Benedict XVI and the “reform of the reform”

Par l'abbé Claude Barthe

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Extract from an interview given to Edward Pentin, published by the National Catholic Register on 9 January 2023 (Benedict XVI and Tradition).

How realistic was the “reform of the reform” of Benedict XVI and his “hermeneutic of the continuity”? Should he have had rather promoted a return to the liturgy in use before the liturgical reforms that came following the Second Vatican Council?

Fr. Claude Barthe – With Benedict XVI, this is a difficult point to understand. Summorum Pontificum is certainly a document destined to bring liturgical peace by liberating the Old Mass, but it is part also of his vast project started from when he came to Rome, that is setting limits on the Council.

J. Ratzinger had become a moderate conciliarist, yet he remained a supporter. In his address of December 2005 to the Roman Curia, he vaguely explained in fact his project: Apply to Vatican II an “hermeneutic of progress in the continuity”. This concerned the lex credendi. Furthermore, according to him, one of the effects of the liberalization of the old liturgy was to allow, by emulation, by contact, “enrichment”, to correct and properly interpret the new liturgy. There was the utopia. For, no matter how it is celebrated and interpreted, the new liturgy keeps its intrinsic failings which are doctrinal failings.

But Benedict XVI also encouraged the celebration of the pre-conciliar liturgy, a lex orandi tied to a lex credendi also pre-conciliar. Unintentionally, or maybe for a part intentionally, Benedict XVI laid a mine under the conciliar edifice. As to the process of “reform of the reform”, he has this same double face. If it was intended to lead to a more “appeased” liturgy, without excesses, it remained set in the utopia that I just described: the new more “appeased” mass contains nonetheless a more feeble expression of the sacrificial value of the Eucharistic action. If, on the other hand, the “reform of the reform” is intended to be a process or a transition to allow a progressive return to the Roman liturgy in all its strength and purity, it will be for the faithful of the parishes a useful and even necessary educational tool.


Do we know why, despite Summorum Pontificum and his love for a reverential liturgy, Benedict XVI has never celebrated publicly the Traditional Latin Mass?

Indeed, he had celebrated the Traditional Latin Mass a good number of times as cardinal, but he has never done it as pope. It is true that a solemn papal mass according to the old rite, extremely sumptuous, would have been very difficult to organize, even if widely simplified. With his friend Robert Spaemann, I tried to have him celebrate a public low mass, or at least a mass which would have been filmed or largely photographed. In vain. I must say that his Master of Ceremonies, Guido Marini, conservative but not traditional, was never very enthusiastic about this project: he would have had to learn the old rite since he did not know it. Definitely a missed opportunity as this celebration of the Tridentine mass by the pope, even in a very modest way, would have been seen as a very strong gesture.