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The Breeze Freshens at the Vatican

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Nov 14, 2007

Is a new wind blowing through Rome? Vatican officials suddenly seem to be speaking out against the abuses and deficiencies which have been so characteristic of Catholic life over the past generation. In short order, we have two cases in point.

First, the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship spoke out in early November against the stiff resistance to Pope Benedict XVI in some quarters over the wider use of the Missal of John XXIII. Archbishop Albert Ranjith Patabendige said in an interview that in some dioceses the hostility to Summorum Pontificum amounts to “rebellion against the Pope.” He noted that “everyone, and particularly every pastor, is called to obey the Pope, who is the successor to Peter” and that bishops must follow the papal directive faithfully, “setting aside all pride and prejudice.”

Complaining that in some places bishops have established policies which limit or exclude the papal motu proprio, the Secretary charged that this resistance is motivated by “on the one hand, ideological prejudices, and on the other hand pride—one of the deadliest sins.” In a similar address to the Latin Liturgy Association in The Netherlands a few days earlier, he had also remarked that diocesan bishops “do not have the right” to ignore or resist Summorum Pontificum and that in defying the Pope’s authority, they are allowing themselves “to be used as instruments of the devil.”

At about the same time, the Director of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music gave an address recommending that an office in Rome be given the authority to correct the musical banality which often characterizes contemporary liturgies. Monsignor Valentin Miserachs Grau contended that “in none of the areas touched on by Vatican II—and practically all are included—have there been greater deviations than in sacred music.” He went on to lament: “How far we are from the true spirit of sacred music, that is, of true liturgical music! How can we stand it that such a wave of inconsistent, arrogant and ridiculous profanities have so easily gained a stamp of approval in our celebrations?”

Msgr. Miserachs argued that it is a grave error to think that people “should find in the temple the same nonsense given to them outside,” completely lacking “the indispensable characteristics of sacred music—sanctity, true art, universality.” The director called for a “conversion” back to the norms of the Church: “Nova et vetera, the treasure of tradition and of new things, but rooted in tradition.” Contact with tradition “should become again the living song of the assembly that finds in it that which calms their deepest spiritual tensions, and which makes them feel that they are truly the people of God.”

Vatican officials are generally known for their circumspection; such frank assessments—indeed, such expressions of frustration—are rare. While it would be foolish to presume that this candor presages a sea change, one may at least wonder if the waters are being stirred. In a Church charged by Christ to teach, rule and sanctify, the long pontificate of John Paul II brought great gifts to the papacy for teaching and sanctifying. I hope to be eternally grateful for these gifts. But in that era the papacy was not graced with the gifts of a ruler. Both faith and history suggest that, sooner or later, this will change.

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