By Hilary White
LONDON, November 19, 2007 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The Catholic bishops of England and Wales have been taken to task for their refusal to cooperate with reforms instigated at the request of Pope Benedict XVI. Vatical official Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments, blasted what he called the “disobedience” of the reaction of many bishops to the Pope’s liberalization of the use of the so-called “Tridentine Mass”. That ancient form of liturgy was almost universal in the Catholic Church until the mid-nineteen sixties.
In response to decades of requests and complaints about liturgical and doctrinal innovation, Pope Benedict XVI issued a document July 7, called a “motu proprio”, erasing the restrictions on what he called the “extraordinary rite” of the Mass. The document instructs bishops that priests who want to observe the older rite must be allowed to do so without having to ask permission and that congregations must have the Latin Mass if they ask for it.
Archbishop Ranjith, speaking to the Italian internet news site Petrus decried the action “and even rebellion” of many bishops who are trying to limit access to the older Mass. “On the part of some dioceses, there have been interpretive documents that inexplicably aim to limit the ‘motu proprio’ of the pope,” he said earlier this month.
The Archbishop’s comments come in reaction to moves by the bishops of England and Wales to “interpret” the motu proprio. Cormac Cardinal Murphy O’Connor, the Primate of England and Wales and Archbishop of Westminster, aroused outrage among Catholics in Britain after he issued a “commentary” on the document. His action was called an “ungenerous interpretation” and “a slap in the face of traditionalists”. The Cardinal claimed that, despite the Pontiff’s explicit instructions to the contrary, priests still need to ask permission of their bishops to celebrate the Mass.
Cardinal Murphy O’Connor’s commentary followed “guidelines” issued by Bishop Arthur Roche of Leeds who said the power of the bishops to stop the return of the old rite remains in force. In the dissent of the bishops from the Pope’s decision, Archbishop Ranjith said, “there hide, on the one hand, ideological prejudices and, on the other hand, pride, which is one of the most serious sins.”
“The bishops, in particular, have sworn fidelity to the pontiff; may they be coherent and faithful to their commitment,” he said.
The older form of worship is entirely in Latin and is traditionally accompanied by Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony. It was virtually abandoned after 1965 by the bishops and clergy who claimed to be interpreting the mandate of the Second Vatican Council.
Since then, many Catholics have accused the so-called “liberal” bishops and clergy, along with lay administrators in dioceses, with replacing both Catholic moral teaching and traditional liturgy with a new system of “trendy innovations” that many have identified as a radical departure from the Church’s traditions.
In many cases, the most vocal proponents of the new liturgical practices are the same as those advocating for the Church to abandon its adherence to its sexual and moral teachings. To the dismay of the left-liberal reformers of the 1960’s, however, the traditional liturgy has become popular with many young people who also oppose the doctrinal liberalization instigated by the older generation.
One American priest, Richard McBrien of Notre Dame University, is a leading voice of dissent from the Church’s teaching on sexual issues, abortion and marriage and is widely seen as a spokesman for the liberal wing of the bishops and clergy who object to the return of the traditional Mass. He wrote in The Tidings, the diocesan newspaper of the archdiocese of Los Angeles, that young Catholics cannot have experienced the old Latin Mass. He wrote, “It is a mystery how one can be nostalgic for something one had never experienced.” McBrien praised the work of “liturgical scholars” who, he said, “have published articles which carefully pick apart the reasoning behind the papal document.”
Damian Thompson, writing for the Daily Telegraph, quotes a Rome source who said that the Pope is “isolated.”“So many people, even in the Vatican, oppose him, and he feels the strain immensely.” Yet, Thompson said, Benedict is “ploughing ahead,” regardless.
“By failing to welcome the latest papal initiatives – or even to display any interest in them, beyond the narrow question of how their power is affected” Thompson writes, “the bishops of England and Wales have confirmed Benedict’s low opinion of them.”
“Now he should replace them. If the Catholic reformation is to start anywhere, it might as well be here.”
Read Damian Thompson’s column at Virtue Online: