John Allen on the Motu Proprio


After reading Amy Wellborn's post Motu Mania cont'd, I was going to bash out a light-hearted post about John Allen being caught in the undertow and carried off to Motumanialand.

However, reading his post Hold your breath for the next media frenzy: The Latin Mass document is coming I saw that he made some serious points and thought it would be a good idea to respond in kind.

The important nugget that Allen has found is a letter from Cardinal Kasper, responding to concerns raised by the International Council of Christians and Jews (see Impact on Interreligious Relations of the Potential Wider Use of the Latin 1962 Catholic Missal.) The Council said
"The theology and spirituality of the Missa Tridentina, in particular regarding the doctrine of the Church, also contradicts much that was theological [sic] central to the Second Vatican Council."
In his letter, the Cardinal said:
"While I do not know what the pope intends to state in his final text, it is clear that the decision that has been made cannot now be changed."
Cardinal Kasper's admission further confirms the existence of the Motu Proprio and, perhaps, its imminent release: although on that question, I do not think Allen is necessarily any better informed than the rest of us.

Allen goes on to make some whimsical remarks about the "frenzy" in the blogosphere. He mentions the top-ten signs of being in the grip of motu-mania, quoting one of the Curt Jester's list. Jeff is amused at being described as a wag and has some fun with that (Wag the blog).

Further on, though, Allen suggests that the Motu Proprio will not have the impact that many bloggers expect. He says
"For one thing, more than 40 years after the council, many priests are unfamiliar with the pre-Vatican II rite and may not rush to celebrate it even if authorized to do so -- if not for theological reasons, simply because they're already stretched too thin."
He then says that the Bishops, pastors and liturgical experts that he has polled all believe that the normal experience of most Catholics will continue to be the "post-Vatican II Mass in the vernacular language."

The important point here is that the Bishops, pastors and liturgical experts are generally from the generation that grew up with Vatican II or its immediate aftermath, the euphoria of change and "openness" and a steely opposition to the incomprehensible traditionalists who inexplicably wanted to retain the old Mass.

The situation has changed dramatically during the past ten years. Allen would do well to poll the current seminarians at the North American College and young clergy who have been ordained in the past ten years, as well as those laity who have kept their Catholic faith and got married in recent years, determined to live in fidelity to the Church's magisterium. He would find a very different picture.

By no means all of this group would be enthusiastic about the Classical Roman Rite (though a surprising proportion would be) but few would be found who regarded it in such a negative light as those of a previous generation. They might say "It's not my thing" or "It won't solve our problems" but they would much less likely to say "It's going back" or "It's against Vatican II."

Regarding the experience in the average parish, I think that the impact will be to shift the "centre of gravity" in the liturgy. (I have posted before on the question of "How would the Old Mass help?" - see post I, post II and post III.) The very fact of permitting the Classical Roman Rite would call into question some of the dogma that has dominated liturgical committees during the past 30 years.

Allen later says:
Further, the motu proprio is unlikely to do much, at least in the short term, to end the break between Rome and the followers of the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.
Whether the break will be ended in the short term or not, Cardinal Ratzinger among others recognised that the liberalisation of the Classical Rite was a sine qua non for the ending of the break. The Motu Proprio will at least give the signal that this demand was justified: Ratzinger himself commented on the unprecedented "abolition" of an ancient rite.

Allen's article is helpful in highlighting one of key questions raised by the Motu Proprio. If the Bishops, pastors and liturgical experts are right, everyone can carry on much as they have for decades. In this case, the more important questions will be those such as have been raised by the International Council of Christians and Jews over particular texts. If they are wrong and out of touch, however, the Motu Proprio will be an important step towards the goal of the recovery of the sacred in the liturgy (old rite or new rite) that has not been achieved by numerous documents condemning abuses; documents that have been largely ignored.

See also posts from:
New Liturgical Movement:
What does the prayer really say?

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