Church in the World
Rebuke for bishops who resist Old RiteRobert Mickens
- 10 November 2007
A senior official at the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) this week said that bishops who were trying to curtail use of the Tridentine Mass were "in rebellion against the Pope" and guilty of pride, "one of the gravest sins".
Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, who serves as the CDW secretary, levelled his criticism at "theologians, liturgists, priests, bishops and even cardinals" who have written "interpretative documents that inexplicably try to limit the Pope's motu proprio" - the document that liberalised use of the pre-Second Vatican Council Mass. The CDW official told an Italian online news service that the bishops should especially "return to obedience" since they "have professed fidelity to the pontiff".
Pope Benedict issued his motu proprio last July despite concerns by many bishops that it could deepen divisions in the Church. Since the motu proprio came into force on 14 September, entire national episcopal conferences - including those in the Philippines and Germany - have released explanatory letters that could be seen as placing conditions on the celebration of the Tridentine Rite and therefore limiting the implementation of the papal document. A motion to issue such a letter by a group of Italian bishops was voted down by the conference's permanent committee. Some bishops around the world - including Bishop Arthur Roche of Leeds, chairman of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, and Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, chairman of the US bishops' liturgy office - have individually written explanatory letters directly to priests in their own dioceses, and at least two Italian bishops have publicly stated that they would not permit the pre-conciliar liturgy in their churches.
Those who favour the Tridentine Mass have complained that such restrictions contradict the clear stipulations contained in the Pope's motu proprio. Archbishop Ranjith, who is close to the Pope and is expected by many to be the next prefect of the CDW, accused bishops who are limiting the Old Rite of being motivated by "prejudices of an ideological type or by pride".
Clergy who have voiced reserves about the motu proprio have been careful not to criticise the Pope directly and have sought subtle ways to justify their opposition to his decree. The most prominent among them has been Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini. The retired Archbishop of Milan made his point in a leading Italian paper last September by saying, that he would not celebrate the Tridentine Mass even if he counted himself among the most qualified to do so.
Others, such as Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, have downplayed the motu proprio by saying there was no interest in the Tridentine Mass in their countries, even though the head of the worldwide pro-Tridentine Mass organisation Una Voce is from Belgium. Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi told priests in Milan that the document did not apply to the northern Italian archdiocese since it uses the Ambrosian Rite rather than the Roman one. In August Archbishop Mario Conti of Glasgow sent out a letter pointing out that the motu proprio required provision for "stable groups" who "adhered" to the earlier rite, and said he thought it unlikely there were such groups in his diocese (The Tablet, 25 August).
Archbishop Ranjith, a native of Sri Lanka, said the motu proprio was "an act of liberty and justice towards traditionalists". He then criticised celebrations of the New Rite Mass that are frequently "transformed into shows with dancing, singing and applause".
Meanwhile a small number of prominent bishops around the world have spoken in favour of the Tridentine Mass's wider use. Cardinal George Pell became the first archbishop in four decades to celebrate the Old Rite in Sydney's cathedral last Saturday morning.