Return of Brazilian Traditionalists to Church Is a Plus for Vatican II
Papal Household Theologian Comments on Fraternity’s Return
ROME, JAN. 20, 2002 John Paul II’s decision to allow a formerly schismatic fraternity to celebrate Mass according to the St. Pius V rite should not be seen as a setback for Vatican Council II, says the theologian of the Papal Household.
“Good news – a break that is healed precisely in the Week of Christian Unity,” said Father Georges Cottier, commenting on the return to the Church of the schismatic St. Jean Marie Vianney Fraternity. The fraternity had been sympathetic to French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.
Father Cottier, a Dominican, said: “From the beginning, the possibility was foreseen in some cases – for example, for elderly priests – to continue celebrating according to this rite [of St. Pius V].”
He continued: “Following Lefebvre’s schism, permission was granted to St. Peter’s Fraternity to maintain this tradition alive. Moreover, the Pope requested that at least in large cities there should be a place where Mass in Latin would be celebrated perhaps even with the Pius V rite.”
Q: What is novel about this event, then?
Father Cottier: There is much more behind Lefebvre’s schism: There is the rejection of the Council, of ecumenism, of the principle of religious freedom – a global rejection of which the liturgy was only the flag, although many people went with Lefebvre precisely for this reason.
Since the rupture [in 1988] until today, other followers of his have already returned to full communion with the Catholic Church. However, the principal condition has always been the full recognition of the authority of Vatican Council II. And this is what the principal group, the one of Ecône, has never accepted up until now.
Q: One of the pillars of Vatican II, however, is Sacrosanctum Concilium, the constitution on the liturgy.
Father Cottier: It is one of the most beautiful texts of the Council, but it must not be identified with all the ways in which the liturgical reform has been put into practice.
We cannot forget that in the first years, especially in some countries, there was much disorder. Let’s take an example: the Gregorian. In a certain phase it was violently rejected, but to substitute it with what? Sometimes with songs that had little that was religious about them, or with a ‘chatting’ liturgy where there is no room for silence.
Some people have suffered because of this, and some faithful have gone over to Lefebvre perhaps without clearly seeing the problem that was emerging.
Q: Yes, but by extending the use of the Pius V rite, is not the risk of confusion increased?
Father Cottier: The differences have always been allowed. I am a Dominican: Until the Council we had a Dominican liturgy that was a variation of the Roman rite. However, unity was not compromised because of this.
Sacrosanctum Concilium can be very well accepted even while maintaining one’s own specificity. Let us recall that the Council itself did not think of the whole celebration in the vernacular tongue: The canon should have remained in Latin.
The liturgical reform took an additional step and, looking at the majority of Catholics, it was an appropriate option. However, this does not mean that the desire to find again in the tradition a more profound sense of interiority, of silence, of beauty is, in itself, inadmissible.
Q: How can this specificity be reconciled with effective communion with the whole Church?
Father Cottier: Many Lefebvrists maintain that ‘our’ Paul VI Mass is not valid. At least now this group will not be able to think such a thing. Little by little we expect other steps: for example, that they also participate in concelebrations in the reformed rite. However, we must not be in a hurry. What is important is that in their hearts there no longer be rejection. Communion found again in the Church has an internal dynamism of its own that will mature.
Q: With last Friday’s action, has the implementation of the Council taken a step forward or backward?
Father Cottier: Certainly forward. There was no wish to create ruptures in Vatican II. Its intention was to place the Church in greater consonance with pastoral challenges, with the mission, with divine worship itself.
There was a very strong sense in the Council of the centrality of the liturgy in the life of the Church. And, if there is a privileged place of communion, it is, precisely, the Eucharist. We must rejoice over this reconciliation.
I hope it will open the way to others. In this process, communion with Peter’s Successor is fundamental. Also in the liturgy: Until now, in the Mass celebrated by Lefebvrists there was no ‘communication’ with the Pope. Now, at least in Brazil, it will no longer be like this.