Trying to make some sense of the responsa ad dubia – Catholic World Report

The responses to dubia published on Saturday make one wonder whether the haste was only apparent, and the sloppiness of the original a feature rather than a bug.

Trying to make some sense of the responsa ad dubia – Catholic World Report
Archbishop Arthur Roche (left) is pictured with Cardinal Robert Sarah in this Jan. 14, 2020, file photo. The Vatican announced May 27 that Pope Francis has appointed the English archbishop to lead the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, succeeding Cardinal Sarah. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW) has published a set of responsa ad dubia regarding Pope Francis’s recent Apostolic Letter, Traditionis custodes.

Just in time for Christmas.

In case your memory needs jogging, Traditionis custodes wasPope Francis’s radical nullification of his predecessor’s liberalizing reform of the liturgical law regarding the use of older liturgical books and sweeping restriction of worship according to older prescriptions.

Traditionis itself showed almost every imaginable sign of haste in its composition, making it very difficult to understand. Indecipherable where it was not self-contradictory – as it was in almost every operative or dispositive part – the law was therefore frequently impossible to obey.

Suffice it to say Traditionis did not go over well, even in quarters broadly well-disposed to its purported goals and aims, which were (and are) the complete suppression of worship according to the ancient form of the Roman rite, in favor of the new order of worship Pope St. Paul VI first promulgated in 1969.

It’s hard to offer a straight report and analysis of the responses’ contents, and hard to resist the temptation to psychologize them, mostly because of the snark and pettiness that bleeds through almost every syllable. This Vatican-watcher will attempt the former, and apologizes for any excesses regarding the latter.

The responsa published Saturday make it clear that bishops are allowed to permit only Mass with the old books. There is some room for personal parishes erected under old dispositions, but not much. The responsa also create all sorts of hoops and hurdles, through and over which clerics who desire to celebrate Mass with the older books must now jump. That means even more headache for local ordinaries – bishops – who are responsible for enforcing Rome’s edicts.

The responses to dubia published on Saturday therefore make one wonder whether the haste was only apparent, and the sloppiness of the original a feature rather than a bug.

The CDW insists, for example, on taking a priest’s refusal to concelebrate, particularly at the Chrism Mass – that’s the special yearly liturgy usually celebrated on Holy Thursday morning, in which the bishop blesses the sacred oils that will be used for the Sacraments in his diocese throughout the year – as “express[ing] a lack of acceptance of the liturgical reform and a lack of ecclesial communion with the Bishop, both of which are necessary requirements in order to benefit from the concession to celebrate with the Missale Romanum of 1962.”

Now, the precise phrasing of the specific dubium supposes that a bishop is dealing with a priest who does, in fact, reject the validity and legitimacy of concelebration. Thing is, concelebration has been part of other ritual Churches’ standard practice for centuries, and has been licit for decades in the Latin Church. Permission to concelebrate is written into the 1983 Code of Canon Law. Any priest denying the “validity and legitimacy” of concelebration would have been in trouble before either Traditionis custodes or the responsa ad dubia.

That said, priests have a right – enshrined in law – not to concelebrate. In fact, canon 902 of the Code of Canon Law is written in a way to give permission for concelebration – i.e. when more than one priest celebrates the same Mass – precisely because the practice was virtually unheard-of in the Latin West until the second half of the last century.

How can a healthy mind see in the exercise of a right, any evidence of anything except knowledge of one’s right?

Another dubium regarding another matter – bination, or the celebration of more than one Mass of a given liturgical day – is even more consternating. “Can a Priest who is authorised to celebrate with the Missale Romanum of 1962,” the doubt runs, “and who, because of his office (parish priest, chaplain, etc.), also celebrates on weekdays with the Missale Romanum of the reform of the Second Vatican Council, binate using the Missale Romanum of 1962?”

In laymen’s terms, the questioner wants to know whether a priest who uses the new books can also celebrate weekday Mass with the old books, on the same day he’s already said Mass with the new ones.

The answer: Negative. “The parish priest or chaplain who – in the fulfilment of his office – celebrates on weekdays with the current Missale Romanum, which is the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite, cannot binate by celebrating with the Missale Romanum of 1962, either with a group or privately.”

The reason: “It is not possible to grant bination on the grounds that there is no ‘just cause’ or ‘pastoral necessity’ as required by canon 905§2: the right of the faithful to the celebration of the Eucharist is in no way denied, since they are offered the possibility of participating in the Eucharist in its current ritual form.”

The next dubium is related, and asks: “Can a priest who is authorised to celebrate using the Missale Romanum of 1962 celebrate on the same day with the same Missal for another group of faithful who have received authorisation?”

The answer: also Negative.

The reason: “It is not possible to grant bination on the grounds that there is no ‘just cause’ or ‘pastoral necessity’ as required by canon 905 §2: the right of the faithful to the celebration of the Eucharist is in no way denied, since they are offered the possibility of participating in the Eucharist in its current ritual form.”

To justify the response to that doubt, the CDW simply repeated, verbatim, the rationale offered for the former. More to the point, the CDW repeats its insistence that the prohibition is not denying the faithful the chance to hear Mass. Strictly, technically, that’s correct.

Still, there are innumerable reasons for which anyone might not be able to attend one Mass – earlier or later, old books or new – and if CDW denies bination with the old books for the reason given, it is hard to see how a bishop could reasonably permit bination at all, regardless of the books.

“There is no intention in these provisions to marginalise the faithful who are rooted in the previous form of celebration,” wrote Archbishop Arthur Roche – the Prefect of CDW – in explanation of one of the responsa. “[The provisions] are only meant to remind them that this is a concession to provide for their good (in view of the common use of the one lex orandi of the Roman Rite) and not an opportunity to promote the previous rite.”

What follows certainly is a reminder of that.

But if you have to say, so often and so forcefully, that you’re not doing a thing, it may just be that you are doing the thing. “Gaslighting” is a charge too frequently bandied about these days, but it seems to fit the CDW’s modus operandi here pretty well.

Even if one doesn’t like the term “gaslighting”, it is still difficult to avoid the conclusion that Pope Francis’s decree and CDW’s responsa – indeed, the whole project of imagining a major crisis of unity and creating restrictive rules for the amelioration of it and then requiring enormous expense of energy on the part of bishops and the curia for the enforcement of them – are themselves capricious and divisive.

If you’re not convinced, take CDW’s insistence that news of Traditional Latin Masses to be offered in ordinary parishes not be published in the church bulletins as part of the regular Mass schedule.

“When it is not possible to find a church, oratory or chapel which is available to accommodate the faithful who celebrate using the Missale Romanum (Editio typica 1962),” the dubium runs, “can the diocesan bishop ask the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments for a dispensation from the provision of the motu proprioTraditionis custodes (Art. 3 § 2), and thus allow such a celebration in the parish church?”

The answer: Affirmative.

So, bishops can ask Rome for a dispensation in such cases. Reading the rationale CDW offers, however, one gets the impression that’s not really the point. “[S]uch a celebration should not be included in the parish Mass schedule,” CDW’s prefect wrote in explanation of his dicastery’s response, “since it is attended only by the faithful who are members of the said group.”

If bishops bother with the dispensations and approvals and permissions the responsa may or may not require, it will mean a lot of paperwork for CDW. That’s to say nothing about what this does to rule of law in the polity of the Church.

“Will you never cease prating of laws to us that have swords by our sides?” Plutarch’s Pompey says to the besieged and temporizing fathers of Messena, during Sulla’s civil war. The short version of the story behind the quip is that Pompey wanted the city fathers to surrender but they had an arguable paper right not to surrender without approval from Rome and also little desire to put themselves at Pompey’s mercy.

The sense of Pompey’s purported remark is that “paper” protections are useless against the naked fact of force. At least, paper protections are useless when men with power are willing to ignore them. History is replete with examples of men unable or unwilling to forebear the use of naked force when it suits them. That is why the line has become a maxim of realpolitik.

What if the law itself is the sword?

That’s the question with which this Vatican-watcher has been wrestling – one of them, anyway – ever since it became clear that some sort of instruction or clarification in these regards was coming down the pike.

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