Only a few weeks into the pontificate of Francis I, and traditional Catholics are being challenged like they haven’t been before. Or at least since the pontificate of Paul VI and the advent of the Novus Ordo Missae.
Indeed, this year the new pope chose not to do as his predecessors had done and celebrate the Mass of Holy Thursday in the Lateran Archbasilica; instead celebrating it in a youth detention centre, during which he washed and kissed the feet of twelve young people, including women and Muslims.
Now, however we might feel about this act, that it breaks both with tradition and law is beyond dispute. Fr Ray Blake offers some words on the matter that bear consideration, but what the entire Church needs to call to mind now is that, whatever Pope Francis might do over the course of his ministry, and whatever lessons he might offer the Church, what he says and does is only valid inasmuch as it is consistent with Holy Tradition.
I have the privilege of holding a faculty to celebrate the Roman Rite, which I do on a regular basis because of where I work during the week. Thus far, I have celebrated the Novus Ordo only, but have done so in obedience to the episcopal decree which permits me celebrate the rites of the Latin Church so long as I continue to live according the norms of my own (Byzantine) Rite, and that when I do celebrate the Latin Rite, I do so in conformity with its rubrics, without ritual confusion. As a result, I take what the Missal says very literally, and it clearly suggests that the priest should be facing ad orientum when offering the Holy Sacrifice. I know, of course, that many Latin priests do not face this way when celebrating, but I do not feel that I have the right to pick and choose which details I shall observe of a Rite that is not my own, and furthermore, find it more liturgically consistent when moving between the Byzantine liturgical world, and the Latin, to approach the Altar from the same direction.
For all this, it came to my attention yesterday that a priest in the Latin diocese in which I reside was told about the way I celebrate, to which he replied somewhat derisively, ‘Pope Francis wouldn’t do that.’
Frankly, whether the new pope would or would not face the liturgical East when celebrating Mass is beside the point. In fact, I rather suspect this diocesan priest was right: Pope Francis would not do that. More important, though, is the fact that it doesn’t matter.
As Francis I has reminded us, he is the Bishop of Rome, and so pope. As pope, he has the great responsibility of summarising Holy Tradition when he speaks to the Church, and when he does so, he speaks infallibly. Certainly the former Cardinal Ratzinger thought so when he declared of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, that it “requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the tradition of the church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal magisterium” [emphasis mine]. That being the case, it would be ridiculous to place too much weight on the liturgical example of Pope Francis when his papacy has so obviously signalled that it would not be making the Liturgy and the recovery of liturgical tradition its focus.
The fact remains that, although Pope Benedict XVI has retired, his teaching remains just a relevant as it was when he was at the height of his strength. Pope Benedict reminded us all that it is in fidelity to our traditions, and most importantly to Holy Tradition of Mother Church, that the world will be successfully re-evangelised. If we lose sight of this, then we go about the work of the Church at our peril.
Pope Francis, too, has something to say about evangelisation, and it is a lesson we can all stand to hear. But to suggest for one moment that, because this pope – formed as he was in his vocation by the Jesuits, in Latin America, in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council – shows little interest in liturgical theology, the teaching of the last pope has been superceded and we all have carte blanche to dig out the rainbow-coloured broad stoles, disobey rubrics, and re-cast Tradition in our own image, is patently absurd and utterly naive. It is tantamount to saying, when the next pope comes along and moves back into the papal apartments, that we don’t have to ‘do humility’ anymore.
Technically, I could say that I do not have a horse in the Latin liturgical race; but the fact is I do. (Frankly, anyone who cares about culture, and beauty, and goodness – not to mention the worthy worship of the Holy Trinity – should.) Regardless, though, no Catholic should be hoodwinked into thinking that their rightful inheritance has been shelved or somehow done away with because a new pope with new lessons has come along. There would have been nothing discordant with a Mass celebrated ad orientum in the detention centre, with incense, chanting, and worthy priestly vesture. Alas, that may not have been what happened, but if Catholics are genuinely in communion with the whole Church in space and time, then they will understand that the teaching of both popes is what should inform them now, and go out to meet the poor, sharing with them as much beauty and mystery and cultural treasure as they can.