a report by Paix Liturgique
The year 2017 will mark the tenth anniversary of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum published on 7th of July 2007. This text, which was written by Benedict XVI and came into force on the 14th of September of the same year, reminded Catholics that the traditional missal had never been abrogated and gave, at least theoretically, a greater degree of freedom concerning the celebration of the ancient liturgy.
In reality, and without denying the importance or the impact of this text which has considerably moved the goalposts and shaken up people’s way of thinking—and for which we never cease to give thanks--, we must recognize that in practice, the expectations of the faithful have not yet been met.
The object of this letter is not to draw up a balance sheet of the motu proprio, but to try to understand why, ten years after Summorum Pontificum (SP), the French situation seems relatively static and is only making very gradual progress.
I—a depressing report
“We have no cases in progress; we are no longer troubled with requests to implement the motu proprio in French dioceses,”: these words could be heard today in the offices of the Ecclesia Dei Commission in Rome. Factually, they are perfectly accurate.
Does this necessarily mean that there is not or is no longer a liturgical problem in France? That all is well in a Church anxious to respond to the liturgical aspirations of all its faithful? No, the reality is that those requesting the traditional liturgy have finally grown tired.
The months following the coming into force of the 2007 motu proprio saw the awakening of numerous hopes, with multiple groups of faithful filially approaching their pastors in order to benefit from this treasure offered, in theory, to them by this pontifical text. Certainly, some excellent results have been obtained. Some parishes have honestly embraced the traditional liturgy (and continue to do so at the present time). Others, however, have done so while betraying the spirit and the letter of the motu proprio. But the vast majority have remained deaf to the wishes expressed by families. With the result that, as the years and months have passed, new requests by parishioners are becoming increasingly rare.
This absence of new requests for the traditional liturgy can be explained by the resignation of the faithful, who understand that the majority of bishops and pastors did not want liturgical harmony and have done everything to render Benedict XVI’s motu proprio useless.
Bad faith, crude manipulations, calumnies and lies; no weapon has been neglected by those who should have been the architects of liturgical unity (SP, art. 5.1).
Depending on the case, those requesting the traditional liturgy are told: “You are not from the parish”, or “There is already a diocesan celebration, the bishop considers it unnecessary to start up another one”, or “We will discuss it at the parish council which will look into your request, we will issue a statement in six months”. The argument of numbers is also used. Sometimes the faithful were not numerous enough, while elsewhere, as in Vaucresson in the diocese of Nanterre, there were far too many of them and they were accused of endangering the equilibrium of the parish.
A pastor who was sympathetic but at the end of his term of office explained to those requesting the traditional liturgy that it would be better to “wait until [his] successor arrives”, while the new pastor asked the same petitioners to “give [him] time to get settled” . Etc. etc.
Put simply, the general ecclesiastical reaction, under the leadership of the episcopal authorities, has been organized restraint and refusal, the maintaining of liturgical apartheid and the discouragement of the most determined petitioners. Of course, as the letters we receive prove abundantly (certain readers reproach us with being too optimistic!), there are many beautiful diocesan and parish exceptions. But, at the end of a decade, they are still only the exceptions to a rule which remains one of denial.
The faithful are aware of this. For a long time they have understood that the will to “accommodate minorities” and to “embrace difference” were only catchphrases for the benefit of the media and certainly not lines of conduct for intra-Church benefit.
The situation is not entirely negative. The 2007 motu proprio can at least take credit for the more effective and more widespread application of the motu proprio of 1988 (Ecclesia Dei). In fact, while the architect of Summorum Pontificum is theoretically the parish priest, the handling of requests has, in practise, and contrary to the spirit and the letter of the 2007 motu proprio, nearly always been decided at an episcopal level…as encouraged by Ecclesia Dei almost 30 years ago! It’s probably what the bishops refer to as “moving with the times”…
The fact remains that if the bishops really wanted liturgical harmony, they should have ensured long ago that the faithful had real access, at least in the cathedrals and in the most central churches to start with, to this form of celebration. They should have made the traditional liturgy a treasure accessible to every Catholic who wanted it, and not a museum piece reserved for those who have chosen to leave their parishes for specially-dedicated places of worship resembling some sort of Indian reserve.
In this year of the tenth anniversary of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, we would like to recall that, according to numerous polls conducted between 2008 and 2011 by professional, independent organisations, at least one French practising Catholic in three would assist at least once a month at the extraordinary form of the Roman rite, if it was made available in his parish.
These statistics, proven over time, both in practice and by various polling organisations, have never been taken into account or even debated by the Catholic hierarchy. The conspiracy of silence surrounding these scientific studies and the refusal to discuss the data speaks volumes about the liturgical prejudices which continue to prevail in France. And if opinion polls scare the bishops—who are however crazy about them when it comes to politics—then why not consider the reality of Sunday Mass?
Wherever the Summorum Pontificum experiment has been honestly attempted by a sympathetic priest on a weekly, Sunday basis, and at a time which suits families, it has been a success and has done nothing to empty the neighbouring place of worship. Not any more than the pews of the chapels of the Society of St. Pius X.
Thus, as 2017 begins, we express the hope that the new generation of priests which is rising up and which does not have the ideologically blinkered attitude of their elders, will apply honestly and with liberty of spirit the motu proprio of Benedict XVI, under the eye of bishops finally ready to demonstrate pastoral realism, if not benevolence. It is time to accept the reality as it is, and to know that in every French parish a consistent proportion of the faithful would willingly assist at the extraordinary form of the Roman rite if given the opportunity by the Rev. Parish Priest.
Anything else is just clerical rhetoric.
[French original translated by Maria McDermott]