Reform of the Reform Revived?
Cardinal Medina on Cardinal Ratzinger on Cardinal de Lubac

Michael J. Matt
Editor, The Remnant

( In the November 22, 2005 issue of the French journal, Présent, there appeared an interview of Jorge Arturo Augustine Cardinal Medina Estevez the Prefect Emeritus of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and longtime friend of Pope Benedict XVI.  Readers will recall that it was Cardinal Medina who was given the singular honor of announcing to the entire world from the logia over St. Peter’s square that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had been elected pope. 

Readers of the Présent interview will recognize certain expressions of sympathy with traditionalists that are, in our opinion, genuine. His Eminence shares many of our concerns over the rise of the Para-Catholics (parasites such as Catholics for a Free Choice, for example, who have lost the Faith and yet who in their ignorance and pride seek to force the Church to follow suit) even if he does not support our urgent call for the modern Vatican to abandon the disastrous Second Vatican Council. 

The interview with Cardinal Medina is interesting on several accounts, not the least of which is His Eminence's ready admission that Cardinal Ratzinger has long been in league with avant-garde progressive theologians such as Cardinal Henri de Lubac and Urns von Balthasar.  Old news to be sure, but it’s important to see this admission being made, not merely by traditionalists, but by a prominent Cardinal. 

This should come as no surprise to anyone. On October 7, 2005, Pope Benedict released a statement in time for the 100th anniversary of the birth of von Balthasar in which he lavished papal praise on the work of the man Cardinal de Lubac had long since dubbed the "most cultured man of our century." The influence of von Balthasar, whose master work was "Only Love is Credible", may even be detected in Pope Benedict's first encyclical letter itself—“God is Love”.

Making these connections helps to simplify the process of trying to better understand the thinking of Pope Benedict.  He, like de Lubac, makes no attempt to conceal his desire to blend the old with the new, the traditional with the novel.  He says many good things and, alas, many deeply perplexing things.  Like de Lubac, he considers himself a progressive “reformer”, not a liberal, which is why he tends to be categorized (by liberals, at any rate) as a conservative. 

In a sense this is understandable since these men have retained some semblance of the old Faith even if it has been marinating in their Modernism for decades.  In many respects, they are walking contradictions whose appreciation for aspects of the old Church as well as a desire to implement a new ecclesial orientation seem to be genuine in both respects (which is why so many centrist neo-traditionalists believe them to be completely “on our side”).

Let us not forget, by the way, with all the recent rumors of the Vatican lifting restrictions on the old Mass, that we are currently under the pontificate of a man who, before becoming pope, was a proponent of the so-called “reform of the reform” (ROR) movement — that is, a liturgical reform, not of the New Mass, but of the Mass of Tradition, the so-called Tridentine Mass. 

The ROR has as its stated objective the development of a sort of hybrid Mass that would combine the best of the old with the “best” of the new.  It seems to us that such a Mass would perform quite well as the liturgical arm of the Pope’s new campaign to try to put the genie back in the bottle by interpreting Vatican II “in the light of tradition”.  He would give the Church a New Mass based on the old one (as opposed to replacing the old one completely as Missale Romanum attempted to do in April of 1969); it would be a Novus Ordo illuminated, if you will, by the “light of tradition” (i.e., retaining some chant, some Latin, some vestiges of the traditional rubrics, etc., but a new Mass nonetheless.)

To us it seems logical that the first step in this ROR process might include placing the Tridentine Mass back on the operating table, so to speak, by lifting restrictions against it and reintegrating it into the Church so that it could be gradually subjected to a universal process of “reformation”.  Before dismissing this hypothesis out of hand, it should be noted that something similar seems to have happened already in many of the traditionalist monasteries in France where the 1965 missal has indeed replaced the 1962.

What better way for the Pope to, on the one hand, save face for the Council and, on the other, supplant what even he must consider a colossal embarrassment—that monstrously mutated version of Pope Paul’s New Mass that has become a laughingstock and that is destroying the Faith throughout the Catholic world.

Do we here at The Remnant agree with this “reform of the reform” strategy?  Hardly! And, in any case, the very last thing the Church today needs in our opinion is for the Tridentine Mass to become the plaything of Sister Gloria Steinem and Fr. Elton John. Up until now, the Ecclesia Dei historical societies as well as the SSPX have for the most part managed to keep the old Mass out of the reach of the liturgical barbarians.  Lift those restrictions at this point and who knows what kind of Frankensteinian monster might crawl out of the Novus Ordo house of horrors.

If a ROR-styled initiative is to play a part in the rumored “freeing of the old Mass”, then it would appear that the same folks who destroyed the Roman Rite in the first place may well be positioning themselves to take another crack at it. 

In any event, the following may help put some of this into perspective.  This translation from the original French is my own and has not been approved by Présent. …Michael J. Matt


Question: You recalled your very long association with Cardinal Ratzinger….who  was seen as a reformer; today he is regarded as a conservative. Was there an evolution…?

Cardinal Medina: At the moment of the Second Vatican Council, there was general hope for certain changes in the Church, just and justified changes, in my opinion.  Above all they were expressed in the dogmatic Constitution of the Church, in the dogmatic Constitution on the Divine Revelation, in the Constitution on the Liturgy, and in the pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.  These four documents make up the structure of the Council—the central document being Lumen  Gentium—reflecting the wholesome desire  to incorporate in the Church these developments of thinking that were opening wider horizons but perfectly orthodox.

If I could take the example of one person who best represents, in my opinion, the sense of these positive developments—it is Cardinal Henri de Lubac. I knew him personally; he treated me like a friend, even though there was an age difference between him and me; I would return to visit him as often as possible. Lubac was an absolutely orthodox man.

Now, to those who have issued suspicions against his orthodoxy,  it was acknowledged by the Church in a brilliant way when the Pope made him a cardinal.

I believe that Cardinal Ratzinger represents exactly the same position as that held by Cardinal de Lubac.  Among the works of Cardinal de Lubac, there is a truly remarkable one—the Meditation on the Church, that is truly a masterpiece.  And I believe that the Meditation on the Church represents exactly the mode of thought of Cardinal Ratzinger.  Just as it also represents that of Cardinal—even if he did not receive the hat—Urs von Balthasar.

Therefore, after the Council, there were those who, appealing to the spirit of the Council, went far beyond the Council and proposed unacceptable things. These people are not the extension of the thinking of Cardinal Ratzinger; they are people who have deviated from it. This is the case with the extreme line of liberation theology; those who are for the ordination of women; those who would change from top to bottom the Church’s moral teaching, etc.  Now, in my opinion, all Catholicism must be conservative because it is necessary to conserve the deposit of the Faith…If someone does not want to protect the deposit of the Faith, he is no longer Catholic.