen as rich expressions of the legitimate diversity that is possible within the One True Church of Christ.
In 2007 Pope Benedict XVI established that the usus antiquior of the Roman rite — which was never abrogated — rightly takes its place in this unity in diversity, and a generation of Catholics have now grown up in that light.
It is certainly true that some of our brethren have — very noisily — adopted some of the sectarian and divisive positions about which the Holy Father is so rightly concerned. I sought to address some of these issues, and others also, in our most recent newsletter.
For those who celebrate the usus antiquior have no excuse to perpetuate division and strife in the Church. Our Christian lives must be exemplary, each according to our particular vocation.
So too, we have no business other than to affirm the Second Vatican Council as a legitimate Ecumenical Council of the Church and to hold as true that which any Ecumenical Council, including the most recent one, defines to be a matter of faith.
The authoritative disciplinary decisions of a Council and the prudential judgements they contain, however, are not themselves articles of faith that are included in the profession of faith required of those being received into full communion with the Church: “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God” (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, n. 491).
For example, one could hold the opinion that the Second Vatican Council’s call for full, conscious, actual and fruitful participation in the Sacred Liturgy in her Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (cf. n. 14), which echoed the same call made by St Pius X in 1903 in Tra le sollecitudine and by the liturgical movement of the first half of the twentieth century, was a bad call and that it should not have done so, and still remain a Catholic in good standing. This is a prudential judgement of the Council, not a doctrine of the faith.
I hasten to add that in my considered opinion, and in my scholarly and pastoral judgement, such a position would be downright stupid, unhelpful, and indeed destructive of what is one of the soundest liturgical principles enunciated in the twentieth century. Our Holy Father’s letter last Friday underlines its importance. We must, however, be clear that it is possible to disagree on matters such as this within the unity of the Church and in the liberty which we each enjoy within her.
Our Holy Father has, seemingly, decided that the usus antiquior of the Roman rite no longer rightly has any place in the unity in diversity that is the life of worship of the Catholic Church. The reasons he gives are, as mentioned above, very grave indeed. Where these aberrations exist, they must rightly be corrected.
However, it must be said plainly that the usus antiquior of the Roman rite as it is celebrated and lived in many if not most communities throughout the world is by no means coterminous with the errors which our Holy Father seeks to correct.
On the contrary, as it has been my privilege to experience many times and in many countries, and as I wrote in our summer newsletter, full, conscious, actual and fruitful participation in these rites flourishes in these communities, particularly amongst the young. I encourage those who doubt this to visit them and to immerse themselves in their life with open hearts and minds.
The reality they will discover is one of faith, beauty, and joy — something of which the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council (and indeed, which its peritus-become-pope) would be proud. I invite those who wish, to do so here, as our guests.
In this context, the command to discard the riches of the usus antiquior — about which Pope Benedict wrote so eloquently in 2007 (in his letter accompanying Summorum Pontificum) — is disconsonant. In stating that “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful,” Pope Benedict articulated a truth that is no less true for the passing of a mere fourteen years.
A son who is disobedient or worse will, howsoever grudgingly, accept rebuke and just punishment. But when a father coldly commands his son, under obedience, immediately to commit suicide, he must and shall rightly be disobeyed. Should an enraged father lunge at his son with a knife in order to sever his arteries, he must be resisted with means that are proportionate to the danger posed.
Our bishop, our Father in God, whom as the Holy Father reminds us is the “visible principle and foundation of unity” of this particular Church, and to whom he assigns the “exclusive competence” to authorise the usus antiquior in his diocese, would do neither. Our Bishop knows perhaps more than many how the usus antiquior rightly takes its place in the unity in diversity of the Church, and of the substantial spiritual and pastoral fruits that flow from respecting this reality.
Our little monastery was established because our bishop desired it as a valuable enrichment for his diocese. He will not uproot the vine he has planted. The monastery lives and grows in hierarchical communion with him and through him with the bishop of Rome.
Our community is resolved to pursue its vocation of seeking God through a life or prayer and work according to the Rule of Saint Benedict within that unity, and we are confident that our Father in God understands and shall respect and protect the integrity of our life. If we are able to observe the fidelity, charity and patience of which I have recently written, our life shall bear much fruit here, now and in the future.
The fact remains that these are difficult times and that we may see some turbulence in the life and unity of the Church as a result of this new legislation. Because of this I have decided that the monastery, henceforth, each Friday where it is liturgically possible, shall offer a votive Mass pro Ecclesiæ unitate. The first shall be on Friday of this week. I invite you to be present, or if that is not possible, I encourage you to pray some of the prayers of this ancient and beautiful Mass.
I encourage others to take up this initiative: our first recourse must be to that liturgical worship and adoration of the Blessed Trinity which is the fundament of all prayer. So too I invite you with us to offer your Friday fasting and penance for this intention.
So too, we must continue our work build up this House of God as an oasis of liturgical integrity and peace amidst the thorns of the world for those who wish to serve the Lord here as monks, and for those who wish, in different ways, to participate in our life regularly or from time to time. As heretofore, we rely on the kindness and generosity of our extended monastic family and friends for the material support necessary to achieve this — a support that is perhaps now all the more urgent.
Saint Benedict instructs his sons that “nothing is to be put before the work of God” (Rule, ch. 43). My friends, we shall never cease to be faithful to that injunction in our celebration of the daily round of the Sacred Liturgy as beautifully and as richly as we are able, in hierarchical communion with our Bishop and through him with the Successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.
We shall continue to pray and work for the unity of the Church in our times and, please God, shall be an instrument of reconciliation for those whose communion with her is somehow impaired. We shall witness to the ongoing pastoral and evangelical value of the liturgical “riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer,” and of the reality that it is possible, right and good — indeed necessary — “to give them their proper place” in the unity of the Church today (cf. Benedict Letter).
We place these aspirations at the foot of this altar in this Mass. We beg the intercession of the saints in winning for us the grace of perseverance unto the end. And we ask your prayers and your practical help in achieving them, for the Glory of Almighty God and the salvation of souls.
For more on this subject, see Alcuin Reid’s What Benedict XVI thought about liturgical change from 2005 and Summorum Pontificum a restoration from 2007; Peter Wolfgang’s Twelve quick thoughts on Pope Francis dropping his long-expected bomb; David Mills’ Free the Latin Mass (written before Francis’s ruling); CNA’s Cardinal Müller critiques Pope Francis; Robert P. George’s Francis could do what he did; and Msgr Eric Barr’s Four Reasons Francis had to restrict the traditional Latin Mass.
Dom Alcuin Reid is the prior of the Monastère Saint-Benoît and the author of The Organic Development of the Liturgy, for which then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote the preface. The homily can be read in French as well as English here. Readers interested in the monastery and its work can subscribe to its newsletter (scroll down).
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