Fr. Joseph Bisig, FSSP

Speech by Fr. Josef Bisig, FSSP at 1999 European Synod

First, I would like to thank His Holiness for his benevolence towards the Catholics attached to the Latin liturgical and spiritual tradition. I am honored and happy to be able to represent these many Catholics, priests and lay persons, in this Synod of Bishops … Here is a brief presentation of our priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter, of which I am the superior. It was created in 1988 by the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei. We number 105 priests and we have in our two international seminaries 140 seminarians, of which 29 new this year. We are building two new houses for these places of formation, one in Germany and the other in the United States. To our great joy, the Holy Father himself blessed, here in Rome, the first stones for these new seminaries. Therefore, we are at the service of the faithful who are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition, their number in Europe is rather large and is constantly increasing … Our Brotherhood works and makes efforts – in close cooperation with the bishops – to achieve this goal. But it also participates willingly with its own charism to the great task of evangelization. It places itself at the service of the transmission of faith through the catechetical teaching whose importance has already been underlined by the Holy Father during the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Many youths have a great thirst for knowledge; and to transmit the doctrine of the faith correctly means to give them hope, means to open the hearts to grace and to anchor them in the Charity of Christ.

I would like to say a word about Number 69 of the Working Document: we cannot identify ourselves with this image that is given to the traditionalistic faithful. Our experience is another one: these faithful are helped by the traditional liturgical forms in their spirituality and feel themselves more closely united to the mysteries of the Cross and of Resurrection, celebrated in the Holy Mass. Our priests who make every effort to center their priestly life around the Holy Sacrifice of Mass, exercise undeniably considerable attraction to youths who aspire to serve the Church as future priests. In concluding, it would seem to me that for a pastoral of hope, our Churches of Europe cannot put aside what makes up their spiritual patrimony; the priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter was founded in an act of hope. Far from being nostalgic, his attachment to the Latin liturgical tradition is the bearer of a humble source of continuity. Thus, the living use of the Latin liturgy will have as its effect that of not allowing the language of the Church to be reduced to the literary form of official documents, but to allow a Cor unum and an anima una of those faithful to Christ.

Article 69 from Synod Proceedings

69. At the same time, certain responses mention somewhat problematic situations.

In many countries of the West, liturgical celebrations are frequented almost exclusively by children and older people, especially women. The young and middle-aged are
few in number. Such a situation runs the risk of projecting an image of a Church which is only for the elderly, women and children. In both the East and West, the following experiences are noted: a concern to attract people overshadows the dimension of mystery, adoration and praise; and an overemphasis on ritual gestures, the community aspect and quality of celebrating by the celebrant and/or active members of the assembly. Such situations lead to, among other things, an image of a Church which is undoubtedly lively yet the externals and emotion are given more attention than the intimacy of the encounter with the holy mystery of God.

In some liturgical celebrations and devotional practices, the inordinate attention to ritual contributes to making them spiritually arid and discouraging for many people. Conversely, some speak of experiences which, so as to reach those in a world in which the emotional side of religion is emphasised, choose not to follow the established norms but invent and improvise in liturgical celebrations and encounters of prayer, thereby demonstrating an unacceptable liturgical creativity which knows no bounds.

Finally, another situation comes from some traditionalist groups who over-emphasise certain liturgical forms and make them the criterion for orthodoxy. Consideration needs to be given to such a mentality, its consequences and effects in the community.

Undoubtedly, these different and oftentimes opposing realities in understanding and celebrating liturgy lead frequently to polarisation. In this way, various aspects related to the matter come together to create a picture of the Church which gives the impression that there are two diverse ways of perceiving and living the Church, parallel to each other, when in reality, they are diametrically opposed to each other. In some places, two problems seem evident: the first, internal to the Church and the second, coming from culture. In the first case, a certain fatigue, repetition, boredom and a routine style in some liturgical celebrations is causing passiveness; in the second case, the culture of modernity is leading to removing the liturgical rites from their foundation in the faith.