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8 October, 2012 1 Comment

Vatican goes for a “liberal” interpretation.

By Lyle Dunne

Every now and then a bit of good news comes along.

A case in point comes from Fr Zuhlsdorf’s blog about a couple of dubia (lovely word – no, not the former President!) submitted to the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei by an anonymous Bishop, which have recently come to light thanks to the Internet – that friend of subversives the world over, be they religious-riot-Youtube-provocateurs, international-playboy-leakers-of-national-secrets, Republican-campaign-saboteurs – or even traditional Catholics.

The  questions (apparently submitted in 2009, though Fr Z notes they may be follow-ups from an earlier issue) relate to the use of “legitimate”, in article 19 of the commission’s instruction of April 30, 2011,  Universae Ecclesiae (UE),

19. The faithful who ask for the celebration of the forma extraordinaria must not in any way support or belong to groups which show themselves to be against the validity or legitimacy of the Holy Mass or the Sacraments celebrated in the forma ordinaria or against the Roman Pontiff as Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church.

Two questions were submitted – though only one answer was received. The first was

1. Whether legitimitas in UE, article 19, is to be understood as meaning:

(a) duly promulgated by appropriate procedures of ecclesiastical law (ius ecclesiasticum);  or

(b) in accord with both ecclesiastical law and divine law (ius divinum), that is, neither doctrinally unorthodox nor otherwise displeasing to God.

The Commission’s answer was refreshingly clear, direct and brief:

This Pontifical Commission would limit itself to saying that legitimas is to be understood in the sense of 1(a).

This should be cause for rejoicing in traditional circles: the Vatican has accepted that even those who think the New Mass is “displeasing to God” are entitled to the EF.

On its face, this sounds like a limiting of the previous “no-dessert-unless-you-eat-your-vegetables” approach: you can’t have the Old Mass unless you accept the New. Or, to put it another way, only those people who accept the NO are dispensed from the requirement to attend it.

The Vatican has accepted that even those who think the New Mass is “displeasing to God” are entitled to the Old Mass.

Somehow it reminds me of a scene in Butch Cassidy & the Sundance kid, in which Sundance (Robert Redford), accused of cheating at cards but advised by Butch (Paul Newman) to walk away, responds

“If he invites us to stay, then we’ll go”.

Of course, I’m relieved they said this – the alternative seems to demand that people like the Novus Ordo.  But then I never understood the particular kind of Ultramontanism that not only considers everything the Church says infallibly true, but everything the Church does infallibly a good idea.

One can respond to this in a number of ways.

The first might be to point out various other areas in which prudential judgement has clearly been exercised imprudently – after the demise of the fish rule, who now follows the Church’s requirement to practice any kind of penance on Fridays? What proportion of Catholics-in-the-street, or for that matter the few-in-the-pew, could tell you the Church’s rules on Holy Days of Obligation?

I recently had an argument with an apostate who asked “How can something for which the penalty was eternal damnation yesterday be suddenly OK today?” I didn’t accept his reductio implication, but I do take the point that when you monkey with the rules, you monkey with souls. At best, we’ve manufactured a lot of invincible ignorance.

Another might be to argue that prudence, unlike truth, is ultimately a matter of opinion: it depends on uncertain judgments about consequences of acts, and while the Church tells us what factors to consider, it doesn’t (and cannot) tell us what weight to put on each.

But perhaps the key point is to respond to the question “but how can you allow people to say the Church has promulgated a Mass that’s bad?” – which seems to be the biggest hurdle – is to say that (assuming validity) particular liturgical forms are good or bad (or better or worse) to the extent that they bring people closer to God[1], and that the extent to which this occurs depends on various factors connected with human nature.

Another might be to argue that prudence, unlike truth, is ultimately a matter of opinion: it depends on uncertain judgements about consequences of acts …

Some of the Commentators on Fr Z’s site refer to the distinction in traditional theology between the intrinsic and the extrinsic value or merit of the Mass and note that, while the former is infinite for any valid Mass, the latter depends on various contingent human factors down to the disposition of the priest and the congregation.  It’s surely not hard to imagine (in fact I’m sure you’ve all worked out) that their attitude depends on various aspects of the way the Mass is said. And if the way the Mass is said is changed in a way that makes it systematically more difficult for the priest and congregation to adopt an appropriate attitude, then surely that change (as distinct from the sacred mysteries themselves) would be displeasing to God.

(I’m not making the case here that the NO is worse, just trying to say how it can be.)

Perhaps the only downside of receiving such a clear, direct and positive answer to the first question was that the second question was rendered unnecessary, and thus left unanswered.

You can read it at the link, but essentially it asked whether, if the commission considered that the faithful were required to accept the NO as legitimate in terms of divine law [as per option (b) above – as we now know to our relief we’re not], this would also apply to options authorised universally or locally (Fr Z suggests altar girls, communion in the hand, extraordinary ministers as examples.)

Fr Z expresses disappointment with this, but here I must respectfully disagree. The answer to “do we have to accept the basics only, or all the add-ons too?” is clearly “neither!” [Cue applause.]

It wouldn’t hurt to have this spelt out, but I think that’s too much too ask from the supremely logical mind (and economical pen) we see at work here: all we get is

The second [dubium] is responded to by this answer.

So why ask the second question?

Possibly the author was a pessimist.

But I wonder – and this is the purest speculation –if it was simply a rhetorical device, a thin-edge-of-the-wedge reductio ad absurdum of the eat-your-vegetables approach: if we think everything in the NO is protected from not only invalidity but silliness too, then surely that applies to all the authorised add-ons, the Eucharistic Prayers for children (and others of short attention span), the local variants, the dodgy translations (including, presumably, the ones in the English version which have since been fixed!), the “Good Morning everybody”, the commentators, the sign of peace chat – and all of the theatrical devices designed to dispel the idea that anything special was going on here?

Next step?

Who knows, perhaps the SSPX will be required to accept Vatican II – in the sense of acknowledging that it was “legitimately” convoked, that all the correct protocols were followed, that all the Cardinals were correctly invited?

[1] I sense an objection that Masses may also differ in their fittingness as ways of worshipping God. I suspect it may come down to the same thing – but others may wish to express a different view.

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  1. Otherwise displeasing

    “in accord with both ecclesiastical law and divine law (ius divinum), that is, neither doctrinally unorthodox nor otherwise displeasing to God.”

    I see no difficulty here. One can easily say that while the Novus Ordo is pleasing to God in the sense that it’s the essential Sacrifice of the Mass, God is not pleased that the traditional liturgy of the Latin church was abolished for no good reason, and therefore in that sense (“otherwise”) the Novus Ordo is not pleasing to him.

    Thomas Storck
    Westerville, Ohio, USA

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