Summorum Pontificum famously says that you do not need permission, indeed you never needed permission (numquam abrogatam and all that nonsense - methinks that Pope Benedict needs revision), to use the liturgical books of 1962. Apart from the obvious shortcomings of just about everything about this utterance (the liturgical books of 1962 were juridically abrogated, successively, throughout the 1960s - apart from things like Sacram Liturgiam 1964, the New Order of Mass 1965 etc, one can just take for granted as a rule of thumb that a previous edition of the Roman Missal is replaced by a new one) it does shine light on this very modern Roman understanding of the Papacy, a residue (not cleaned up by Lumen Gentium) of the Ultramontane mentality of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Summorum Pontificum says ''no permission necessary'' - but by implication it says that you do need permission (that of the Pope), because it envisages a scenario of before and after; before being where the diocesan bishop had some semblance of his former dignity in his own diocese (a scenario denigrated by Traditionalists), and after where the authority of the diocesan bishop is compromised by the latest Papal decree. Are we beginning to see a reversal of the, in my opinion, healthy reaction against the centralized Papacy since the 1960s? It seems to me that Rome's typical response (I say typical because it has always had the same response, from St Leo's Tome to Nicholas' interference in the Ignatian scandal) to dissent is simply to reassert Papal authority, without really dealing with the issues. ''Obey Rome no matter what,'' seems to be the mentality here.
St Cyprian of Carthage took the famous Tu es Petrus verse in St Matthew's Gospel to mean the authority possessed in each see by the bishop of that see. In fact in the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy the bishop (just like the Abbot in a monastery) represents Christ among us, hence the removal of the Blessed Sacrament whenever a bishop celebrates Liturgy, and the curious placement of the Bishop's throne in the apse of the Church, where he presides over the assembled faithful (this does not mean that Mass was ever celebrated facing the wrong way - and you either celebrate Mass facing the right way or you don't - a Crucifix and a row of candles mean nothing). If as Catholics we take the verse to refer to Christ's promise of unique authority on the Bishops of Rome we naturally read the verse in the light of this tradition, but it's certainly interesting if we consider Summorum Pontificum from an actual liturgical and scriptural perspective rather than an authoritative or bureaucratic one. Summorum Pontificum denigrates the authority of the Bishop in his own diocese (leaving aside for now what we might think of our own bishops), partly because the general thrust of SP is towards private celebrations of Mass. I may have become lost here but does not SP render Pontifical liturgy superfluous?
It is a fact that most of Christianity has some objection to the Papacy, to one degree or another. My chief objection is to Papal mutilation of Liturgy, which is blindly accepted by most Catholics woefully ignorant of Liturgy. If you're of Ian Paisley's persuasion (not necessarily Protestant though) you think that all popes are Antichrists, exalting themselves in the Church of Christ and perverting the Christian doctrine. If you're a mainstream Protestant you may just have reservations about confessing that your identity as a Christan is mediated by the Pope (especially since Roman Canon Law states that the definition of schism is refusal of submission to the Roman pontiff). If you're some form of ''heretical'' Catholic in communion with Rome (the ''spirit of Vatican II'' type) you may just quietly (or not) repudiate the contents of Pastor Aeternus, Munificentissimus Deus etc as superfluous to the Gospel. If you're a moderate Orthodox you cling to the age-old Orthodox perception of the Bishop of Rome as the primus inter pares of the Bishops, speaking on matters of faith and morals with the consent of the Tradition of the Church and the collegial ratification of the rest of the episcopate (some Orthodox fall into the Ian Paisley category though). My view is that this is an unrealistic and underdeveloped understanding of primacy, but my personal relationship with the Bishop of Rome is more enhanced.
One of Fr Z's famous quips is that Pope Benedict XVI is the ''pope of Christian unity.'' I understand that there was a discussion on his blog recently about the exercise of the Petrine ministry in the Church, and different hermeneutics of primacy (I never read it, but it's interesting that his latest podcast disappeared). I would beg to differ on this point. My view is that while the intentions of the Pope are well his approach to the Ecumenical movement has been misguided at best. The decision to drop the title Patriarch of the West (whilst retaining such titles as Vicar of Christ and Supreme Pontiff) was a mistake in my opinion, since this title is especially relevant theologically to Western-rite Catholics. We all have a different relationship with the Pope. If you live in Rome he is local bishop, Metropolitan, Archbishop, Patriarch and Pope all at once. If you're an English Catholic he is neither local bishop nor Metropolitan, but merely Pope and Patriarch. If you are an Eastern-Rite Catholic he is merely Pope. So is there a Western Patriarchate anymore? The loss of the title seems to have enhanced his other titles beyond their respective proportions - it seems that the Pope thinks that he is Patriarch not only of the Western provinces, but of the Universal Church. No wonder the Orthodox objected to this move (as I did at the time, and still do).
To heal an internal schism Pope Benedict lifted the excommunications on the Lefebvrists, and no doubt one of the aims of Summorum Pontificum was the healing of this schism. Again I think this was a bad move, and it was certainly unfortunate that the Williamson (whom we all knew was a nutcase even before his latest controversy) affair happened in the immediate aftermath. I have a very low opinion of the Lefebvrists - because I think they are liturgically inept, I cannot understand a mentality that would prefer schism to unity of the Church, and most Lefebvrists espouse a pseudo-Sedevacantist mentality. I do not want communion with them, and would certainly never communicate in their churches. They seem more interested in reviving untraditional and prejudiced understandings of Ecumenism than the Sacred Liturgy, which for me is the flash-point in the modern crisis in the Church. The celebration of the Sacred Liturgy is as much a summons to unity of the Church as it is to unity with the Risen Christ. Sadly the Lefebvrists use the liturgical books of 1962, which can only work greater evil in the Church. I do not think that the Holy Father will ever be reconciled with them, and this is something I do not lament.
Then we have the Ordinariates. I know one or two Anglo-Catholics (close friends of mine) who have expressed little interest in this Ordinariates scheme. I sympathise with them, really. I have counselled them that the grass is no greener on this side of the Tiber, and certainly coming over to Rome entails picking up a lot of baggage (acceptance that the Pope can do whatever he wants for instance), and why bother with that when you can have traditional Catholic Liturgy without having to worry about what the Pope says? Leaving these questions aside for the moment, let us consider conversion. Conversion is a highly personal matter, and entails serious prayer, meditation and thought. The Ordinariates scheme seems to compromise this, and seems to be a way of annexing the Church rather than coming into communion completely - being theologically and liturgically Anglican, but in communion with Rome. I am highly suspicious of mass-conversions like this. At least in 1994, when there was a huge influx of Anglicans into the Catholic Church because of the ordination of women, these were more ''personal'', although lots of them later went back. Again this seems to be a serious modern fault with Rome. I have puzzled many Traditionalists by going off recently to various churches for decent Liturgy, churches that are not in communion with Rome. Why does it matter more who you are in communion with than what you believe? If a church not in communion with Rome can manage to get the Lex Orandi right, then I see no problem in participation in their Liturgy. I personally think that the Ordinariates will fail. I think this because liturgically-minded Anglicans coming into the Church will be highly disgusted by most Catholic clergy and their parishes.
Deep down I think that Summorum Pontificum will eventually render the union of the churches impossible, as if it wasn't bad enough before that. It clings to a false understanding both of Liturgy and Papal primacy. The liturgical books of 1962 are pernicious and divisive, and the primacy exercised in its promulgation renders the authority of the local bishop naught; what more sublime expression of the catholicity of the Church was there than in the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy with the Bishop? I could have said more but I am already late for work...perhaps more in the comment box!