Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost 2007
Mass of Thanksgiving for Pope Benedict and the Motu Proprio
July 15, 2007
Rev. Richard G. Cipolla
It would be churlish and pedantic to point out that Mass of Thanksgiving is redundant since the Mass is essentially a thanksgiving for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a thanksgiving that is not merely an action of those giving thanks but also, and more importantly and essentially a thanksgiving that makes present the very act for which we give thanks, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for the sins of the world. But to be a churl and pedant on this day of joy is impossible. There is no need here to rehearse the contents of the Motu Proprio and the letter to the bishops from the Pope that accompanied the major document. There certainly is need to do so in 99% of our parishes, in order to puncture the culture of ignorance that has grown up in the Church these past forty years. But not here and not now. And this not only because all who gather here for this Mass love the traditional Roman Mass and after September 14 will love the extraordinary use of the Roman rite. But also because this is the goal for which the St. Gregory Society worked for, many times not even daring to hope that something like this might happen, for years working to keep alive something precious, something important, something fundamental, the basic treasure of the Church that was in danger of being forgotten, and forgetting of a basic treasure is a sin.
It is important to place the Motu Proprio in its context. The context is not primarily the return of the estranged members of the Society of St Pius X. The context is not to satisfy the poor old souls who clung to the old form and could never quite give themselves over to the new order. The context is the good of the Church. Whatever the spin given by the secular media and the Church media, the context is the good of the Church. (As the Holy Father wrote in his letter accompanying the Motu Proprio: “It is a matter of coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church.”)
But I would also suggest that the context is the reform of the Church, and specifically the Benedictine reform of the Church. Can it be an accident that the feast of St. Benedict on Wednesday fell in the middle of the octave of the promulgation of the MP? I think not. For this Pope chose his name as Pope for reasons that are very clear: just as St. Benedict and the monastic movement became the foundation for Catholic and Western culture, so too the Pope named Benedict is determined to lead the reform that will become the basis of the reflowering of the Catholic faith as an integral part of western culture and therefore will result in the reform of that culture itself.
The first sign, or salvo, of the Benedictine reform was the Regensburg speech. The integral relationship between faith and reason, and between philosophy and theology, was enunciated clearly and cogently. The disastrous divide between faith and reason, and between philosophy and theology, has had terrible consequences for not only Catholicism but for Christianity itself, yea, even for the very concept of faith, which has been reduced in so many places to something individualistic, irrational, emotional and unreal. The Pope’s words: “The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur—this is the program with which a theology grounded in Biblical faith enters into the debates of our time.”
The second salvo was the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum removing the shackles imposed by the ungenerosity of many bishops on the traditional Roman rite, admitting that the 1962 Missal was never abrogated, and encouraging priests anywhere at anytime to celebrate this Mass. Free at last, free at last. The third salvo was sounded just a few days ago with the publication of the Response from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that re-iterated what the declaration Dominus Jesus said seven years ago but in a way that all may clearly understand what the Catholic Church teaches about her own self-identity as the true Church of Christ, never denying the presence of grace outside the Church, but always affirming the historical and doctrinal truth of the self-understanding of the Catholic Church as “the one Church of Christ.” Far from being un-ecumenical as some comments have claimed, this document dares to be honest, and there can be no progress in ecumenism without honesty and clarity.
I have no doubt that these three documents are just the beginning of what will become known as the Benedictine reform, joining those other great reforms of the Church, especially the two Gregorian reforms and the Tridentine reform, all of which are evidence of the vitality of the ecclesia semper reformanda. But today we want to concentrate on the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, that is the magna carta of contemporary liturgical reform. But like all such documents that give freedoms which make reform possible, they cannot bring about the reform itself. That always depends on people taking this freedom and using it and doing what has to be done, all for the good of the Church. Just as the freedom bought by Christ on the Cross has no meaning unless it is appropriated in faith, so too the freedom of the Motu Proprio has no meaning unless it is carried out by the Church faithful: the bishops, priests, religious, and especially the men and women who are the backbone of the Church, the laity.
There will be those traditionally minded Catholics who will find it very difficult to give up the bunker mentality of the past forty years. They have become so used to thinking of themselves as beleaguered, persecuted and the object of scorn; they have become so used to thinking about bishops and most priests as the enemy who could crush them if they tried to come out into the light of day; they have for so long a time feared to even hope for the restoration of the classical Roman rite; all of this bunker mentality attitude. This must be shed, for if it is not, that freedom to do what has to be done given in the Motu Proprio will lie fallow. There must be bridge-building, especially with the bishops. There must be a generous willingness to participate fully in the implementation of the real restoration of the classical Roman rite within and for the whole Church. The open hearts asked for by the Holy Father must be seen and encountered in those of us who love this Mass and know its great value for the whole Church of the future.
This means that organizations like the St Gregory Society must re-evaluate their role and their priorities. The courage and patience and fortitude grounded in love that has borne fruit in the Motu Proprio must now be channeled no longer to just maintain the presence of the classical Roman rite but rather to its implementation in the whole Church and the fruits of that implementation that will be the reform of the liturgy.
This also means that those priests, especially the young priests, who recognize the beauty and truth and goodness of the classical Roman rite, must display prudent courage in their own parishes, in seeing that the use of this rite spreads to the whole Church. This is not a time for waffling, it is not a time for wait and see which way the wind is blowing before I move attitude, this is not a time for assessing one’s clerical career. When the truth, goodness and beauty is shown to you in your face, as it were, you must respond with all that you have for the good of the Church. Always, always with prudence and love.
And this means that the laity who know and understand how important the presence of the classical Roman rite is to the future of the Church must abandon the friendly idol of convenience and sentimentality and take on the burden of sacrifice, a burden that is in fact easy and light.
I close with words from that sermon that inspired this sermon, a sermon preached 150 years ago in England to a group of clergy about to enter into a new time for the Church. The sermon is The Second Spring. The writer is one of the men to whom I owe my own conversion to Catholicism, John Henry Newman.
“And there on that high spot, far from the haunts of men, yet in the very center of the island, a large edifice, or rather pile of edifices, appears with many fronts and courts, and long cloisters and corridors, and story upon story. And there it rises, under the invocation of the same sweet and powerful name which has been our strength and consolation in the Valley. I look more attentively at that building, and I see that it is fashioned upon that ancient style of art which brings back the past, which had seemed to be perishing from off the face of the earth, or to be preserved only as a curiosity, or to be imitated only as a fancy. I listen, and I hear the sound of voices, grave and musical, renewing in old chant, with which Augustine greeted Ethelbert in the free air upon the Kentish strand. It comes from a long procession, and it winds along the cloisters. Priests and religious, theologians from the schools, and canons from the cathedral, walk in due precedence…and at last I see a Prince of the Church, in the royal dye of empire and of martyrdom, a pledge to us from Rome of Rome’s unwearied love, a token that that goodly company is firm in Apostolic faith and hope. And the shadow of the saints is there;–St Benedict is there, speaking to us by the voice of bishop and priest, and counting over the long ages through which he has prayed and studied and labored; there too is St. Dominic’s white wool, which no blemish can impair, no stain dim; and if St Bernard be not there, it is only that his absence may make him remembered more……And so that high company moves on into the holy place; and there, with august rite and awful sacrifice, inaugurates the great act which brings it thither….
“The world grows old, but the Church is ever young. Arise, make haste, my love…for now the winter is past, and the rain is over and gone. The flowers have appeared in our land…Arise, Mary…Arise, Mother of God! Shine on us, dear Lady with thy bright countenance….till our year is one perpetual May. From thy sweet eyes, from thy pure smile, from thy majestic bow, let ten thousand influences rain down, not to confound, not to overwhelm, but to persuade.. O Mary, my hope, O Mother undefiled, fulfill to us the promise of this Spring.”