Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Ratzinger Party, Summorum Pontificum, Vatican II, and the "Tridentine" Liturgy.

From an article by Chris Smith over at The Chant Cafe`:

"After Summorum pontificum of 2007 effectively ended the exile of traditionalists within the Church, as the Extraordinary Form of the Mass was introduced to more people, especially the younger with no historical memory of the affaire Lefebvre, a new Ratzingerian strand of traditionalism seems to be emerging...It is it possible that there is now a new Ratzingerkreis emerging in the traditionalist world?  The école française in many ways risks disintegration as the Society of St Pius X experiences its own internal divisions and spin offs, such as sedevacantism and strict observances.  The classical scuola romana approximates many of the traditionalist communities who have followed the path from Ecône back to Rome.  But now there are many people, who are perhaps a bit more open to certain insights outside of the pre-conciliar manualist theological tradition, such as those of Ratzinger, who now find themselves engaging the same critiques of the traditionalists, but from within the desire of a hermeneutic of continuity."

For a time (that is, Benedict's papacy) Summorum Pontificum dulled the thrust of Traditionalism in Roman Catholicism. Traditionalism, which ultimately bore a philosophical critique of the modern world and a subtle argument for the limits of papal authority, was turned into one option among many on the Roman Catholic menu. For those who did not want to weather the long storm and effectively deal with the very probable result of forming a "Church within a Church," all the while ostracized from Roman authority, Ratzinger's papacy marked the dawn of a new day. I think the author is bit rose tinted in his estimation that Papst Jozef is responsible for a new party of Traditionalism engaging its critique with a desire for a hermeneutic of continuity. With the election of Papa Francesco, the situation is the same as it was a decade ago. You have a few well placed critics with a Traditionalist bent in the hierarchy. Okay, let's see you go far with that. I wish you well, really. One is hard pressed to find serious data indicating that Summorum Pontificum has lead to a growing interest in the "Tridentine" liturgy.

What we have seen is a minor increase in the percentage of priests offering "their first Tridentine Mass" or other occasional sacramental services. We have seen attempts at establishing a regular Mass, a good number of which fail not due to the inability to offer the Tridentine liturgy, but due to the inability of establishing a stable and effective community organized around the old liturgy.

There is, apparently, a difference between those attempting to engage the old liturgy in a hermeneutic of continuity and those like the SSPX.. It should be noted that, yes, the SSPX has its internal struggles. Although if you want to focus on one fringe bishop on the outskirts and occasional sedevacantism as internal struggles in the SSPX, one ought to mention a  world wide pedophilia scandal, an entrenched gay lobby in the Vatican, and numerous accounts of corruption in the mainline Roman Church. Whatever its internal struggles or growing pains, the Society of Saint Pius X has momentum and there is no indication this momentum is going to slow.

The SSPX has solidly demonstrated itself as both the Traditionalist block with consistent growth and expansion and as a legitimate alternative to the Vatican. I think the return of combative rhetoric coming from the hierarchy since the election of Papa Francesco aptly demonstrates my point. Both the pontiff and the new head of CDF have made very public and very dismissive comments directly, primarily, towards the Society of Saint Pius X. Rome has long made not of the group's growth. It has not known how to handle said growth. Ratzinger's papacy took seriously the challenge of SSPX. Papa Francesco returns to the methodology of John Paul II, if not Paul VI, and attempts to control broader Catholic consciousness by manipulating the perception of the group through ostracizing it.

Francis's papacy has already seen an early critique of Summorum Pontificum and any reintegration of the "Tridentine" liturgy into the mainline Roman Church. If there is a Ratzinger party, oder ein Ratzingerkreis, then it ought to keep a wary eye on Summorum Pontificum. There was some very notable opposition to it, and much of that opposition appears to be positioning itself well in the new pontificate. In the coming months, that opposition will gauge what if any opportunity exists to nullify the prior pontifical legislation.

I write all of this as one with no connection to the SSPX to speak of and as one who does not uncritically accept the Traditionalist perspective. Rather, I write as someone who is aware of two critical facts. First, the Roman Church will not abandon Vatican II and the post-Vatican II model of the Church. Indeed, the announced canonizations of John XXIII and John Paul II are perhaps the most blatant indicator that this current pontificate and its accompanying magisterium intends on solidifying Vatican II as normative In particular, it seeks to return to a pre-Benedictine assessment of the Council. Along with this push to get things back to the pre-Ratzinger status quo is a highly critical view of Summorum Pontificum, one which I would not expect to remain quelled. Criticism of the Council and the magisterium that has emerged after the Council is nearly impossible. Rejection is out of the question.

Second, Rome cannot so facilely dismiss the Society of Saint Pius X. The current papacy seems to have a few players who believe the SSPX and the questions swirling around the "Tridentine" liturgy and the Second Vatican Council can be summarily brushed aside. This reflects the "ecclesial bubble mentality" the Roman hierarchy is often known for; living in its own sphere and isolated from criticism. Furthermore, whatever the assessment of successes and failures are for Benedict's pontificate, a valid criticism from his earlier career remains: there is something suspect about a religious body that suddenly turns its back on what was once it highest expression of faith. The SSPX remain a constant reminder of this and as it continues its growth and expansion, it will continually draw Rome's attention, if only for the fear that it will effectively construct a viable model of Catholicism independent of the Vatican. The group cannot be ignored and it has proven its relevance. Furthermore, for proponents of Summorum Pontificum, the SSPX must be credited with being the impetus for the legislation.

To propose the existence of a Ratzinger party that is transforming Traditionalism supposes that the former pontiff's influence is not and will not be negligble and ignores the historical context that pressed upon the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum. The influence of the SSPX upon the legislation is a considerable factor, if only because it demonstrates the the "Tridentine" liturgy does not come in isolation, but carries an accompanying critique of modernity, liturgy, the Second Vatican Council, and indeed the Roman Church itself. Not all of these are intrinsic to the old rite, although I would argue its conception of reality is irreconcilable with modernity and the critique of Roman Catholicism (in terms of papal authority) has yet to be fully considered. In our historical context, the "Tridentine" liturgy doesn't come alone, it is not a matter or aesthetics. Only a complete de-contextualization and divorce from reality can reconcile the old rite with a "hermeneutic of continuity."