Apologies to those who carefully read each day everything I write. I wrote this piece some time ago, and republished it only a few days ago, in the knowledge of PF's imminent declaration of war upon Holy Tradition.
I wonder how far PF's power to obstruct his Predecessor's legislation extends. And exactly where he would cross the boundary into the ultra vires.
A defence of a pope's capacity to do what PF claims to have done would find its strongest support in Legalism; in canonical enactments about papal authority. But, curiously, the rigidities of Legalism have sometimes elicited critical observations from the Holy Father's mouth!!
However, to advocate a chaotic free-for-all is not the answer. I think it is important for us better to understand the concept of AUCTORITAS. Which does not always have same parameters as Canonical Lawfulness.
So what is this auctoritas?
A liturgical form can have full canonical status; and when it does, it is clear that a cleric is (for example) fulfilling his obligation to the Divine Office by using it.
But the Latin term auctoritas has a more subtle sense than mere canonical liceity. It might suggest the personal influence which a player in Roman politics had, quite distinct from any imperium which he might enjoy as a result of a magistracy which he held. Or a sense of authoritativeness or impressiveness, of personal prestige or repute; we all know the sort of person who, perhaps in a committee or gathering, is listened to the moment he opens his mouth and whose interventions invite a respect out of all proportion to his merely legal status. (It is a characteristic of the Good Woman in Proverbs 31 that her husband is great among the elders at the gate; when such people are moved to utterance, other people put their hands to their mouths!) In our modern secular politics, the policies which were embodied in the manifesto of a government which has won power by a sweeping majority have auctoritas greater than the ideas dreamed up last night by a premier who is holding onto power by his fingertips ... although the constitutional power may be formally the same in each case.
Auctoritas as opposed to mere canonical liceity has always had a place in Liturgy. When manualists such as the admirable O'Connell wrote about a custom which is even contra legem enjoying, by virtue of its longevity, not merely liceity but even prescription above the letter of the rubric, it is in a way auctoritas that they are talking about.
But I contend that the radical changes that followed Vatican II raise the question of auctoritas in new, difficult, and acute forms. One reason for this is the most striking novelty involved in post-Conciliar liturgical texts: multiple choices facing a celebrant or a worshipping community as they prepare to celebrate a rite.
Previously, what every celebrant had said daily at every altar of the Roman Rite throughout the world for centuries obviously had enormous auctoritas. A novel formula which has just been put on some menu from which choices are to be made, manifestly has very much less. Whereas, before the Council, something that auctoritas urged one to do was broadly in line with what was canonically licit, after the Conciliar 'reforms' auctoritas and liceity, lawfulness, might find themselves standing further and further apart from each other.
I strongly agree with Joseph Ratzinger's strongly expressed view that there is something highly questionable about the idea that a Roman Pontiff can "do anything especially if backed by a mandate of an ecumenical council". I would contend that what is wrong with that idea is, among other things, its forgetfulness of liturgical auctoritas. And my inclination is to believe that, in many and important respects, the 'reforms' went beyond the conciliar mandate of Sacrosanctum Concilium (praeter concilium) and, even more problematically, in some cases directly contradicted it (contra concilium). In my view, changes praeter Concilium have less auctoritas than those which do rest on a conciliar mandate.
Vatican II was an Ecumenical Council (albeit, a pastoral Council), just as much as all the other Ecumenical Councils. What it mandated, possessed auctoritas. What it did not mandate, but what subsequent committees put in place, has much less claim on our consciences. And where a clear instruction of the Council was categorically contradicted by committeee-men only two or three years later, I think we have duties of discernment.
So changes contra Concilium raise, as Benedict XVI perceived, extremely acute difficulties with regard to their auctoritas.
The Catholic Church, more than many ecclesial bodies, has a deeply ingrained sense of Law. This makes it easy for Roman Catholics to underestimate the force of auctoritas. But Benedict XVI was appealing directly to auctoritas when he wrote "What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful".
In so teaching, in so using the word "cannot", he was not speaking in terms of canonical or legislative details; he was arguing theologically and ecclesiologically.
And Benedict was right.
And ... as PF forces us to face new Liturgy Wars ... this has practical implications.