The Young Father Ratzinger

and the Two Motu Proprio

Part II: The Restoration of Worship and the New Priestly Societies

In his general audiences of March 3 and 10, 2010 Benedict XVI spoke about the doctrine of St. Bonaventure, which had been the subject of his dissertation as a young priest, and which we discussed in Part I. During the second of those papal audiences Benedict XVI applied St. Bonaventure’s theology to the events of the present day, after having described how the saint provided the “correct theology of history” to combat the errors of his time. Benedict XVI then made a surprising comparison between the two historical periods, St. Bonaventure’s and our own, in the follow words:

“We know, in fact, how after the Second Vatican Council, some were convinced that everything should be new, that there should be another Church, that the pre-conciliar Church was finished and that we would have another, totally ‘other’ Church. An anarchic utopianism!”

There is more to this comparison, because Benedict XVI mentioned that the new mendicant orders in St. Bonaventure’s time, the Dominicans and the Franciscans, had appeared but were being opposed by the diocesan clergy of Paris. Saint Bonaventure was acting as the minister-general of the Franciscans, and he presented the true doctrine to confront the errors that he faced as superior of the Order. In the more lengthy analysis in his book, the future Benedict XVI had provided Saint Bonaventure’s explanation of the role of religious orders, or priestly and religious institutes, throughout the history of the Church. And today, six decades after the book was written, its application to our time begins to manifest itself more clearly. Not only had St. Bonaventure foreseen a restoration of divine worship (reparatio divini cultus), as explained in the previous article, but he also foresaw a future order, an ordo futurus, that would be associated with this restoration. In the present crisis in the Church, new priestly societies have come into existence within the Church, which are devoted to the continuation and in effect the restoration of the traditional Roman rite, but like the Dominicans and the Franciscans in the thirteenth century they are meeting with criticism and opposition.

Both St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure wrote treatises to defend the religious orders of the mendicants, and their writings on this question provide the doctrinal defense of the role of religious institutes in general within the Church, and an understanding of the work proper to priests, religious and laity. What they wrote is equally applicable to today, and the analysis made by Benedict XVI of Saint Bonaventure’s theology provides specific details relating to the doctrinal and historical teaching of the saint.

For Saint Bonaventure, there are three distinct periods in the history of the Church understood in relation to these religious institutions. The first was that of the monastic orders, and this in turn was followed by the period of the mendicant orders. However, according to St. Bonaventure, the order envisioned by Saint Francis himself was not to come until a third phase in the history of the Church.

As explained by Benedict XVI during his papal audiences of March 2010, Saint Bonaventure saw the history of the Church as a one of progress and development. However, after the motu proprio of Pope Francis on the traditional Roman rite, which seeks to replace that of Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum, the resulting controversy within the Church obliges one to consider the details of St. Bonaventure’s understanding of true growth and progress throughout the Church’s history. According to Saint Bonaventure, the ordo futurus foreseen by Saint Francis would be a further development of the religious life manifested by the mendicant orders. But it would appear only during a time of trial for the Church, during the Church’s “passion.” The Church after the Second Vatican Council did not experience the period of unqualified progress that had been envisioned, but a time of crisis instead, as Paul VI admitted seven years after the Council. Benedict XVI rightly called it “anarchic utopianism,” because its fomenters maintained “that the pre-Conciliar Church was finished and that we have another, totally ‘ other’ Church.”

Catholics who are devoted to the traditional Roman rite have been able to attend the traditional Mass because of a growing number of priests who have been ordained to celebrate it. Not only the work of these priests, but also the religious and laity who are affiliated with them, constitute the ordo futurus foreseen by Saint Bonaventure, for their spirituality centers around the highest praise that can be rendered to God – the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass by the priests, and, in the words of Pope Pius XII, the “consecratio mundi,” the consecration of daily life in the world to the glory of God through the lay apostolate. These traditional apostolates were therefore described in two distinct phrases by Saint Bonaventure: the restoration of divine worship (reparatio divini cultus), and the rebuilding of Christian society (reaedificatio civitatis), all of which represent authentic progress in the spiritual life of the Church, in the way that Saint Bonaventure foresaw.

The historical background to this twofold restoration is found in the nineteenth century. After the devastation of the French Revolution, Abbot Prosper Guéranger of Solesmes inaugurated a liturgical movement which represented not a radical transformation of the Church’s liturgy, but its restoration. His 15-volume work The Liturgical Year, completed by another monk after his death, is the classic expression of the lex credendi and the lex orandi of the traditional Roman rite of the Mass. Currently being reprinted by Preserving Christian Publications, we now offer the first three volumes covering the seasons of Advent and Christmas.