Sunday, June 16, 2013

12 Realistic Reforms the Church Could Implement Right Now

We all have our own opinions about what ought to be happening in the Church. "If only the Pope would do this," or "If only Bishop so-and-so would excommunicate this guy," or "If only they'd make a rule about this." You know what I mean; our wish-list of things the Holy Spirit would get done to help move the Church along a little closer to where it needs to be.

In this post, I will share with you twelve realistic reforms the Church could implement right now that I believe would make a world of difference. I say twelve realistic reforms; I have intentionally omitted things that are so improbable that they will most likely never happen (abolishing the Novus Ordo, Pope firing every bishop in the world, and, sadly, the Consecration of Russia). The twelve reforms I am proposing here are very realistic and could theoretically be implemented at any time without too much of a shake up. These are things we could reasonably hope for.

I offer them in no particular order, but I do invite you to share your own ideas for realistic reforms in the combox.

1. Eucharistic Fast and Manner of Reception

The pope ought to issue a motu proprio regulating certain aspects of how Holy Communion is received. The first part of this motu proprio should extend the Eucharistic fast to three hours. The current one hour fast is so easy that, if you drive more than 25 minutes to get to Mass, you can pretty much eat right up until the moment you get in the car and still technically keep the fast. The fast ought to be extended to restore some discipline and remind people that reception of the Eucharist is something that needs to be intentionally prepared for.

The second aspect of the motu proprio should deal with the manner of reception. It should highlight abuses that have crept in due to irreverent reception of our Lord and proceed to revoke all the indults for reception standing or in the hand, regional episcopal conferences notwithstanding. Reception in the hand has only been the norm for thirty years or so, and it would not be a stretch to say that the experiment has failed and mandate the return to the older practice, with no concessions granted to any episcopal conference or region (though of course with personal concessions for the very elderly, handicapped, etc).

2. Latin

Rather than just saying that Latin is to be "retained", the Pope should mandate that Bishops see to it that every diocese provides at least a full two years training in Latin for all seminarians without exception to region. Furthermore, the language in Sacrosanctum Concilium about Latin being "preserved" should be strengthened and supplemented with another motu proprio that specifically says that Latin is to be exclusively utilized for all fixed parts of the Mass and for the Roman canon especially. There needs to be no ambiguity here, no phrases like "the use of the Latin language is to be preserved"; this motu proprio should say, "Latin is to be the exclusive language of the Mass", at least for the fixed parts.

3. Restoration of Chant (Again)

Pope St. Pius X famously restored Gregorian Chant with his famous motu proprio Tra Le Sollecitudini. Unfortunately, it needs to be restored again, since the "pride of place" envisioned for it in Vatican II has clearly no materialized. Basically, another authoritative instruction like Tra Le Sollecitudini needs to be issued, which specifically says Gregorian Chant is the official music of the Roman rite and simultaneously bans certain instruments by name, including and especially drums and guitars, but also keyboards and pianos. This document needs to not only say what the ideal is, but say what is forbidden as well. The Pope should also ask bishops to take the lead in implementing this directive in their cathedrals and encourage them to generously assist priests who need help implementing Gregorian Chant. For more on Tra Le Sollecitudini, see here.

4. Location of Tabernacle and Posture at Mass

A general instruction should go out giving every parish one year to move the tabernacle back to a central location, and this central location should be unambiguously identified as the center of the altar, preferably a high altar. The purpose of this should be stated as to encourage greater devotion to our Eucharistic Lord, but also to facilitate the ancient and venerable practice of offering Mass ad orientem, which the instruction should heartily encourage and declare to be the norm for the Roman Rite.

5. Reaffirm Episcopal Authority in Cases of Private Revelations

In 1978, the CDF under Pope Paul VI issued a document entitled "Norms of the Congregation for Proceeding in Judging Alleged Apparitions and Revelations." This document laid down the norm that "the competent ecclesiastical Authority can intervene to authorize and promote various forms of worship and devotion" within his diocese, and that "the foremost authority to inquire and to intervene belongs to the local Ordinary." This has generally been taken to mean that a Bishop is the final arbiter of the legitimacy of a private revelation within his diocese, unless he petitions the Vatican to investigate. Still, this instruction is much ignored and does not have real teeth. A reaffirmation of Paul VI's teaching should be issued with a greater emphasis on the role of the local Ordinary. I've even taken the liberty of composing the wording it should incorporate. The document ought to say, "The foremost authority to inquire and to intervene belongs to the local Ordinary, in such a manner that what the Ordinary approves is considered approved, and what he condemns is considered condemned by the Church." This would take the wind out of the sails of Medjugorje, Garabandal and a lot of these other false movements.

6. Cease Interreligious Events

This would be the easiest reform because it would simply entail that the Pope do nothing. In order to stop confusing other religions about how we view them, as well as to stop confusing the faithful and scandalizing other Christians, the Pope and Bishops should cease participating in any interreligious events. No more Assisi gatherings. No more messages from the Pope on the occasions of Hanukkah of Diwali.  No more visits to non-Christian shrines. The Pope should set himself off as the pastor of Christians alone and refrain from attending any more of these sorts of functions. If he insists on having representation at them, an official of Vatican City representing the Pope in a diplomatic sense as a head of state would be more appropriate.

7. Encyclical on Catholic Missions

An encyclical on Catholic missions is direly needed, as Catholic missions are in a terribly sorry state today, mainly because Catholic missionaries have no idea what they are out there for. This encyclical should emphasize three main points:

1) The Church has a universal missionary mandate that is still valid today. This was taught at Vatican II, but it needs to be reaffirmed, as well as expanded on, so as to say that
2) There is no people, no culture, no religion on the planet that is excluded from the Church's universal missionary mandate. This applies to Jews, Muslims, Orthodox, Protestants, whatever, and
3) The primary purpose of Catholic missionary activity is to win souls for the kingdom by formal entry into the Church through baptism as the normative means of salvation. This need no go back on anything the Church has taught prior about baptism of desire, invincible ignorance, but is should reinforce the traditional teaching of formal membership in the Church as normative for salvation.

8. Exorcists

Another encyclical should be written on the angels and the devils, affirming the literal existence of each as personal beings who are pure spirit. This encyclical should serve as a primer on classic angelology and should call for each Bishop to maintain not one but at least five exorcists per diocese and to have recourse to them when diabolical influence is discerned.

9. New Orders

I am not sure about the best forum for introducing this, but given the mass apostasy of the traditional orders, the Pope should make a sweeping call for a new generation of religious orders. He should emphasize discipline, celibacy, devotion to the Church and the Pope, and the wearing of traditional habits. Such a request from the Pope would result in thousands of new vocations in dozens of new orders and most likely reforms or reformed spin-offs of existing orders. When Vatican II and John Paul II called for new lay movements, we got a whole slew of them; a similar upsurge of enthusiasm would happen if the pontiff were to make an impassioned call for new religious who were faithful to the Pope and wore their habits. This call could even take place within the context of the encyclical on missions mentioned above.

10. Reinstate the Oath Against Modernism

Or at least some other kind of oath in which seminarians, theologians, pastors and anyone involved in teaching or theology pledge to avoid certain specifically defined errors endemic in modern Catholicism.

11. Bring out the Triregnum

Some may place this in the realm of the implausible, but I am not suggesting a full and immediate return to papal coronations, the sedia gestatoria and all that - not because it wouldn't be awesome, but because it just wouldn't happen like that. The Pope should begin wearing the triregnum on certain occasions just to bring it back into people's minds; perhaps the Feasts of Peter and Paul, the Chair of Peter and a few other select occasions. This would not be too controversial, and would in fact be quite appropriate and could set the stage for a hearty dialogue within the Church about the papal tiara. Ideally, its use would gradually be extended after the Pope had brought it out a few times.

12. Interpretive Norms for the Documents of Vatican II

I do believe this is probably the most important of all. Benedict XVI identified the hermeneutic of rupture as a major problem in how the modern Church views Vatican II. Towards the end of his pontificate, he even said that the true Council had been swallowed up by a "Council of the media" that obscured the true vision of the Council Fathers. If this really is the case, then why not issue some interpretive norms for the documents of Vatican II so there is no room for theologians to posit theories of rupture? The CDF already did this in their 2007 document on the phrase subsitit in from Lumen Gentium (see here). The purpose of this clarification was to ensure that Lumen Gentium was interpreted in continuity with previous teachings on the Church, such as Mystici Corporis.

Sadly, interpretive norms are needed not only for one phrase in one document, but for the entire Council. Dei Verbum on biblical inspiration. Gaudium et Spes on the Church in relation to the world. Dignitatus Humanae and Unitatis Redintegratio especially need to be clarified in a manner continuous with pre-Conciliar teaching, as does Sacrosanctum Concilium. Or what about Ad Gentes on the Church's missionary mandate? There needs to be a series of norms for reading these documents that say, "If you construe Dignitatus Humanae to mean X,Y, or Z, you are missing it." It is so obviously needed, and it is extremely frustrating that this has not yet been done, since Benedict XVI stated very clearly that the Council has basically been hijacked since day one. Such interpretive norms would provide pastors, bishops and everyone else the firm Magisterial standing they need to permanently lock up the Spirit of Vatican II with all the other evil spirits in the underworld.

And the Extraordinary Form?

I was hesitant of including anything about the EF Mass in here, frankly because I am just not certain how realistic it would be to expect anything more from the Magisterium in the near future about it. But, if I were to add something about the EF Mass, I suppose I would say that the Pope should ask bishops to see to it that every Catholic parish has an EF Mass made available at least once per month. With the average parish offering anywhere between 35-45 Masses per month, mandating that one of those be offered in the EF is not a very radical gesture. It would introduce many more people to the riches of the old Mass and would undoubtedly bear fruit.

What realistic reforms do you think could be implemented right now that would help Holy Mother Church? Remember, they must be realistic - things you could actually imagine a real Pope implementing.


Carl said...

I find it helpful to think of three categories of renewal: governance, teaching, and liturgy (that correspond with Christ's three offices: king, prophet, priest). Governance would include a firmer stance on distribution of communion to pro-abortion politicians (perhaps following Cardinal Burke's canonical work on the topic), intolerance for heresy in Catholic universities and seminaries (as you said, perhaps a oath against modernism for clerics at least). Teaching would have to be rooted once again in St. Thomas and some work with Vatican II (maybe Bishop Athanasius Schneider's suggestion of a new syllabus of errors). And liturgy of course what you wrote.

But I do think above all we need to keep in mind Christ's three offices and work towards renewal in those three areas. The failures of the Church that we have seen have prevented Christ from exercising his offices in His body. To restore Christ into his body, we must allow him to exercise his power to rule our wills (governance), enlighten our intellects (governance), and sanctify our souls (liturgy).

Православный физик said...

Fully agree on all 12....

Jay said...

I like your suggestions, and I do think they are reasonable. Still, your non-suggestion that the Pope ask bishops to have the EF Mass available at least once per month in every parish would probably be the most important and far-reaching change. If only!!!

Steve Dalton said...

I think one more reform that should be carried out is to celebrate the EF every Sunday, at a convenient time (in the morning, on Sunday) in the Cathedral of the local diocese. In many dioceses, the EF is in an isolated area and at an inconvenient time. This would give the EF mass goers a central location, and a regular normal time to go to services.

Paulus said...

Some excellent suggestions, but with regard to the liturgy I believe the most urgent matter has been omitted: Get rid of those &%?#*^! EMHCs.

'Extaordinary' must be defined, e.g. Masses of at least 1,000 people. This seems to me the most widespread and widely accepted abuse.

spraffmeister said...

I agree with the twelve suggestions here too. I like how they also cover a range of topics (which is sadly indicative of the range of problems facing the Church).
Regarding the EF, I think that its regular celebration by the Pope would also help, perhaps in conjunction and alternatively with the triregnum (i.e. sometimes OF with triregnum, EF without triregnum and vice versa, so that the triregnum is not just associated with the EF). After all, if the EF and the OF are one rite, there's no problem for the Pope to use it publicly, right? It could be considered a pastoral gesture too, considering all the EF goers nowadays.

Eric said...

I'd like to see a post on why you think the Consecration of Russia will never take place.

I agree on all 12, by the way. And while I agree that it is unrealistic for every bishop to be fired, I'd like to see head rolls, and at a much higher speed. We live in the modern age with telephones, e-mail, and video conferences (which all now can fit in the palm of your hand). Start using them!

Renee T said...

In addition to returning to the norm of Communion on the tongue, I would also like to see a return to the Communion rail to ensure the most reverent reception of the Host. I agree with Paulus also, get rid of the EMHCs! Especially at Masses where there are less than 100 people, which seems to be the norm in my diocese.

Jamey said...

Have all Masses ad orientem at a minimum to return attention to God, tabernacle in middle as mentioned. Have all the old hymns replace the modern crud. Credo and Gloria in traditional Latin. I don't think this is too difficult and will stimulate a large interest in the TLM.

The ad orientem would see a mass exodus of priests who like to be the centre of the liturgy - Good. Many priests are outraged by the few recent changes. I heard of a good priest who a while back decided to do ad orientem and was run out of his parish. The next priest who came in gave strong sermons and told females to dress with greater dignity and was also run out of the parish. There are still good men out there.

I must say when going to a NO parish often there are all sorts of nooks and crannies in the sanctuary and the candle doesn't burn, when the tabernacle is off centre I get a moment of great angst until it is located - a moment of profound disorientation.

Musings from Down Under.

Boniface said...


I just think the bishops and the pope do not have the balls to the Consecration, so to speak. It could happen, but much would have to change.

Titus said...

I'd be willing to settle for a compromise on the triregnum: just have it carried in the procession. He doesn't even have to put it on, but just carry it like the mitre of a (mitred) abbess.

Beefy Levinson said...

All excellent suggestions. I think the life of the Church would be immensely improved if priests still gave good old fashioned doctrinal sermons once in a while. One of the best homilies I ever heard was on the subject of indulgences: what they are, what they can do for us and for the holy souls in purgatory, and how to acquire them.

Michael Ortiz said...

These are all rock-solid. Let us pray for them to happen sooner than later, but in God's good time.

Dutch Boy said...

Most of these reforms are as unlikely to be implemented as the consecration of Russia.

Boniface said...

I said they were realistic, not that they were likely. There is a difference.

Catholic Mission said...

For Inter religious dialogue/Mission affirm Vatican Council II without the Richard Cushing Error.

Leo Bass said...

Boniface, could you address this article when you get a chance?

Boniface said...


That is a very long article and it would take me a very long time to write a refutation in totu. But basically, he is committing a very common error that Protestants do when looking at the Fathers. He is looking at the teachings of the Catholic Church in the 19th or 20th centuries and saying, okay, since the Church claims to faithfully hand on the Faith of the Apostles, we ought to find basically these same teachings in the Fathers. Then, when the teachings are not found in the Fathers in the way he assumes they should be, he draws his own conclusions. He basically denies or misunderstands the development of doctrine. True, you will not find an elucidation of papal primacy in the Fathers such as was found at Vatican I, but it is not necessary that there be one. The fact that the Church's dogma developed over time into the concept of papal infallibility is proof enough that this is the proper interpretation in which to view these disputed patristic citations. Basically, a patristic statement should be interpreted in light of the dogma it eventually evolved into. Protestants cannot grasp this. That is his fundamental fallacy. I recommend Newman's "Essay on the Development of Doctrine" for a much better treatment of this problem.

Leo Bass said...

Boniface, thank you. I'll have to get a hold of that book and try to read it again.

Boniface said...

You might find this post relevant:

Anonymous said...

I agree with them all.

Wouldn't be it glorious to see the Pope take up the Triple Crown again? I've never seen it...

God bless!


Anonymous said...


If just half of these reforms, in any order or combination, were enacted, we'd have a complete exaltation of the EO. And soon, the actual consecration of Russia.

Think of it. Latin, Chant, Kneeling, you are already in the EO neighborhood there. Add in a reformation of missions (Gasp! EENS?!?!) You'd have the rest of it! Issue DEFINITIONS on Vat II?? The world wold instantly turn around, and we'd have the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart!!

I am not mocking you. I agree that all of this could be done (and should be). Nor would it be to painful, unless the powers that be saw the ramifications as I see them. But they could only make a few glorious martyrs, and pull the wool from several disguised wolves, never stymie the rise of the Church.

Let's pray, and live out in our own lives, any one of these, and we'll be on our way. If we can go for two, may God bless us. If we, individually, do all twelve? We should start writing memoirs for inclusion in our canonization proceedings.

I am serious.