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In nomine Patris…mumble, mumble

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 18, 2007

Bishop Raffaele Nogaro of Caserta, Italy forbade the celebration of Mass according to the Missal of John XXIII on September 15th in his diocese, despite the permission Benedict XVI gave to all priests in the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, which went into effect four days earlier. Bishop Nogaro said he refused to allow the celebration of the older form of the Mass because “to mumble in Latin serves no purpose.”

You see what position this puts me in. I have not been a champion of the Tridentine Mass, but now I have no choice but to side with all those “mumblers” throughout history who have proudly borne the name of Catholic. When remarks like this are made by a bishop, one may wonder whether some of the deformations of the Novus Ordo referred to by the Pope in the letter accompanying Summorum Pontificum might not have taken place in his diocese. Perhaps the disobedience shown by Bishop Nogaro in this instance has been manifested in many other ways before.

I am no expert on ecclesiastical affairs in Caserta, but I am an expert on the ruling of the Pope in this matter, as is anyone else who can read. Does Bishop Nogaro think he has discovered some grave pastoral reason which Benedict has overlooked? To the contrary, Benedict anticipated Bishop Nogaro’s mindset precisely when he stated, in the same letter, that “what earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.”

To mumble in Latin serves no purpose? This is a strange thing to say about the Mass in any language, and even stranger in direct defiance of a papal decree. I have said it before and I will very likely have to say it again: The most important liturgical disposition is obedience, the very virtue by which Christ saved us in following the Father’s will, the very virtue which lies at the heart of what God the Son does at Mass. The precise form of the liturgy, the style of the music, the brilliance of the homilist, the exterior devotion of the faithful avail nothing without the willingness to be obedient to what the Church prescribes for Divine worship.

It is now a matter of obedience to the Holy Father himself that priests may make use of the Missal of John XXIII without the permission of their bishops, and that they should do so to satisfy the desires of those faithful who remain attached to the older liturgical form. Bishop Nogaro has offered not only a prejudicial judgment against one of the approved forms of the Roman Rite but a grave insult to the piety of those in his diocese who, for whatever reasons, wish to worship using the extraordinary form of the rite, in accordance with the manifest will of the Pope.

As Jerome said in rejecting the heretic Ruffinus, “If anyone is joined to Peter’s chair, he is mine.” Even when obedience is mumbled (presuming it is mumbled), it is a virtue. In speaking so clearly himself, Bishop Nogaro only proves himself guilty of the opposite and distinctively anti-liturgical vice.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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