“He is damaging the entire series of his predecessors…and thus himself and the papacy”: The insoluble contradiction between Francis and Paul VI

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

The following analysis was written by Michael Charlier, moderator of the German blog Summorum-Pontificum.de. Part of the brilliance of the piece is that it shows how massive a problem there is whether Paul VI or Francis is correct: “damned if you do, damned if you don’t…” Translated for Rorate Caeli.—PAK


Francis Against Paul

Michael Charlier, Summorum-Pontificum.de January 20, 2022

At the center of the efforts pursued by Pope Francis and his supporters to expel the traditional liturgy from the Roman Church is the claim, made in a normative tone in Traditionis Custodes, that this liturgy no longer corresponds to the lex orandi of Rome, which has now found its only expression in the Novus Ordo Missae of Pope Paul VI. With this assertion, Francis, his liturgical prefect Roche, and Prof. Grillo as the “spiritual backer,” have placed themselves in a logically and theologically untenable situation.

They directly contradict papal predecessors John Paul II and Benedict XVI, both of whom recognized the traditional rite as a legitimate expression of the Church’s lex credendi even after the 1969 reform, though they also tied its practice to certain conditions—conditions, be it clear, that did not express a fundamental reservation, as Francis does now, but rather had the goal of steering the coexistence of two ritual forms into regulated channels through disciplinary guidelines and, in the longer term, to enable a reconciliation, perhaps even a convergence.

In this way, both John Paul and Benedict ultimately only followed the approach already given by Pope Paul VI as promulgator of the new Missal. He, too, did not dare to “abolish” the liturgy used until then or to declare it void—his sense of the context of tradition was too strong for that. Instead, he made the use of the Tridentine rite, which in principle was still possible, subject to strict conditions. From the beginning, there was the possibility of dispensation for priests who felt unable to cope with the change for reasons of age. Then, as early as 1971, the “Agatha Christi Indult” was added, with which the Pope responded not only to the request of clerics in England and Wales, but also of believers (and non-believers). This very limited concession was undoubtedly connected in Paul VI’s mind with the expectation that such indults were only a transitional phenomenon that would take care of itself after a few years in view of the evident superiority of the reformed rite that he took for granted. The pope was also well aware that continued opposition to the reform could very well challenge his own authority and serve as a focal point for continued opposition to Vatican II; hence he was not prepared to make any further concessions.

On this point—the use of papal power to discipline supposed dissenters—Francis’ approach is quite similar to that of Paul VI. With regard to the lex orandi, however, it is fundamentally different.

Where Francis tries to deprive the traditional liturgy of its theological legitimacy by his construction “there is only one lex orandi,” Paul VI, on the contrary, tried to underline the legitimacy of his new Missal by emphasizing (whether correctly or not) that the reformed Missal corresponds to the same lex orandi as that of its predecessor. Thus, on this axial point, he affirms the continuity that his successor Francis now declares abolished.

In his address of November 19, 1969, shortly before the going-into-effect of the new Missal, Paul VI objects to the critics of his missal:

Nothing has been changed of the substance of our traditional Mass.


The unity of the Lord’s Supper, of the Sacrifice on the Cross, and of the re-presentation and the renewal of both in the Mass, is inviolably affirmed and celebrated in the new rite just as they were in the old. The Mass is and remains the memorial of Christ’s Last Supper. At that Supper the Lord changed the bread and wine into His Body and His Blood, and instituted the Sacrifice of the New Testament. He willed that the Sacrifice should be identically renewed by the power of His Priesthood, conferred on the Apostles.

Paul VI thus takes up the line of thought of his 1965 encyclical Mysterium Fidei, which is characterized throughout by the effort to defend the Church’s traditional teaching on the Eucharist, epitomized at Trent, against the reinterpretations of modern theology. For Pope Paul, the “Last Supper” is not just a solemn meal, but the anticipation of the sacrifice of the Cross on Good Friday.

Even more important than these general affirmations of doctrinal continuity, however, is the fact that in this address the Pope expressly insists that there is no difference in the lex orandi and the lex credendi between the old and the new Missal. After admitting that the renewed forms will at first seem unfamiliar to many and not very conducive to worship, he says:

[S]ome may allow themselves to be carried away by the impression made by a particular ceremony or additional rubric, and thus think that they conceal some alteration or diminution of truths which were acquired by the Catholic faith for ever, and are sanctioned by it. They might come to believe that the equation between the law of prayer, lex orandi, and the law of faith, lex credendi, is compromised as a result. It is not so. Absolutely not.

The same statement is then found in the Institutio Generalis to the Editio Typica of the new missal, where it says in the second section, “A Witness to Unchanged Faith,” following the exposition of the doctrine of Trent on the Sacrifice of the Mass:

In this new Missal, then, the Church’s rule of prayer (lex orandi) corresponds to its constant rule of faith (lex credendi). This rule of faith instructs us that the sacrifice of the Cross and its sacramental renewal in the Mass, which Christ instituted at the Last Supper and commanded His apostles to do in His memory, are one and the same, differing only in the manner of offering and that consequently the Mass is at once a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, of reconciliation and expiation.

The will of Paul VI as legislator of the reform and promulgator of the new Missal is thus absolutely unequivocal: lex orandi and lex credendi are to be identical in the old and new forms. To what extent the rite he promulgated actually fulfills this demand is not to be examined here—there are plenty of indications that the weaknesses in the work of the reform have, since then, offered clear starting points for an intensified contrary development (i.e., that a flawed or omissive or ambiguous lex orandi has in fact fostered a flawed lex credendi), but that is another topic for another time.

That Francis, however, contradicts his predecessor so harshly on this central point, even in his very choice of words, is neither understandable nor acceptable. He is not only destroying the “liturgical peace” that has been painstakingly achieved in many parts of the Catholic world. He is damaging the entire series of his predecessors since the reform—and thus himself and the papacy in general.

And he is encouraging all the more what he and the other advocates of the reform, now recognized as a failure, want least of all: the thorough investigation of the errors that crept into the work of the Bugnini Consilium from the beginning, and which have ultimately led to the strange situation that the third successor of Paul VI today says exactly the opposite of what the latter had solemnly affirmed with regard to the relationship between the lex orandi and the lex credendi before and after the reform.

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