Father John Zuhlsdorf Analyzes its Effects
By Annamarie Adkins
MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota, JULY 7, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Even though Benedict XVI’s letter “Summorum Pontificum” on the traditional form of the Mass has been in effect less than a year, it has already made an impact, says an expert on liturgical translations.
Father John Zuhlsdorf, a former employee of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, is a noted authority on both liturgical translations and the 1962 missal. He also writes the “What Does the Prayer Really Say?” column in The Wanderer newspaper, and is the author of a popular blog by the same name.
In Part 2 of this interview with ZENIT, he spoke with ZENIT about the impact “Summorum Pontificum” has had on the life of the Church life one year after its release.
Part 1 appeared Sunday.
Q: Benedict XVI stated in the letter accompanying “Summorum Pontificum” that he hoped each form of the Mass -- ordinary and extraordinary -- would mutually enrich the other. In particular, he desired that the extraordinary form would restore a sense of the sacred to the ordinary form, or Novus Ordo. One year after “Summorum Pontificum,” have you seen the extraordinary form exercise any "gravitational pull" on the Novus Ordo?
Father Zuhlsdorf: Yes, we can see this “pull” at work in some places, but there is a long way to go. Gravity exerts a steady pull, but inertia, especially momentum in the wrong direction, must still be overcome.
It has only been one year since the letter was issued, and only since September that it has been in force. Initially there were flurries of enthusiasm and vituperation, crowing and panic.
The text had to be read and absorbed. The Holy See had to clarify the authentic wording. Problems and questions are still being identified. A document with clarifications obviously remains on the drafting desk.
But the mere awareness of the provisions of “Summorum Pontificum” has made an impact. “Personal parishes” are being established for use of the older Mass and rites of sacraments. Books and training materials had to be created. They are now starting to be published. All this takes time.
Also, the Holy Father changed the conversation about liturgy and certain post-Conciliar practices by celebrating the Novus Ordo in a more traditional way, by using historic vestments, by returning to distributing Communion on the tongue to people kneeling, and so forth.
But the real pull of the older Mass and Benedict XVI’s efforts toward continuity with the Novus Ordo will be felt in the future.
For example, time and time again younger priests tell me that after learning the traditional Latin Mass they never say Holy Mass in the Novus Ordo the same way. There are things you learn about priesthood and Holy Mass from the traditional Latin Mass that you simply don’t pick up from the Novus Ordo, especially as it is usually celebrated in so many of our parishes and chapels.
How a priest says Mass affects a parish profoundly, at the level of reverence, vocations, everything.
Even though Rome wasn’t destroyed in a day, neither will it be quickly rebuilt. We have suffered a disastrous loss of basic priestly formation in Latin and theology and the culture that goes with them. This will take time to recover.
Seminaries need time to ramp up to meet the new needs the letter calls forth. Seminarians are eager to learn. Who will do the teaching?
In parishes young people more and more desire a greater continuity with the past. They are discovering their Catholic heritage and that they have been robbed. Eventually they will hold the positions of influence in parishes and Catholic schools.
On a concrete level, some bishops, priests, liturgists and musicians are rethinking the value of some common post-conciliar practices.
For example, a few days after Benedict XVI started to distribute Communion on the tongue to people kneeling, a bishop in the United States did precisely the same thing for Corpus Christi.
They are reassessing the great advantages of Mass celebrated "ad orientem," everyone facing the same direction toward the altar and the Crucifix. Latin is being reappraised. Musicians are dusting off the treasury of sacred liturgical music that has been hidden for decades.
The "motu proprio" is pulling, but there is still resistance, and laziness. Time, patience and open minds are needed to get things moving. The law of inertia in physics is that bodies in motion or at rest stay that way until another force works on them. The "motu proprio" is such a force.
Father Zuhlsdorf: A noteworthy result must be the shift in attitude of and about people who desire traditional liturgy.
For so long the ecclesiastical establishment looked down on and marginalized more traditional Catholics, shoving them to the back of the bus because of their attachment to our tradition. Some of the more benign saw them as being like our family’s nutty but harmless aunt up in the attic.
On the other hand, many traditionalists, perhaps out of the deep hurts and disillusionment they felt after all the changes in the Church, the silly season of illicit innovations, the ash-canning of our beautiful churches, music, vestments, statues, devotions, you name it, wound up with an enormous chip on their collective shoulder.
As time went by, many of them knew no other way to “negotiate” with bishops and priests but simply to get in their face, make pushy demands, and arrogantly tell them what to do. It got to a point where even clerics who were open and sympathetic started to wince and back away whenever traditionalists approached. And so the waters of good relations froze.
Now, because some of the pain and alienation is starting to melt away in the hearts of many traditionalists, now that they can simply have what they should have been able to have all along, now that a little warm sunshine is being beamed in their direction by the Holy Father and others who share his vision, pastors of souls are starting to unclench as well.
The ice is breaking up and the water is flowing again. This was not an unexpected development. I fully believed this would happen because traditionalists are mostly good people who love Holy Church and want the best for their families, priests and bishops.
Bishops and priests, even when they are not personally inclined to traditional things, are mostly good men who love their flocks and sincerely desire their good. They all share common ground in what really matters. What I am surprised by is that the breaking of the ice dam -- though there is a long way to go yet -- is happening so quickly.
I underestimated the warmth of the sunlight and the openness of hearts, especially on the part of some bishops who, as a body, have not shown themselves in the past to be very friendly to traditional liturgy. This has made me rethink my own attitudes.