18 January 2023


Rumour has it that Cardinal Mueller is about to publish a theological work on the Papacy. This just has to be very good news. The constructive destruction of the real Papacy under the present pontificate surely calls for reconstruction work at least ... and at last ... to begin.

In my view, the terminology of both the pre-Conciliar and post-Conciliar Missals is not above criticism.

As Sister Doctor Ellebracht gently hints.

She comments on the word Pontifex that "This native Latin word, taken from [pre-Christian] Roman cultic language, is used in the ORATIONS to mean bishop"; and, delightfully tartly, adds "The expression summus pontifex ... as a designation for the Pope is of later origin and does not fall within the scope of this work".

Exactly so, Sister. The phrase made a ham-fisted way into the euchology of the Roman Rite when, in 1943, a new Commune (Si diligis) was inserted into the Roman Missal for summis pontificibus. On the Festivals of a canonised pope, if he had previously possessed his own Mass formulae, he was allowed to keep them. But if, before 1943, he had instead been observed by the use of one of the Communia for bishops, he was now, so it was decreed, to be commemorated instead by the use of this new Pacellian Commune

Its Prayers described popes as Summi Pontifices, supreme or sovereign pontiffs.

I possess an altar Missal in which some conscientious person has inked in the dozens of changes needed in order to give effect to this new and innovatory ordinance. And the new commune is neatly pasted in at the back. (During the war, papal tinkerings with liturgy could not be imported from the great continental liturgical publishing houses; so this page has the imprimatur of Bishop Edward Myers, with the title Vicarius Generalis deleted and replaced by Vicarius Capitularis.)

This new commune also provided that, in Masses of summi pontifices, the praefatio of the Apostles should be used ... as if a Pope is another Apostle!!! How very Irvingite!!!!

This was the high sun-baked tidemark of Pacellian aggrandisement of the papal office. Soon (when??) this use of the Preface of the Apostles was withdrawn because of learned protests. And when the post-Conciliar Missal of 1970 was published, the phrase summus pontifex had disappeared from its communia.

However, the post-Conciliar Missal unfortunately makes a point of repeatedly emphasising that the Pope is the Great Big Boss of the Entire Church. 

This habitual insistence is no part of the liturgical inheritance of the traditional Roman Rite before 1943.

The impression given by both the Pacellian and post-Conciliar dispensations was that a Pope is an additional tier of the Sacramental Ministries ... so that we would have Deacons, Presbyters, Bishops, and Popes; quattuor munera

Not so! Never ever!! 

So ... what about "Summus Pontifex"

The phrase is, surely, best regardeded as a canonical commonplace, a decent and pleasant curial courtesy, a gracious classicism. 

S Prosper of Aquitaine enjoined us to allow the lex supplicandi to articulate the lex credendi (and not the other way round). For doctrine, we surely look first and foremost to the centuries-old liturgies of the Church ... which means, for most of us, of the Latin, Roman, Church, our dearest Mother.

For sound guidance, I do not think that our priorities lie with a Pacellian innovation which survived not much more than a quarter of a century.

Part of this reworks an earlier post with which I do not now totally agree.


Josephus Muris Saliensis said...

Fascinating, I never realised this term was so modern. It contrasts unfavourably with today’s abolished feast of St Peter Cat. (hence the Octave of Christian Unity), for which is laid down the Common of Confessor Bishops, as opposed to the June Feast of the Apostle. Theology, not hubris, in the liturgy.

William Tighe said...

I read somewhere, long ago, that the first pope to adopt the title "pontifex maximus" was Paul II, in 1464. There seems to be some doubts about that claim, though, in favor of an earlier date.

Albertus said...

Summus Pontifex seems to me to be de facto equivalent to Pontifex Maximus in Catholic usage to denote the Pope. Both titles are Roman. In the Vulgata both Summus Sacerdos and Pontifex (without Summus, however) are used to denote the Jewish High Priest and to Christ as our High Priest. The Church has long applied these titles to Bishops. As for Summus Pontifex, i am very used to it as a courtesy title of the Pope, like Pontifex Maximus, and see nithing wrong with them. But.. i do agree that the Pacellian invention of Commune pro summis pontificibus is untraditional and thus unhappy. I use an older altar missal wherein the new pacellian Commune has been pasted into the Missal where required, and i always regret to have to use it. Several Popes, it seems, from Pius IX to Pius XII, did much to increase hyperpapalism, the high point being reached by Pius XII. The present occupier of St. Peters throne seems to do all he can to degrade the petrine office, whilst strengthening papocentric dictatorship. When will our beloved Church return to a healthy and doctrinally sound understanding of the papacy, and its true relationship to Holy Tradition and to ecclesiadtical traditions??