|Pope St. Pius V|
Before the 16th century, there was little notion of ecclesiastical legislation or codification in the realm of liturgy. The liturgy developed almost independently of legislation, by a natural, organic, and almost unconscious process. Certainly, the Popes contributed to its development, but so did many other Christians. It was the piety of the universal Church down through the ages, and not any legislative motive at a given moment, which moved the Christians of old to contribute to the formation of the liturgy. As a human artifact, the liturgy was not the work of lawgivers, but of saints: it was the pious faithful, both clerics and laity, who built up the liturgy – not simply according to their own individual notions, but in the spirit of the traditions of prayer which they had received at the hands of divine Providence. It was this Providence, and not the will of men, which was looked upon as the single source of the means of holiness.
Then, in the years just preceding the Council of Trent, a kind of liturgical anarchy began to arise within the Church, along with the revolution of the Protestants. More drastic measures were needed, above and beyond the normal, natural progression of tradition which had taken place before. The Council called for a reform of the Missal and the Breviary, which was carried out by Pope St. Pius V. The two bulls Quo Primum and Quod a Nobis, addressing the Missal and the Breviary respectively, were the resultant legislation promulgating the uniform use of the Tridentine books. The reform which had taken place sought to restore the liturgical books according to the sound tradition of the fathers, and a comparison of the Tridentine liturgical books with their predecessors reveals a very substantial continuity. This is not to say that this reform was perfect – probably it was not – but it succeeded in preserving the essential tradition of the Roman rite.
This was the first time in history that such an explicit and high ranking use of ecclesiastical authority had ever been applied in the realm of the liturgy. And yet the content of the liturgy remained essentially the same as it had ever been. This was, on the whole, a prudent exercise of Papal authority, on the part of Pius V. He rightly saw his authority as subject to the tradition of his ancestors. In regards to the content of the reform, it amounted to a further organic contribution to the liturgy, but with the additional note of formal legislative force. This more explicit codification was a practical means of purging the Church of the rampant liturgical abuse which existed in that period, and so preserving the tradition which had been threatened.
But unfortunately, a probably unintended side-effect of this legislation was that the liturgy came to be seen as no longer an object of tradition and organic development, but of legislation. By the time of the 20th century, it became the popular notion that the Pope was in fact the sole arbiter of the liturgy; tradition had little to do with it. While, on the one hand, the errors of liberalism arose and a habitual disdain for authority began to set in, on the other hand, faithful conservative Catholics became enamored with an equally strange ultramontanism, according to which the Pope might as well be infallible in his every word and decision. This latter was a reaction against liberalism. Ironically, both of these extremes – the liberal anti-authoritarianism and the radical ultramontanism – converged with each other in subjecting religion to the whims of an individual. In the case of liberalism, religion was made subject to any and every individual person – hence the errors of religious indifferentism and so forth. But ultramontanism practically subjected religion to the person of the Pope. The Pope became the object of a kind of cult. This being so, the ultramontanists took the prudential decision of Pope Pius V in the Tridentine liturgical reform and transformed it into the absolute principle that the Pope is the arbiter of liturgy. While I admit the possibility that Pius V might have given too exaggerated an impression of the role of his authority in the liturgy, I do think it can be gathered from his legislation that he viewed himself not as the arbiter of the liturgy, but as its guardian. Even if the centralization which occurred with his legislation was extreme, it nonetheless respected the role of the Papacy as the protector and not the maker of the liturgy. But the ultramontanists reinterpreted it to mean precisely this latter. Thus the path was cleared for a radical liturgical upheaval.
|Pope St. Pius X|
|Pope Pius XII|
|Pope Paul VI|
Again, we should not doubt the good intentions of these Popes. But the fact is that all of these reforms were in large part the result of an over-exaggerated importance which was attributed to the role of Papal authority in the development of the liturgy. The Church’s officially defined doctrine on the Papacy nowhere implies such an absolute and arbitrary power to the Pope in liturgical matters, nor does history before the 20th century offer any real instances of such extremism. The post-Tridentine reform of Pope Pius V was falsely interpreted to have introduced a new working principle into the Church, whereas in reality it was practical measure intended to unite the liturgical practices of the Roman Church so as to suppress rampant liturgical abuse and preserve the tradition. The legislative decrees of Pius V were rightly exercised for the service of tradition. And so tradition, as was always the case, was the rule or standard of liturgical development. What reason could there have been for this to change so suddenly by the time of the 20th century?
It is no use to object that Vatican I in Pastor Aeternus gave the Pope the authority not merely of a guide or supervisor but of a supreme enforcer and a ruler. While this is certainly true, these terms are used in Pastor Aeternus with respect to us the faithful, and not with respect to the content of that which is enforced. It is analogous to the Pope’s authority in matters of dogma, which is certainly his very highest authority: the Pope does not invent or arbitrate dogma; rather, it exists prior to his authority. His role is merely to receive dogma and authoritatively command the assent of all Christians to it, thereby guarding and overseeing its preservation. Indeed, in this respect he is not merely a guide for Christians, but an enforcer with the highest authority, who must be obeyed; and yet he has no power to be anything but passive with respect to dogma itself. Similarly, it is not impossible that he should also have a supreme authority in matters pertaining to liturgical discipline, and yet have the duty first to receive, and not to arbitrate, the liturgy.
Papal authority is not a law unto itself. In principle, it cannot be. It exists not for its own sake, but for the sake of the tradition of faith – whether as exemplified in dogmatic propositions or in liturgical prayer. Papal authority in itself is not higher or superior to either of these things. Its purpose is first to preserve them and secondly to enhance them, but never to invent them. I quote the words of Cardinal Ratzinger:
The pope is not an absolute monarch whose will is law; rather, he is the guardian of the authentic Tradition and, thereby, the premier guarantor of obedience. He cannot do as he likes, and he is thereby able to oppose those people who, for their part, want to do whatever comes into their head. His rule is not that of arbitrary power, but that of obedience in faith. That is why, with respect to the Liturgy, he has the task of a gardener, not that of a technician who builds new machines and throws the old ones on the junk-pile. The "rite", that form of celebration and prayer which has ripened in the faith and the life of the Church, is a condensed form of living Tradition in which the sphere using that rite expresses the whole of its faith and its prayer, and thus at the same time the fellowship of generations one with another becomes something we can experience, fellowship with the people who pray before us and after us. Thus the rite is something of benefit that is given to the Church, a living form of paradosis, the handing-on of Tradition (Preface to Alcuin Reid's The Organic Development of the Liturgy).