Next Synod of Bishops, Upcoming Motu Proprio, Etc.

Two upcoming items on the Vatican front.

The Next Synod of Bishops
So only Nixon can go to China. From Fr. Z, a priest and blogger from Rome who spends a lot of time talking about proper translations of liturgical texts from the Latin, as well as the return of the use of Latin in the Mass. The Lineamenta, the planning texts, for October's Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, have been published. The theme will be "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church." The Synod was called for by Christus Dominus at Vatican II, and has functioned as an occasional advisory body to the Pope since then. But Fr. Z notes an important change that B16 has made to the juridical process of the synod, a change that furthers the pattern of slow, deliberate yet marked de-centralization that reflects a theology of the papacy as the primate among the bishops, rather than above the bishops. Fr. Z's text in full:

For a rigid backward looking conservative, Pope Benedict XVI sure does some progressive things.

The most recent surpise from His Holiness is a change to the Synod of Bishops.

Originally the Synod, called to meet occasionally to discuss questions put to them by the Pope, could before only offer observations and statements. Pope Benedict has now given them deliberative power concerning certain precise questions.

The new edition of the Acta Apostolicae Sedis indicates the changes in new statutes for the Synod.

The Synod will be able to vote on issues, but the vote must be ratified by the Pope. Thus, in certain specific questions, it seems the Synod will become a kind of micro-Council.

This move brings the Synod perhaps more in line with the way ancient Synods worked. It also resonates with the way the Orthodox bishops deliberate, though clearly they don’t have the Petrine dimension excercized by the Pope.

So, this Pope seems to be bent on loosening the vice clamping around some dimensions of the Church’s life since Pope Paul VI. He is exploiting the provisions in Canon Law about the Synod and relaxing artifical and harmful restrictions imposed on the Church’s liturgical life.

The Motu Proprio
And the next news that's likely to come from Rome is the upcoming motu proprio expected to allow a much wider use of the 1962 Missale Romanum (that's Mass in Latin, for my fellow post-conciliar Catholics). Expect lots and lots of people to freak out.

For all of your basic questions for information, Amy Wellborn has put together a "Motu Proprio Tip Sheet" that will, assumedly, receive further detail after the actual publication of the document.

Should those of us who aren't Latin Mass goers freak out? Not necessarily. I expect that the key to the interpretation of the document will be a clause or paragraph in which B16 will signal that a crucial aspect of the wider allowance of the Latin Mass cannot be understood in any way, by bishops, clergy, or laypeople, as suggesting the illegitimacy of the vernacular versions of the Mass. That's the rub that sparked the excommunications of the Lefebvrists back in the day; one cannot, in the Catholic church, promote the use of the Latin Mass because one understands the vernacular masses to be invalid. I expect that the motu proprio will make that clear.

Given that, I'm optimistic that the wider use of the Latin Mass won't make much difference to most people. Releasing a document like this in 2007 is a lot different than it would have been in 1978; there is no way of turning back the clock on the vernacular liturgy, and most clergy, laypeople, and bishops have little interest in returning to the old Mass. If it's strongly emphasized that a preference for the Latin Mass is just that, a preference, and not a matter of faith, then allowing a diversity of usage within the church seems a good move to meet people where they are.

At least two practical issues need to be addressed, however, that may get lost in the shuffle to re-publish 1962 Missals. First, there is the minor issue of a unified calendar; many people were expecting the publication of the document yesterday, on the feast of St. Pius V, the post-Tridentine pope whose publication of the Missale Romanum standardized Latin Catholic usage for the next 400 years. But it's just as possible that the document may be published
on May 5th, his feast day under the Latin Catholic calendar. This in itself signals the difficulty of allowing two distinct calendars within the Latin rite. Some sort of calendar reform within the Latin rite would both make sure that Roman Catholics are celebrating the same feasts on the same days, and would also show the relativity of the Latin Mass -- the Mass is under the regulation of the bishops, and not the reverse. Simply being old doesn't make it scripture.

The second, more substantive issue is the question of how the texts of the Latin Mass understand the relations between Jews and Christians. I have a 1962 Missale here in my library, and a quick leafing through can find those lovely Good Friday prayers for the "perfidious Jews." The Boston College Center for Christian-Jewish Learning has already raised these concerns and suggested some responses.

In both cases, the caveat seems to be that if greater re-introduction of the Latin missal is not going to undermine some of the other developments in post-conciliar Catholicism, it can't be introduced as a museum piece, but must be made a living part of the church, and that includes modifications that will upset true traditionalists by suggesting that there are other reasons for allowing Latin liturgy than a negative evaluation of the conciliar reforms. We'll see shortly, according to all the scuttlebutt, exactly what will happen next.

1 comment:

Chironomo said...

I'm thinking the more likely route would be to make changes to the new calendar to bring it into closer accord with the old.... this makes sense because of the already existent perception that the new calendar is easily changeable (it has been already changed numerous times in a 40 year period)while the old calendar is a "given" and cannot be altered without altering the nature of the old liturgy. This is just my opinion of course, and once the MP is promulgated, we will all find out what will really happen...