What does Pope Francis mean by ‘irreversible’ liturgical reform?

What does Pope Francis mean by ‘irreversible’ liturgical reform?

[Headlined by Crux as Pope invokes ‘magisterial authority’ to declare liturgy changes ‘irreversible’: Ex cathedra? Pictures with reports on the event show him standing rather than sitting!]

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By Phil Lawler | Aug 24, 2017

Liturgical reform is “irreversible,” Pope Francis says. If he means that history cannot be undone—we can’t rewind the tape—his point is beyond dispute. But surely he does not mean that we are stuck forever with the status quo.

It is noteworthy that in speaking on the liturgical reform, Pope Francis invoked his magisterial authority: something that he has been reluctant to do when he speaks on doctrinal matters. But it is also profoundly confusing. What does it mean to speak with magisterial authority about a process?

Insofar as he is saying that the Church is committed to the process that began with Vatican II (or actually, as he rightly observes, began much earlier and reached a watershed at the Council), he is only reinforcing what Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI taught us. The only real questions involve whether, and how, the process should continue.

Virtually every Catholic, from the crustiest traditionalist to the most iconoclastic radical, will agree that something should be done to the liturgy. Is there anyone satisfied with the current state of liturgical affairs in the Catholic Church? I doubt it. If you are reasonably happy with the liturgy in your own parish, you need only take a short trip—to another parish, another town, possibly another diocese—to experience something that you find appalling. So the process of reform should continue. But in what direction?

The success of liturgical reform, the Holy Father tells us, requires “time, faithful reception, practical obedience, wise implementation.” Surely by now, 50 years after the Council, we’ve had enough time. But faithful reception and practical obedience have been in short supply, at least in my experience.

Personally I am not a traditionalist. I love the Latin Mass, and attend it occasionally, but I do not seek it out. Ideally I would like to see the Ordinary Form enriched by adding some elements of the older ritual (and vice versa), as Pope Benedict and Cardinal Sarah have recommended. But for now I would be content to worship regularly in a parish where the liturgical norms of the Ordinary Form are followed faithfully, and Mass is celebrated with reverence. Yet in 50 years I have never lived in such a parish. In the healthiest parishes that I have found, some priests show a “practical obedience” to the liturgical norms; others improvise freely. So the norms really aren’t “norms” at all; they are something closer to aspirations.

(Pope Francis also says that the reformed liturgy must be the action of the people—that is should be “popular” rather than “clerical.” So can I safely assume that the Holy Father sympathizes with my plight? Would he agree that priests should not change the liturgy on their own initiative, to suit their own personal preferences?)

Pope Francis urges us to guard against “unfounded and superficial interpretations” of Vatican II teachings and “practices that disfigure” the Council’s vision. So our challenge today is to understand the Council’s teaching, in the light of a process that was already underway before Vatican II was convened.

In his address to Italy’s National Liturgical Week, Pope Francis reminded his audience that movement to reform the liturgy began with a commission created by St. Pius X, and continued with the encyclical Mediator Dei by Pope Pius XII. And that process is “irreversible,” he now definitively states. Those two Pontiffs blazed the trail, and we should still be following it. So if abuses have cropped up—liturgical novelties that “reverse” the direction set by Mediator Dei,” say, or practices that are demonstrably counter to the instructions of Sacrosanctum Concilium, they should be treated as aberrations and rooted out.

Pope Francis is notoriously unsympathetic to calls for the “reform of the reform.” But the logic of his August 24 speech points unavoidably in that direction. If we have not yet achieved the goals of the reform, and those goals were established more 100 years ago when the process began, we need to examine where, how, and why things have gone awry.

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3 comments on “What does Pope Francis mean by ‘irreversible’ liturgical reform?

  1. Francis: “We can affirm with certainty and with magisterial authority that the liturgical reform is irreversible”

    [According to the liberal liturgical Pray Tell blog, Pope Francis referenced Vatican II especially Sacrosanctum Concilium, Pius X, Pius XII, Paul VI, John Paul II, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church but none of the sources mentioned in this Rorate Caeli report (namely, Pius V’s Quo Primum or Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum) or St. Thomas Aquinas or the Roman Catechism]

    Posted by Andrew Guernsey at 8/24/2017

    Pope Francis gave an address on the liturgical reform of Pope Paul VI today, speaking to participants of the 68th Italian National Liturgical Week. In it, Francis declares: “After this magisterium, after this long journey, we can affirm with certainty and with magisterial authority that the liturgical reform is irreversible.”

    Francis’ remarks ironically read like a Quo Primum for the Novus Ordo. Pope St. Pius V’s Quo Primum (1570), which has never been revoked or abolished by any pope, decreed that the Traditional Latin Mass, which the saintly pontiff promulgated in accord with the directives of the Council of Trent, would be “valid henceforth, now, and forever” and “cannot be revoked or modified, but remain always valid and retain its full force.” Furthermore, St. Pius V warned that if anyone, including any future pope (by implication), would alter his missal, they would “incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul”.

    Pope Benedict XVI, in Summorum Pontificum, reiterated that the Traditional Latin Mass “was never juridically abrogated and, consequently, in principle, was always permitted.” Benedict continued: “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.”

    For Francis, however, not the Traditional Latin Mass, but the reforms that deformed it are what are truly “irreversible.”

  2. Interesting. Some will say that Quo Primum is not binding because the pope (Pius V) would never attempt to bind his successors in matters of liturgical discipline. Yet, here we have Pope Francis attempting to do just that: bind all Catholics to “irreversible” liturgical “reform”.

  3. There’s not even a question about the fact that this is NOT an ex cathedra statement.
    Refer to Denzinger 1839, and note:
    He wasn’t teaching a doctrine of faith or morals. He was teaching merely a historical data point. And since this history concerns the future, it was actually an attempt at prophecy! He’s presuming that he knows, and can authoritatively teach, that no future pope *will* reverse the liturgical reforms he speaks of. Ridiculous.
    Was he addressing the whole Church? Questionable, because the liturgical reforms haven’t even pertained to the whole Church; mainly only the Latin rite.
    Was he clearly stating that all the faithful throughout the world must believe that “the liturgical reform is irreversible”, under pain of heresy? Obviously not. And if he had it would be of no value. A historical data point, and far less a personal prophecy, cannot be an article of faith or morals.

    Is Francis even aware that his “teaching” is a prophecy, and thus can’t possibly be “magisterium” of *any* kind?
    And if, as seems to be understood by some here, he is simply forbidding the reform to be abolished, this is a matter of discipline, not faith or morals. Thus it is not even a matter for teaching, but rather a matter of ruling. There’s no magisterium involved here, period.

    This pope is so incredibly ignorant that it defies description. He doesn’t know even the rudiments of theology, so as to make basic distinctions. How are we supposed to even know what he is “teaching” when he can’t even communicate clear thoughts?

    Now, Pope St. Pius V’s situation was totally different.
    Firstly, he was clear that he was not exercising the potestas docendi (power of teaching), but the potestas regiminis (the power of rule).
    Secondly, a strong argument can be made that the particular ruling he made *was* in fact binding on all his successors. For he said that the Mass as codified by him would be “valid henceforth, now, and forever” and could not “be revoked or modified, but remain always valid and retain its full force”. But the Mass as codified by him was simply a cleaned up and restored ancient rite, that had been in use since time immemorial. This essentially unchanged ancient rite, though in itself a discipline, also contained much doctrine (lex orandi lex credendi), *and* it had been confirmed by Tradition. That means that the doctrine contained in it had been confirmed by Tradition. That means that the discipline of the ancient Mass, insofar as it is a clear means and manner of expressing doctrine, is an infallibly correct manner of doing so, and thus an infallibly correct manner of worship also. That is why Trent can say:
    “If anyone shall say that the *received* and approved rites of the Catholic Church *accustomed* to be used in the solemn administration of the sacraments may be disdained or omitted by the minister without sin and at pleasure, or may be changed by *any* pastor of the churches to other new ones: let him be anathema.”
    Yes, that happens to be teaching, and it’s dogmatic; it’s got the a.s. And it seems that the term “any pastor” would include the Supreme Pastor.
    Most likely, St. Pius V was thinking of this canon of Trent when he forbade that the old Mass could ever be revoked or modified.
    Obviously, in the case of *non-essential* modifications to a rite, we aren’t talking about “new ones [rites]”, and these modifications can be made by the proper authority. In that sense we’ve always occasionally had “liturgical reform”.
    But it is quite arguable that the Novus Ordo is an essential change, and thus a new rite, and therefore that its promulgation (if it was even promulgated at all, which some dispute) was against divine law and thus invalid.
    But even if it were validly promulgated, that doesn’t mean that it partakes in infallibility, as does the old rite. It hasn’t been around long enough to be confirmed by Tradition. And if it hasn’t thus gained the status of an infallible discipline by the Ordinary Infallible Magisterium, the only way left is the Extraordinary. But that would mean that a pope would have to make an ex cathedra statement, to the effect: “We declare and define that the Novus Ordo Liturgy contains no doctrinal errors, that is, no errors of faith or morals, that on the contrary, this rite well expresses Catholic faith and morals, and this our definition is a dogma of faith, and if any Catholic should deny this, anathema sit.”

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