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Francis Invokes the Magisterium
Or did he? Or can he?

by Christopher A. Ferrara
August 28, 2017

Where are the young people?

At the Latin Mass, of course!

In the series of columns dedicated to Cardinal Burke’s argument for the distinction between the person of the Pope, speaking in his personal capacity, and the Vicar of Christ, speaking with the authority of Tradition, in continuity with the teaching of all his predecessors, I developed the point that the authentic Magisterium, which is the teaching office of the Church, cannot contain errors against the Faith. Therefore, should some wayward Pope happen to utter an error against the Faith (as did John XXII, for example), it could not possibly be an exercise of the authentic Magisterium, as the notion of a “fallible Magisterium” is nonsense.

What, then, to make of Pope Francis’ statement on August 24, before a conference of Italian liturgists in the Paul VI audience hall on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Italian “Center for Liturgical Action”? Speaking of the ill-defined “liturgical reform” following the Second Vatican Council, Francis said: “After this magisterium, after this long road, we can affirm [possiamo affermare] with security and with magisterial authority, that the liturgical reform is irreversible.”

First of all, “we can affirm” is not the same as the simple declaration “we affirm.” In fact, it is impossible to tell from the original Italian whether the Pope was here employing the Italian subjunctive tense, expressing mere possibility or doubt, as the verb form for “we can” is the same for both the indicative and subjunctive tense of the Italian verb potere: i.e., possiamo [we can].”

Secondly, what exactly is meant by “the liturgical reform?” The typical edition of the New Mass in Latin, employing the Roman Canon and traditional rubrics? Or does “the liturgical reform” embrace the plethora of vernacular translations, options and tolerated abuses over the past fifty years, including Communion in the hand, which have produced what Cardinal Ratzinger so rightly called “the collapse of the liturgy”? Absent any clear indication of what exactly Francis is referring to, his remark is essentially gratuitous.

Thirdly, the passing statement “we can say… that the liturgical reform is irreversible” — with no explanation of what “the liturgical reform” means in the first place — can hardly compare with the solemn declaration by Pope Saint Pius V in Quo Primum (1570), the papal bull which commanded the universal standardization of the liturgy of the Western Church by adoption of the Roman Missal (with prior local usages of at least 200 years excepted, although even these were in continuity with the basic form of the Roman usage, including the Roman Canon of probable apostolic origin). As Pius V declared:

“Furthermore, by these presents [this law], in virtue of Our Apostolic authority, We grant and concede in perpetuity that, for the chanting or reading of the Mass in any church whatsoever, this Missal is hereafter to be followed absolutely, without any scruple of conscience or fear of incurring any penalty, judgment, or censure, and may freely and lawfully be used.

“Nor are superiors, administrators, canons, chaplains, and other secular priests, or religious, of whatever title designated, obliged to celebrate the Mass otherwise than as enjoined by Us. We likewise declare and ordain that no one whosoever is forced or coerced to alter this Missal, and that this present document cannot be revoked or modified, but remain always valid and retain its full force notwithstanding the previous constitutions and decrees of the Holy See

“Therefore, no one whosoever is permitted to alter this notice of Our permission, statute, ordinance, command, precept, grant, indult, declaration, will, decree, and prohibition. Would anyone, however, presume to commit such an act, he should know that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul.

Is Francis suggesting that Saint Pius V’s clear invocation of an irreversible standardization of the Roman liturgy based on the traditional Latin Mass embodied in the Roman Missal as it existed in 1570 (substantially identical to the order of Mass in the 1962 Missal) is somehow trumped by his mere passing remark that “we can say” that the ill-defined “liturgical reform” since Vatican II is “irreversible”? But how could one Pope reverse the irreversible decision of a predecessor only to declare that his own decision is irreversible? The very idea makes a mockery of the true Magisterium.

In fact, Quo Primum never has been reversed, as the New Mass was merely introduced alongside the traditional Mass, which, as Benedict XVI affirmed in Summorum Pontificum, was “never abrogated” (abolished) by Paul VI and “in principle was always permitted,” contrary to the false impression so carefully cultivated by the bureaucratic promoters of the pseudo-magisterium that has afflicted the Church since the Council — until Benedict XVI finally exposed the fraud in 2007.

What we have here, therefore, is yet another attempt — so typical of the post-conciliar epoch — to suggest that “the Magisterium” has decided something it in fact did not and could not decide.

Most ironically, in the same address Pope Francis opines that the “liturgical reform” represents “a living liturgy for a living Church,” alluding to the slogan of the Center for Liturgical Action. But, as a good friend of mine, active in the traditional Latin Mass movement, has observed, the new liturgy in general has become “a moribund thing that is emptying the churches.” Indeed, he further observed, in the photo of the proceedings of the Center for Liturgical Action shown above, there are no young people.

But there are growing legions of young people attending the ancient Mass, which in reality is the future of the Church, no matter what Francis may think to the contrary. For as Saint Augustine said of the Church, she is “ever ancient and ever new.”