DAILY CATHOLIC     WEDNESDAY     November 4, 1998     vol. 9, no. 216

from a CATHOLIC perspective

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          VATICAN CITY, NOV 2 (ZENIT) - "In a spirit of fraternity I invite all bishops to understanding and renewed pastoral care of those faithful who are dedicated to the old rite and, on the threshold of the third millennium, to help all Catholics to live the celebration of the Sacred Mysteries with deep devotion which will be food for their spiritual life and a source of peace." With these words John Paul II ended his talk to the pilgrims who had come to Rome for the tenth anniversary of the creation of the "Ecclesia Dei" commission, and the tenth anniversary of the foundation of Saint Peter's Fraternity for Priests.

          The group of some 3,000 faithful devoted to the old rite were in the Eternal City last weekend -- some coming from as far as Australia and New Zealand -- to hear Cardinal Ratzinger speak on the old Mass, to attend a solemn pontifical Mass according to the old rite, and to hear the Holy Father's address in Saint Peter's Square.

          As a result of the episcopal consecrations carried out by French Bishop Marcel Lefebvre without a mandate from the Holy See, on July 2, 1988, Pope John Paul II published a "motu propio" in which he declared the act to be schismatic. In the same document -- entitled Ecclesia Dei -- the Pope opened his arms to embrace all the faithful, anxious to receive the sacraments according to the rituals prescribed by Pope John XXIII in 1962, and not willing to accept the rupture, but wishing to continue united to the Church under papal authority.

          On that occasion, the Holy Father said, "I want to tell all the Catholic faithful who are attached to some of the previous liturgical and disciplinary norms of the Latin tradition, my desire to facilitate their ecclesiastical communion, by taking the necessary measures which guarantee the respect of their legitimate aspirations."

          And, the Pope added, "In this matter I request the support of the bishops and all those involved in the pastoral ministry of the Church."

          Since then, the road has not been easy. Over the past ten years, some fifteen institutions have joined "Ecclesia Dei," the majority of which have been established after the Lefebvrist rupture.

          "The variety of communities which have arisen thanks to this pontifical text -- Cardinal Ratzinger said -- have given the Church a great number of priestly and religious vocations which, full of zeal, joy, and profound union with the Pope, serve the Gospel at this time in history in which we live. Because of them, many of the faithful have been confirmed in the joy of being able to live the liturgy and in their love for the Church or have found both things thanks to them. In quite a few dioceses their number is significant; they serve the Church in cooperation with the bishops and in fraternal relation with the faithful. All of this can only make us deeply grateful."

          The program of celebration of these ten years was brief. On Saturday the 24th, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger gave an address, which was preceded by a Mass officiated by Cardinal Stickler, who concelebrated with Dom Gerard, Abbot of the Benedictine Monastery of Saint Magdalen; and attended by, among others, Michael Davies, president of the International Association "One Voice;" and German philosopher, Dr. Robert Spaeman.

          The Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith began his address with an evaluation: "Following the publication of the motu propio "Ecclesia Dei," What assessment can be made? Above all, it is an occasion for thanksgiving. But -- he added -- it would be unrealistic not to mention the less positive aspects. The difficulties continue to multiply because, bishops as well as priests and faithful, regard devotion to the old liturgy as an element of division which does nothing but disturb the ecclesiastical community, giving way to suspicions about a conditional acceptance of Vatican Council II and to obedience to the legitimate pastors of the Church."

          Ratzinger made immediate reply to these objections. "It is quite easy to refute these arguments." He pointed out that the Council did not reform the liturgical books in themselves, it only requested a 'revision' and, to this end, it gave some fundamental regulations. The Cardinal said that what must be avoided is creating an opposition between the two forms of Roman liturgy (that of Paul VI and the preceding one), as both are sources of wealth in the life of the Church. Instead there must be obedience, in both rites, to the essential regulations of the Constitution on the liturgy, as they are the criteria by which liturgical celebrations must be judged, be they according to the new books or the older ones."

          "It is good to remember -- he added -- what Cardinal Newman said: in all her history the Church has never wanted to prohibit a form of orthodox liturgy, something which would be absolutely foreign to the spirit of the Church."

          The Cardinal did not want to evade the thorny problem of the practical application of the liturgy. "The free space which the 'Novus ordo Missae' leaves for creativity in the liturgy is, often, excessively broadened. The difference in the liturgy according to the new books, as it is practiced in fact in many places, is often greater than the difference between the new and the old liturgy, when both are celebrated according to the prescribed liturgical books."

          Ratzinger did not want to minimize the dangers threatening the old celebration (passivity on the part of the faithful), but also the new (to minimize the sacrificial character of the Mass by emphasizing unilaterally the character of assembly). The Prefect revealed that, the abuses notwithstanding, there is a return to the Mystery, to adoration, to the sacred and eschatological in the liturgical celebration. He ended his address by stating that different spiritual endeavors will continue to

          exist, not in opposition but, rather, as riches which belong to the one and only Catholic faith and he wished that the bishops would not regard the practice of the old liturgy as an obstacle or a rupture of the unity of the diocese, but rather as a gift destined to build the body of Christ, of which we are all servants.

          After the Cardinal's talk, there were other speakers and, at the end, Ratzinger intervened with some practical evaluations. He said that in order to have the right to receive the sacraments according to the ritual of 1962 without any obstacles, we must certainly find a stronger position on the part of "Ecclesia Dei." We must look for judicial solutions, but we must also find ways to be better understood by the bishops, because the bishops can also be very hard or, as has been said, sometimes they abuse their discretionary power, and they do not respect the rights of the faithful. They are not persons of ill will; it is the cultural and spiritual situation, a certain kind of education, a certain formation of the spirit which does not allow them to understand properly the reason why, and the need to open the doors to the celebration of the old rite. They have a formation which sees it immediately as a threat to unity, especially against the ecumenical Council, which has the right to be accepted with obedience on the part of the faithful. With this mentality and education (not only in the bishops but in a great part of the laity) it is almost impossible to accept judicial measures without proper preparation. This is the profound reason why the Holy Father delays in giving new judicial measures, because he see the difficulties they have in understanding that it is not against the Council or against unity. Difficulties which are not born from bad faith, but from inadequate formation. He is convinced that we must do everything possible to train a new generation of prelates. It is not an attack on the Council but, rather, a more faithful implementation.

          The finishing touch to these sessions was the meeting with the Holy Father in the huge Vatican piazza. The Roman Pontiff greeted the pilgrims affectionately and focused on the mission of the Church as entrusted by Christ. The Pope reaffirmed the principle of liturgical reform of his predecessor Paul VI and he also repeated that the Church gives a sign of understanding to the persons "devoted to certain liturgical forms and disciplines from the past." He appealed for commitment in the spirit of Vatican Council II, in full harmony with Tradition, with an end to unity and charity and fidelity to Truth.

Nov 4, 1998       volume 9, no. 216


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