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July 26, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — In explaining Pope Francis’ decision to restrict the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass, Fr. Thomas Reese SJ — the former editor-in-chief of the Jesuit America magazine — claimed that some people who attend it are objectional. For example:

These ideologues argue that the new Mass is an abomination, that ecumenism is a betrayal of tradition and interreligious dialogue is satanic. They believe that only they are the true church and everyone else is in error.

Supposing that such individuals are frequenting the liturgy and receiving the sacraments, this seems a win for the Church, but Fr. Reese apparently does not see the Church as a field hospital for sinners, but as a conventical of the perfect.

However, the supposition that the idea that interreligious dialogue is in itself satanic is held by a significant number of 1962 Mass-goers is extremely fanciful. What Reese is doing is to conflate syncretism, which has been repeatedly condemned by the Church and is also condemned by Traditional Catholics, with dialogue, which is something quite different. There is indeed something deeply disturbing about incorporating Hindu ceremonies into the Mass, for example, but this syncretistic project has got nothing to do with respectful discussions with Hindus. On the contrary, it has seriously annoyed Hindus as well as upset faithful Catholics: hardly a good way to go about interreligious dialogue.

If Reese is concerned about ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, then he is faced with a different kind of problem. Traditionis Custodes has set the Church’s relations with other religions back fifty years, and it is difficult to see how they will recover.

On interreligious dialogue, defined as discussions aimed at greater mutual understanding between the Church and non-Christian religions, the Apostolic Letter and the polemic being produced by Fr. Reese and others in its support is saying that a genuine engagement of the religious instinct is impossible through worship in a sacred language, using chant, complex ceremonies, elaborate vestments, and so on. That, as they say, is a point of view. But it is a point of view incompatible with taking seriously the search for God represented by Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, the Jain religion, Shamanic religions, and indeed practically any non-Christian religion you could mention. Sacred languages are found in all the major non-Christian religions — Hebrew, Sanskrit, and Classical Arabic most obviously — and sacred music, ritual, and clothing, in practically all of them.

How are Catholic interreligious dialoguers going to face their non-Christian friends the next time they meet? “It okay”, they might say. “It is only our own traditions which we fear and loath: We think yours are wonderful!” How credible is this going to be?

As I have argued at greater length before, a dialogue with Islam seeking mutual understanding, and equally the proclamation of the Gospel to Muslims (something the Church is committed to by Vatican II — remember: “the mission to proclaim and to spread among all peoples the Kingdom of Christ and of God,” Lumen Gentium 5), is easiest if we have some common ground with them. One area of common ground, which has a practical value in opposing the anti-family policies of some groups in the United Nations, is a respect for life and for the family. Another is the penitential tradition. One aspect of Islamic spirituality which finds an echo in Catholicism is the use of chant; another is the expression of the transcendence of God through ritual. All of these are given a greater emphasis in the Traditional Catholic context. Much the same can be said in relation to other non-Christian religions.

In relation to the Orthodox — a dialogue with Christians who do not accept the authority of the Pope, with the hope that reunion under the Pope might one day be possible — the same problem exists as just outlined, to an even more acute degree: The Pope apparently dislikes the liturgical practices which characterize Orthodoxy. As I have argued at greater length here, how can you reject celebration ad orientem, chant, the use of sacred languages, mystery and ritual, in the West, and then turn to our Eastern “separated brethren” and tell them how much you respect and admire them in the East?

There is another problem, too, which applies also to the dialogue with Protestants. Catholic theologians engaging with Protestants and the Orthodox since Vatican II have, understandably, been soft-pedaling the monarchical conception of Papal power associated with Popes like St. Pius X. Without getting into the details, there is obviously something wrong with the idea of the Pope as an arbitrary dictator, and Protestant and Orthodox criticisms of the Church often focus on this idea. Well, are they right to be suspicious that Papal power can be used arbitrarily? To insist on uniformity for its own sake? To make sudden U-turns of policy, upending years and decades of patient work by bishops and priests, who had been following the previous papal policy? What conception of Papal power is at work in the Catholic Church in 2021?

The Apostolic Letter Traditionis Custodes is not the answer to this question they had been hoping for.

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Dr Joseph Shaw has a Doctorate in Philosophy from Oxford University, where he also gained a first degree in Politics and Philosophy and a graduate Diploma in Theology. He has published on Ethics and Philosophy of Religion and is the editor of The Case for Liturgical Restoration: Una Voce Position Papers on the Extraordinary Form (Angelico Press). He is the Chairman of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales and Secretary of Una Voce International. He teaches Philosophy in Oxford University and lives nearby with his wife and nine children.