Editor’s Note: This is the last of five articles taken from an important study by French TFP director José Antonio Ureta about the theological foundations of the recent Apostolic Exhortation Desiderio Desideravi.
The Mass “of Another Faith”?
An Uncomfortable Question
In the four aspects analyzed in the preceding parts—(1) the purpose of liturgical worship, (2) the Paschal mystery as the center of the celebration, (3) the memorial character of the Holy Mass, and finally, (4) the presidency of the liturgical assembly—it has become quite clear that Desiderio desideravi’s vision of the liturgy is one-sided. Although its words, considered individually, may seem fair to the point of deserving praise from some traditionalists (even highly educated ones), it only succeeds in stressing the wrong syllables. What seems to be emphasized are the theories and preferences of modern liturgists, not the Church’s traditional doctrine.
A detailed analysis shows that, ultimately, the letter presents the Church’s sacramental life, particularly the rite of Holy Mass. This presentation does not seem to harmonize, as a whole, with the principles and pastoral advice of the last great liturgical encyclical before the Second Vatican Council, Mediator Dei of Pope Pius XII.
I must, therefore, ask an uncomfortable question: Do these two very different ritual forms express the same Faith?
The answer from most advanced innovators is clear. They openly say these are two incompatible liturgical stances corresponding to two incompatible dogmatic stances. One is the faith that permeates the traditional rite; the other is the faith that permeates the new rite. That is why the Jesuit I quoted, Fr. Martín-Moreno, so vehemently insists that the “new Mass” definitively supplants (and, it must be said, repudiates) the theological orientation and stance of the old Mass.
Yesterday’s Mass “Can No Longer Be the Norm” for Today’s Faith
In February of this year, halfway between the controversial motu proprio Traditionis custodes and the latest apostolic letter, Desiderio desideravi, a couple who are directors at the self-proclaimed Catholic Conference of the Francophone Baptized published an eloquent article in the newspaper La Croix. Taking advantage of the fact that, in French, the old Mass is sometimes referred to as la messe d’autrefois (from times past) and that the expressions autrefois and autre foi (another faith or a different faith) are pronounced the same, they conveyed their opinion with a pun: “La fin des messes d’autre ‘foi’, une chance pour le Christ!” (The end of Masses of another faith, a chance for Christ!).
Aline and Alain Weidert’s article has the merit of calling things by their name and being logical in its conclusions. Here are some long selected excerpts that speak for themselves:
Without discernment, the spirit of the liturgy of another “faith,” its theology, the norms of yesterday’s prayer and Mass (the lex orandi of the past), can no longer continue to be the norms of today’s faith, or its content (our lex credendi). One’s reluctance [in the face of disputes] might dictate that we should not think too much about this content so as not to destabilize the Church further.
Quite the contrary! A faith that would still derive from yesterday’s lex orandi, which made Catholicism the religion of a perverse god who causes his son to die to appease his wrath, a religion of perpetual mea culpa and reparation, would lead to a counter-testimony of faith, to a disastrous image of Christ. Proof if any: the still too frequent activation of indulgences, linked among other things to sacrifices and redemptions for sins.
Unfortunately, our [traditional] Masses are always imbued with a strong “expiatory” sacrificial character, having a “propitiatory” purpose to annihilate sins (mentioned 20 times), to bring about our salvation and save souls from divine vengeance. “Propitiation,” which Ecclesia Dei communities defend tooth and nail together with their priest-sacrificers, who are formed to use the words the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, a true immolation…
We must continue to emerge from this submerged part of the Tridentine Mass, a historical drift curiously passed over in silence (taboo?) in current debates. Since Vatican II, we have made much progress in recovering the initial datum of a positive Eucharist, a “Do this in memory of me!” where all are invited to be a daily Sacrament of the Covenant: “Just as this water mixes with wine for the sacrament of the Covenant, may we be united to the divinity of Him who took our humanity.” Sacrament of the Covenant, a new concept in this prayer since Vatican II…
…If we want to be able to offer a tasty Christian faith and practice in the future, we must venture, by reflection and formation, to discover an as yet unexplored (untapped) font of salvation opened by Jesus, not first by his death against (“on account of”) sins but by his existence as Covenant. “For His humanity, united with the person of the Word, was the instrument of our salvation” (Vatican II, Sacrosanctum concilium, no. 5). The choice is clear! It is not between different religious sensitivities and aesthetics but between endless sacrifices to erase sins and Eucharists [sic] that seal the Covenant/Christ.1
At least here, things are said clearly and without semantic detours!
Suppose the magnetic needle of Desiderio desideravi was placed between the two visions of the liturgy and the Mass described by the Weiderts. In that case, I fear the needle would quickly jump to the “Covenant” pole. Indeed, the proof is already at hand: The same Weidert couple just published a new article in La Croix filled with excitement over Desiderio desideravi.2
The Perennial Faith and the New Theology Are Incompatible
At any rate, the goals Pope Francis set for himself with the publication of his latest apostolic letter, that is, that Catholics should “abandon [their] polemics” and that the beauty of the Christian celebration is “not to be spoiled by a superficial and foreshortened understanding of its value or, worse yet, by its being exploited in service of some ideological vision,” are far from achieved.3
The pope explains why: “It would be trivial to read the tensions, unfortunately present around the celebration, as a simple divergence between different tastes concerning a particular ritual form.”4 Precisely. Modernist firebrands consider the rite of St. Pius V as the Mass “of another faith” mainly for theological reasons. Likewise, it is for theological reasons that traditionalists consider that the rite of Paul VI departs from the traditional teachings on the Mass on essential points. In the name of the perennial faith, they do not and cannot accept that the new rite is “the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite,” as Traditionis custodes claims and Desiderio desideravi reiterates.5
I believe the shot missed the mark if the recent apostolic letter sought to give a theological foundation to that claim. Its unilateral nature only confirms the conviction of the traditionalist flock that the new lex orandi does not correspond to the lex credendi the Church received in deposit. Furthermore, the argument Pope Francis invokes as an ultima ratio, that traditionalists must accept the new Mass because it corresponds to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, is unlikely to change their minds precisely because the Constitution Sacrosanctum concilium itself, the subsequent liturgical magisterium, and Desiderio desideravi all deserve the same theological objections.
In any case, here is an invitation to theologians and liturgiologists to address the subject and to analyze, more profoundly and scientifically, the contribution Desiderio desideravi has made to the ongoing debate. Far from burying the hatchet, it seems to have opened a new battlefront.
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- Aline and Alain Weidert, “La fin des messes d’autre ‘foi’, une chance pour le Christ!” La Croix, Feb. 10, 2022.
- See Aline and Alain Weidert, “Avec François, l’urgence d’une formation pour et par la liturgie,” La Croix, Jul. 8, 2022.
- Pope Francis, Desiderio desideravi, nos. 65, 16.
- Pope Francis, no. 31.
- Pope Francis, no. 31.