Monday, September 28, 2009

Thirty years before Summorum Pontificum

On my way home from St John's Seminary, Wonersh, today I listened to an enlightening talk given by Hamish Fraser in 1977 to The Roman Forum in New York. The Roman Forum is an
organization dedicated to the broad defense of Catholic doctrine and Catholic culture. It was founded in 1968 in the wake of Humanae vitae by the great philosopher, Professor Dietrich von Hildebrand (1889-1977), whom Pope Pius XII called “the twentieth century Doctor of the Church”.
Hamish Fraser was a presbyterian protestant, then a Communist active in the Spanish Civil War, and then a convert to Catholicism. You can find more about him at The Fatima Network.

He speaks about how the Church was in 1967, the years just after the Second Vatican Council: how there were great signs of hope.

In his Apostolic Exhortation Petrum et Paulum Apostolos of 22nd February 1967, feast of the Chair of St Peter, the Holy Father, Pope Paul VI, had condemned
new exegitical and theological opinions which, insinuating themselves into the field of catholic doctrine, cast doubt upon or deformed the objective sense of the faith authoritatively taught by the Church and, under the pretext of adapting religious thinking to the mentality of the modern world, prescinded from the guidance of the ecclesiastical magisterum, despoiling the testimony of Sacred Scripture of its historical and sacred character, attempting to introduce among the People of God a so-called post-conciliar mentality which replaces the spirit of traditional faithfulness with a new arbitrary and sterile interpretation. What would remain, the Pope asked, of our faith if these attempts at emancipation from the ecclesiastical magisterium, were to prevail? [Rough translation from Italian.]
So good Catholics were reassured that the Pope was defending the authentic teaching of the Faith and defending the Second Vatican Council from the neo-modernists, i.e. defending tradition.

Then, the following year, the good Pope defended the Church's traditional teaching on Birth Control with his encylical letter Humanae Vitae on 25th July 1968. (Was it Archbishop Fulton Sheen who remarked that the poor Pope suffered so much as a result of the hostile reception of this encyclical, that he never wrote another encycical letter?) So faithful Catholics were once again assured that the Pope was orthodox in that he was defending traditional Church teaching.

So faithful Catholics were grateful to their Pope and anxious to show their loyalty and obedience to him. When the Novus Ordo Missae was introduced, many were distressed at the radical shift in theology and apparent break with tradition that the new Mass appeared to them to represent. But, as it was not heretical, not invalid, and could be celebrated reverently and devoutly, even if it was ambiguous, devised as it was by a concilium, some of whose members were protestants, loyal faithful catholics wanted to accept the new Mass in obedience to the Pope, even if it was a Mass that protestants, too, could accept. And many faithful catholics suffered greatly as they witnessed - as I did as a young lad and my parents did too - scandalous abuses in the celebration of the New Mass, even as they knew that it could be celebrated reverently.

While some orthodox or traditionalist catholics did reject the new Mass, others wanted to remain faithful to the Pope who had spoken against the so-called post-conciliar spirit and who had defended the traditional teaching on Birth Control and so they said the New Mass must be accepted.

An interesting observation that Fraser makes - thirty years ago! - is that, while everywhere the old Mass was suppressed, it was never actually abrogated. This is what Pope Benedict himself declared in Summorum Pontificum. So there was this vaguenss of interpretation that gave traditionalist groups justification in maintaining the celebration of the old Mass.

Another interesting point made by Fraser is that, once the New Mass had been promulgated, already faithful catholics were petitioning the Holy Father, not for the rejection of the New Mass, but for the freedom of every priest to celebrate the older Mass without let or hindrance and that of the faithful to attend it, in other words that both forms should co-exist. Which is what Pope Benedict legislated for in his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum in 2007.

So, altogether, I found the talk fascinating. It can be downloaded from by clicking here: The Challenge to Traditionalists: The Fight Against Neo-Modernism. In MP3 format it costs just $1.50 unless you are a priest or seminarian in which case you can register for free downloads. Just a wee advisory: this talk contains references to Freemasonry in the Church. If such talk disturbs you, don't listen.

The point is made very clearly at the end of the talk that Dietrich von Hildebrand was always inspired by fidelity to the Church and the Pope. He was a daily communicant up to the end of his life. Although he much preferred the older Mass, he would attend the new if the old were not available. "The Mass is the Mass" as my good mother would insist.

1 comment:

  1. One of the things that Hildebrand's wife (Dr. Alice von Hildebrand) described in their meetings with Paul VI was that although Paul VI appeared privately traditional, he allowed all sorts of reforms and innovations without batting an eyelid.

    It is no wonder they said that the most influential person on Paul VI was not necessarily the cardinals but the last person to speak to him before he went to bed.


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