Sunday, November 07, 2010

Ratzinger critiques Paul VI

This past week I got out my copy of Benedict XVI's memoirs Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977 and read through it in about two days. This is really an excellent little book and gives some very helpful insight into the approach the Holy Father takes to a variety of issues (Divine Revelation, Vatican II, the liturgy, etc). This is the second time I have read this book in the past three years and will probably return to it again in the future. If you have not yet read this book and are looking for a general introduction to our current pontiff's life and personal philosophy, I highly recommend it.

In his chapter on the liturgy, Ratzinger reflects his dismay at how, at the time of the promulgation of the Novus Ordo, the Missal of 1962 was forbidden. He goes at lengths to develop the argument that such a supression of a valid liturgy has no precedent in the Church's history. This is important because apologists for the Novus Ordo and the post-Vatican II regime often assert that was happened in 1969-1970 was really nothing new in the Church's history. The argument is made that, just as Pius V gave the Church the Missal of 1570 in the wake of Trent, so it was natural that the pontiff after Vatican II should likewise give the Church a "new" missal in keeping with the times - therefore we ought not be dismayed at everything that has happened since Vatican II, nor should we think it is unnatural for Paul VI to have banned the use of the 1962 missal, since this has all "happened before" and is quite the natural way of doing things in the Church's liturgical history.

In this important mini-essay, Ratzinger demolishes this argument, pointing out how the missal of 1969 was "new" in an entirely different way than the missal of 1570. He says:

"The second great event at the beginning of my years in Regensburg was the publication of the Missal of Paul VI, which was accompanied by the almost total prohibition, after a transitional phase of only half a year, of using the missal we had until then. I welcomed the fact that now we had a binding liturgical text after a period of experimentation that had often deformed the liturgy. But I was dismayed by the prohibition of the old missal, since nothing of the sort had ever happened in the entire history of the liturgy. The impression was given that what was happening was quite normal. The previous missal had been created by Pius V in 1570 in connection with the Council of Trent; and so it was quite normal that, after four hundred years and a new council, a new pope would present us with a new missal.

But the historical truth of the matter is different. Pius V had simply ordered the reworking of the Missale Romanum then being used, which is the normal thing as history develops over the course of centuries. Many of his successors had likewise reworked this missal again, but without ever setting one missal against another. It was a continual process of growth and purification in which the continuity was never destroyed. There is no such thing as a "Missal of Pius V", created by Pius V himself. There is only the reworking done by Pius V as one phase in a long history of growth. The new feature that came to the fore after the Council of Trent was of a different nature. The irruption of the Reformation had above all taken the concrete form of liturgical "reforms." It was not just a matter of there being a Catholic Church and a Protestant Church alongside one another. The split in the Church occurred almost imperceptibly and found its most visible and historically most incisive manifestation in the changes in the liturgy. These changes, in turn, took very different forms at the local level, so that here, too, one frequently could not ascertain the boundary between what was Catholic and what was no longer Catholic.

In this confusing situation, which had become possible by the failure to produce unified liturgical legislation and by the existing liturgical pluralism inherited from the Middle Ages, the pope decided that now the Missale Romanum - the missal of the city of Rome - was to be introduced as reliably Catholic in every place that could not demonstrate its liturgy to be at least two hundred years old. Wherever the existing liturgy was that old, it could be preserved because its Catholic character would then be assured. In this case we cannot speak of the prohibition of a previous missal that had formerly been approved as valid. The prohibition of the missal that was now decreed, a missal that had known continuous growth over the centuries, starting with the sacramentaries of the ancient Church, introduced a breach into the history of the liturgy whose consequences could only be tragic. It was reasonable and right of the Council to order a revision of the missal such as had often taken place before and which this time had to be more thorough than before, above all because of the introduction of the vernacular.

But more than this now happened: the old building was demolished, and another was built, to be sure largely using materials from the previous one and even using the old building plans. There is no doubt that this new missal in many respects brought with it a real improvement and enrichment; but setting it as a new construction over and against what had grown historically, forbidding the results of this historical growth, thereby makes the liturgy to appear to be no longer a living development but the product of erudite work and juridical authority; this has caused us enormous harm. For then the impression had to emerge that liturgy is something "made", not something given in advance but something lying within our own power of decision. From this it also follows that we are not to recognize the scholars and central authority alone as decision makers, but that in the end each and every "community" must provide itself with its own liturgy. When liturgy is self-made, however, then it can no longer give us what its proper gift should be: the encounter with the mystery that is not our own product but rather our origin and the source of our life. A renewal of liturgical awareness, a liturgical reconciliation that again recognizes the unity of the history of the liturgy and that understands Vatican II, not as a breach, but as a stage of development: these things are urgently needed for the life of the Church.

I am convinced that the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today is to a large extent due to the disintegration of the liturgy, which at times has even come to be conceived as etsi Deus non daretur: in that it is a matter of indifference whether or not God exists and whether or not He speaks to us and hears us. But when the community of faith, the worldwide unity of the Church and her history, and the mystery of the living Christ are no longer visible in the liturgy, where else, then, is the Church to become visible in her spiritual essence? Then the community is celebrating only itself, and activity that is utterly fruitless. And, because the ecclesial community cannot have its origin from itself but emerges as a unity only from the Lord, through faith, such circumstances will inexorably result in a disintegration into sectarian parties of all kinds - partisan opposition within a Church tearing herself apart. This is why we need a new Liturgical Movement, which will call to life the real heritage of the Second Vatican Council" (Milestones, pp. 146-149)

Basically, what happened with the promulgation of the Novus Ordo and the suppression of the traditional mass was in no way normal, despite any parallels that some might try to draw with what happened after Trent. Another lame excuse for the confusion and error that came in the wake of Vatican II is demolished, and by none other than our current pontiff.

Another interesting point here: note how vehemently Ratzinger disagrees with the suppression of the old missal. He is "dismayed" by the prohibition, says it hs a complete novelty in the history of the Church and, upon reflection, thinks it has caused "enormous harm." In other words, Ratzinger thinks the suppression of the old missal was a bad judgment - a prudential error.

This should cause us to ask - whose error was it? It was none other than Pope Paul VI who ordered the suppression of the old missal in favor of the new in 1969. One can say that there were other advisers and committees involved in the decision making process, but in the end only the pontiff can order the suppression of a whole missal and the promulgation of a new one over and against it. The buck stops with Paul VI. Therefore, when Ratzinger expresses his dismay and disagreement over the decision, which he thinks has caused "enormous harm," he is doing nothing less than charging Pope Paul VI with making an enormous error in his prudential judgment.

I of course bring this up because one of the criticisms I have frequently been given is that it is arrogant and even sinful to accuse the pope of making a prudential error in his judgment, as I did when I suggested that maybe calling Vatican II was a bad idea (here). When I made this statement that some of the actions of Vatican II could be considered a prudential errors, I got in trouble at my work at the parish. 

Yet, here we have none other than our current pontiff criticizing the prudence of a decision made by another pontiff, and in a book published by Ignatius, no less! If Ratzinger sees nothing wrong with questioning the prudence of papal decisions, why ought anybody else? Some may bring up the tired old argument that, "Well that's different; you're not Cardinal Ratzinger!" This is a really lame argument, which I have already dealt with elsewhere (see here); in essence, though, the fact that someone of Ratzinger's caliber should question the prudence of a papal judgment should not be construed as an argument against why we ought to do likewise; rather, if someone like Ratzinger has made these arguments, this gives us all the more reason to imitate him, not less.

What's the point? Again, to point out that there is nothing disloyal, arrogant or schismatic about questioning the historical, prudential decisions that the Church or certain pontiffs may have made in the past. Saints have done it, and in this case, even other popes have done it. Why is it that only traditionalists can't?


CO said...


It is good that there is some review and discussion of Paul VI's contribution to the Church. I've seen two areas where the grumbling is strong: the liturgy reforms and the Populorum Progressio encyclical (1967).

When I was younger, I was surprised to hear my father grumble so much about the "changes in the Church". His generation apparently tolerated the changes (as we should be, faithful regardless of human actions) but intensely disliked the discontinuity. Some local priests behaving badly didn't help the situation either. (Coincidence? I think not!) So much for this (non-unique) story.... ;(

What do you think of the reform story presented by "realcatholictv"? See here. I'm not trained at all in liturgical topics (the division of labor says that I'm worth more as a scientist/engineer).

As always, thanks for the blog.


Boniface said...

The great thing about this argument is that it comes from the mouth of our current pontiff, which lends it a bit more credibility.

Anonymous said...

...that's not to say that those trads who defended tradition had any less credibility. It just means it would be more acceptable to the palates to more catholics.