Brian Mershon
June 29, 2006
Archbishop Burke, Bishop Rifan comment: Will classical liturgy aid reunion with Eastern Orthodox?
By Brian Mershon

"Similarly, it must not be forgotten that from the beginning the Churches of the East have had a treasury from which the Western Church has drawn extensively in liturgical practice, spiritual tradition, and law" Unitatis Redintegratio, November 21, 1964.

Is it truly feasible that the "freeing of the classical Roman rite of liturgy" is a small part of the Pope's overall plan for paving the way for the reuniting of the Latin Church with the separated Churches of the East?

Bishop Fernando Rifan, who heads up the Apostolic Administration of St. John Mary Vianney in Campos, Brazil, said he believed a further liberalization of the liturgical rite of Pope St. Pius V would aid ecumenical relations with the East.

"I really think that the Traditional Latin Mass widely and freely available would be, among many other good reasons, a great benefit in the field of the true ecumenism with the Orthodox," he said. "This would be primarily because the Traditional Liturgy is much more similar to the Oriental [Eastern] rites in the aspect of the sacred, veneration, and beauty."

Bishop Rifan and his priestly society achieved full canonical recognition and regularization with the Church on January 18, 2002.

It is hoped by many traditionalists and the Holy See that the positive example of this group of priests, which offers all the sacraments exclusively according to the ancient rites, will serve as a model for other traditionalist priestly societies such as the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), to potentially reach full regularization with the Church.

Archbishop Raymond Burke, a notably obedient son of the Church, particularly with applying Pope John Paul II's request in Ecclesia Dei Adflicta to be "wide and generous" in allowing the Classical Roman liturgy for those Catholics who desire it, agrees with Bishop Rifan's assessment, but with a nuance.

"I wouldn't think that the Holy Father would be doing this simply as a strategy [for ecumenical relations with the Orthodox], but I do think it will be an effect of a restoration or in the 'reform of the reform' of the liturgy," Archbishop Burke said.

"It seems to me for the Eastern rites, and for those of the Orthodox Churches, the reform of the liturgy after the council and the concrete expression is so stripped of the transcendent, of the sacral elements, it is difficult for them to recognize its relationship with their Eucharistic Liturgies," he said.

Archbishop Burke agreed that the Eastern Churches would most likely identify more readily with the Classical Roman rite of liturgy, and its similarities with their own Divine Liturgies, than the Novus Ordo liturgy.

"It would be easier for them to see the unity, the oneness in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, by a rite of the Mass, just limiting ourselves now to talking about the Holy Mass, that it was richer in those dimensions — the elements of the transcendent — the symbols of the transcendent element of Christ — Christ in action in the Mass — the unbloody renewal of the Sacrifice of Calvary," Archbishop Burke said.

Not A Hopeful Indicator

Dr. Alcuin Reid, author of numerous scholarly books on the Sacred Liturgy and its history, is the recent author of Organic Development of the Liturgy, which contains glowing praise in its preface written by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. He affirmed that it was his opinion as a liturgical scholar, that the Novus Ordo liturgy, as practiced in the vast majority of Catholic churches, is not a hopeful indicator of eventual reunion with the East.

"I suspect that our current liturgical state does not exactly inspire confidence in them," Dr. Reid said. "The Holy Father is, no doubt, aware of this, and most probably hopes to give a sign that Rome wishes to set her liturgy in order once again, and that indeed Rome respects legitimate traditional liturgical rites."

Fr. Richard Jano is the pastor at Nativity Ukrainian Catholic Church in Springfield, Ore., an Eastern rite Catholic Church in full communion with the Holy See. As an Eastern rite priest, he has occasionally offered the Novus Ordo liturgy for area churches over the past 25 years, and he agrees with Dr. Reid's assessment.

"I think there would be some value in doing this [freeing the Classical Roman rite] as an indication of the respect the Church holds for liturgical worship that comes down to us from ancient times, and emphasizes the awe, reverence, and respectfully loving attitude that a Christian should carry into the Sacred Liturgy," he said.

"It would also illustrate the truth that the Church honors the genuine and authentic diversity of liturgies, not only in the Eastern Churches, both Catholic and Orthodox, but even within the Roman Church itself," Fr. Jano said.

French Cardinal's Comments

In a recent May 31 interview, Jean-Pierre Cardinal Ricard, archbishop of Bordeaux, chairman of the French Episcopal Conference, and member of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, recently reaffirmed that an imminent concrete gesture on the part of Pope Benedict XVI would be forthcoming, perhaps in the months following the July SSPX election of their superior general.

In a previous April 21 article from Catholic World News, the cardinal revealed the Pope's desire, expressed at the April 7 curial meeting, to restore normal relations with the SSPX. This first step is presumably a public affirmation by the Pope further recognizing the enduring value and prospective further "liberalization" of the rite of Holy Mass according to Pope St. Pius V, presumably for all Latin rite priests.

Both Cardinal Medina Estevez and Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, in multiple public interviews over the past several months, have affirmed the enduring value of the ancient liturgy.

Many might ask, "What does the prospective liberalization of the Classical Roman rite have to do with ecumenism and the Orthodox?" According to many, it could mean very much to the East for the Holy See to publicly recognize its own traditional liturgical traditions, devotions, and heritage. Examples of these are found today especially in many communities of the SSPX, as well as in diocesan indult communities, and those churches served by traditionalist priestly organizations such as the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) and the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest (ICKSP).

Of course, a vast majority of the actual "ecumenism" practiced by cardinals, bishops, and priests cannot be found to be compatible with the Decree on Ecumenism's teaching, as explained by Walter Cardinal Kasper at this November 11, 2004 conference, "On the 40th Anniversary of the Promulgation of the Conciliar Decree Unitatis Redintegratio":

"The Catholic principles of ecumenism, as formulated by the Council and later by Pope John Paul II, are therefore clear and unequivocal in their rejection of the irenicism and relativism which reduce everything to banality (UR, 5, 11, 24; UUS, 18, 36, 79). The ecumenical movement does not throw overboard anything which has been valued and cherished by the Church in its previous history, it remains faithful to the truth that has been acknowledged in history and defined as such; nor does it add to it anything absolutely new. The ecumenical movement and its avowed goal, the unity of the disciples of Jesus Christ, remain inscribed within the furrow of tradition."

Jeopardized By SSPX Talks?

In a May 22 interview with Martin Klöckener, professor of liturgical sciences at the University of Fribourg, he criticized dialogue with the "integrists" (SSPX) as a danger to the ecumenical dialogue to which so many have become accustomed since the Second Vatican Council. This interview was conducted by the Swiss news agency, APIC.

Klöckener said, "The Catholic Church should not forget its engagement in favor of ecumenism, its steps toward the Churches of the Reformation."

"It is not acceptable that a small, very special group, on the right side of the Catholic Church, block the dialogue of the Church as a whole," he said. And as if expressing the progressivists' so-called worst nightmare, he concluded, "One cannot make the sacrifice of these dialogues with the other churches under the pretext of reaching unity with the integrists," he said. "It would be too large a sacrifice."

Perhaps the better question is: "What is the common basis of doctrinal and moral issues for dialogue with increasingly more estranged, and increasingly less Christian sects with no valid priesthood?"

Pope Benedict XVI, able to tell "the tree by its fruits," clearly recognizes the advantage of having more than 500 priests in the SSPX in full communion. He also recognizes the accelerating number of priestly vocations produced in other traditionalist communities like the FSSP and the ICKSP. The current Pope's brand of "ecumenism" is one of Christian charity and justice, and perhaps recognizing "the signs of the times" called for so often in the documents of the Second Vatican Council and its aftermath by progressives.

He also understands that a united Church, East and West, may possibly be able to save Christianity in Europe and aid in re-establishing a more Christian worldview.

How does a gesture such as freeing the Classical Roman rite of liturgy fit into prospective ecumenical relations with the Orthodox, which was the primary group emphasized in the Second Vatican Council's Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio?

If the Church has abandoned (or even given the appearance of abandoning in many quarters) its own liturgical patrimony and traditional devotional traditions, how can it hope to achieve any measurable ecumenical gains with the Churches of the East?

There have recently been a surprising number of extremely hopeful and positive public statements about the current pontificate emanating from Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II, most recently in a May interview with the Italian news agency ANSA. "It is quite obvious that we should not compete with each other, as competition leads to confidence gap and enmity," Patriarch Alexy II said.

"On the contrary, we should unite for the sake of fulfilling a great mission of proclaiming the word of God to people and witnessing about Christian values to our society."

In an even more recent interview, he said that he believed the current pontificate of Pope Benedict XIV would be a historic one for Christianity, particularly regarding the possible reunification of the Churches of the East and West.

Through The Eastern Orthodox Lens

"The very rich liturgical and spiritual heritage of the Eastern Churches should be known, venerated, preserved, and cherished by all. They must recognize that this is of supreme importance for the faithful preservation of the fullness of Christian tradition, and for bringing about reconciliation between Eastern and Western Christians"Unitatis Redintegratio.

John Cheevers lives in Atwater, Calif., and is a member of St. Mary Magdalene Parish in the Orthodox diocese of the West.

He is an Orthodox convert and is a former Catholic. Prior to converting to Orthodoxy, he frequently attended chapels of the Society of St. Pius X, and while still an admirer of much of what they stand for liturgically, he said, "I became disillusioned by the heavy-handed legalism and what I felt was the very negative message regularly put forth," he said. "I have always been suspicious of faith groups that identify themselves primarily by what they are against as opposed to what they are for."

But Cheevers admitted that he has been following the discussions of the SSPX with the Holy See with great interest. "I pray for their swift reconciliation with Rome."

A studied layman with some keen insights on what the postconciliar liturgical revolution has done to Orthodox sensibilities, Cheevers said, "Initially, I was attracted to Orthodoxy by its liturgy," he said. "The chaos in the postconciliar Catholic Church did nothing to impede my move to Orthodoxy, but it was not the reason I converted."

Cheevers said that Orthodox liturgists have always tended to cringe at the post-Vatican II liturgical reforms of the Latin Church. "Organic development in liturgy is permissible. Radical invention is not."

"The Pauline liturgy implicitly seems to move away from the clear expressions of faith about the sacramental nature of the Divine Liturgy commonly understood in the undivided church of the first millennium."

Cheevers said that a restoration of the Classical Roman rite, or so-called Tridentine rite, in the Catholic Church would probably be helpful to fostering ecumenism with the Orthodox. "It's something that Orthodox can look at and say 'we recognize this.'"

As for the number of other former Catholics who have fled the Church primarily due to the postconciliar liturgical revolution, Cheevers opines, "Sadly, I do know people who have converted to Orthodoxy mainly as an escape from the mess in the Catholic Church."

Through The Eastern Catholic Lens

Ukrainian Catholic Fr. Jano said he receives much feedback from his Eastern Catholic parishioners when they travel and attend Holy Mass at modern Roman rite parishes.

"The most common problems they mention are a lack of silence in the church before Mass, which hinders their preparation prayers, unsingable hymns with trite lyrics, too many people in the front of the church near the altar such as the choir, musicians, 'ministers,' etc., thereby creating more distractions from the service," he said.

Fr. Jano continued: "They tell me of priests who, if I may quote one parishioner, 'act as though they're talk show hosts in front of an audience,' the lack of reverence for the altar and/or tabernacle, announcements of 'who-is-doing-what,' during the Mass, as though they were the cast of a play; the prosaic 'Good morning, everyone! Good morning, Father!' greeting, and other routine ad libs; poor or unorthodox sermons, and a general lack of reverence that they feel is missing from the Mass on the part of the priest, and/or faithful."

Even among our Eastern Catholic brethren, the Novus Ordo liturgy, and the manner in which it is often celebrated, is not spiritually edifying, nor breeding or enhancing a sense of unity.

While admitting the liturgical reform's negative effects to many Christians of the East, both Orthodox and Catholic, Fr. Jano cautions against expecting too much headway to be made in the immediate future.

"I certainly think Pope Benedict has a strong desire to see the wounds of division healed; however, the problems the Orthodox have with the Catholic Church have become so institutionalized over nearly 1,000 years that taking a fresh approach to see if there is any possibility of reunion is generally viewed as being un-Orthodox," he said.

"Because of differences in liturgical style, East and West, the average Orthodox would likely find the Tridentine Mass difficult to comprehend, although he would appreciate the serious sense of worship, reverence, and adoration it presents."

And echoing an assessment made by many Catholics of a more traditional liturgical mindset, Fr. Jano said, "The Novus Ordo Mass would be easier for an Orthodox believer to understand, but depending on where he attended, the experience might be labeled as 'Protestant.'"

One of the recurring themes of Pope Benedict's writings on the recovery of the sacred in the liturgy is the positioning of the priest "toward the East" or "toward God." As an Eastern rite priest who offers all Divine Liturgies toward the East, leading his flock in worship to the heavenly Father, Fr. Jano voiced his impressions on his offering Mass "toward the people" when occasionally offering the Novus Ordo.

"On the few occasions when I have served the Mass in Roman Catholic parishes, I have been very surprised to discover how uncomfortable I am with praying to God while facing the congregation," he said. "Probably the most jarring example for me, to illustrate this point, is when I have seen Roman priests reading a prayer at Mass and gazing intently at the congregation while uttering the prayer. I've never understood this," Fr. Jano said.

"If you have something important to say to your Father, why would you stare at your brother when you're speaking to Him?"

Salutary Effects

Fr. Thomas Kocik of Somerset, Mass., and author of Ignatius Press' Reform of the Reform?, agreed that the reformed Novus Ordo liturgy is not an ecumenical breakthrough with the Orthodox.

"The Orthodox are justly disturbed not only by abuses in the post-Vatican II liturgy, but also by approved practices such as female altar servers, Mass 'facing the people' and Communion in the hand," he said. "Given the East's intense conservatism, I think the freeing of the Tridentine liturgy bodes well ecumenically, because these problematic practices are simply not standard features of the Classical Roman rite."

"The Orthodox may interpret this as evidence of a renewed seriousness in the Roman Church about the ancient maxim, 'lex orandi, lex credendi,' meaning that as we believe so we pray, and vice versa," he said. "Doctrine and worship influence each other."

Fr. Joseph Santos, pastor of Holy Name of Jesus Church in Providence, R.I., concurred with Fr. Kocik. "Most Orthodox that I know agree that the change in the liturgy was disastrous for ecumenical relations."

Fr. Santos said that the rule of "lex orandi, lex credendi" is extremely important in the Orthodox Church. "It is what binds them together as a Church that guards jealously that which has been handed down from the Apostles. If the words and actions are changed, so is the faith; especially in the minds of the laity."

"Everyone also knows with what great love the Christians of the East celebrate the sacred liturgy, especially the Eucharistic Celebration, source of the Church's life and pledge of future glory, in which the faithful, united with their bishop, have access to God the Father through the Son, the Word made flesh, who suffered and has been glorified, and so, in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, they enter into communion with the most holy Trinity, being made 'sharers of the divine nature' (35). Hence, through the celebration of the Holy Eucharist in each of these churches, the Church of God is built up and grows in stature (36) and through concelebration, their communion with one another is made manifest"Unitatis Redintegratio.

Fr. Robert Fromageot, a priest for the FSSP, currently studying in Rome, affirms this liturgical sensibility with a stark example from the Angelicum in Rome.

"There is no doubt at all that the Classical Roman rite has far more in common with the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom than the Novus Ordo does," he said. "I think there is a closer connection with the Classical Roman rite and the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom than even between the Novus Ordo and the Classical Roman rite."

Fr. Fromageot said that even though many people in the current ecumenical movement do not believe this is the case, he thinks there is a much greater sympathy between the Orthodox and the Catholics who are very much acquainted with the Classical Roman rite because there is a mutual understanding of what liturgy is all about. This has a direct impact on the potential for true ecumenism and ecumenical dialogue.

A recent anti-example of this was that a particular professor at the Angelicum in Rome was teaching a class about ecumenism, and there happened to be a Serbian Orthodox student in the class whom Fr. Fromageot knows well.

Fr. Fromageot related that the professor said that the East needed the equivalent of a Novus Ordo, a kind of liturgical reform that would bring about an Eastern Novus Ordo to replace the rite of St. John Chrysostom, and that this new Eastern rite would benefit the ecumenical movement. "Of course, that would not go over very well," Fr. Fromageot said.

He said that this same Serbian Orthodox student had previously frequented the celebration of the Classical Roman rite, and even though it is not of her tradition, she conveyed how much she appreciated it, and said she felt immediately "at home" in the sense that she could pray, she could "draw closer to our Lord in a very powerful way," he said.

He also said that this same student believed the Novus Ordo to be valid. But as a liturgy, it was her opinion that it was "rather poor," and that she much preferred the Classical Roman liturgy.

"I think it is very important to stress with the Church the ecumenical power for the East of the Classical Roman rite," Fr. Fromageot said.

"For Lutherans? I'm not sure," he said. "Certainly, the Novus Ordo hasn't been proven to be very powerful [with Lutherans] either, although one of the principles of the Novus Ordo was to be as ecumenically sensitive to the Lutherans without losing the essence of the Catholic faith," he said.

Fr. Santos echoes Fr. Fromageot's assessment. "It is also good for us to remember that the Roman Church and the Orthodox have a nearness of faith that is not shared with any other Christian confession, all of whom fell far from the Church at the time of the Protestant revolt."

Roger McCaffrey, publisher of Roman Catholic Books, has been involved in the fight for restoring the Classical Roman rite to its rightful place for dozens of years. His sentiments sum up in precise terminology the more clear-cut path of true ecumenism and liturgical reform laid out by the current pontificate.

"I know next to nothing about the Orthodox, but if I were them, I'd be highly suspicious of everything the Vatican did to the liturgy since 1965," he said. "What is abundantly clear is that Pope Benedict XVI also finds so much of it offensive himself."

© 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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