Ten years after the publication of the Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei how does the account stand? Above all, I think it is an opportunity to show our gratitude and give thanks. The different communities born from this pontifical document, have given the Church a great number of priestly and religious vocations, zealous, joyful and profoundly united to the Pope, to serve the Gospel at this era in history, our era. Through them many faithful have been confirmed in their joy to be able to live the liturgy and in their love for the Church where may be they have found the two. In several dioceses -and their number is not so small- they serve the Church in collaboration with the Bishops and in a brotherly way with the faithful who feel at home in the renewed form of the new liturgy. All this cannot but urge us to gratitude today!
To wish to pass over in silence the less good things would, however, not be very realistic. In many places difficulties persist and continue to persist, because bishops as well as priests and faithful consider this attachment to the ancient liturgy an element of division, which only troubles the ecclesial community and gives rise to suspicions about a conditional acceptance of the Council and more generally suspicion about obedience to the legitimate Pastors of the Church.
We must now ask the following question: how can these difficulties be overcome? How can one build the necessary confidence so that these groups and communities which love the ancient liturgy may be able to be integrated peacefully into the life of the Church? But there is another question underlying the first: What is the deep reason for this scorn or even refusal of the continuation of the ancient liturgical forms?
In this matter certainly, it is possible that reasons exist anterior to any theology -reasons which originate in the characters of individuals, which originate in the opposition of different characters or originate even other completely external circumstances. It is certain, however, that there are also more profound reasons which explain these problems.
The two most often heard are the lack of obedience to the Council which reformed the liturgical books and the rupturing of unity which must necessarily follow, if one allows other different liturgical forms to continue. It is relatively easy to refute in theory these two arguments. The Council itself did not reform the liturgical books but rather ordered their revision. To that end it laid down some fundamental rules.
Primarily the Council defined what liturgy is and this definition gives valid criteria for every liturgical celebration. If one wishes to scorn these essential rules and to put aside the normae generales which are bound at numbers 34 to 36 of the Constitution “De Sacra Liturgia“, then one violates obedience to the Council! One must judge liturgical celebrations, whether they be according to the old or the new liturgical books, based on these criteria. It is good to remember here what Cardinal Newman realized when he said that the Church in all her history has never abolished or defended orthodox liturgical forms (forms which express the true faith) which would be totally foreign, to the spirit of the Church.
An orthodox liturgy (a liturgy which expounds the true faith) is never a compilation drawn up according to the pragmatic criteria of diverse ceremonies, of which one can dispose positively and arbitrarily, this way today, that way tomorrow. The orthodox forms of a rite are living realities, born of the dialogue of love between the Church and Her Lord. They are the expressions of the life of the Church where the faith, the prayer and the very life of generations is condensed and where at same time the action of God and the response of man is enfleshed in a concrete form. If the subject which has borne certain rites historically disappears or if the subject is transplanted into another environment, these rites can perish. The authority of The Church can define and limit the use of rites in different historical situations. She never forbids them purely and simply! The Council, therefore, ordered a reform of the liturgical books but it never forbade the previous books. The criterion which the Council enunciated is both vaster and more demanding. It invites everyone to self-criticism! We will return to this point.
One must examine the other argument which pretends that the existence of two rites can fracture unity. One must distinguish, here, the theological from the practical side of the question. Theologically and fundamentally one has to realize that several forms of the Latin Rite have always existed and that they retreated but slowly only as Europe was unified. Up to the Council, there existed along side the Roman Rite, the Ambrosian Rite, the Mozarabic Rite of Toledo, the Rite of Braga, the Rite of the Carthusians and the Carmelites and the best know the Dominican Rite; and perhaps other ones which I do not know. Nobody was ever scandalized that the Dominicans, often when present in parishes, did not celebrate like parish priests but rather had their own rite. We had no doubt that their rite was both Catholic and Roman. We were proud of the richness of having several rites. The free space which the new order of Mass gives to creativity it must be admitted, is often excessively enlarged. The difference between the Iiturgy with the new liturgical books, as it is actually practiced and celebrated in various places is often much greater than the difference between the old and new liturgies when celebrated according to the rubrics of the liturgical books.
An average Christian without special liturgical formation would be hard pressed to distinguish a Sung Mass in Latin according to the Old Missal from a Sung Mass in Latin celebrated according to the New Missal. The difference, by contrast, can be enormous between a liturgy faithfully celebrated according to the Missal of Paul VI and the concrete forms and celebrations in the vernacular with all the possible freedom and creativity! With these considerations we have already crossed the threshold between theory and practice where matters are naturally more complex since the question of human relationships arises.
The alarm of which we have spoken is so great, I think, because one is contrasting two forms of celebration with two different spiritual outlooks. One is contrasting two different ways of perceiving the Church and Christian existence. The reasons for this are several. Firstly, one judges the two liturgical forms by their exterior elements and arrives at the conclusion that there are two fundamentally different outlooks. That the new liturgy be celebrated in the vernacular, facing the congregation and that there be great leeway for creativity and the active exercise of roles by the laity, is considered essential by the average Christian. On the other hand, it is deemed essential that the old liturgy be in Latin, the priest face the altar, that the rite be strictly controlled and that the faithful follow the Mass by praying privately without having an active role. From this view appearances and not what the liturgy itself considers important, are essential for a liturgy. One must realize that the faithful understand the liturgy from visible concrete forms and that they are spiritually impregnated by them and that the faithful do not penetrate easily the depths of the liturgy.
The contradictions and oppositions which we have enumerated do not come from either the spirit or the letter of the Council documents. The Constitution on the Liturgy itself does not mention at all celebration facing the altar or the congregation. On the matter of language, it says that Latin must be conserved while at the same time giving the vernacular a larger role, “especially in the readings, the directives and in some prayers and chants” (SC 36:2). As to lay participation, the Council insists firstly and generally, that the liturgy is essentially the business of the entire Body of Christ, Head and members, and so it belongs to the entire Body of the Church “and it is consequently intended to be celebrated in community with the active participation of the faithful.” And the text makes clear that “in liturgical celebrations, everyone one, minister or faithful, in fulfilling his function, does only and fully what belongs to him by virtue of the matter and the liturgical norms” (SC 28). “To promote active participation, one will encourage the acclamations of the people, their responses, the chant of the psalms, antiphons, canticles and other actions and gestures and bodily positions. One will observe a holy silence in its time” (SC 30).
Here then are, the Council directives. They can give everyone matter for reflection. There is unfortunately a tendency, amongst some modern liturgists, to develop the ideas of the Council in one direction. One overturns the intentions of the Council, acting in this way. The role of the priest is reduced by some to the purely functional. The fact that the entire Body of Christ is the subject of the liturgy is often deformed to the point where the local community becomes the self-sufficient subject of the liturgy and it allots the various roles. There also exists a dangerous tendency to minimalise the sacrificial nature of the Mass and to make the mystery and the sacred disappear under the so-called imperative pretext of making oneself more easily understood. Finally, one notices the tendency to fragment the liturgy and the unilateral emphasizing of its communitarian character by giving the assembly the power to decide about the celebration.
Happily, however, there is a certain disgust for a rationalism full of banality and the pragmatism of certain theoretical and practical liturgists. One notices a return to mystery, and to adoration and the sacred, and to the cosmic and eschatological nature of the liturgy. To this, the Oxford Declaration on the Liturgy of 1996 bears witnesses. On the other hand one has to admit that the celebration of the ancient liturgy was too lost in the realm of the individual and the private. One must admit that the communion between the priest and the faithful was lacking. I have great respect for our ancestors who during the Low Mass, said the prayers “during Mass” which their prayer book recommended. Certainly one cannot consider that as the ideal of the liturgical celebration! Perhaps, these reduced forms of celebration are the fundamental reason why the disappearance of the ancient liturgical books had no importance in many countries and caused no pain, There was never any contact with the liturgy itself. On the other hand, where the liturgical movement had created a certain love for the liturgy, where this movement anticipated the essential ideals of the Council -for example the prayerful participation of all at the liturgical action- there was a greater pain at the liturgical reform undertaken too much in haste and limiting itself often to externals. Where the liturgical movement never existed the reform did not -it first pose a problem. The problems arose in a spasmodic way where a wild creativity made the sacred mystery disappear.
This is why it is so important to obey the essential criteria of the Constitution on the Liturgy, which I cited above, even if one celebrates according to the Ancient Missal. At the moment when this liturgy truly touches the faithful by its beauty and depth, then it will be alive and there will be no irreconcilable opposition with the new liturgy -provided that these criteria are truly applied as the Council wished.
Different spiritual and theological emphases will continue to exist, but they will no longer be two opposing ways to be Christian . They will be, rather, the riches which belong to the same unique Catholic faith. When someone proposed, some years ago, “a new liturgical movement”. lest the two forms of the liturgy distance themselves too much from each other and in order to show their intimate convergence, some friends of the ancient liturgy expressed their fear that this was none other than a strategy or ruse to eliminate, at last and completely, the ancient liturgy.
Such fears and anxieties must stop! If the unity of the faith and the unicity of the mystery appear clearly in the two forms of celebration, this can only be a reason for all to rejoice and thank God. In so far as we believe, live and act on these motives, we can also persuade the bishops that the presence of the ancient liturgy does not disorder or injure the unity of their diocese, but rather it is a gift destined to build up the Body of Christ of which we are all servants.
So my dear friends I would like to encourage you not to loose patience – to remain confident- and to exercise in the liturgy the necessary courage to bear witness for the Lord in our times.
Joseph, Cardinal Ratzinger
Prefect, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith