“Conservative” Catholic commentators clutch at straws to maintain that Pope Francis, who is clearly steeped in Vatican II and its ensuing nonsense, is fundamentally in continuity with the ecclesiology of Pope Benedict XVI - well, at any rate, not in outright discontinuity. But has it occurred to them that Francis might tactfully be keeping his real agenda up his sleeve out of respect for his predecessor as long as the latter remains alive? When Benedict dies, conservatives might not know what’s hit them. The innovations of Vatican II could well seem mild by comparison once this South American Jesuit starts implementing his ideas.
For his part, Benedict XVI will come to be seen as one of the more historically significant popes, though whether as the one who started the Roman Catholic Church back on the road to post-Vatican II recovery or the last gasp of the old order it is too soon to tell. But to some extent he undermined his good work by two mistakes. One was the establishment of an ordinariate for disaffected Anglicans who, it was explained, wanted to convert to Catholicism yet retain their "liturgical patrimony". The Pope's intentions were no doubt wholly pastoral, but to smooth the Romeward path of these Anglicans surely it was not necessary to create a separate fold for them within the Church, with its own hierarchy and jurisdiction. Would it not have been enough to license, after due doctrinal examination, the English Missal, the eucharistic rite traditionally used by Anglo-Catholics - an amalgam of the less Protestant parts of the communion rite in the Book of Common Prayer with excerpts from the Tridentine Mass translated into a sort of Cranmerian English - as a legitimate alternative rite for any Catholic to use? And the same with Morning and Evening Prayer, as alternatives to Lauds and Vespers? The patrimony-loving Anglicans - of whom it turned out that there were not that many at all - could then have converted individually, as anyone else coming into the Catholic Church must do. They, and any other Catholic who wished, could have used these Anglican-derived rites at will. As it is, the ordinariate converts have joined a sort of sub-church with its own services, a non-territorial quasi-diocese without the historical justification, as the ancient Uniate churches have, of ethnicity, culture and tradition. Where is the unity in that?
The other mistake was in the implementation of Summorum Pontificum. An act of justice and aesthetic sensitivity in itself, it was, like the first Gulf War, flawed in execution by not being followed through. The restoration of the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass as a legitimate rite throughout the Church was intended to offer Catholics an alternative to the rather uninspiring liturgy concocted (with Protestant input!) after the Council. But it's not an alternative because it follows a different calendar. Pope Benedict had apparently hoped that the two rites would function complementarily to widen the spiritual experience of Massgoers. But you can't go one Sunday to one and the next Sunday to the other because liturgically the Sundays are not the same Sundays of the year and the scripture readings are different. Since the Sunday readings are intended to present the Gospels and the rest of the scriptural canon in continuity, and are not bits of the Bible arbitrarily selected here and there, you have to follow the sequence either at one rite or the other. This means that the sacrament that above all expresses the unity of the Church is celebrated separately by two worshipping communities, again without any cultural or other justification. Pope Benedict ought to have ensured that the Latin calendar be made uniform as a necessary pre-condition for the reintroduction of the Old Mass.
10 June 2013