Catholic Herald readers will probably have heard about a questionnaire sent from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to the bishops of the world, regarding the state of the Traditional Latin Mass. It comes 13 years after the promulgation of Benedict XVI’s motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum, which granted Latin Rite priests throughout the world the right to use the liturgical books St John XXIII promulgated in 1962.
The traditionalist website Rorate Caeli, apparently had the document first. “We cannot stifle the fear,” their writer said, “that it fits the type of surveys that are to deliver an already fabricated result.” True, any bureaucratic undertaking may be bent to ill. But there is little to suggest purpose of any sort in the document.
The questionnaire asks after things like Summorum’s influence in seminaries. Standard fare, in short, and bureaucrats’ bread and butter. The questions do assume, however, that bishops know what is doing in and about the traditional communities in their jurisdictions. That is anything but given.
There was some highly publicised foot-dragging and even a little obstructionism in Summorum’s implementation phase between 2007 and 2010, after which most bishops adopted a posture of salutary neglect. One effect of this survey may be, therefore, increased episcopal attention to traditional communities within their jurisdictions.
Bishops, in other words, may well be only dimly aware of traditional communities’ existence in their respective dioceses: where there is an increase in a bishop’s attention, the result will largely depend on those communities’ response to it.
One of the questions sets up a pretty stark dichotomy: between the Extraordinary Form serving “a true pastoral need” on the one hand, or whether it is rather “promoted by a single priest” on the other. If you have more than one guy using the ’62 books, the question itself suggests that the Ordinary ought to check the box marked “true pastoral need”.
There’s a good deal in the survey to suggest it was the result of hasty design. The whole business might remind one a little of an old diocesan survey of young people, which asked something like: “How many hours a day do you spend connected to the internet?” It took the folks designing the questionnaire some time to wrap their heads around the idea that the answer is, “All of them,” because everyone carries the whole bloomin’ internet around in his pocket.
The survey asks the bishops whether they use the ’62 books – personally is the implication – and whether the norms and conditions established by Summorum Pontificum are respected. (Are they going to say, “Nope?”) As it happens, quite a few bishops have celebrated – at least once – with the old books, and some do so for their TLM communities from time to time.
The survey also asks the bishops for their opinion: whether there are “positive and negative aspects” to Summorum Pontificum: a question whose usefulness sits somewhere on the spectrum between “What’s your favourite colour?” and “From your perspective, does the sun rise in the east?”
It makes one wonder whether the people in the CDF section that handles traditional communities were really consulted on the thing before it went out.
The questionnaire concludes with a request for bishops’ advice. Some of them will doubtless suggest that Summorum Pontificum be abrogated. A very, very few might go rather in the other direction. In the short term, the effect will be to end the salutary neglect that has been practiced in many dioceses – if not most – since the three-year implementation period ended in 2010.
Photo: John Aron
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