In his Inside the Vatican Newsflash Letter #29 today, Dr. Robert Moynihan examines the implications of recent meetings between Rome and a representative of the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow:
A fourth consideration is the relationship of the Roman Catholic Church to the world's Orthodox Churches.
It became clear last week, during a very cordial visit to Rome by a representative of the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow, that relations between Catholicism and Orthodoxy, especially Russian Orthodoxy, at least on the surface, are much improved over the past few years.(There are as yet no "official" sources about this meeting -- the Holy See has still not released an official communiqué.)
Here are excerpts from an account of that visit I wrote for the Monday, September 21 edition of the Zenit news agency:
Recent Meeting Could Mark Turning Point
On September 18, inside Castel Gandolfo, the Pope's summer palace about 30 miles outside Rome, a Russian Orthodox Archbishop named Hilarion Alfeyev (photo), 43 (a scholar, theologian, expert on the liturgy, composer and lover of music), met with Benedict XVI, 82 (also a scholar, theologian, expert on the liturgy and lover of music), for almost two hours, according to informed sources.
The silence suggests that what transpired was important -- perhaps so important that the Holy See thinks it isn't yet prudent to reveal publicly what was discussed.
But there are numerous "signs" that the meeting was remarkably harmonious...
In memory of the visit, Archbishop Hilarion gave the Pope a pectoral cross, made in workshops of Russian Orthodox Church...
It is especially significant, in this context, that Hilarion, Patriarch Kirill's "Foreign Minister," has some of the same deep interests as Benedict XVI: the liturgy, and music.
"As a 15-year-old boy I first entered the sanctuary of the Lord, the Holy of Holies of the Orthodox Church,” Hilarion once wrote about the Orthodox liturgy. “But it was only after my entrance into the altar that the 'theourgia,' the mystery, and 'feast of faith' began, which continues to this very day.
"After my ordination, I saw my destiny and main calling in serving the Divine Liturgy. Indeed, everything else, such as sermons, pastoral care and theological scholarship were centered around the main focal point of my life -- the liturgy."
These words seem to echo the feelings and experiences of Benedict XVI, who has written that the liturgies of Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday in Bavaria when he was a child were formative for his entire being, and that his writing on the liturgy (one of his books is entitled "Feast of Faith") is the most important to him of all his scholarly endeavors.
"Orthodox divine services are a priceless treasure that we must carefully guard," Hilarion has written. "I have had the opportunity to be present at both Protestant and Catholic services, which were, with rare exceptions, quite disappointing… Since the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, services in some Catholic churches have become little different from Protestant ones."
Again, these words of Hilarion seem to echo Benedict XVI's own concerns. The Pope has made it clear that he wishes to reform the Catholic Church's liturgy, and preserve what was contained in the old liturgy and now risks being lost.
Hilarion has cited the Orthodox St. John of Kronstadt approvingly. St. John of Kronstadt wrote: "The Church and its divine services are an embodiment and realization of everything in Christianity... It is the divine wisdom, accessible to simple, loving hearts."
These words echo words written by Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, who often said that the liturgy is a "school" for the simple Christian, imparting the deep truths of the faith even to the unlearned through its prayers, gestures and hymns.
Hilarion in recent years has become known for his musical compositions, especially for Christmas and for Good Friday, celebrating the birth and the Passion of Jesus Christ. These works have been performed in Moscow and in the West, in Rome in March 2007 and in Washington DC in December 2007.
Closer relations between Rome and Moscow, then, could have profound implications also for the cultural and liturgical life of the Church in the West. There could be a renewal of Christian art and culture, as well as of faith...
(Here is a link to the complete article: http://www.zenit.org/article-26932?l=english.)
At a superficial level, there would seem to be no relation between Vatican efforts at fostering closer unity with the Eastern Orthodox, and the subject of the rest of the Inside the Vatican Newsflash Letter #29, i.e., the impending "Perfect Storm" regarding negotiations between the Vatican and the SSPX.
However, this would be an opportune moment to review a column published more than a year ahead of Summorum Pontificum:
June 29, 2006
"Similarly, it must not be forgotten that from the beginning the Churches of the East have had a treasury from which the Western Church has drawn extensively in liturgical practice, spiritual tradition, and law"
—Unitatis Redintegratio, November 21, 1964.
Is it truly feasible that the "freeing of the classical Roman rite of liturgy" is a small part of the Pope's overall plan for paving the way for the reuniting of the Latin Church with the separated Churches of the East?
Bishop Fernando Rifan, who heads up the Apostolic Administration of St. John Mary Vianney in Campos, Brazil, said he believed a further liberalization of the liturgical rite of Pope St. Pius V would aid ecumenical relations with the East.
"I really think that the Traditional Latin Mass widely and freely available would be, among many other good reasons, a great benefit in the field of the true ecumenism with the Orthodox," he said. "This would be primarily because the Traditional Liturgy is much more similar to the Oriental [Eastern] rites in the aspect of the sacred, veneration, and beauty."
Bishop Rifan and his priestly society achieved full canonical recognition and regularization with the Church on January 18, 2002.
It is hoped by many traditionalists and the Holy See that the positive example of this group of priests, which offers all the sacraments exclusively according to the ancient rites, will serve as a model for other traditionalist priestly societies such as the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), to potentially reach full regularization with the Church.
Archbishop Raymond Burke, a notably obedient son of the Church, particularly with applying Pope John Paul II's request in Ecclesia Dei Adflicta to be "wide and generous" in allowing the Classical Roman liturgy for those Catholics who desire it, agrees with Bishop Rifan's assessment, but with a nuance.
"I wouldn't think that the Holy Father would be doing this simply as a strategy [for ecumenical relations with the Orthodox], but I do think it will be an effect of a restoration or in the 'reform of the reform' of the liturgy," Archbishop Burke said.
"It seems to me for the Eastern rites, and for those of the Orthodox Churches, the reform of the liturgy after the council and the concrete expression is so stripped of the transcendent, of the sacral elements, it is difficult for them to recognize its relationship with their Eucharistic Liturgies," he said.
Archbishop Burke agreed that the Eastern Churches would most likely identify more readily with the Classical Roman rite of liturgy, and its similarities with their own Divine Liturgies, than the Novus Ordo liturgy.
"It would be easier for them to see the unity, the oneness in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, by a rite of the Mass, just limiting ourselves now to talking about the Holy Mass, that it was richer in those dimensions — the elements of the transcendent — the symbols of the transcendent element of Christ — Christ in action in the Mass — the unbloody renewal of the Sacrifice of Calvary," Archbishop Burke said.
Not A Hopeful Indicator
Dr. Alcuin Reid, author of numerous scholarly books on the Sacred Liturgy and its history, is the recent author of Organic Development of the Liturgy, which contains glowing praise in its preface written by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. He affirmed that it was his opinion as a liturgical scholar, that the Novus Ordo liturgy, as practiced in the vast majority of Catholic churches, is not a hopeful indicator of eventual reunion with the East.
"I suspect that our current liturgical state does not exactly inspire confidence in them," Dr. Reid said. "The Holy Father is, no doubt, aware of this, and most probably hopes to give a sign that Rome wishes to set her liturgy in order once again, and that indeed Rome respects legitimate traditional liturgical rites."
Fr. Richard Jano is the pastor at Nativity Ukrainian Catholic Church in Springfield, Ore., an Eastern rite Catholic Church in full communion with the Holy See. As an Eastern rite priest, he has occasionally offered the Novus Ordo liturgy for area churches over the past 25 years, and he agrees with Dr. Reid's assessment.
"I think there would be some value in doing this [freeing the Classical Roman rite] as an indication of the respect the Church holds for liturgical worship that comes down to us from ancient times, and emphasizes the awe, reverence, and respectfully loving attitude that a Christian should carry into the Sacred Liturgy," he said.
"It would also illustrate the truth that the Church honors the genuine and authentic diversity of liturgies, not only in the Eastern Churches, both Catholic and Orthodox, but even within the Roman Church itself," Fr. Jano said.
Perhaps the better question is: "What is the common basis of doctrinal and moral issues for dialogue with increasingly more estranged, and increasingly less Christian sects with no valid priesthood?"
Pope Benedict XVI, able to tell "the tree by its fruits," clearly recognizes the advantage of having more than 500 priests in the SSPX in full communion. He also recognizes the accelerating number of priestly vocations produced in other traditionalist communities like the FSSP and the ICKSP. The current Pope's brand of "ecumenism" is one of Christian charity and justice, and perhaps recognizing "the signs of the times" called for so often in the documents of the Second Vatican Council and its aftermath by progressives.
He also understands that a united Church, East and West, may possibly be able to save Christianity in Europe and aid in re-establishing a more Christian worldview.
How does a gesture such as freeing the Classical Roman rite of liturgy fit into prospective ecumenical relations with the Orthodox, which was the primary group emphasized in the Second Vatican Council's Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio?
If the Church has abandoned (or even given the appearance of abandoning in many quarters) its own liturgical patrimony and traditional devotional traditions, how can it hope to achieve any measurable ecumenical gains with the Churches of the East?
Cheevers said that Orthodox liturgists have always tended to cringe at the post-Vatican II liturgical reforms of the Latin Church. "Organic development in liturgy is permissible. Radical invention is not."
"The Pauline liturgy implicitly seems to move away from the clear expressions of faith about the sacramental nature of the Divine Liturgy commonly understood in the undivided church of the first millennium."
Cheevers said that a restoration of the Classical Roman rite, or so-called Tridentine rite, in the Catholic Church would probably be helpful to fostering ecumenism with the Orthodox. "It's something that Orthodox can look at and say 'we recognize this.'"
One of the recurring themes of Pope Benedict's writings on the recovery of the sacred in the liturgy is the positioning of the priest "toward the East" or "toward God." As an Eastern rite priest who offers all Divine Liturgies toward the East, leading his flock in worship to the heavenly Father, Fr. Jano voiced his impressions on his offering Mass "toward the people" when occasionally offering the Novus Ordo.
"On the few occasions when I have served the Mass in Roman Catholic parishes, I have been very surprised to discover how uncomfortable I am with praying to God while facing the congregation," he said. "Probably the most jarring example for me, to illustrate this point, is when I have seen Roman priests reading a prayer at Mass and gazing intently at the congregation while uttering the prayer. I've never understood this," Fr. Jano said.
"If you have something important to say to your Father, why would you stare at your brother when you're speaking to Him?"
Fr. Thomas Kocik of Somerset, Mass., and author of Ignatius Press' Reform of the Reform?, agreed that the reformed Novus Ordo liturgy is not an ecumenical breakthrough with the Orthodox.
"The Orthodox are justly disturbed not only by abuses in the post-Vatican II liturgy, but also by approved practices such as female altar servers, Mass 'facing the people' and Communion in the hand," he said. "Given the East's intense conservatism, I think the freeing of the Tridentine liturgy bodes well ecumenically, because these problematic practices are simply not standard features of the Classical Roman rite."
"The Orthodox may interpret this as evidence of a renewed seriousness in the Roman Church about the ancient maxim, 'lex orandi, lex credendi,' meaning that as we believe so we pray, and vice versa," he said. "Doctrine and worship influence each other."
© Brian Mershon
(See also Fr. Zuhlsdorf's 8/29/2007 WDTPRS post, Moscow Patriarch in favor of Motu Proprio and older Mass. A counterpoint to the thesis that Summorum Pontificum may have represented, at least in part, an ecumenical gesture towards the Eastern Orthodox can be found in an 11/14/2006 Vivificat blog post, The prospects of the Tridentine Mass in the light of the impending new indult.)
The developments in Vatican relations with both the SSPX and the Eastern Orthodox may best be understood neither through a "Hermeneutic of Continuity" nor a "Hermeneutic of Rupture," but through a Hermeneutic of Fatima:
If you were the pope, in the twilight of your career, a true son of VII, yet you could see the severe problems that have wracked the Church since VII, what would you do? If you had a deep seated fear that the Church would continue its moral decline if nothing is done, what would you do? If you truly believed the actions of the Vatican regarding Fatima were, at the time, honest and forthright, but now you had a real doubt that all was not as it seemed then, what would you do?
You would look at the most important aspects of the Message of Fatima that may not have been addressed, and you would systematically work to undo the damage.
1) Restore the TLM.
2) Propose a reconsideration and reinterpretation of VII.
3) Figure out a way to bring Russia back into the fold.
1) Summorum Pontificum
2) Lift the SSPX excommunications, and task them with addressing the problems of VII. Put them directly in contact with the CDF. Let the tail (the SSPX) wag the dog (CDF.) Then let the CDF wag the Church.
3) Make real moves towards reuniting Eastern Orthodoxy, and use the Grace of that unity to fight the errors of post-Christian western decay.
This may be the interpretive key to truly understanding the "Marshall Plan" of Pope Benedict XVI.