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Beware the ides of March!

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Some time ago, long before the election of Pope Francis, someone asked whether a pope could reverse or nullify Summorum Pontificum?

Of course he could. And it needn’t take long, although the Romans aren’t usually in an hurry to do those sorts of things. Decisive, yes. But not rash. Or as some prefer to say: they like to take their revenge … slowly.

Unfortunately, too few of the faithful know what Pope Benedict has really done by his own initiative (motu proprio). If more did know, it could actually make nullification of the provision more difficult. Or at least more involved, even unlikely. The circumstances of ignorance about the meaning of the motu proprio is in an eerie way reminiscent of the ignorance which led practically the entire Latin Church to believe even forty years after the publication of the reformed Mass of Paul VI that the 1962 Missal had been somehow abbrogated.

Of course, it took but a phrase placed by Pope Benedict between two short commas to overcome that false opinion. I refer to the words, ” […] and never abborgated […]”. But the same kind of ignorance could make way for a similar outcome for the forma extraordinaria.

What had Pope Benedict XVI accomplished that would, if better known, make it really hard for a future pope to reverse or nullify?

The following letter explains. First circulated by NCCL on 23 July 2007, it was was written by a Prelate of the Eastern Church now deceased. Eternal memory!


Papal Mystery:
Is Pope Benedict Downplaying Vatican Council II
by decrees?


Some people have yet to awaken to ‘smell the coffee’. The Supreme Pontiff did not ‘open doors’, as though he infringed the code of good taste by granting a privilege allowing diners to drink white instead of red wine with steak. No, he re-defined the Roman Rite, according to the constant tradition of the Church. Since Sacrosanctum Concilium does not ask for the prior form of the Roman Rite to undergo the change it underwent, let alone fall into desuetude, the Successor of Peter merely added a corrective to the existing (ideological and practical) definition of the Rite. I should add that even had the Council asked for a radical change in liturgical forms, no pope would be obliged to acquiesce that desire, since Catholics, unlike the Orthodox, believe that councils are not above the Successor of Peter.

It follows that when Cardinal Ricard & Co. stipulate that only the faithful who recognise Vatican II may have access to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, he not only steps across the ecclesial border, but he also raises eyebrows along the way. Why on earth would Catholics ask the Pope to broaden access to the traditional forms of the liturgy, if they did not accept a council whose authority depends on and is inferior to the very person to whom they appeal?

Moreover, the Holy Father achieved another clever thing. By creating the Extraordinary Form, he not only re-defines the Roman Rite as a whole, but the Pope obliterates the underlying ethos of the Ordinary Form. That is to say that the erroneous opinions with which the Novus Ordo was concocted cede the place to the ethos inherent in the Extraordinary Form. In a word, since the Extraordinary Form is antecedent in time to the Novus Ordo, it stands to reason that the ethos of the former implicitly corrects (into oblivion) the ethos of the Novus Ordo. For example, many who subscribe to the Novus Ordo believe that the ‘catechetical’ aspects of the liturgy precede the other aspects. Cardinal Siri once said that one has to look hard for the sense of sacrifice in the Novus Ordo. However, it hits one in the face as soon as one approaches the old Mass.


The Supreme Pontiff has not “made the ‘Tridentine’ Mass more available” as though he were increasing the dosage of medicine for mental patients who do not respond favourably to the ordinary dosage. He has ‘re-defined’ the Roman Rite, according to the constant teaching of the Church, by adding its extraordinary form. No sane person can argue that he betrays Vatican II, since the ‘ordinary form’ of the Roman Rite was not only unknown and, therefore, not celebrated by the Council Fathers, but it was not even prescribed as a potential. Let us be clear, the Second Vatican Council was opened and closed (and, no doubt, its gratuitous expression will be buried) with what we now call the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

Therefore, it is intellectually dishonest to state that Summorum Pontificum “gives broad permission”. It establishes an “extraordinary norm” which, by its nature, re-confirms the present ordinary norm (after some re-form).


This might be the place to re-assert a fundamental principle of the Catholic Church, as opposed to Protestant sects since, parvus error in principio, magnus est in fine (“small errors in the beginning lead to great errors in one’s conclusion”),

In Ecclesia Catholica, tria sunt munera sacerdotum: munus regendi, munus docendi, et munus sanctificandi.

Ad munus sanctificandi pertinent ea quae sacerdotes faciuntur ad Dei gregem erga Eum dirigendum, praesertim administratio Sacramentorum et Sacramentalium. Etiam onus orationis a sacerdotibus sumptum in recitando Divinum Officium ad munus sanctificandi pertinet. 1

What is said of priests is applied with greater force of logic to the Successors of Peter. The munus santificandi of the Roman Pontiff is so inherent in his office, that it can be said that he ‘possesses’ the state of perfection to which religious aspire, all other things being equal. Since that state of perfection expresses itself in the Successor of Peter as the charisma veritatis to which St. Irenaeus of Lyon and Tertullian refer, it entrusts to Christ’s vicars the munus or service of leading the members of the Church to the sanctity willed by the Lord. That is why it is given to the Supreme Pontiff to establish liturgical laws by which Our Lord is best seen to continue to pray and offer Himself to the Father in worthy and dignified praise and sacrifice of His faithful people as Church, i.e. Public cult.

In practical, concrete terms, the munus docendi referred to above entrusts the Vicar of Christ with (the grace of) the teaching authority by which he can interpret ecumenical councils. Thus, unlike the Eastern Orthodox, the Catholic Church believes that the Successor of Peter is not subject to ecumenical councils, not even in their interpretations. In fact, an amusing episode occurred during Vatican II. Some of the Council Fathers (or, to be exact, some experts) attempted to slide through for approval the Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, with a chapter which weakened the Petrine Primacy. The excuse was the maladroit attempt to highlight episcopal collegiality at the expense of the Primacy. During the ensuing uproar between two opposing factions, Cardinal Siri offered an amusing solution. He suggested that the liberals (my choice of word) be allowed to carry on until the document was formulated. The Holy Father would simply state that he had neither been consulted nor did he agree with the final text. “And a council ceases to have being, let alone relevance, without the Successor of Peter”. Such a statement would have had the sobering effect of terrorists suddenly discovering that the autopilot switched on by the pilot is irreversible.

Incidentally, the aforementioned battle over the draft of Lumen Gentium, led to its Nota praevia, which contrary to its name, was nailed on after Lumen Gentium was drafted. When some of the Council Fathers realised that the draft was heretical, they sent a delegation to protest to Paul VI. Having read the draft and acknowledging that it fell short, the Holy Father ordered that a “nota praevia” should be affixed to Lumen Gentium. Thus the teaching of the Church (as well as a few reputations) were saved.



1 In the Catholic Church, the priests’ services (munera) are three: the service of ruling, the service of teaching, and the service of sanctifying. To the service of sanctifying pertain those things which priests do to direct the flock of God to Him, especially the administration of the Sacraments and Sacramentals. The responsibility (onus) of prayer assumed by priests in reciting the Divine Office also pertains to the service of sanctifying.

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