Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Controversy and Conciliation

Father John J. Lombardi

Dorothy Day, the 1960's peace-activist attended it. Ditto for Pope John Paul II who also celebrated it. And, oppositely, Archbishop Lefebvre of France was more recently excommunicated over it. What am I talking about? The Latin Tridentine Mass.

A couple weeks ago Pope Benedict XVI issued a "Motu Proprio" (administrative document) instituting liberal delegation for priests to celebrate this millennia-old Mass form of our Catholic Church.

Right now most people attend the "Mass of Pope Paul VI," otherwise known as the "Vatican II Mass," with language in the vernacular, varied response parts and different prayers other than the Tridentine Mass, which was promulgated by Pope St. Pius V on July 14, 1570, through the apostolic constitution Quo Primum. So, this Mass is not only 1500 years old but also a treasure and expression of Jesus and His Church and should not be taken, shaken, lightly!

It's probably safe to say some love the Tridentine Mass and many loathe it. Let's see why:

First, the twin purpose of Pope Benedict to make the Tridentine Mass more accessible, includes: to bring back an esteemed "form" or "rite' of the Church into practice, and to spread beauty, sacred silence, Latin prayers and theological language to our current Liturgical celebrations and ethos; and also to allow the more widespread, easier celebration of this Mass without undue "blocks"-if a reasonable number of people request it.

Now, as always, there are many "rites" or forms in the Catholic Church today of the Mass-from the Latin Rite you attend on Sunday-the most prominent in our Church, to Eastern Rites, including Ukranian, Syro-Malabar (prevalent in India), and many other "forms"

The current Mass of Pope Paul VI is considered the "ordinary expression" of the Law of the Church, and the Tridentine Mass is considered the "extraordinary expression" of the Church-"they are, in fact, two usages of the one Roman Rite". "The priest has no need for permission from the Apostolic See or from his ordinary (local bishop)". When "there is a stable group of faithful who adhere to the liturgical tradition, the pastor should willingly accept their request to celebrate the (Tridentine) Mass."

What are some views and interpretations of all this?

Pro's: (a) that we should restore a venerable, sacred rite of our Church which was celebrated for over 1500 years. As the Motu Proprio states, the Church has had to correct abuses of "creativity", "experimentation" and aberrations during the Liturgical reform of the 1970's; (b) to provide more diversity of celebration of the varied rites and forms of the Mass-which is our Tradition; (c) the Tridentine Mass influences other Mass forms with its beauty, sacredness, and will help those who love this Mass to attend; (d) it may reconcile those who were alienated by abuses in the wake of liturgical changes to come back to the Church.

Con's: (a) some may seek to separate from the Mass of Pope Paul VI; (b) sectarianism may develop which may not fully adhere to the reforms of Vatican II; (c) contemporary Catholics do not understand the language (Latin) prayers and theology of the Tridentine Rite; (d) many, including some bishops, are opposed for reasons just noted.

In our multi-cultural world-and Church!-there is great advantage to celebrating the Tridentine Rite. Many parishes throughout the world and USA celebrate it now with great success and inspiration. Some may see this as controversy, but many see it as conciliation-towards our Sacred Tradition and the Church today in celebrating diversity and divine ritual. We must all proceed with conversation, understanding and education, and promote Pope Benedict's cause of proclaiming Christ as Sacrificial Savior of the world especially thru the Mass. What do you think? What is your response?

One True Church of Jesus Christ?

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the highest teaching office of the Vatican-Catholic Church) recently issued a document noting the uniqueness of the Holy Catholic Church, and another "storm developed" - no surprise here.

A past document, "Dominus Iesus/The Lord Jesus" issued in 2000, by then Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI stated similar points and this current document is an elucidation of that document.

What are some of the teachings of this current document?

The Roman Catholic Church is the Church of Jesus Christ. The technical language states that the Church of Jesus Christ subsists ("subsistit in") in the Roman Catholic Church.

Other Christian denominations are not official "churches" theologically or canonically as there is only One Church of Jesus Christ.

Other (Protestant and Eastern) communities participate in helps to salvation but are not, in themselves, an embodiment of the fullness of Salvation manifested by Christ in the Roman Catholic Church.

This document is a help to us in re-defining ancient, oft-told teachings of the Bible, Church Councils and teachings of the Catholic Church and is, in fact, nothing new, although it is presented as such by media and others, usually in a negative light.

Vatican Council II (1962-1965) taught twin important realities: that we must work for reconciliation of Christian communities; and also that the fullness of salvation lies within the Catholic Church (see: "Lumen Gentium/The Light of Peoples"-Vatican II).

These teachings may be embarrassing to some - to progressivists - that One Church alone is the Church of Jesus Christ; to traditionalists - that we must work for reconciliation amidst rivalries. These teachings and nuances are un-negotiable and, in fact, needed.

The Vatican Congregation document stated: "Consequently although there is only one Church which 'subsits' in one unique historical subject (the Catholic Church) there are true ecclesial realties which exist beyond its visible boundaries." "Many elements of sanctification and of truth are to be found in other communities of Christ, albeit diversified…the document could not ignore the wound (defectus) which they suffer specifically in their being particular churches….they each claim an internal authority. This is obviously not compatible with the doctrine of Primacy which, according to the Catholic Faith, is 'an internal constitutive principle," and, that it is necessary to maintain and promote the Pope as visible head of the One Church of Christ.

Upshot: as the Vatican Document notes, we have a paradox-of admitting "true ecclesial realties" (of non-Catholic communities) which promote salvation and effect true sanctification, but, also that, historically (in the past) and currently, there is the Church of Christ fully in our Catholic Church. Like many things in life, this is a "balancing act" between maintaining, on the one hand, Christ's Life in the Catholic Church as unique and One; and, on the other, while recognizing the sanctification of other non-Roman Catholic communities, inspiring conversation and conversion.

Responses: Know and realize the teachings of the Catholic Church and just why they are so taught and nuanced. We must work for ecumenical relations with separated Christians and invite them to conversation and communion. We should pray, sacrifice and fast for union just as Christ prayed for unity to the Heavenly Father: "I pray for them…so that they all may be one…that they also be in Us" (Jn. 17:20-21). The Lord desires unity, not division, and this must be built upon Truth, the Bible and Sacred Tradition of the Lord's Church and guiding Holy Spirit;

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi