Father Joseph Fessio and David Allen White analyze the impact of the Pope’s Motu Proprio over the weekend.
HH: Long ago and far away, you know I was an altar boy. And I came of age before Vatican II changed the rules, so I had to learn the Mass in Latin to serve it. And then right before I really got into it, they changed everything. And now, over the weekend, well, I’m not quite sure what happened when Pope Benedict XVI issued a document. But to explain what happened and why it matters, I’ve brought in a couple of heavyweights. Father Joseph Fessio you’ve heard on this program many times. He is the founder of the Ignatius Press. He is the theologian in residence at Ave Maria University. He’s also a student of Benedict XVI for his PhD, and welcome back, Father Fessio, always a pleasure to have you.
JF: Thanks, Hugh, good to be here.
HH: And I’ve got Professor David Allen White of the United States Naval Academy, where he’s been teaching the Mid-shipmen their Shakespeare and other assorted matters for the last quarter century, also a colleague of mine out on the waves of the Mediterranean recently, and a member of the Society of Pius X. And David Allen White, good to have you back.
DAW: Very happy to be here, Hugh, but let me correct one thing.
HH: Yes, I always get that wrong. Go ahead.
DAW: The Society of St. Pius X is a priestly society. It’s a society of religious. And being a simple layman, I couldn’t possibly join. But I am friendly with them, and have been supportive of their efforts.
HH: So with that…
DAW: And let me add one other thing. I did recently publish a biography of their founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.
HH: That’s what I was going to get to. So with that background, Father Fessio, what did the Pope issue this weekend, and what was its effect?
JF: Well, it was called an apostolic letter, Motu Proprio, which means on his own initiative. And it was about making it more easily possible to celebrate the Mass according to the missal of 1962, which was the missal that had been in effect up to the Council itself.
HH: And what was the significance of this letter, Father Fessio?
JF: Well, I think it’s hugely significant. In fact, I’d been saying recently that I believe that in 1968, when Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae, reaffirming that you could not artificially contracept, that the unitive and the procreative dimensions of marriage are meant to be indissolubly united, that I thought that was a major, the major document of the second half of the 20th Century. I think that this document could become the major document for the first half of the 21st Century, that’s how important I think it is.
HH: David Allen White, do you agree with that?
DAW: Oh, absolutely. I think it’s hugely, it’s hugely important, Hugh. It is the cause for great celebration among those of us who have remained fondly attached, and believe firmly that the rite, the Tridentine rite, is the basic rite of the Church, the eternal rite of the Church. So there’s great celebration. Have some little difficulties here and there, and I see some contradictions here and there, but I must begin by saying this is a singularly great event, and as a layman who has often been in disagreement with certain things that Rome has done in the past few years, I offer my thanks and prayers to the Pope for this very remarkable letter, gesture, and definition.
JF: David, I’m really happy to hear you say that. At the same time, I don’t think that the Motu Proprio was only issued for the sake of the Society of Pius X…
DAW: Oh, certainly. No, Father, I agree with you.
JF: …and people like that. And that’s the beauty of it. I mean, I think it’s for the whole Church.
DAW: Oh, I agree with you, Father, absolutely.
HH: Now gentlemen, I want to stop for a second, because I am certain that 75% of my audience has no idea what we’re talking about.
HH: And why it matters so much. So I want to step back and have you both take a crack at describing what has happened in the last almost fifty years of the Roman Catholic Church that made this such a significant day, because I’m sure people are saying huh? What? What happened? Father Fessio?
JF: All right. Well, the center, of course, and the heart of life for Catholics is the holy sacrifice of the Mass. And it has undergone change and growth over the centuries, but it’s always been very gradual, very slow, and it’s been something which has always been consistent with what went before. And as the Holy Father says, at the beginning of this letter, the Motu Proprio, he talks about popes of the past, Gregory the Great, Pius V, Pius X, who had in fact, to try and ensure the most beautiful and worthy celebration of the Eucharist, they have made some changes and adaptations. But it had always been gradual and organic. At the Second Vatican Council, all of the bishops of the Catholic Church met for a four year period, ’62-’65, and one of the things they did, they issued a document called Sacro Santum Concilium, which was a document on the liturgy, on the Mass, especially. And they called for a renewal of the liturgy, and some slight changes in the Mass as it was celebrated. And what then happened after the Council was that some people looked at that as a license for creativity, as the Pope says in his letter. And while the revision of the Mass took place in the next few years, in 1970, a new Missal was issued. The big difference was the new missal contained much of what was in the old missal, but it also contained many things which were totally new additions, hadn’t been there before. And so here’s what happened. You’ve got three things. You’ve got the old missal, which was there was only one way to celebrate the Mass, basically there’s a high Mass and a low Mass, but it’s basically the same Mass, stuff like that. You’ve got the new missal, the so-called Novus Ordo, it was called, in 1970, and you can actually celebrate that much like the old missal. For example, in the old missal, the Mass was in Latin. The priest faced with the people towards the Lord. There were altar rails, there was a Gregorian chant. The canon was the ancient Roman canon. You can actually do all those things in the new missal. In fact, that’s how I normally celebrate Mass, facing East, using Latin, altar rails, male altar servers, incense, Gregorian chant, and so on. But that’s very unusual. What actually happened was most Masses are celebrated using another Eucharistic prayer, they added Eucharistic prayers, two, three and four. And actually, there’s ten or eleven of them now. They turned the altar around, you don’t have to do that, but that was done almost universally, the Mass was totally in their vernacular, and the whole sense of the sacred, phenomenologically, was lost. So now you have a situation where the old form of Mass was no longer being used, but it wasn’t abrogated, it just wasn’t being used, permission wasn’t given for it. The new form of Mass was not celebrated in continuity with the old, but rather in a way that the Holy Father himself described as a rupture, a break, a loss of continuity, and something unprecedented. All those words are words I’m quoting from him. So what happened was a lot of people were not happy with the way the new Mass was celebrated. And some of them took very strong positions. Marcel Lefebvre was a very good bishop, did that. Many people followed him. And they actually, I believe, went out of communion with the Holy Father when they ordained these bishops against his will. And therefore, in a certain sense, separated themselves from the living magisterium of the Church. There were people, though, and the Pope mentions them in his letter, who didn’t like the changes, didn’t like what was happening, thought it was a mistake, but they did not go so far as the Pius X Society did, and they remained in communion with the Holy Father, and they would go to the Novus Ordo Masses and so on. So that was the situation. Back in 1984, and again in 1988, Pope John Paul II tried to make a special provision for the people that wanted to have the old form of the Mass. And he asked for a wide and generous application of this Motu Proprio, which was called Ecclesia Dei, and of course it wasn’t done. Bishops resisted it, and priests resisted it, and so the people who had legitimate desires, which were supported by the Church and the Pope, were not able to have the Mass in the form that they had grown used to, that they loved, and which was more traditional. So what Benedict XVI is trying to do now is achieve a genuine reconciliation. And David, I apologize for talking so much here, I’ll give you the microphone in a second, but there’s two points I want to mention which I think are extremely important. The Pope uses the expression interior reconciliation. It’s very important. When he uses the word interior in any of his works, you know that’s important. It’s a great central word in his vocabulary.
HH: A minute to the break, Father, go ahead.
JF: Okay, so he, the Holy Father does not just want to say hey, talk to us, let’s dialogue, you know, let’s get along. No, he wants to go down to the root, and do something which will actually bring all the parties together, and all the parties who are willing to be reasonable about this. The second thing is the Pope wanted to make these two forms of the Mass now, the extraordinary and the ordinary form, mutually enriching. He says he wants them to be mutually enriching. That’s his words. Here’s what I think that means. The Mass, after the Council, should have been a slight variation of the Mass before the Council, but it wasn’t. It was a huge variation. I think the Pope wants something in between. So now he’s for bringing both of them, and he’s hoping that it will be some changes in the form, and there’ll be some changes in the new form.
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HH: David Allen White, I want to back to you, but I want to read you an e-mail during the break. Hugh, you are in the midst of the most boring hour of radio ever. And you know, I think that’s because people don’t really understand what this is about, David.
DAW: Then let me explain. When the Second Vatican Council took place in the 60’s, I was a good, earnest young Protestant, heading off to college, where I would lose all faith altogether. And many years later, when I tried to come back to a faith and figure out what I should believe, I was eventually led to the Catholic Church, largely through history, tradition, and the fact that as Evelyn Waugh so greatly puts it, the Church offers a coherent philosophical system. Well, I walked in on something I couldn’t quite comprehend. It was very different from what I’d studied. Why it should matter to people is this. Everybody knows what happened in the 60’s. The 60’s was a time of tremendous change. Even for those who are not Catholic, or didn’t know what was going on in the Church, I called the Second Vatican Council the revolution in the Church. Everything changed mightily. And for people in the world, the Church had been the restraining force, and it was like the brakes were off the car, now careening down a mountain, but it was anything goes, and we could party until we hit the wall, because now the limitations were not there. The Church was changing. Now there were warnings at the time, some very interesting ones, and this has to do with the Mass, but also with other aspects of the Church. Pope Paul VI himself, in the late 60’s, said the Church was in interior upheaval, sharp and complex, which none expected after the Council. It seems to be in an hour of anxiety, self-criticism, even auto destruction. Well, the world followed, to a degree. He then said it’s almost as if the Church was destroying itself. Old Cardinal Ottaviani very bluntly wrote to the Pope and said that recent reforms had demonstrated that changes in the liturgy could lead to nothing but complete bewilderment on the part of the faithful, and indeed, Hugh, many of the faithful left, and continued to leave. It was as if we’d been taught this, we’d been taught this, it’s all changed, we’re out of here. And most particularly, the great liturgist, Monsignor Klaus Gamber, who wrote a book called The Roman Rite Destroyed, simply stated the real destruction of the traditional Mass, of the traditional Roman rite, with a history of more than one thousand years, is the wholesale destruction of the faith on which it was based. So the change in the Mass was no small thing, either for the Church, or for the world, even for those who are not Catholic, because that Mass had been at the central, center of Western civilization, and Western culture, for centuries, so that the change in that was very significant. Now if Pope Leo I from about the year 500 had come back and seen the Mass in the early 20th Century, there would have, as Father quite accurately says, had been some small, tiny changes in it. But he would have recognized it. If Pope St. Pius X from the early years of the 20th Century came back in the 1970’s, he would not recognize that new service, so abrupt was the change, so that what the Pope is doing now, and I think this is very interesting, and I do agree with what Father Fessio has said the Pope’s intention is, is an attempt, since I think he studied German philosophy, and correct me if I’m wrong, Father, has something of a mindset that the world is in a movement of progress, and you take the old Mass, you have the new Mass, and now he’s seeking, hoping somehow, for a synthesis there. Those of us who don’t believe in progress at all, but believe in fallen mankind, view this movement of him to restore the old rite as, to be quite honest, a restoration of the basis of Western civilization, and that’s why we’re rejoicing.
HH: Father Fessio, Father Joseph Fessio, theologian in resident at Ave Maria, and founder of Ignatius Press, student of the Pope, I wanted to reintroduce you, Father, respond, if you would, as well as to my e-mailer, but also to what Professor David Allen White of the Naval Academy had to say.
JF: Well, I’ll take all responsibility for this being boring.
HH: (laughing) I don’t think it’s boring at all. I think my listeners need to listen.
JF: And it might be better if we get some questions we can answer, if anybody’s listening to us here. But just two things, and again, I am very appreciating this conversation with David White here. I agree that there was a revolution that took place after the Council, and because of the Council. But it wasn’t the result of the Council. That is to say, if you read the documents themselves, I mean, even Marcel Lefebvre signed the document on the liturgy.
DAW: That’s correct.
JF: But it was the way the Council was interpreted. The media interpreted it, it became a revolution. It was used as the kind of banner for revolution. But I think that was a…what the Holy Father has called in a very important talk he gave on December 22nd, 2005, a hermeneutics of discontinuity, that is thinking the Council was something totally discontinuous with the past. And he’s made it a point of his pontificate to reapply hermeneutics of continuity, that is to reinterpret the Council in continuity with the past. So I think, Hugh, I think David and I may disagree slightly on this thing, but I’ll tell you, it’s very, very slightly.
HH: Now I will take calls…
JF: One quick thing, then, Hugh, is David also did talk about the Pope, his believing in progress, maybe this kind of Hegelian synthesis we’ve got here. I don’t think the Pope believes in spiritual progress, or moral progress. I mean, each individual stands before God. But he does believe in culture, and I think he wants to restore a sense of Christian culture. But I think he’s very realistic about it. He knows that Christians are going to be a minority in the world, probably for some time to come.
HH: The number’s 1-800-520-1234. Two quick questions of pragmatic consequence. Father Fessio, will Catholics all over the United States walk into their Church next Sunday and start hearing Latin Masses and wonder what’s going on?
JF: Definitely not, because this takes effect on September 14th.
HH: How about on September 15th, then?
JF: I think that many, but a minority, of priests will take advantage of the fact they can celebrate Mass, you know, and not a regularly scheduled Mass, but just a Mass, and anybody who wants to can come. That’s going to happen. I think in a lot of parishes, they’re going to have parishioners who request this, and I believe that most bishops and most pastors will by sympathetic, but that’s yet to be seen.
HH: And Professor White, this is unfair with forty seconds, but are you optimistic about a reconciliation of these cleaven parts of the Church?
DAW: That is a huge question. If I could put that off for just a bit, I’m always…of course, the Church will be one. It must be. It’s part of the definition of the Church. Exactly how the restoration will come, we don’t know. But let me say this, I think there’s going to be excitement in parishes. I’m not sure I’ll go so far as civil war, and I think it’s wonderful. The faith is about to become exciting, vibrant. People are going to be talking about it again, fighting for what they believe in. But the most important thing, with each additional Mass that is said, Tridentine Mass, the Mass of all time, grace is going to flow, and healing will begin.
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HH: One more question from me before we go forward. Father Fessio, Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League greeted these changes in the Mass, or the document from the Pope, with a charge of anti-Semitism. How did you respond to that?
JF: Well, he’s completely mistaken, because the permission for the former usage is only given for the whole year except the Holy Triduum of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. So the prayer he’s worried about, which is a Good Friday prayer, is not part of his Motu Proprio. However, I find it offensive that Jews find it offensive when Christians pray for the conversion of the Jews. That’s what a Christian is in the first few centuries. They were hoping that Jews would recognize Jesus as the Messiah. So I would expect good Jews to try and convert me. And I don’t expect them to be upset if I try and convert them.
HH: David Allen White?
DAW: Oh, listen, it’s an act of charity. If I genuinely believe what I believe, then I have an obligation to try to get my Jewish friends to convert, along with all my other friends. So it’s…let me just say that it’s one of the contradictions in the document. The Pope says, and it’s the great moment in the document, that this Mass has never been abrogated, and then abrogates it for those three days. But in any case, it’s out there, and it will do great good, I think, for the conversion of many souls. And as a Catholic, I believe everyone needs to convert to the Catholic Church.
HH: All right, John in Atlanta, you’re on with Father Joseph Fessio and David Allen White. Hi, John.
John: Howdy, gentlemen, thanks you for this truly outstanding conversation. My question is how do you think the Church would respond in the American Church to an entire generation, I would argue two generations of Catholic youths who’ve been raised on the LifeTeen Mass, which is an entirely different liturgical vocabulary from the traditional Tridentine Mass? How do you say to them this is what you really need to grow up into when they’re used to their praise bands, and may I say happy clappy music?
HH: Oh, great question. Father Fessio first?
JF: Well, two things. One, I’d say now, the shoe’s on the other foot. No one seemed to care in 1969 and ’70 when they had this other Mass foisted on them. So now let the people that have been rejoicing all these years experience what we’ve had to live with for 37 years. Secondly, however, there’s a fundamental flaw in the LifeTeen Mass, even though it does a lot of good for a lot of people, I’m sure, because God brings grace out of many things. But you don’t adapt the Mass to a lower level to try and get people to come. It’s like when Jesus told the people to eat my flesh and drink my blood. They walked away. He didn’t say oh, come back, I’ll soften that up. No, he said to his apostles, oh, you’re going to go, too? And they said no. You’ve got the words of eternal life. So I hope that this new Motu Proprio will, in fact, help to gradually transform and inform these young people so that they’ll experience Mass as it’s truly meant to be celebrated.
HH: David Allen White, how do you respond to John from Atlanta?
DAW: Well, it’s interesting, I agree with John completely. It is a new ceremony. It’s a new Mass. It’s something totally new, which is one of my objections to it. It was cobbled together in a sense. The main thing that’s troubling is the whole notion that sacrifice was left out. That word was pretty much removed, as were references to Mary, to the saints…the Catholic parts went. But what I’ve discovered, young people are coming to the Tridentine Mass, the Mass of all time. They’re flocking to it. They need spiritual sustenance, they need grace to save their souls, and they want something that is solemn, unchanging, that rock that the Church has always been. And I think the rest of it they can get elsewhere in the culture. In fact, you can’t go into a restaurant to eat without having it pounding in your ears. I think to worship God through the sacrifice of the Mass, they will eventually return.
HH: John, thank you. Let’s go quickly to Don in La Canada, California. Don, go ahead.
Don: Hi, gentlemen. I was a 12 year old altar boy in 1970 when the Mass changed over. I was in love with the Mass in the Catholic Church, and I will never forget the day it turned from being a strong medicine to an irrelevant placebo.
HH: Oh, that’s harsh.
Don: And it’s so very true. And along with this irrelevant placebo came the document on ecumenism and inter-religious freedom. And I think that those are the two next things that need to be worked on, because the Mass became irrelevant, and the Church became irrelevant, along with those two nostraetate…
HH: All right, I’ll be right back after the break. We’ll allow Father Joseph Fessio and David Allen White to respond to our friend in La Canada.
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HH: Gentlemen, you know, that last call kind of summed it up. It wasn’t enough to talk about the Mass. There’s some other deep scars within the Roman Catholic Church that he brought up. And Father Fessio, how did you respond to that?
JF: How about letting David go first this time?
HH: All right, David?
DAW: Actually, I think I can do that, Hugh. In fact, in the letter that the Pope writes to the bishops, where he’s talking about, and I quote, “The movement led by Archbishop Lefebvre,” which is interesting, Hugh, the Archbishop is the only modern Church man no a Pope mentioned in the document. The Society is the only religious society mentioned in the document.
HH: And implying what? Or signifying what?
DAW: Well, the importance…
HH: Yup, that’s…
DAW: Eamon Duffy, who wrote The Stripping Of The Altars, about the destruction of the Roman Catholic Church in England in the 16th Century, in a book, a history of the popes called Saints And Sinners, called Archbishop Lefebvre the ghost that haunts the Vatican II Church. They can’t get rid of him. They can’t lay him to rest. And the Pope acknowledges that to a degree in this document, though let me say, he then says that the reasons for the break which arose were at a deeper level than just the Mass. So your caller was absolutely right. There are questions of religious liberty, as defined by the Council, questions of collegiality, giving the bishops more power in bishops conferences than they ever had before, and the whole question of ecumenism that we can all get along and join in one big cold stewpot where nothing has any flavor anymore, and those are new. And those ideas as well were very important to the Archbishop, and the Society found it, as well as the Mass. There are many things to be dealt with here, and the Pope does acknowledge that in the document.
HH: Father Fessio?
JF: Well, I have a question for David. If you think therefore that this Motu Proprio itself, in only what it is proposing, will be sufficient to bring some, most, or even all of the members of the Society of Pius X back into full communion?
DAW: I don’t think it will, Father, for this reason. In 2002, Bishop Fellay called for, and it’s interesting to read what he asked the Pope to do. He says if Rome was to declare publicly, as we ask it to do, that the Latin Mass has never been abrogated, and the Pope used those very words…
JF: He did.
DAW: It would be an admission that the new Mass itself has not been strong enough to eliminate the Latin Mass, and security for the future that Rome will not take the old Mass away. And then the hope is they can get on to other discussions. I think what it does do…that was one of the conditions. The second condition was that the so-called phony excommunication…my opinion…excommunications be lifted, and then discussions can begin. I sincerely hope discussions begin soon, and I would expect the Pope soon to make some statement about those “excommunications”. Let me just say, to put my cards on the table, I view Archbishop Lefebvre as the great Churchman of our time. That’s why I wrote a biography of him called The Horn of the Unicorn. I believe him to be one of the two great men of the age, the other being Alexander Solzhenitsyn, courageous men who fought under impossible odds to stand up for what they believe in.
HH: So Father Fessio, when you hear David Allen White, a supporter of SSPX say that, what’s your reaction?
JF: Well, I do sympathize very much with the concerns that he and other members of the St. Pius X Society have. I do think the Church has spoken very clearly on ecumenism in Dominus Iesus, which Cardinal Ratzinger issued a few years back, and I would hope that would be sufficient support for a position that would be acceptable to the St. Pius X…As far as religious liberty goes, that is a fairly complex issue. And I don’t think the Church is going to change what…
DAW: But the Church has changed on it.
HH: All right, hold on, I want to get to Dean Barnett, who is my co-blogger, and responding to Abe Foxman. Dean, welcome to our Jewish colleague.
DB: It’s great to be here.
HH: What’s your comment on the Foxman thing?
DB: That it drives me crazy when this arrogant man presumes to bespeak on behalf of all of Jewry. And the text of his comments, the meaning of his comments, were, I thought, totally offensive, that he would presume to criticize how another faith practices its religion, when it has essentially nothing to do with him.
HH: Now Dean, I’m going to cut you off, because we have a contrary view from another Jewish listener. And I appreciate you putting that out there. I wanted to lead into it, and thank you for that service. Ralph in North Hollywood, Ralph, your comment?
Ralph: Hugh, first of all, I fully understand why Catholics and other Christians may view their religion to be the sole truth, religious truth, and I fully support their right, even duty as they view it, to be evangelical, since that is the essence of Christianity.
HH: Okay, but, and we’ve got to make it quick.
Ralph: However, what I would say is there has to be a sensitivity…when David Allen White said this was an act of charity, he should remember that we have an experience of centuries where as an act of charity, there was an attempt not merely to persuade, but to impose.
HH: All right, David Allen White, your response to Ralph and to Dean?
DAW: Let’s just say I have real problem with the history as it’s been put out there. My view of what actually happened historically is rather different, and that’s for another show sometime, Hugh.
HH: Father Fessio?
JF: Well, even if the history were true, that does not mean that it is wrong to pray for the conversion of the Jews, even if in the past there were forced conversions.
HH: Steven in New Jersey, you’re on. Steven, you’ve got 50 seconds.
Steven: Yes, one Pope foisted the new Mass on Catholics, another Pope is taking it away. Aren’t you gentlemen setting too high expectations and another round of disappointment if 30 years from now a third Pope uses this tremendous power to take it away again?
HH: All right, on that note, we’re going to go to break. And what can you rely on is a great question to come back for our last three minutes with Father Joseph Fessio of Ave Maria University, David Allen White of the United States Naval Academy.
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HH: I’d like to conclude by asking you both, starting with you, Professor White, what about the last caller saying you know, one Pope says A, another Pope says B, why rely on any of them?
DAW: That is a sign of disorder in the Church. And in fact, Saint Vincent of Lerins said when there is trouble in the Church, and you don’t know what to do, keep doing what was done in the past, because you know it cannot be wrong. The Church is based on two pillars, tradition and scripture, and that’s why Archbishop Lefebvre put on his tomb, I have passed on what was given to me, from Corinthians. And let me end by quoting II Thessalonians, Keep the traditions, stand fast in those things which you have learned. And the Pope has acknowledged this, and I think begun a return to those traditions, and I salute him for it.
HH: Father Fessio?
JF: Well, I’m a Catholic, Hugh, and I do believe that we do base ourselves on both tradition and scripture. But it’s interpreted by the living magisterium. Just as we criticize Protestants for private interpretation of scripture, I also criticize those so-called Catholics who have private interpretation of tradition. So I…there will always be disorder in the Church, and I’m part of it. I cause much of it by my sins. But there’s only one Church, and there’s only one Pope. And as a great father of the Church said, ube Petros, ebe ekklesia – Where Peter is, there’s a Church. So I’ll accept even mistakes, while they’re legitimate, rather than give up the Church and the Pope.
HH: Once again, gentlemen, a fascinating hour, and I believe despite our e-mails to the contrary, most of them, the overwhelming majority of them thanked us for it, and the phones could go on all day.
End of interview.