July 19, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – As a priest born in 1967, who has never celebrated the Extraordinary Form of the Holy Mass and who, because of his rather sober character, has no intention of ever doing so, it is perhaps easier than those directly concerned to give an assessment of the situation that has arisen following the publication of the motu proprio Traditionis custodes of July 16, 2021.
This legal decree is an expression of fear, the fear that in free circumstances a form of liturgy could be preserved and even expanded in the younger generation (priests and laity). The legal text is at the same time the admission that the liturgy created after Vatican Council II has apparently not sufficiently reached the hearts of the faithful, so that many and more and more want to return to a form that is not only intellectualistic, but also gives a spiritual home to the reasons of the heart of which reason knows nothing. As martial as the decree of law comes across, it is a sign of weakness. It proves against its own wishes that serious mistakes were obviously made in the reform of the liturgy after Vatican II and that one must now try by force to prevent its definitive derailment. It seems to be a bad state of affairs for the reformed liturgy if one thinks that one has to protect it in this draconian form.
This decree definitely makes the celebration of the Eucharist – “the source and summit of the whole Christian life,” Lumen Gentium 11 – a battleground, the heart of Christian life, of all things. For this legal text, in its rigidity, after all that has happened in the last 50 years, is so hurtful and humiliating for those involved that it can only provoke resistance, hopefully peaceful and spiritual, and different from the spirit of exclusion and hardening by which it is generated.
The banishment of this form of the liturgy from parish churches, where in some cases it had been peacefully at home for decades, means giving an incentive for an Underground Church of a new kind. One should have learned by now what the consequences of abrogating edicts of tolerance can be. The split brought about by the decree will first be a local one. However, since the faithful of different liturgical forms will now meet even less physically, there will subsequently be an increased social, pastoral, and even ecclesiological segregation of the faithful. Moreover, chapels will not be available everywhere. There will not always be enough space in such churches, which are by nature rather small. Holy Mass will most probably therefore be celebrated more often in private houses, in secret, in profane halls. The spirit of conspiracy thus fostered will all the more give rise to conspiratorial groups.
It will be difficult in the future for those concerned not to live in hardening. Guidance could therefore be a letter sent by the Prophet Jeremiah to the people who had been led into Babylonian captivity. They are words of wisdom and foresight, in the face of humiliation and exclusion: “These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. (…). Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jer 29:1,4-7)
In his work Zeitfragen und christlicher Glaube (“Questions of the Time and the Christian Faith”) (1983) Joseph Ratzinger remarked on this letter of Jeremiah that it was “by no means an instruction for action for political resistance, for the destruction of the slave state.” And the later Pope commented on the letter in this way: “It is rather an instruction for the preservation and strengthening of the good. It is thus an instruction for survival and at the same time for the preparation of the better, the new.”
Martin Grichting was vicar general of the Diocese of Chur, Switzerland and publishes articles on philosophical as well as religious matters.
Translation Dr. Maike Hickson