by Sandro Magister
ROME, July 29, 2013 – One point on which Jorge Mario Bergoglio was eagerly expected to weigh in, after his election as pope, was that of the Mass in the ancient rite.
There were those who predicted that Pope Francis would not distance himself from the stance of his predecessor. Who had liberalized the celebration of the Mass in the ancient rite as an “extraordinary” form of the modern rite, with the motu proprio “Summorum Pontificum" of July 7, 2007:
> Benedict XVI Liberalizes the Ancient Rite of the Mass – And Explains Why
and with the subsequent instruction "Universæ Ecclesiæ" of May 13, 2011:
> Two Masses for a Single Church
And there were instead those who prognosticated on the part of Francis a restriction - or even a cancellation - of the possibility of celebrating the Mass with the rite prior to Vatican Council II, even at the cost of contradicting the decisions of Benedict XVI with him still alive.
To read the decree issued by the Vatican congregation for religious shortly before the voyage of Francis in Brazil, with the explicit approval of the pope himself, one must agree more with the latter than with the former.
The decree bears the date of July 11, 2013, the protocol number 52741/2012, and the signatures of the prefect of the congregation, Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, a focolarino, and of the secretary of the same congregation, Archbishop José Rodríguez Carballo, a Franciscan.
Braz de Aviz is the only high-ranking official in the curia of Brazilian nationality, and because of this he has accompanied Francis on his voyage to Rio de Janeiro. He has a reputation as a progressive, although that of a scatterbrain fits him better. And he will probably be one of the first to go when the reform of the curia announced by Francis takes shape.
Rodríguez Carballo instead enjoys the pope's complete trust. His promotion as second-in-command of the congregation was backed by Francis himself at the beginning of his pontificate.
It is difficult, therefore, to think that pope Bergoglio was unaware of what he was approving when he was presented with the decree before its publication.
The decree installs an apostolic commissioner - in the person of the Capuchin Fidenzio Volpi - at the head of all the communities of the congregation of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate.
And this in itself is cause for astonishment. Because the Franciscans of the Immaculate are one of the most flourishing religious communities born in the Catholic Church in recent decades, with male and female branches, with many young vocations, spread over several continents and with a mission in Argentina as well.
They want to be faithful to tradition, in full respect for the magisterium of the Church. So much so that in their communities they celebrate Masses both in the ancient rite and in the modern rite, as moreover do hundreds of religious communities around the world - the Benedictines of Norcia, to give just one example - applying the spirit and the letter of the motu proprio “Summorum Pontificum" of Benedict XVI.
But precisely this was contested by a core group of internal dissidents, who appealed to the Vatican authorities complaining of the excessive propensity of their congregation to celebrate the Mass in the ancient rite, with the effect of creating exclusion and opposition within the communities, of undermining internal unity and, worse, of weakening the more general "sentire cum Ecclesia."
The Vatican authorities responded by sending an apostolic visitor one year ago. And now comes the appointment of the commissioner.
But what is most astonishing are the last five lines of the decree of July 11:
"In addition to the above, the Holy Father Francis has directed that every religious of the congregation of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate is required to celebrate the liturgy according to the ordinary rite and that, if the occasion should arise, the use of the extraordinary form (Vetus Ordo) must be explicitly authorized by the competent authorities, for every religious and/or community that makes the request.”
The astonishment stems from the fact that what is decreed contradicts the dispositions given by Benedict XVI, which for the celebration of the Mass in the ancient rite “sine populo" demand no previous request for authorization whatsoever:
"Ad talem celebrationem secundum unum alterumve Missale, sacerdos nulla eget licentia, nec Sedis Apostolicae nec Ordinarii sui" (1).
While for Masses "cum populo" they set out a few conditions, but always guaranteeing the freedom to celebrate.
In general, against a decree of a Vatican congregation it is possible to have recourse to the supreme tribunal of the apostolic signatura, today headed by a cardinal, the American Raymond Leo Burke, considered a friend by the traditionalists.
But if the decree is the object of approval in a specific form on the part of the pope, as it seems to be in this case, recourse is not admitted.
The Franciscans of the Immaculate will have to comply with the prohibition on celebrating the Mass in the ancient rite beginning Sunday, August 11.
And now what will happen, not only among them but in the whole Church?
It was the conviction of Benedict XVI that "the two forms of the usage of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching." He had explained this in the heartfelt letter to the bishops of the whole world with which he had accompanied the motu proprio "Summorum Pontificum":
> "With great trust and hope…"
But from now on this is no longer the case, at least not for all. For the Franciscans of the Immaculate, forced to celebrate the Mass only in the modern form, there remains just one way to take to heart what Benedict XVI also hoped: to "demonstrate" in this form as well, "more powerfully than has been the case hitherto, the sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage."
The fact is that one pillar of the pontificate of Joseph Ratzinger has been cracked. By an exception that many fear - or hope - will soon become the rule.
(1) Curiously, even six years after its publication, the motu proprio “Summorum Pontificum” of Benedict XVI continues to be present on the website of the Holy See only in two languages, and these among the least-known: Latin and Hungarian.
The website of the Franciscans of the Immaculate:
> Francescani dell'Immacolata