Brian Mershon
May 1, 2006
Cardinal Medina Estevez confirms Curial meeting about traditionalist concerns
By Brian Mershon

(From the May 4 edition of The Wanderer)

The Classical Roman rite of Holy Mass "was never abrogated" and "is consequently legitimate," Jorge Cardinal Medina Estevez, former prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, told the Italian I Media news agency late last week in the first interview granted by any of the cardinal participants of the April 7 dicastery and March 23 meetings of the College of Cardinals.

Cardinal Medina Estevez reconfirmed similar statements made previously by Dario Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos in interviews from the Italian print and broadcast media in late summer and autumn last year. Cardinal Medina confirmed that restoring normal ties with the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) was also one of the primary topics discussed during the March 23 meeting with the Pope and cardinals.

This recent interview is certain to continue speculation about an upcoming document allegedly in the works that would free the Classical Roman rite of the liturgy. In this recent interview, Cardinal Medina outlined three connected, but separate discussions that have been the topic of many news articles and online media speculation over the past weeks.

The cardinals discussed the possibility of reaffirming traditional Catholics who attend indult Mass centers and those connected with the Ecclesia Dei Commission, of which Cardinal Medina is a member, and Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos is the president. The discussion centered on the Church possibly providing "a generous welcome" to traditional Catholics. Perhaps this welcome may be an official reaffirmation that the Classical Roman rite of the liturgy is still in force and has never been abrogated, which would leave all Latin rite Catholic priests free to offer it without fear of reprisal or penalty.

Doctrinal discussions with bishops of the SSPX will be necessary, especially regarding certain doctrines of the Second Vatican Council they claim conflict with the traditional magisterial doctrine. Cardinal Medina said that "perhaps the majority hope for full communion with the Holy See," referring presumably to the priests and bishops of the SSPX.

If a full reconciliation with the SSPX is established, then the possibility of a canonical structure similar to the apostolic administration that Bishop Fernando Rifan oversees in Campos, Brazil, might become available for traditionalist Catholics worldwide, Cardinal Medina said.

Cardinal Castrillon's May 2004 celebration of the Classical Roman rite at St. Mary Major in Rome was a visible public statement to the Church at large that this rite of Holy Mass is indeed alive and well and flourishing. During his sermon at this very Mass, Cardinal Castrillon explicitly confirmed the legitimacy of this rite of Holy Mass, as well as the rightful desires of those Catholics attached to the 1962 liturgical books.

Cardinal Medina has regularly celebrated the Traditional liturgy in recent years, most recently as the Holy Father's special envoy at the dedication of the Nuns' Abbey church in Barroux in May 2005, according to Dr. Alcuin Reid, a London-based author. Dr. Reid's most recent work, The Organic Development of the Liturgy (Ignatius Press 2005) contains a glowing preface written by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.

Commenting upon Cardinal Medina's I Media interview, Dr. Reid said, "Clearly, they are of one mind in this area."

Dr. Reid has written and spoken regularly on liturgical topics, and has edited and published a number of books on the Sacred Liturgy including a new edition of the standard manual for the celebration of the Classical Roman rite, The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described.

And what is this "one mind" of which Dr. Reid speaks about both Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Medina? "It is clear from his recent interview, and from his actions, that he is a friend of those who desire the free celebration of the Traditional liturgy," Dr. Reid said.

"Guided Freedom"

However, a seeming rightful concern exists even among traditional Catholic priests and laity on how a prospective "freeing" of the Classical Roman liturgy might be practically administered in a typical parish. Concerns regarding the lack of knowledge of Latin and the rubrics among parish priests are expressed by many Catholic laity and priests.

"I would not raise my hopes too high when it comes to seminary formation, at least not in the near future," said Fr. Thomas Kocik. "After all, few are the seminaries that train men to celebrate the Mass of Paul VI in a traditional manner, such as in Latin, with Gregorian chant, priest and people facing the same direction," he said. "So can we really expect widely available training for the traditional rite, even if its use is unconditionally approved?"

Fr. Kocik is a parish priest in the Diocese of Fall River, Mass., and is the author of The Reform of the Reform? A Liturgical Debate (Ignatius Press 2003). This book contains an interesting debate between two fictional characters discussing the pros and cons of those advocating "a reform of the reform," and the traditionalist Catholic viewpoint advocating a mere return to the postconciliar liturgy.

With the current Pope, what most people may have missed is that he is expecting both to happen. In other words, the more frequent celebration of the Classical Roman rite of Holy Mass, as well as a "morphing" of the Novus Ordo liturgy to more closely resemble the Traditional rite. By having the Traditional liturgy more available and accessible, it may serve as an anchor for those interested in assisting with a true liturgical reform in keeping with the texts of Sacrosanctum Concilium.

Fr. George Gabet, North American district superior for the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), expressed his concerns regarding a freeing of the Classical Roman rite for all priests in a recent interview with The Wanderer. He reiterated the same messages given about this question by Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, bishop of the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., and Bishop Alvaro Corrada, SJ, of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas. Both bishops said that while they were open to any and all of their diocesan priests offering the Traditional rite, they ensured the priests knew Latin well enough, and had some training in the rubrics of the Mass prior to allowing them final permission to offer it. This might be classified as a "guided freedom."

A Just Concern

Fr. Joseph Santos, pastor of Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Providence, R.I., offers the Novus Ordo and the Classical Roman liturgy every Sunday. "One thing that must be underlined is the competency of priests to celebrate the old rite in Latin," Fr. Santos said.

"Many have no knowledge of the language; good intentions are not enough," he said. "A general indult could make things worse, not better, with a multitude of well-intentioned, but inept celebrations."

Fr. Robert Fromageot, a priest with the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), who offers the Classical Roman Mass and sacraments exclusively, is studying at the Angelicum in Rome. He agrees entirely with Fr. Santos' cautions.

"The concern is a just concern," Fr. Fromageot said. "The Classical Roman rite has not been available everywhere for a long time, so when you just have it freed, it just doesn't begin again as if it were here just yesterday."

Fr. Fromageot affirmed that it would be a matter of justice for a document to come from the Holy See to reaffirm the legitimacy of the Classical Roman rite. "In a way, these restrictions that we have had, while they may be seen as unjust, and on some level they are unjust, nevertheless, they do provide a certain quality control to the growth of this Classical Roman rite that has occurred since 1988."

He said that it was not the primary reason the restrictions were made, "but it is a side benefit of them; and when those are gone, let's hope that the job they have served will be taken over in a more direct manner by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter and these other traditionalist groups that are available to assist," Fr. Fromageot said.

In other words, Fr. Fromageot is suggesting that for those diocesan priests who are interested in offering the Classical Roman rite, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter and the Institute of Christ the King may organize workshops and opportunities to train priests in the rubrics of the Traditional rite.

Fr. Fromageot further cautioned that learning the rubrics of the Classical Roman rite will not be easy and "takes a certain amount of training," he said. "It takes a certain development of the infrastructure that has to be in place for the Classical Roman rite to thrive and to thrive well."

"I think it is fair to say that it will at least bring Vatican approval of the rite to a new level as far as the public manifestation of that approval is concerned," he said.

Also, a formal acknowledgment of the legitimacy of this rite would bring a certain psychological and spiritual freedom to traditional Catholic laity and priests worldwide who often suffer unjustly under the labels of schismatic and disobedient. "As a result of this approval, it would become increasingly difficult for those who dislike the Classical Roman rite to marginalize the clergy or the faithful who wish to use it in the practice of their faith," he added.

And offering concerns similar to those of Fr. Santos, Fr. Fromageot added, "I mean, God help us if priests learn how to use this rite and do a sloppy job of it."

Fr. Kocik currently offers the Novus Ordo exclusively, but has expressed his willingness to his bishop to offer the Classical Roman rite if pastoral needs dictate. Fr. Kocik was quoted in a December 2005 article in The Wanderer as stating he believed that the more frequent celebration of the Classical Roman rite was a precursor, and necessary, for a real "reform of the reform" to take place for the Missal of 1969.

Fr. Kocik said he saw last week's Cardinal Medina interview as "encouraging, to say the least."

Cautious Assessments

However, some notable traditionalist Catholic laymen were more cautious in their assessments. Perhaps this is due to the numerous battle scars and years of expectations and resulting disappointments they have experienced. Or maybe it is simply due to a more sober and mature outlook they may have with true insights to the delicate balancing act necessary in the Roman Curia.

After all, as Cardinal Arinze was quoted during the Synod on the Eucharist in October, no cardinal had mentioned the Traditional Latin Mass in any of the sessions of the synod. And the recent report by National Catholic Reporter's John Allen in his "Word From Rome" cited unnamed cardinals and Vatican sources saying that nearly all of the current group of cardinals were at best ambivalent toward any prospective official recognition or liberties that may be given to traditionalist Catholic laymen, priests, and/or bishops.

Fredrik (Fra Fredrik) Crichton-Stuart, president of the International Federation Una Voce (FIUV) is one such experienced and cautious Catholic. Prior to Holy Week, when there were many expectations for a formal document from the Holy See "freeing" the Classical Roman liturgy, he advised national federation members (in the U.S., this is Una Voce America www.unavoce.org) not to put too much stock in these rumors and news reports emanating from unnamed Vatican sources.

However, he did inform FIUV members that the federation has had some input into this question regarding a possible "universal indult" and/or a separate worldwide canonical structure for traditionalist Catholics, which Cardinal Castrillon alluded to in his summer 2004 Latin Mass Magazine interview.

"My personal feeling is that late summer is a possible timeframe" for some kind of formal document from the Holy See, Fra Fredrik said.

And another longtime and notable force for Traditionalist Catholics is Roger McCaffrey, publisher of Roman Catholic Books, and former publisher of Latin Mass Magazine.

"This press report implies there will be no apostolic administration soon, if you assume that Cardinal Medina knows the up-to-the-minute mind of Pope Benedict on this whole subject," McCaffrey said. "He is certainly capturing the ambivalence of a large group of cardinals who have the ear of the Holy Father, if you read between and around the lines of this report."

McCaffrey reiterated the key theme from John Allen's recent "Word From Rome" report, mentioned previously, "which is to say, they really don't want to see anything dramatic done to restore the Traditional Roman rite, even as an option, and as a matter of fact, cannot admit that the Missal of 1969 is not the Traditional Roman rite."

"The Reform Of The Reform"

An interesting connection with Dr. Reid's comments and his book that was reviewed very favorably by the current Pope, McCaffrey points us to another notable book on the liturgy that contained a preface by Cardinal Ratzinger. This book is entitled The Reform of the Roman Liturgy: Its Problems and Background, and he said it will be reprinted by Roman Catholic Books in September 2006.

Msgr. Klaus Gamber was proposed by Cardinal Ratzinger as a possible new "father" of the liturgy for Catholics after his death. Within this book's preface, McCaffrey paraphrased Msgr. Gamber's views on the new rite of the liturgy: "It is something else, a liturgical construct which contains elements of the old rite to be sure, and a liturgy that most of us live with as Catholics trying to save our souls," McCaffrey quotes Msgr. Gamber.

McCaffrey also explained that this seeming indifference of the vast majority of the current cardinals to the root causes of the lack of belief in transubstantiation and eucharistic devotion among many Catholics is confusing at best.

"Have his colleagues taken the trouble to read the book in French, German, Italian, or English for that matter?" McCaffrey asked. "Have they read the preface?" he asked. "It might help them to understand what I think the Holy Father is about to do and why."

"The Pope's view," according to McCaffrey, "if his endorsement of his friend Gamber's book is any guide, is that the restoration of the 1962 Missal as a real option for the faithful rather than a museum piece, is not linked to the Society of St. Pius X."

Cardinal Ratzinger also said in the preface to Msgr. Gamber's book, "What happened after the Council was something else entirely: in the place of liturgy as the fruit of development came fabricated liturgy. We abandoned the organic, living process of growth and development over centuries, and replaced it as in a manufacturing process with a fabrication, a banal, on-the-spot product," he wrote.

"Gamber, with the vigilance of a true prophet and the courage of a true witness, opposed this falsification, and thanks to his incredibly rich knowledge, indefatigably taught us about the living fullness of a true liturgy," Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in the preface to Msgr. Gamber's book.

McCaffrey claims it is very important for Catholics to understand how close Cardinal Ratzinger held Msgr. Gamber's views to be his own. "That is important because Msgr. Gamber was the liturgist most praised, perhaps next to Louis Bouyer, by the man who is now the Supreme Pontiff," McCaffrey said.

"When you contrast Gamber's views with the present group of active cardinals' views, one thing is striking: his book is as scathing and reactionary about the new missal as most any informed traditionalist's point of view," McCaffrey said. "Yet it contained a preface by Joseph Ratzinger."

Hope And Pray

As for any predictions of the future or putting a timetable on when Catholics might expect a document from Rome, the words of Fra Fredrik Crichton-Stewart and Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ, may offer the best advice of all.

"There is little that you or I can do at this stage but wait and pray," Fra Fredrik wrote to FIUV members.

Fr. Fessio, provost at Ave Maria University in Naples, Fla., and founder of Ignatius Press, echoed Fra Fredrik's remarks in response to the Cardinal Medina interview.

"Let's keep hoping and praying," Fr. Fessio said.

© Brian Mershon

 

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Brian Mershon

Brian Mershon is a commentator on cultural issues from a classical Catholic perspective... (more)

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