Imagine you are buried alive. Do I have your attention? Good. Imagine you are six feet under in a coffin and you are running out of air. You don’t know how much longer you can hang on. But then, suddenly, you hear scratching on the outside of your coffin, and then miraculously see a drill hole appear above your head. Then through the drill hole a tube emerges, with an air tube to the surface and you can suddenly breathe again. I am quite certain you would be very grateful to the person who dropped the air tube down to you, granting you a much-needed and welcome reprieve.
That is what the motu proprio “Summorum Pontificum” felt like in 2007. It seemed like a lifeline for Tradition and the traditional Mass. Suddenly we could breathe again and it seemed like Tradition was saved from certain death. We, understandably, felt relieved and grateful.
Back to my analogy above. Imagine someone gave you that air tube and then they just left you there in the coffin.
When you took the first big gulp of air, you thought you were rescued and while you were thrown a lifeline, the inadequacy of the response to the full scope of the problem emerged fairly quickly.
So now in 2016, there has been enough time to fairly evaluate both the premise and effect of Summorum Pontificum.
Obviously, the situation regarding the availability of the Traditional Latin Mass in the United States is better than it was before the motu proprio. But in many places, despite the supposed inherent guarantees, the motu proprio’s provisions have been proven inadequate to overcome the resistance of intransigent bishops.
Those bishops simply hold too many levers of power for the ordinary priest or pastor to overcome. As a result, the Traditional Latin Mass has not been allowed to integrate into parish life and has remained, where it is even available, as something separate and given minimal support. In short, Summorum Pontificum has proven to be a somewhat better version of the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei.
It must be admitted that some of these issues and the general lack of progress integrating the traditional liturgy back into the life of the Church hoped for by many in the wake of SP have their genesis in the document itself. There are two aspects of the document that rhetorically expose its weakness.
First, the document continues to use the language of attachment. I quote, “In some regions, however, not a few of the faithful continued to be attached with such love and affection to the earlier liturgical forms which had deeply shaped their culture and spirit,”. While likely not Pope Benedict’s intention, this reduces interest and devotion to the traditional liturgy as nothing more than mere sentiment. It is this very thinking and language that leads to the disrespect and dismissal of the traditional liturgy and its devotees shown by Pope Francis when he said, “I find that it is rather a kind of fashion. And if it is a fashion, therefore it is a matter that does not needthat much attention. It is just necessary to show some patience and kindness to people who are addicted to a certain fashion.”
As hard as it was for traditionalists to hear those words out of the mouth of the Pope, we must admit that in substance, if not in style, they are reminiscent of Pope Benedict’s words in SP.
Second, Pope Benedict’s designation of the traditional liturgy as the “extraordinary form,” while initially hailed by many, has undoubtedly furthered the mindset among the faithful that the traditional Mass is something separate, and by nature, unusual. It then articulates qualifying requirements for the faithful to even ask for the Mass and provides no guarantees that it will be available.
And this brings us to the main flaw of Summorum Pontificum: it has no teeth.
Quite simply, Pope Benedict failed to use his authority to impose upon bishops and priests any meaningful obligations to the faithful in this matter. In essence, the Pope made some small concessions to appease a sentimental, but tiny, minority.
This did nothing to unite the Church or to promote more worthy worship universally throughout the Church. So while SP, like the air hose, is better than nothing, it failed to dramatically change the situation.
So what do I mean when I say Summorum Pontificum had no teeth?
Specifically, there are things the motu proprio should have done to re-establish the traditional Mass and worthy worship in the Roman rite. I think, at a minimum, the motu proprio should have done the following:
● It should have required all priests to learn and show competency inthe TLM prior to ordination.
● Special requests for Mass should not be required. The Mass should be provided in the same way as the Novus Ordo, by default.
At least one per Church (high Mass preferred) (with certain number of parishioners) during the regular Sunday morning schedule.
● Every diocese should have a mandatory TLM preparation program for priests already ordained, to be completed within five years.
● Every diocese should have at least one Traditional Altar server training program.
● Every diocese should have a traditional music training program.
● And most of all, there should be sanctions against any bishop, seminary, or diocese that does not comply.
I truly believe that all these steps and many more will be necessary at some point in the future for the universal Church to begin to restore worthy worship. Too many generations have passed for us not to start from the basics again. First and foremost, all priests must know and be competent in the traditional Mass. This single action alone will expose priests to ideas about the liturgy they may have never contemplated before and begin to reorient the Church.
Summorum Pontificum seemed like a lifeline for tradition at the time and in fairness, it likely was. But in any honest assessment, we must conclude that it largely left us where we were. More needs to be done and I pray that some future Pope will soon do it.
All that said, I'm glad to have at least that air tube.
Patrick Archbold is co-founder of Creative Minority Report and a Catholic writer on the intersection of religion, culture, and politics. When not writing, Patrick is director of information technology at a large international logistics company. Patrick, his wife Terri, and their five children reside in Long Island, N.Y.