Joseph Pearce on the Heart and Mind of a Real Shepherd

From the book Benedict XVI Defender of the Faith

Having stressed that the traditional Mass was “never abrogated,” he sought to ensure the freedom of the faithful to be present at the celebration of the Mass by replacing John Paul II’s earlier indult and Motu Proprio, which had relied on the good faith of the bishops, with a new set of decrees which gave all priests the right to celebrate the traditional Mass and all the faithful the right to attend it without the necessity of seeking permission from the bishop in order to do so.

Furthermore, the Pope instructed parish priests to provide the faithful with the traditional Latin Mass whenever and wherever a group of parishioners desired it: “In parishes where a group of the faithful attached to the previous liturgical tradition stably exists, the parish priest should willingly accede to their requests to celebrate Holy Mass according to the rite of the 1962 Roman Missal” (SP, Art. 5:1). In a further move to end the marginalization of the traditional Mass, Benedict also decreed that it could be celebrated on Sundays and feast days and was not to be restricted to midweek Masses that few attend.

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In similar vein, he decreed that “the pastor should allow celebrations in this extraordinary form also in special circumstances such as marriages, funerals or occasional celebrations, e.g. pilgrimages,” whenever this was requested by either priests or laity.

Well aware that many priests and bishops had willfully ignored or defied John Paul II’s request that they be indulgent and charitable toward the traditionalist members of their flocks, Benedict decreed that the faithful could ultimately appeal to Rome itself in cases where their wishes were being thwarted by recalcitrant pastors or bishops: If a group of the lay faithful … has not been granted its requests by the parish priest, it should inform the diocesan bishop. The bishop is earnestly requested to satisfy their desire. If he does not wish to provide for such celebration, the matter should be referred to the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei.

… A bishop who wishes to provide for such requests of the lay faithful, but is prevented by various reasons from doing so, can refer the matter to the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, which will offer him counsel and assistance. (SP, Art. 7, 8) The Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei was the body established by John Paul II in 1988 “for the purpose of facilitating full ecclesial communion of priests, seminarians, religious communities or individuals until now linked in various ways to the Fraternity founded by Archbishop Lefebvre, who may wish to remain united to the Successor of Peter in the Catholic Church.”

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In a more general sense, its role is to look after and to promote the pastoral care of all those traditionalist Catholics throughout the world who favor the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. It was given additional powers by Benedict, who decreed that it “will exercise the authority of the Holy See in ensuring the observance and application” of the decrees enacted in Summorum Pontificum. In effect, traditionalist Catholics now had the right to appeal directly to the pope if their local bishops sought to ignore or defy the new status of equality given to the traditional Mass.

The issuing of Summorum Pontificum was received with great jubilation by the millions of traditionalist Catholics around the world who were finally being welcomed with loving arms by the Holy Father after experiencing decades in the wilderness, ostracized by modernists and treated as pariahs. In this sense, Summorum Pontificum can be seen as the “reactive” response of a loving shepherd to the persecution of a significant portion of his flock.

Not surprisingly, Summorum Pontificum was greeted with outrage by many self-styled “reformers.” Such individuals attacked the Pope’s letter for being “reactionary” in the pejorative sense of its being a knee-jerk response which would have retrogressive consequences, whereas it was, in fact, reactionary in the positive sense of being a restoration of true order and tradition after the destruction and deconstruction of several decades of liturgical modernism. It was the healthy reaction of a pope who was fully alive to the truth of tradition. This sort of reaction is not only healthy, it is a sign of the life of the Spirit within the Church. A healthy organism always reacts; only a corpse is not reactionary.”

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About the Author

Joseph Pearce is Writer in Residence and Visiting Fellow at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, NH. He is a renowned biographer whose books include Candles in the Dark: The Authorized Biography of Fr. Ho Lung, Missionaries of the Poor (Saint Benedict Press, 2012); Through Shakespeare’s Eyes: Seeing the Catholic Presence in the Plays (Ignatius Press, 2010); and Tolkien: Man and Myth, a Literary Life (HarperCollins, 1998) and more. He is the recipient of an Honorary Doctorate of Higher Education from Thomas More College for the Liberal Arts and the Pollock Award for Christian Biography. He is co-editor of the St. Austin Review, editor-in-Chief of Ignatius Press Critical Editions, and editor-in-Chief of Sapientia Press.

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