20 February 2014

Prebendary Michael Moreton and Professor Joseph Ratzinger

On a recent thread, Professor William Tighe wrote about the great Anglican liturgists Dix, Ratcliff, and Willis. To his list I would add one more name: that of Prebendary Michael Moreton. Moreton is often best known as one of the first to prick the bubble of the versus populum superstition. Indeed, he was that. But of great interest is his attitude to what, essentially, liturgical authority really is. I reprint below, unchanged (but with a short passage irrelevant to my main argument omitted), a piece of mine from 2011 (with its thread). It was the last of a series (tomorrow I will reprint, all together, the first four sections of that series) examining and rejecting the views of a canonist called Chad Gendinning, who had written critically about the assertion, in Summorum pontificum, that the Vetus Ordo had never been lawfully abolished.


Chad Glendinning quotes A S Sanchez-Gil as feeling that the Roman Missal, along with other liturgical books, cannot be reduced to a collection of liturgical laws. This is along the right lines, but does not, I feel, go nearly far enough. The great Anglican liturgist, Prebendary Michael Moreton, now striding eruditely through his nineties, sees the Canon Romanus - if I understood him aright in the six years during which we conversed - in a position not unlike that of the Canon of Scripture; a given in the Tradition which it is not for us to treat as disposable. He speaks of the Canon as having auctoritas given to it by tradition, which far surpasses the merely canonical, legalistic, authorisation, which fly-by-night 'Eucharistic Prayers' composed by the Top Experts of one single decade might have. I think it may be a coincidence - because Fr Michael, unlike me, is not a pedantic papalist who tries to keep up to date with the documents which flood out from Roman dikasteries - that his term auctoritas occurs also in John Paul II's instruction Ecclesia Dei. It is a profound term with roots deep in the sense of the Orthodox as well as of Traditionalist Catholics that there are weightier imperatives than Canon Law. I remind you of the startling fact that the Patriarch of Moskow welcomed Summorum pontificum as an ecumenically positive action.

Glendinning informs us that Summorum pontificum, if it is not an "imprecise use of canonical terminology" (really, Chad, who is the Supreme Legislator?), is "a rather overt denunciation of the pope's predecessors and of the praxis curiae". In a funny sort of way, I think this last bit is right. Benedict XVI is superseding the assumptions underlying the enactments of his predecessor Paul VI, and, unobserved by Glendinning, he is doing so on grounds which he had previously, before his election to the See of Peter, explained thoroughly lucidly in the two passages which I copied from his works in the second post of this series. Our Holy Father even restates the views of Cardinal Ratzinger, in the Letter to Bishops which accompanied Summorum pontificum: "What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden forbidden". Note Cannot! We are talking about non potests rather than non licets. As for curial enactments, well, I think it has to be pointed out that the pope is not only, as Glendinning concedes, the Supreme Legislator, but, as Vatican I defined, also the Supreme Judge of the Church. If his statements in Summorum pontificum go contrary to what Roman dikasteries have prescribed or implied, this is surely analogous to a court of appeal overriding an earlier judgement by a legislator of inferior jurisdiction. (Or, if it isn't, why not?) J Baldovini, quoted by Glendinning, wrote that "even someone with supreme legislative authority cannot undo historic facts". But Benedict XVI is not misdescribing (or even describing) historical facts, I suggest, but defining what the deepest law of the church is. He bases himself upon a view of history, Theology, and law which is broader than the juridical bases of those previous enactments. That is in fact what makes his declaration so significant; so much more in line with a Catholic - and Orthodox - and Anglo-Catholic - concept of Liturgy.

Of course, in human terms the odds are that few here in the Latin West will really understand his project; that the liturgical and moral anarchists, the homosexual ideologues* and the feminists, will continue their frenzied denigrations of the old Bavarian gentleman; that in a few years he will be dead and his vision forgotten as the vaticanologists feverishly speculate on the 'policies' of his successor. But, in my eyes, for as long as it lasts it is exhilarating; Benedict's Age is a good age in which to be alive, an age of the very truest instauratio catholica. And, just possibly ... who knows ... after all, there is a God ...


Benedict XVI identified (not created) a Principle deeper than mere legislation; a Law even deeper than the law; to the effect that "what earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too". This is what, in recent posts, I have called auctoritas. He concluded that "it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful". It is worth remembering this in a post-Benedictine era. Subsequent legislators cannot legislate to abolish this datum because, established as it is in immutable historical facts, it is not accessible to the pen of a legislator. Summorum Pontificum, qua legislation, is itself no more immutable than other legislation. But the Principle underlying it is one of those principles which are integral to the life of the Church; unchangeably part of it for ever.
*2014 note: I did not in 2011 write homosexuals, and I did not mean homosexuals. I meant people (of whatever orientation) who promote an ideology of homosexuality. Many are heterosexuals busily demonstrating their withitness. Many people of a homosexual orientation want none of it. Similarly, I did not write 'women'. By writing 'feminists' I pointed to neither gender nor orientation but to ideology. (I shall not enable new comments on this point.) 


Joshua said...

Your insistence on the supreme and preëminent virtue of the Roman Canon cannot be too emphasised.

As Dr Nairne put it: "The Canon of the Roman Mass is the best of prayers (if not indeed, the best of all Latin compositions) in its direct, unadorned prayerfulness."

GOR said...

“…that in a few years he will be dead and his vision forgotten as the vaticanologists feverishly speculate on the 'policies' of his successor. ..And, just possibly ... who knows ... after all, there is a God ...”

Precisely, Father. The rumors of the imminent demise of the ‘Benedictine Reform’ might be a tad premature. The Holy Spirit does have a hand in the succession…

Michael LaRue,K.M. said...

Many thanks, Fr., for this essay. I think you have made a real contribution in understanding His Holiness's thought and the contribution he has made to a better realization of the catholicity of the church for our own time and subsequent generations.

threehearts said...

I'm sorry I missed a point I am quite devastated to see the word concluded

JamesIII said...


Thank you for this series of articles. If I could sum up the general tenor of both your comments and those of His Holiness; Liturgies, tradition, and revealed doctrine should serve to connect us to those sacred events of 2,000 years ago... not disconnect us!

It seems almost as though Paul VI was in a bit over his head. He seems to have been ill-prepared for the political pressures and the rampant abuses that the freedoms of Vatican-II offered. I am reminded of Luther and the horrors that followed the initial Reformation. Events had simply spun out of the purview of his control.

Great liturgy should be timeless and secular claims and issues should have no impact on it. It is a cornerstone of our Catholic identity and should serve to inspire us and imbue us with sacramental grace.

I am reminded of the comments upon the death of John Paul II; “We shall not see his like again”. Benedict XVI not only met that challenge but far surpassed any expectations. There is still the small voice that says, “Look not to the monarch but to his heirs”.

Sadie Vacantist said...

“Look not to the monarch but to his heirs”.

Here's hoping for HIS EMINENCE ALBERT CARDINAL MALCOLM RANJITH The Archbishop of Colombo!

Juventutem London said...


johnf said...

"Benedict's Age is a good age in which to be alive . . ."

I very much agree, Father. I have never felt so comfortable as a Catholic and pray every night that God keeps him on earth for many years yet.

B flat said...

Christus surrexit!
Your series on this theme has been very helpful. Thank you for your time and trouble in communicating this. A spiritual work of mercy in itself, and betraying great pastoral care in your soul and being!
The Poles say: "Bóg zapłać!" - which does not translate succinctly, but means: May God remunerate you (because I cannot repay).

Albertus said...

It is sad that this highly instructive five-part essay has come to an end. I wish that the Pope would put forth in Encyclical form, for the whole of Christendom to read and know, that the Canon Romanus is indeed ''in a position not unlike that of the Canon of Scripture; a given in the Tradition which it is not for us to treat as disposable.'' The Latin Novus Ordo Missal now has 11 fabricated eucharistic prayers - if i am not wrong - and the national missals even more, all of them - save Canon Romanus, which is almost never used in the NOM - of suspect origins, of less than clear orthodoxy and of poor literary quality. Which is the main reason why i have always ever celebrated the Old Mass exclusively. However, i am disappointed by your referral to ''homosexual demagogues'' as plotting to ruin the Church after Benedict's departure into eternity: are the majority of the heterodox demagogues not ''heterosexual''? Why then single out persons of one erotic-romantic-emotional inclination? It seems quite unfair. And quite unlike you, Father.

Steve Cavanaugh said...

Surely Fr. H., in writing of "the liturgical and moral anarchists, the homosexual ideologues and the feminists" cast a far wider net than just one group of a particular "erotic-romantic-emotional inclination"? (And it seems to me that using the word "ideologue" adds a certain political qualification to that e-r-e inclined group that not all of them, in my experience, share.)
I cannot find much to disagree with in Fr. H's identifying those four groups as being among the chief denigrators of the Supreme Pontiff, B XVI, can you?

Father John Boyle said...

Thank you! This principle - that the Pope cannot do what he wants, that he cannot undo Tradition - is one that lay people attached to the Tradition seemed to readily understand way before I did. You have done a great service in writing these articles. The Pope is not omnipotent but a servant of Sacred Tradition. Pope Benedict seems to be supremely aware of this.

Bornacatholic said...

The great Anglican liturgist, Prebendary Michael Moreton, now striding eruditely through his nineties, sees the Canon Romanus - if I understood him aright in the six years during which we conversed - in a position not unlike that of the Canon of Scripture; a given in the Tradition which it is not for us to treat as disposable

Dear Father. This simply is untrue. The Roman Canon underwent a major recast quite some time ago as your countryman, Adrian Fortescue, attests to in his studies and in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

So, there was precedent within tradition.

That aside, ecclesiastical traditions are not Sacred Tradition and to conflate the two is a grave error.

If what you are claiming is true, then Pope Pius XII must be denounced as a crass innovator for Mediator Dei alone, to say nothing about what he did with the Liturgy.

Catholic Tradition, Papal Encyclicals, the Universal Catechism, and Papal praxis all acknowledge the competent authority can modify the Liturgy for legitimate reasons and one must admit that whomever was Pope when a change was made had legitimate reasons for doing so - if we are not to make wrong and dangerous assumptions.

And I wil not enter into a war of posts about S.P. and why it was issued but the great Pope Benedict XVI, in the letter to the Bishops accompanying S.P. and in a public interview on a plane explained why he promulgated S.P. and it is not the reason being claimed for it here and elsewhere.

Titus said...

I missed this the first time around, Father, but it's an excellent piece.

I think the crux of the matter is in the reminder that the Pope is both Legislator and Judge. The Pope, thus, is the authoritative source for interpretation of what previously enacted laws mean.

Here in the States, we have a jurisprudential principle from the nineteenth century that (although it causes confusion in its natural habitat) is apt here: "It is emphatically the province of the judicia[ry] to say what the law is." Benedict simply exercised the judicial element of the Petrine office to explicate what it was that his predecessor legislated.

That is, it seems, an excellent way of framing the issue.

rick allen said...

"what earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too".

If this principle is true (as I think it is), doesn't it equally follow that what this generation has held as sacred--the mass in which the great majority of faithful Catholics have worshipped God and received the eucharist over the last forty years--remains sacred?

Surely it's a principle of expansion, not contraction. In asserting that the old form ought not to be suppressed, doesn't it imply the same for the new?

Cordelio said...

Is it not shocking, then, that only one (Latin Rite) diocesan bishop in the entire world refused to implement the Novus Ordo in his diocese?

What a monumental failure on the part of the Pauls to rebuke Peter, not to mention to do their duty toward their own flocks.

The whole world groaned and marvelled to find itself Novus Ordo.

Little Black Sambo said...

It is heartwarming to see Fr. Moreton given public recognition for, among other things, his emphasis on the Roman Canon, which has greater authority than anybody - such as a bishop of whatever jurisdiction - who might seek to restrict the use of it.

Bornacatholic said...

Nearly every day we read this excerpt from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger's preface to the French edition of Msgr Klaus Gamber’s The Reform of the Roman Liturgy (1993) ...

What happened after the Council was something else entirely: in the place of liturgy as the fruit of organic development came fabricated liturgy. We abandoned the organic, living process of growth and development over centuries, and replaced it – as in a manufactured process – with a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product.

While we never read Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger excerpted from his book;

Feast of Faith;

Lest there be any misunderstanding, let me add that as far as its content is concerned (apart from a few criticisms), I am very grateful for the new Missal, for the way it has enriched the treasury of prayers and prefaces, for the new eucharistic prayers and the increased number of texts for use on weekdays, etc., quite apart from the availability of the vernacular. But I do regard it as unfortunate that we have been presented with the idea of a new book rather than with that of continuity within a single liturgical history

Joseph Ratzinger was very much a fan of the Liturgical Movement and he was happy with the Reform of Pope Paul VI but unhappy with its sudden appearance and implementation ect.

bendunlap said...

Bornacatholic, perhaps the two views of Ratzinger are synthesized in this footnote from Fortescue's "The Mass", written nearly a century ago:

The various Prayerbooks, Agendae, and Communion Services of Protestant sects ... were formed by selections from any of the old liturgies with copious new prayers and forms drawn up by various Reformers. They have no historic continuity with any of the old rites and have no place in any scheme of historic liturgies, original or derived. ... The thing to remember is that many of these Protestant service-books are quite nice prayerbooks ... but none of them are liturgies in the historic sense, at all (footnote 1 on page 57 of the Longmans edition)