The Future of Summorum Pontificum

Our friends at Rorate Caeli report that their sources in Rome expect Pope Francis to either abolish or significantly alter Summorum Pontificum.

For those who don’t know, Summorum is a muto proprio promulgated by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008. It says that (contrary to what many Church officials claimed in the wake of Vatican II) the Latin Mass was never abrogated. It guarantees the right of every priest of the Roman Rite to celebrate the Mass according to the 1962 rubrics (the “Extraordinary Form”) whenever he likes.

Here are my predictions, for whatever they’re worth.

1. Pope Francis will not try to abrogate the Latin Mass. What I expect he’ll do is repeal Summorum and replace it with a new document saying that diocesan priests must secure permission from their ordinary (bishop) before celebrating the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.

This has been the de facto procedure in most dioceses since Summorum was promulgated. Very few priests dare celebrate the Extraordinary Form without asking their ordinary… and, often enough, their ordinaries will refuse them permission.

In essence, Francis be doing to the Latin Mass what Spiritus Domini did to the “instituted ministries.” Women first began serving as acolytes and lectors against Church law in the years following Vatican II, at the urging of dissident priests. But the practice quickly spread throughout the Western Church. Then, in January, Francis declared that women may serve in these instituted ministries.

To this day, I’d guess that most priests don’t realize that acolytes and lectors were supposed to be men. And that’s probably the point. By promulgating Spiritus, Francis regularized the status quo, which began in disobedience but was perpetuated in ignorance.

I expect he’ll do the same for the Latin Mass, officially giving ordinaries permission to forbid their priests from celebrating the Extraordinary Form from being celebrated in their diocese—a “permission” they seized for themselves long ago.

Is this regrettable? I would say so, yes. Would a new ordinance destroy the traditionalist movement? No.

2. Pope Francis wants to circumscribe the Latin Mass within “traditionalist” religious orders. Basically, he wants the Extraordinary Form to be the province of groups like the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) and the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest.

My sense is that Francis feels the biritualism of the Latin Church does more harm than good. Having priests divided between the Ordinary Form and the Extraordinary Form is more trouble than it’s worth. He wants to compartmentalize.

This has been discussed for years, and actively anticipated by some of my friends who are in the know.

3. Pope Francis wants to give trads their own ordinaries. Ever since the FSSP broke from the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) and reunited with Rome, there have been vague promises of the Fraternity being granted its own bishops. This was originally intended as a reward for the FSSP’s loyalty, but I think Francis sees a strategic advantage in this maneuver.

Essentially, he’d like for “traditionalists” to enjoy the same status as Eastern Catholics living within Latin dioceses. He wants the different liturgical cultures to remain separate but (nominally) equal. He wants trads to have their own distinct hierarchy and not bother the “mainstream” bishops, and vice-versa.

Or maybe the arrangement would be more akin to the Personal Ordinariates, which have their own ordinaries. Ordinariate priests have singular faculties to celebrate Mass according to the new (and glorious) Divine Worship, which the old Roman Rite incorporating elements of Anglican liturgy.

It all amounts to keeping the various liturgical cultures and traditions at arms’ length within their own specific jurisdictions.

4. Pope Francis wants to regularize the SSPX. The warm relationship between Francis and the Society has baffled many a commentator. I was surprised myself when I interviewed Bishop Bernard Fellay, and he recalled these words of the Holy Father’s: “Some people in the Church aren’t happy when I do good to you.  I tell them, ‘Listen, I do good to Protestants.  I do good to Anglicans.  Why shouldn’t I do good to these Catholics?”

He also said that Francis “read twice the biography of Archbishop Lefebvre, and after that he said to one of our priests, ‘You know, they have treated them badly.'”

Francis was impressed by the Archbishop’s missionary zeal, as anyone familiar with Lefebvre’s work in Africa would be. He also admires the SSPX’s commitment to education and the corporal works of mercy.

That may be hard to believe, if you see Francis as a hardened modernist ideologue. It’s not quite as surprising if you see him for what he really is: a simple-minded, center-right Latino priest with a special love for the poor.

Anyway, I think Francis envisions a newly-regularized SSPX eventually playing an important role in this (purely theoretical) “traditionalist ordinariate.” I think he wants them to be one of the orders that serves the needs of those Catholics who have a special affection for the Latin Mass.

Anyway, those are my predictions. If/when the changes to Summorum are promulgated, I may follow up. Or I may not.

As always, I’ll be praying for the Holy Spirit to guide and enlighten the Holy Father. I hope you will, too.

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