The former head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has critiqued Pope Francis’ recent restrictions on extraordinary form Masses as “harsh” compared to his modest response to the “massive attacks on the unity of the Church” posed by the Synodal Way in Germany.
Gerhard Cardinal Müller authored an analysis July 19 of Traditionis custodes, Pope Francis’ July 16 motu proprio on the use of the Roman liturgy prior to the reform of 1970.
Pope Francis explained his decision in an accompanying letter to bishops, in which he wrote: “In defense of the unity of the Body of Christ, I am constrained to revoke the faculty granted by my Predecessors.” The pope said he was saddened that the celebration of the extraordinary form was now characterized by a rejection of the Second Vatican Council and its liturgical reforms.
Cardinal Muller responded: “One may measure Pope Francis’ will to return to unity the deplored so-called ‘traditionalists’ … against the degree of his determination to put an end to the innumerable ‘progressivist’ abuses of the liturgy … that are tantamount to blasphemy.”
“The paganization of the Catholic liturgy – which is in its essence nothing other than the worship of the One and Triune God – through the mythologization of nature, the idolatry of environment and climate, as well as the Pachamama spectacle, were rather counterproductive for the restoration and renewal of a dignified and orthodox liturgy reflective of the fulness of the Catholic faith.”
The German cardinal highlighted that many teachings of the Second Vatican Council are “being heretically denied in open contradiction to Vatican II by a majority of German bishops and lay functionaries (even if disguised under pastoral phrases).”
“Here we have a threat to the unity of the Church in revealed faith, reminiscent of the size of the Protestant secession from Rome in the sixteenth century,” he said.
“Given the disproportion between the relatively modest response to the massive attacks on the unity of the church in the German ‘Synodal Way’ (as well as in other pseudo-reforms) and the harsh disciplining of the old ritual minority, the image of the misguided fire brigade comes to mind, which – instead of saving the blazing house – instead first saves the small barn next to it.”
In the critique published in English by The Catholic Thing, the cardinal said that the motu proprio’s “clear intent is to condemn the Extraordinary Form to extinction in the long run.”
“Without the slightest empathy, one ignores the religious feelings of the (often young) participants in the Masses according to the Missal John XXIII (1962). Instead of appreciating the smell of the sheep, the shepherd here hits them hard with his crook,” he said.
Much of the cardinal’s analysis focuses on unity in the Church, which he says is “rooted in unity in God through faith, hope, and love” and does not require “sterile uniformity in the external liturgical form, as if the Church were like one of the international hotel chains with their homogenous design.”
“Pope Francis tries to explain the motives that have caused him, as the bearer of the supreme authority of the Church, to limit the liturgy in the extraordinary form. Beyond the presentation of his subjective reactions, however, a stringent and logically comprehensible theological argumentation would also have been appropriate,” Muller said.
“For papal authority does not consist in superficially demanding from the faithful mere obedience, i.e., a formal submission of the will, but, much more essentially, in enabling the faithful also to be convinced with consent of the mind.”
The German cardinal underlined that Pope Francis “rightly insists on the unconditional recognition of Vatican II.”
“Nobody can call himself a Catholic who either wants to go back behind Vatican II (or any other council recognized by the pope) as the time of the ‘true’ Church or wants to leave that Church behind as an intermediate step towards a ‘new Church,’” he said.
Cardinal Müller, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith from 2012 to 2017, also said that the Church must not “pass on its responsibility for unity in cult to the Bishops’ Conferences … Presumptions that one may “improve” the verba domini (e.g. pro multis – ‘for many’ – at the consecration, the et ne nos inducas in tentationem – ‘and lead us not into temptation’ – in the Our Father), contradict the truth of the faith and the unity of the Church much more than celebrating Mass according to the Missal of John XXIII.”
The cardinal’s statement comes at a time when many bishops in Europe have yet to respond publicly to the motu proprio on the extraordinary form.
The Archdiocese of Munich and Freising told CNA Deutsch that it is “currently examining the relevant implementation / regulation.” The Archdiocese of Berlin said when the motu proprio would be implemented cannot be foreseen there in the middle of the summer holidays.
The motu proprio stated that it is a diocesan bishop’s “exclusive competence” to authorize the use of the 1962 Roman Missal in his diocese.
“A little more knowledge of Catholic dogmatics and the history of the liturgy could counteract the unfortunate formation of opposing parties and also save the bishops from the temptation to act in an authoritarian, loveless, and narrow-minded manner against the supporters of the ‘old’ Mass,” Cardinal Müller said.
Bishops are appointed as “shepherds by the Holy Spirit,” he explained, not “merely representatives of a central office – with opportunities for advancement.”
“The good shepherd can be recognized by the fact that he worries more about the salvation of souls than recommending himself to a higher authority by subservient ‘good behavior.’ If the law of non-contradiction still applies, one cannot logically castigate careerism in the Church and at the same time promote careerists,” he added.
“Let us hope that the Congregations for Religious and for Divine Worship, with their new authority, do not become inebriated by power and think they have to wage a campaign of destruction against the communities of the old rite – in the foolish belief that by doing so they are rendering a service to the Church and promoting Vatican II.”