Between abuses and contradictions - A critical synthesis on the Instruction "Redemptionis sacramentum"

Source: FSSPX News


The thirteenth and latest encyclical of John Paul II, Ecclesia de eucharistia, signed on April 17, 2003, was consecrated to a doctrinal deepening of the Mystery of the Eucharist. The Vatican’s avowed ambition was to reconcile the traditional doctrine of the Mass with the great “achievements” of Vatican II, on the common priesthood of the faithful, on ecumenism and the new vision of the Church which this implies. Commentators of all opinions recognized, in this double objective, an abiding contradiction, which compromises the legibility of the new doctrine and straight away severely limits its pastoral effectiveness.

The instruction Redemptionis sacramentum, published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, under the authority of the Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, suffers from the same ambivalence as the encyclical. Not surprising, since the encyclical is the principal source of the instruction. The Congregation for Divine Worship, taking note of the teaching of the pope, formulates in the new document, a number of concrete liturgical directives, pertaining to the whole Church. The declared objective is to put things in order, but without giving up Vatican II, without leaving behind the doctrine of Sacrosanctum concilium on the necessary adaptation of the rites of the Church to modern culture, and without condemning the new teaching on the liturgical assembly, and its active participation “in the cult of the Christian religion” (n° 37).

Taking up the analysis of John Paul II in Ecclesia de eucharistia, the Congregation for Divine Worship begins with manifest approval: “Certainly the liturgical reform inaugurated by the Council, has greatly contributed to a more conscious, active and fruitful participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar, on the part of the faithful”. But this “on the whole, positive” judgment calls for some nuances: “Shadows are not lacking” (n° 4). And Cardinal Arinze immediately goes on to say: “It is not possible to be silent about the abuses, even very grave ones, against the nature of the Liturgy and the Sacraments, as well as the tradition and the authority of the Church”.

A denunciation of abuses

This condemnation of abuses constitutes the first section of the Roman Instruction. Rome is finally convinced that, in the domain of current liturgical practice, there have been, and still are, many “abuses”. This term has been made official, in a way, since the authors use it no less than thirty times in the document. The old idea which Michel de Saint Pierre supported in 1976, can be recognized in this theme of “abuses”, when he published the collection of post-conciliar abuses, entitled The Smoke of Satan. It could be said that in 2004, Rome has caught up with the idea, which motivated the members of the Credo association at that time. It has taken a quarter of a century for this term “abuse” to have, as it were, the right to be cited among Catholics. It is no longer an act of distrust towards Rome, to condemn these liturgical abuses, which are increasing just about everywhere, since this language is now employed, in the most official way possible, and recurrently, by the Congregation for Divine Worship.

But what is an abuse? The dictionary notes that an “abuse” is always defined in comparison with a usage, a model, a standard, or a law. The usage, the model, the standard, the law for the authors of this text, is Vatican II in general, and in particular, the rite, known as the renewed rite of Paul VI, which comes from the council. Moreover, mention of other Latin rites is of a fleeting nature, without any kind of precision (n° 3). These rites being those “which are recognized by the law”, it is clear that they are not referring to the venerable rite of Saint Pius V, whose immemorial right has still not been explicitly recognized by the Vatican authorities.

Concerning the Traditional Mass

One would have thought that the authors, in their concern for the restoration of order, would have recommended the occasional celebration of the traditional rite to all the priests, so often confused and bewildered, in the Latin Church. But nothing of the sort. One can not hide the fact that this silence concerning the rite of Saint Pius V, has something contemptuous about it1. It constitutes a first official response to the public demand by our superior, Bishop Bernard Fellay, who had asked that the right be recognized, for every priest of the Latin Church, to celebrate Mass in the immemorial Latin rite. The response is not even a blunt refusal, only silence. The Fraternity of Saint Peter, the Institute of Christ the King and the other communities for whom a particular liturgical rite has been recognized (privata lex), would do well to meditate on the significance of this silence. The precision which can be read in n° 112 represents the most generous concession to the Traditional liturgy that Rome is currently ready to make: “Priests are always and everywhere permitted to celebrate Mass in Latin, abiding by the schedules and times appointed by the ecclesiastical authority”. It is really a question of a concession, since, what is put forward as a priority in the text of Redemptionis sacramentum, are the schedules and times “appointed by the ecclesiastical authorities”.

In the Instruction, in spite of the confused thinking that we have noted (see note 1), the Roman practice is stated clearly: the renewed rite may be celebrated in Latin, but under surveillance, that is, in accordance with the regulations of time and place decreed by the diocesan ecclesiastical authorities. As for the traditional rite, known as the rite of Saint Pius V, it has no legal existence in the universal Church. Its “right of citizenship” is not even mentioned. This constitutes a snub to Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, who, in Rome on May 24, publicly evoked this right. The prefect of the Congregation of the Clergy will doubtless find, in this silence, the limitations of his mediation between the Vatican and traditionalists. As for the Ecclesia Dei communities, their problem may be considered as resolved: they “are subject to the authority of the diocesan Bishop in all liturgical matters, apart from the rights they have been legitimately conceded” (n° 23)2.

Reconciling the Council and Tradition?

So, even if it sets out to condemn the liturgical abuses which are flourishing just about everywhere in the world, the Roman authorities are more convinced than ever that Vatican II suffices for everything, and that it is from the Council that will spring life for a Church in crisis. On this key point, there is no question yet of considering any repentance. It suffices to give the Christian people the right interpretation of the conciliar documents.

And yet, how painful this interpretation is at times! What are we to do with the great liturgical themes of the Council, such as experimentation, adaptation to the world and active participation of the faithful? They were the spearhead of the ritual and cultural destruction carried out during the past forty years. How can they avoid that the remainder of the agitating elements of the Church, along with all the adversaries of the restoration of order desired by Rome, use these conciliar themes against the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum3? The problem must have been truly a conflict of love and duty for the authors of this document. It must be granted that the Cardinal’s staff have manoeuvered with great subtlety to avoid all the breakers. But this great subtlety only serves to render its purpose unintelligible. The paradox of this document, which is meant to put the house in order, is that it finds itself, on several essential points, verging on internal contradiction which risks depriving it of all practical effectiveness in the life of the Church.

For example: the question of altar girls, Communion under both kinds, the problem of adapting to the world, and the question of extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist.

Let us look at the first point, altar girls: “It is altogether laudable to maintain the noble custom of altar boys. Nor should it be forgotten that a great number of sacred ministers over the course of the centuries have come from among boys such as these” (n° 47). The intention is very traditional. But alas, at the end of this same paragraph, we learn that “girls or women may also be admitted to this service of the altar, at the discretion of the diocesan Bishop and in this case the established norms must be observed”. Although very pinpoint, the contradiction between the call for a renewal of altar serving in order to nurture priestly vocations, and permission granted “to girls and women” to serve at the altar, is patently obvious….

Second point: Communion under both kinds. The authors of the Instruction wish to limit this new practice as strictly as possible. But, because they can not contradict the authorization previously given by the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium (n° 55), they end up trivializing this practice, particularly in advocating Communion by intinction, for which “the option must always remain” (n° 103). For sure, “communion under both kinds is to be completely excluded where even a small danger exists of the sacred species being profaned” (n° 101). But the dogmatic reasons put forward by the Council of Trent, that Communion be given to the faithful under one kind only (DS 1725) are not repeated here. In concrete terms, the practice of this anti-traditional rite will gain ground, thanks, no doubt, to the Instruction and its recommendation of the rite of intinction…

Adaptation and experimentation

Third point, the question of adaptation. We are told from the start that it is a question of "assuring a deeper appreciation of the liturgical norms" (cf. n° 2). The entire document is presented as a taking back of control, or a call to order, in the face of “abuses”. Nevertheless, they do not wish to question the spirit of Sacrosanctum Concilium, nor the great necessity of adapting the liturgy, something which is found endlessly in this document. It is thus expressly specified in the Instruction that “the Bishop must constantly watch that the liberty foreseen by the norms of the liturgical books be not taken away, that the celebration may be adapted in an intelligent manner to the Church building, or to the group of the faithful who are present, or to particular pastoral circumstances in such a way that the universal sacred rite is truly accommodated to human understanding” (n° 21). And as if they fear that the message is not clear enough, they go even further: “Ample scope is given for appropriate creativity aimed at allowing each celebration to be adapted to the needs of the participants, to their comprehension, their interior preparation and their gifts, according to the established liturgical norms” (n° 39). The problem is that these liturgical norms are so vague in the new Missal, that many eccentricities will still be tolerated and many inappropriate practices will have complete legitimacy, as indeed the pope himself has shown by example during his travels…

One might think that the idea of liturgical experimentation (yet a central theme of Sacrosanctum Concilium) would find itself definitively called into question by the present Instruction. But when one consults the text itself, one has to recognize in it the same ambivalence: “As early as the year 1970, the Apostolic See announced the cessation of all experimentation as regards the celebration of Holy Mass, and reiterated the same in 1988” (n° 27). Nothing very new here. Two documents are quoted, in order to reinforce the anti-experimentation resolution: one document takes us back 34 years, and another which dates a mere sixteen years! It is simply a third reminder. And even this is not absolute: “In order to carry out experimentation of this kind in the future, the permission of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments is required. It must be in writing, and it is to be requested by the Conference of Bishops”. So, at the end of the day, it is still possible to make liturgical experimentation in the Church; at the very least, the door is still open. Instead of acknowledging frankly and in a Christian way, that these experiments, officially encouraged by the conciliar texts, have been the occasion of sacrilege, vandalism and considerable scandals, which have alienated a great number of people from the faith, they retain this deadly principle of experimentation, going no further than merely regulating the applications for it. Too bad! What a great cause for repentance this would have been!

The ambiguity of the common priesthood

Fourth contradictory theme: the common priesthood of the faithful, which they try to place on a par with, or at least to compare to the priesthood of ordained ministers (as if it constituted an inferior degree, but still truly participating in the priestly dignity). On this point, which can be considered as the key point of Luther’s revolt against the Roman Church, and which can be considered the foundation of the liturgical reform, as it was planned at Vatican II, and as it is set out in article n° 7 of the Missale romanum, the explanations by the authors of Redemptionis sacramentum scale the heights of complexity, because they plumb the depths of contradiction.

In n° 36, we naturally come across a reminder of the conciliar doctrine in all its ambiguity, in particular through a quote from n° 10 of Lumen Gentium, a fundamental text on this subject4. We find in n° 37, in support of this fundamental doctrine, a willful misinterpretation of the letter of Saint Thomas Aquinas, who never said, whether the authors like it or not, that “all Christians are deputed for the worship of the Christian religion” through the character of the Son of God, imprinted in them at baptism, but he merely emphasized that we are baptized in the death of Jesus Christ, and in His Resurrection, and that through this, each one of us is ordained to the worship of God, since we have been made capable of offering our own interior sacrifice. The text of the Summa Theologica, is not concerned directly with the public worship of the Church, but with the interior worship which each one can and must render to Our Lord God. It is not at all the same thing!

Moreover, in the passages following in n° 37, the authors devote themselves to recalling the Catholic meaning of the doctrine of the priesthood of the laity, quoting Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans 12:1: we are all living hosts, united to the Unique Host. But nowhere is recalled the fundamental difference between the priesthood as a ministerial office and the priesthood as a personal virtue. The ambiguity is still there at the end of the paragraph, where one really feels that they are trying discretely to imply that a merely baptized person exercises a priestly function in the context of his liturgical participation. The word used is “dignity”, broader than the word function, but which, in the liturgical context, implies nonetheless a truly ministerial office…5

A little further on, Cardinal Arinze returns to this thorny issue of the priesthood of the laity. He recalls that “the Eucharist celebrated by the Priests is a gift which radically transcends the power of the community” which means that one cannot speak of “a ‘concelebration’, in the univocal sense, of the Priest along with the people who are present” (n° 42). The fact remains that the authors continue to say, with Missale Romanun n° 7, that the priest “presides” over the celebration. So it is difficult to see why, following this conciliar logic, if the priest is only a president, one should abstain from saying that the assembly “celebrates with him.”

The outcome of these theological schemings: the Congregation for Divine Worship, with good reason, while calling into question the expression “celebrating assembly”, finds itself incapable of forbidding it, contenting itself with stressing, with an almost laughable emphasis, that it “should not be used injudiciously” (n° 42). As long as they will not acknowledge that paragraph 10 of Lumen Gentium on the common priesthood is a lutherizing text, and that it poses a grave danger to the Catholic Liturgy, then nothing any clearer can be expected of them. On this question of the priesthood of the laity, the Congregation for Divine Worship, through concern for not straying from the absolute letter of the Council, is bordering on double-speak. One day, this burning question will have to be addressed. This has not been done, either in Ecclesia de Eucharistia or in Redemptionis sacramentum.

No real will to break with error

The history of this Instruction could be summed as follows. In the beginning, there is a will to react against abuses. It the end there is the inability to escape contradiction and double-speak…

But should our reactions be all negative, and are there not new achievements in this text? A liturgist will be able to list from it the points on which Rome is attempting to obtain a perceptible improvement. It should be noted that, for the most part, the authors do no more than either go back to the most conventional law of the Church (on ipso facto excommunications attached to certain sacrileges and other graviora delicta), or to such and such prior declaration (on chalices in terra cotta in n° 106, and extraordinary ministers distributing Holy Communion in n° 158).

This kind of talk is not new in Rome and we can see no reason why this Instruction should have any more success than all the other previous interventions from the Apostolic See6. It lacks the strong sign which would herald a genuine break, not only with the post-conciliar disorder, but with the conciliar religion. No one in Rome seems willing to take responsibility to give it in any domain whatsoever. The French have a lovely expression which well defines the remedy which does not go to the source of the ill: the Instruction Redemptionis sacramentum may well be defined as “a poultice for a wooden leg”…

One point remains, which may be exploited as much as we want, and which can be explained profitably to the faithful, that they may understand the basis of our resistance: “Any Catholic, whether Priest or Deacon or lay member of Christ’s faithful, has the right to lodge a complaint regarding a liturgical abuse to the diocesan Bishop or the competent Ordinary equivalent to him in law, or to the Apostolic See on account of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff” (n° 184). This recognized right to complain regarding abuses, justifies a right to resistance in the particularly grave situation in which the Church finds herself at the present time. Actually, at this moment in time, the abuses are becoming, as it were, the rule and the norm, or as the Instruction says through pleonasm, “the perpetration of liturgical abuses has become almost habitual” (n° 4). We therefore have the right, habitually, to complain about these habitual abuses, and in order that the situation not degenerate further, we have the right and the duty, to exercise a genuine critical role in the Church, given the administrative liberty which is that of the Society of Saint Pius X, with regard to the Institution.

It is precisely this right, this critical function, which we are exercising at this moment when we denounce the contradictions and the double-speak of this document, which was meant to put everything back in order.

Addendum: A return to the Pascal Mystery

In an important book (The Problem of the Liturgical Reform), the Society of Saint Pius X recently condemned the theology of the Pascal Mystery, developed, in illo tempore, by Dom Odo Casel, and which has gained much ground in the new theology of the Mass. Of course, the instruction Redemptionis sacramentum is not a theological document. Therefore one can not necessarily demand of such a text, a theological precision and absolute accuracy. We therefore propose this theological exposition as an appendix.

However, one can not escape the fact, that the first paragraph of the Instruction proposes a definition of the liturgical Mystery, which insists unilaterally on its eschatological dimension on the one hand, and on its mediatic nature on the other. The Mass seems thus to be merely the anticipation of the Reign of truth and life “until the Lord comes in glory…”. The Sacrifice of the Mass is no longer considered as the means of procuring, hic et nunc, that Reign, by promoting the sanctification of each of the faithful. The Mass is simply “the sacrament”, that is “the sign”, of the Parousia. Fortunately, they insist on its sacrificial dimension in a subsequent paragraph (n° 38), but without specifying the nature of this sacrifice. It would have been beneficial to specify that this liturgical sacrifice is not merely a sacrifice of praise, embodied in the public prayer of the Church. But it must be acknowledged, that the theology of the Council of Trent on the propitiatory character of the liturgical sacrifice, is absent from this document (whereas traces of it can still be found in Ecclesia de eucharistia)

And if the sacrifice is not propitiatory, is it surprising that the post-conciliar sacrament appears to have no efficacy of itself (ex opere operato)? In any event, it is very disturbing to see that in n° 39, the efficacy of this liturgical sacrifice is reduced to purely subjective elements, relating to the use made of it by the faithful: “Still, it should be remembered that the power of the liturgical celebrations does not consist in frequently altering rites, but truly (sic) in probing more deeply the word of God and the mystery being celebrated”… What becomes evident after an attentive reading and rereading of this phrase is this: the sacramental theology of ex opere operato remains far away from the reflections of the authors of this text.

Fr. Guillaume de Tanoüarn