What's Behind Liturgical Abuses?

Interview With Leader of Traditional Mass Community

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By Alexandre Ribeiro

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil, APRIL 9, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The bishop of a Brazilian community that celebrates the Mass according to the 1962 missal contends that abuses in the liturgy can be attributed to the lack of a serious spirituality.

Bishop Fernando Arêas Rifan, apostolic administrator of the St. John Maria Vianney Personal Apostolic Administration in Brazil, spoke with ZENIT about the richness of the extraordinary form of the Mass. The use of that form was extended with Benedict XVI's "Summorum Pontificum," released last July.

The St. John Maria Vianney group was founded by Bishop Licínio Rangel, who was ordained a bishop without papal approval in 1991 by bishops themselves illicitly ordained by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, founder of the Society of St. Pius X.

Bishop Rangel later asked to return to full communion and expressed the necessary dispositions. He received a letter granting his wish from Pope John Paul II and returned to the Church in a ceremony in 2002, presided over by the Pontiff and Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, president of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei.

Today, the apostolic administration continues serving Catholics in Brazil devoted to the traditional Mass, and have full communion with the Catholic Church.

Q: In your apostolic administration, the ancient Roman Rite is celebrated, the one preceding the reform of 1970. What are the characteristics of this type of Mass?

Bishop Rifan: There are various motives for this love, for this preference and the conservation of the extraordinary form of the Roman liturgy. Then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, our current Pope, speaking with the Chilean bishops in Santiago, July 13, 1988, summarized it this way: "Even though there are numerous motives that could have brought a great number of faithful to find refuge in the traditional liturgy, the most important is that they find preserved there the dignity of the sacred."

In fact, because of its richness, beauty, elevation, nobility and ceremonial solemnity, because of its sense of the sacred and reverential, because of its sense of mystery, its greater precision and rigor -- thereby offering more security and protection against abuses, without leaving space for ambiguities, for the liberty, creativity, adaptations, reductions and manipulations, as Pope John Paul II lamented in the encyclical "Ecclesia de Eucharistia" -- and being for us the best liturgical expression of the Eucharistic dogmas and solid spiritual nourishment, it is one of the treasures of Catholic liturgy, with which we express our love and our communion with the holy Church. And the Holy See recognizes this adhesion of ours as perfectly legitimate.

Q: Could the ancient form of the Mass be more promoted in the life of the Church, though as an extraordinary form, as is indicated and permitted by "Summorum Pontificum"? What benefits would this bring?

Bishop Rifan: This was already the desire of the Holy Father Pope John Paul II, when he affirmed in his [letter issued] "motu proprio" "Ecclesia Dei" on July 2, 1988. "To all those Catholic faithful who feel attached to some previous liturgical and disciplinary forms of the Latin tradition, I wish to manifest my will to facilitate their ecclesial communion by means of the necessary measures to guarantee respect for their rightful aspirations. […] Moreover, respect must everywhere be shown for the feelings of all those who are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition, by a wide and generous application of the directives already issued some time ago by the Apostolic See for the use of the Roman Missal according to the typical edition of 1962."

This desire has been reinforced and amplified to the entire world by Benedict XVI with the [letter issued] "motu proprio" "Summorum Pontificum."

The benefits of the reintroduction and the diffusion in the Church of this extraordinary form of the Roman Rite have been mentioned by the current Pope in his "motu proprio," when he says that in the celebration of the Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI, this sacredness that attracts many to the ancient tradition could be manifested in a more intense way. This is exactly what has been emphasized by Cardinal [Francis] George of Chicago -- "The Holy Father himself, a while ago, called our attention to the beauty and the depth of the St. Pius V Missal. […] The liturgy of 1962 is an authorized rite of the Catholic Church and a valuable font of liturgical understanding for all the other rites. This liturgy belongs to the entire Church as a vehicle of the Spirit that should radiate as well in the celebration of the third typical edition of the current Roman Missal" -- in the Prologue of the 2002 Proceedings, "Liturgy and the Sacred," from the International Center for Liturgical Studies.

When I participated in August 2007 in the Oxford Congress, a gathering to teach the celebration of the Mass in the extraordinary form to more that 60 diocesan priests from the United Kingdom there present, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham said in the solemn opening Mass to the priests participating that, after having learned the Mass in the ancient form, even if in their parishes they would celebrate Mass in the current rite of Paul VI, they would anyway celebrate it better. I think that is a benefit backed by the Pope in his "motu proprio" "Summorum Pontificum."

Q: What indications do you give for avoiding scarce attention and respect for the liturgy?

Bishop Rifan: Speaking of the abuses following the liturgical reform, the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger lamented that the liturgy degenerated into a show, in which they seek to make religion interesting with the help of stylish elements, with momentary successes in the group of the liturgical "manufacturers" [in the] introduction to the book "La Réforme Liturgique" by Monsignor Klaus Gamber, page 6 and 8.

Cardinal Edouard Gagnon was of the same opinion. "It cannot be ignored that the [liturgical] reform has given rise to many abuses and have led in a certain degree to the disappearance of respect for the sacred. This fact should be unfortunately admitted and it excuses a good number of those people who have distanced themselves from our Church and their former parish communities [in] "Fundamentalism and Conservatism," interview with Cardinal Gagnon, "Zitung -- Römisches," November-December 1993, page 35.

I think that the central point of the abuses was indicated by Cardinal Ratzinger himself: the door left open to a false creativity on the part of the celebrants [in an] interview in "L'homme Nouveau," October 2001.

Behind this is the lack of a serious spirituality, [the idea that] to attract the people, novelties should be invented. Holy Mass is attractive in itself, because of its sacredness and mystery. Deep down, we're dealing with the diminishment of faith in the Eucharistic mysteries and an attempt to replace it with novelties and creativity. When the celebrant wants to become the protagonist of the liturgical action, abuses begin. It is forgotten that the center of the Mass is Jesus Christ.

The current secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Bishop Albert Malcolm Ranjith, laments: "Holy Mass is a sacrifice, gift, mystery, independently of the priest who celebrates it. It is important, I would say fundamental, that the priest draws back: The protagonist of the Mass is Christ. I don't understand, therefore, the Eucharistic celebrations transformed into shows with dances, songs or applause, as lamentably happens many times with the Novus Ordo."

The solution to the abuse is in the norms given by the Magisterium, above all in the document "Redemptionis Sacramentum" of March 25, 2004, which asks that "everyone do all that is in their power to ensure that the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist will be protected from any and every irreverence or distortion and that all abuses be thoroughly corrected. This is a most serious duty incumbent upon each and every one, and all are bound to carry it out without any favoritism" -- No. 183.

But, as Bishop Ranjith says, "there are a lot of documents [against these abuses] that unfortunately have remained a dead letter, forgotten in libraries full of dust, or even worse, thrown into the waste basket."