Four years ago, Pope Benedict XVI, against the opposition of the great majority in the Catholic Church, restored the old Latin liturgy to equality with the new vernacular form of the celebration of the mass, which had been mandated since 1969. (The Latin liturgy substantially dates back to Gregory the Great (540-604) and was finally authoritatively fixed by the Council of Trent (1545-1563).) A week ago, the Vatican, in a papal letter, reaffirmed its determination of 2007 and clarified some disputed questions regarding its practical application. Martin Mosebach, the recipient of the Büchner prize, is one of the most fervent admirers and defenders of the old Liturgy.
Die Welt: In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI, in a special motu proprio (an apostolic letter), freed the ancient Gregorian liturgy for the Catholic Church. Why does the Vatican publish instructions four years later on how the will of the pope is to be implemented?
Martin Mosebach: The enemies of the great liturgical tradition of the Roman Church in many cases have not accepted the permission given to the Old Rite. They often tried to ignore the pope’s motu proprio and sought to maintain obstacles. They tried with bureaucratic methods to render ineffective the pope’s generosity. Therefore, the Vatican had to be clearer if it wanted to maintain the motu proprio.
Die Welt: The Instruction speaks of “two usages of the one Roman rite.” Doesn’t this open the door to a creeping new schism?
Martin Mosebach: There’s already a schism, not between supporters of the new and old rites, but between those Catholics who adhere to the old sacramental theology of the Church as was solemnly confirmed by Vatican II, and those who assert that Vatican II founded a new Church with a new theology and new sacraments. This latter doctrine has been diffused wholesale and against the better knowledge of its promoters, in the seminaries, universities and Catholic academies. This is what has fostered the danger of a schism.
Die Welt: “What was sacred for prior generations remains sacred and great also for us as well; it cannot be suddenly prohibited altogether or even judged harmful.” The Instruction cites here the pope. But wasn’t this the intention of the overwhelming majority of the Catholic bishops in the last 40 years?
Martin Mosebach: Yes, it is regrettably true that a not small part of the Catholic bishops, in a suicidal frenzy, attempted to separate from the Catholic Tradition and to cut the Church off from the source of her vitality. In the sentence you have cited, the pope has given them some tutoring in ecclesiology.
Die Welt: How can the Roman liturgy in the “usus antiquior “ be offered today “to all the faithful “ if only a fraction of the faithful understand Latin?
Martin Mosebach: At all times only a few Catholics have been able to follow the Latin Mass word for word. Europe looks back on well over a thousand years of glorious Catholic culture without the people being able to understand Latin. They understand something more important: that in the rite the Parousia – the mystic presence – of the Lord takes place. Without this understanding, a person has understood nothing of the Mass, even if he thinks he understands every word. Moreover, for a long time there have been wonderful bilingual missals with which we can pray the mass with the priest. But it is indeed correct: the Old Rite requires a certain effort, a readiness to learn.
Die Welt: And how will precisely the promotion of the “older” rite further “reconciliation within the Church” after it has led to so much conflict until now?
Martin Mosebach: The conflict essentially is due to the misunderstanding, so perilous for the Church, that Vatican II established a new Church. The struggle surrounding this misunderstanding must be endured to the end. Covering it up with peaceful phrases doesn’t help the Church.
Die Welt: Pastors are invited to show “a spirit of generous welcome” to groups of faithful who would like to celebrate the Old Mass in Latin. Isn’t this naïve after the last few decades, in which such faithful were considered hopelessly old-fashioned and retrograde?
Martin Mosebach: Indeed, the faithful, who have adhered to the Old Rite or have discovered it just recently, were reviled in manner that, I hope, is not revealing of the spiritual worth of the reform. Karl Rahner’s words have not been forgotten: the opponents of the reform of the mass are “tragicomic fringe elements, frustrated by humaneness .” Today, however, one surprisingly finds a great deal of understanding for the cause of Tradition among younger priests.
Die Welt: That the pope personally changed the old Good Friday petition for the Jews satisfied hardly a single critic or opponent. Doesn’t the new Instruction stir up the fire once more?
Martin Mosebach: The critics of the Good Friday prayer perceive the insistence of the Church that Christ is “the Truth” as creating scandal. But the Church must endure this anger. She cannot deviate from this conviction.
Die Welt: Now priests can once more celebrate mass by themselves (or with the assistance of a single server). Isn’t that a leap back into the age when the concept of “communio” had only a shadowy existence in the Catholic Church?
Martin Mosebach: The concept of “communio” never had only a shadowy existence in the Church. The “communion of Saints” is , after all, even an article of faith. The community of which the Church speaks, however, is much more than the people actually present. It is a community with the dead and with the angels – but it is especially a community with Jesus Christ. Experience teaches that this community can be intensively experienced in the old form of the mass and even especially in the low mass – in any case, for many people better than in the post-conciliar form, characterized by incessant talking and the singing of questionable songs.
Die Welt: The training of priests is supposed again to “offer the opportunity of learning the extraordinary form of the rite” to theology students. But who will teach it? There are, after all, almost no teachers left.
Martin Mosebach: There are a number of Traditional priestly societies which view as their mission the imparting of the old liturgy to young priests. One only has to turn to these priestly societies and ask. They are happy to provide information, but until now have been impeded by many bishops.
Die Welt: What surprised you the most in the new Instruction?
Martin Mosebach: What surprised me is how determined the pope is in the question of liturgy. In any case, he has created the legal prerequisites for returning the Old Rite to complete freedom. No bishop who would like to impede the Old Rite can cite legal reasons any more.
Die Welt: And what disappointed you the most?
Martin Mosebach: It was disappointing for me that the great rite of the old ordination ceremony can from now on only be celebrated in Traditional monasteries and priestly societies. It is a pity that this spiritual treasure, which defines the priesthood so exactly, is to be lost to the universal Church – at least for the time being.
Die Welt: How do you respond to the criticism that the debate over liturgy overlooks the plight of the Church and the world?
Martin Mosebach: The plight of the Church is precisely that she has forgotten where her center lies. Her mission is to proclaim the living Christ and the living Christ appears in the liturgy. If the liturgy is made subject to the fashions of the day, the living Christ becomes invisible. Then the Church is truly in a crisis.
© Paul Badde