Not that it matters to me personally, but I am observing comments of both traditionalists and progressives about the latest news from Rome. Surely many will shun off such concerns as those of mentally unstable people or at least having missed the point of Christianity in their attachment to externals like the Pharisees of Old Testament times. The point is something said not by Pope Francis himself but by Fr Raniero Cantalamessa for his Good Friday homily.
It seems to be a programme of renewed iconoclasm – text in an unofficial translation. When I was up at Fribourg, we studied Cantalamessa’s book on Easter in the early Church, a magnificent piece of work. He can say beautiful things like I used to hear from Metropolitan Anthony Bloom in London, but why this desire to reinvent the wheel? It looks like a programme that is very definitely a hermeneutic of rupture, very similar to that of the Lollards, the Protestants, the Jansenists and Archbishop Annabile Bugnini who was charged with compiling the new Roman Catholic rites in the 1950’s and 60’s. It is a theme with which we are familiar, one of bathwater and babies. It seems encouraging to want to be rid of “true church” ideologies, division between Christians, bureaucracy, legalism and so forth. But what does getting rid of the residue of past ceremonials mean? It seems dangerously to mean the liturgy itself and the entire notion of Tradition. Cantalamessa uses the analogy of old buildings ad their fittings, restoring primitive / pristine simplicity to use language that we read in the documents of Counter-Reformation and Vatican II popes, in the writings of the Reformers and the Jansenists. We have heard all this before – and within our lifetimes.
I have read observations saying that Fr Cantalamessa preached in quite a “traditional” way under Benedict XVI. Yes, I remember as a small boy learning the traditional English folk song – In good King Charles’ golden days, When loyalty no harm meant… I knew little about Christian doctrine, but I understood that the song described a man with no convictions, an opportunist. All the same, we still hear echoes of the guffaws of men like Kasper and Mahoney, perched atop the gallows like as many carrion crows!
Traditionalists who were considered as quite “mainstream” until two months ago are now crazy or fanatical in the minds of some, which probably doesn’t exclude the possibility of some being so in reality. A friend of mine in France says very sensibly (my translation):
I see no confusion but blinding clarity.
We we really again in a period of destruction. Active destruction.
I also think that auto-destruction, progressivism is going to shoot its last cartridges into its foot whilst it believes itself to be surviving.
What he [Pope Francis] says is not entirely wrong, but the patrimony that he will leave us , if he disowns us, will be heavy to cope with.
We weren’t at the bottom, we are going down yet further.
Benedict XVI was going very slowly, obviously having to get each jot and tittle past the heavy Vatican bureaucracy on pain of something extra being added to his soup, no doubt. It was easier to bring back items of dress than do anything more profound about a reform of the reform. I think that was the point about Benedict XVI. He went to war out-gunned and out-horse-powered.
It remains to be seen whether Pope Francis wishes to pursue a deep reform of the reform whilst making abstraction of the tat. The Benedictines in France don’t use lace and their vestments are rather more modern and sober – but their liturgy is beautiful and uplifting. I go more for simplicity myself. Pope Francis is a Jesuit, and very few Jesuits have ever been interested in the liturgy. We are until now led to believe that, as for Paul VI, the liturgy is some kind of optional accessory that can be discarded at will according to “missionary” imperatives. In this way of thinking, form has no importance, only the rationally apprehended “truth”. That’s what it seems to look like until now with Pope Francis. I know the discourse by heart – Fribourg University in the 1980’s made me immune!
As mentioned before, it would seem doubtful that Pope Francis would abolish the English so-called Agatha Christi indult of Paul VI, the 1984 indult and legislation of 1988 by John Paul II and finally Summorum Pontificium of Benedict XVI. The problem would be the possibility for priests and priestly institutes availing of these faculties to minister in an “ordinary” diocese. It is much easier to treat all that as Anglicanorum coetibus was dealt with, made dead letter except in a fairly skeletal form. This is a very cogent concern. Perhaps, under Benedict XVI, some bishops accorded permissions unwillingly but out of a feeling of obedience to the Pope. With that incentive gone – Chassez le naturel, il revient au galop. For those who don’t read French, we English say that The leopard cannot change its spots. Many traditionalists will return to the Society of St Pius X, which is now saying that they are relieved not to have accepted a deal with Benedict XVI! Right or wrong – posterity will judge.
As men like Dr Luc Perrin say, it is too early to judge with certitude. There are indications that seem to fit into a pattern, and those who go along with the reformer (as in Lollards, Protestants, Jansenists, etc.) mindsets like Kasper and Mahoney still seem to be delighted. Naturally, those who want abortion, gay marriage and women priests may be disappointed – but yet so might those wanting traditional liturgies.
I was a Roman Catholic for only a relatively short period of my life, but I still have my contacts and influences. I really do wonder whether we are better off under triumphalist conservatives who were at their most vocal during the Benedictine Pontificate, and who talk in whispers now – or under the way things were in the Paul VI era, when you had to be extremely conservative to react against the heresy of formlessness.
None of us has any reassurance of being in a Church or particular jurisdiction with a future, something to which we can leave our earthy goods and entrust our children and grandchildren. We Continuing Anglicans are fragile and are ourselves regaining stability brick by brick. Many Roman Catholics two months ago thought they could lord it over everyone else and boast their solidity – they are now walking on eggs as they wait for things to “pan out”.
I feel sad and worried about others who wait for Godet like many of us Anglicans did as we laboured with our illusions two to three years ago. I yet have confidence that Pope Francis’ pastoral sense would prevail as he considers the need for cultural diversity in the Church, between his own people and the Africans and Asians – and the Europeans of both post-modern and classical cultures. Perhaps this view might come across as a way to restoring the pre-Tridentine kaleidoscope of local rites and uses together with the customs of the historical religious orders. This would be my hope and my prayer for our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters.