Benedictines in Norcia to Celebrate in Both Forms

[Note: I'll be away this week, and so won't be blogging--I tried to use the scheduled posts feature, but it seems to be still not working.]

The Benedictine monks of Norcia, Italy (where my brother is a monk), have just received from the Ecclesia Dei commission of the Holy See the apostolate of celebrating the Mass in "in utroque usu," that is, in both ordinary and extraordinary forms. The announcement was made on the the 2nd anniversary of the Motu Proprio of Pope Benedict XVI Summorum Pontificum, July 7th. By mid-July they hope to be able to offer daily on their website a recording of the sung Conventual Mass in the extraordinary form.

Here is the letter from Ecclesia Dei:

April 21, 2009

Very Reverend Father Prior:

His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, from the very beginning of his pontificate, has made known his desire to foster the unity of the Church. As in the past so also today, the careful celebration of the Sacred Mysteries is a most efficacious instrument for achieving this goal.

For this reason, faithful to the intentions of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, this Pontifical Commission, responding to your request, entrusts to the Monastery of San Benedetto in Norcia the special apostolate of the celebration of the Holy Eucharist “in utroque usu”, that is, both in the ordinary as well as the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, in collaboration with the Holy See and in communion with the diocesan bishop.

I am confident that your young Benedictine community will always support the pastoral activity of the Supreme Pontiff with faithful prayer,

With my best Easter wishes,

Dario Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, President
Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei”

It would be a good thing if more communities in a position to do so followed this example.

In order to avoid possible misunderstandings, an interview with the Prior of the monastery, Fr. Cassian Folsom, in which he anticipates certain questions that might be raised, was also distributed with the announcement.

Does this decision respect the Second Vatican Council Council?

It would be useful to read carefully the Council document on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium. SC 22 says that: “Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop.” Pope Benedict’s Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum simply reiterates that principle, and legislates for the use of the old rite alongside the new. Pope Benedict also emphasizes that the way to interpret the Council documents is by the hermeneutic of continuity. That principle is also expressed in the document on the liturgy where it says: “…care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing” (SC 23). What we’re really talking about here is legitimate pluralism, which the Council advocates as well: “Even in the liturgy, the Church has no wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not involve the faith or the good of the whole community” (SC 37). So the celebration of the Mass in utroque usu by all means respects the Second Vatican Council. We are embracing both usages, and reaching out to other groups in search of unity. That’s a very conciliar approach.

But doesn’t this mean “turning back the clock”?

On the contrary, I see a monastery “utriusque usus” as very forward looking, especially in terms of authentic ecumenism. By that I mean two things. First, the ethos of the extraordinary form is very similar to the ethos of the many oriental rites, and therefore celebrating the Eucharist according to both the Novus Ordo and the Ordo Antiquior allows us to serve as a bridge between East and West. Second, I think we need a good dose of “internal ecumenism” in the Church, so as to be able to dialogue with Catholics attached to the older liturgical forms without ideological prejudice.

How can you, as a liturgist, justify such a decision?

It is precisely as a liturgist that I have had the opportunity to study and experience the rich variety of liturgical traditions that exist within the Church. It is “politically correct” for Latin rite Catholics to be enthusiastic about the Byzantine rite. Why isn’t it “politically correct” to be enthusiastic about the extraordinary form as well? The history of the liturgy shows clearly a multiplicity of usages within the one Roman rite. It is thanks to many years of studying the liturgy that I came to see the importance of this unity in diversity. In fact, I argued this point in the presence of the then-Cardinal Ratzinger at a liturgical conference held at Fontgombault in France in 1997. As a liturgist, I would also like to say that there is no perfect rite; there are positive and negative aspects in every liturgical tradition. The only perfect liturgy is the heavenly one. In addition, both the extraordinary and the ordinary form can be celebrated well or celebrated poorly. For a comparison to be fair, we have to place the best of both side by side.

How can the two usages influence each other?

The ordinary form stresses such elements as the participation of the faithful, the use of the vernacular, the ongoing development of the liturgy by the addition of new saints to the calendar, etc.: these are all very important. At the risk of oversimplifying, I would say that the ordinary form stresses rational understanding, speaking in prose, as it were. The extraordinary form provides rich food for the intellect also, but relies heavily on gesture, symbolism, intuition, silence, ritual action without words, speaking in poetry, you might say. Man knows both rationally and intuitively. He needs both prose and poetry. If the two usages, like two different cultures, can patiently live with each other over time, they can become friends.

What pastoral benefits will come from this new apostolate?

The monastery of San Benedetto in Norcia is in a unique position. The pastoral life of the town is served very well by the diocesan clergy. The Basilica, on the other hand, is not a parish, but a shrine, whose pastoral attention is focused on pilgrims who came from all over the world. We are an international community serving an international public. The pilgrims come for a specifically Benedictine liturgy, which is characterized by what I would call a monastic or contemplative style. This is our unique contribution. The extraordinary form is very conducive to this contemplative, even mystical style, which is why the young people are so drawn to it. We celebrate the Mass in the ordinary form in the same style, which is why people come from far and wide to participate in our Sunday Mass.

Wouldn’t it be better to be just like everyone else?

To use an expression taken from the world of commerce, growth and development depend on finding a distinctive “niche”. This special apostolate of celebrating the Eucharist in utroque usu, makes the Norcia monastery distinctive, unique. I’m sure it will contribute to the growth of the community, in a time when young people aren’t interested in a vocation that means living “just like everyone else”.

In their newsletter, the monks also announced that on June 17 they finally acquired a piece of land outside the city (they have desired to move for some time, for the sake of space, as well as a setting more suited to monastic life).

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