Since the end of the 19th century, Catholics have been reciting the prayer to Saint Michael in the face of illness, disaster and despair.
He proclaims, in part: “Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. … O Prince of heavenly hosts, by the power of God, cast Satan and all evil spirits into hell, who roam the world seeking the ruin of souls. “
Before Vatican II, this prayer was often recited after Mass, even if it was not in the rubrics. In 1994, Pope John Paul II urged Catholics to embrace him – while preaching about the threats to the unborn child.
Worshipers at St. Joseph’s Parish in Libertyville, Illinois have stopped reciting the St. Michael Prayer aloud after Mass last summer. As the debate continues over the Archdiocese of Chicago’s instructions, the remarks broadcast live by the associate pastor have gone viral amid a wave of “wars of worship” in modern Catholicism.
“What I am going to say, I will say it with great respect. Following the directive of Cardinal Cupich, we want to remind everyone that the prayer of Saint Michael should not be said publicly after Mass,” declared the Father. Emanuel Torres-Fuentes. “As a priest, I must obey, and I obey this in peace.”
While the actions of Cardinal Blase Cupich made the news, this drama opened in July with an apostolic letter from Pope Francis entitled “Traditionis Custodes (Guardians of Tradition)”. He restricted the use of the old Latin Mass, thus undermining “Summorum Pontificum (of the Sovereign Pontiffs)” by retired Pope Benedict XVI. This document said that the post-Vatican II Novus Ordo was the “ordinary form” of Mass, but the Tridentine rite was an “extraordinary form” that could be encouraged.
Pope Francis’ letter seemed to give local bishops some freedom to control the use of the old Latin Mass. Then, the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship issued guidelines on December 18, explaining the Pope’s edict.
Many bishops, for example, had granted dispensations allowing certain diocesan parishes to use the mass in Latin. But Rome’s new guidelines said it wasn’t allowed – only the Vatican could grant exceptions. In addition, no parish authorized to celebrate Tridentine Mass could include this service in the printed mass schedules or online.
On Christmas Day, Cardinal Cupich issued his own guidelines, based on the rules of Rome. To begin with, any parish or group permitted to use the Old Latin Mass would also be required to use the Novus Ordo once a month, as well as on Easter, Christmas, and certain holidays.
Vatican News reported that Cardinal Cupich sent a letter to priests indicating that his aim was to help Catholics “better understand and accept more deeply the restored and renewed liturgy which is part of the precious legacy of Vatican Council II”.
Critics of the cardinal have also posted online criticism of his decision requiring priests to obtain his permission to celebrate any Mass in a traditional “ad orientem” position, as opposed to the modern “against populum” option in which the clergy, while he is at the altar, faces his congregations.
“The restrictions in Chicago extend not only to the old rite, but to Novus Ordo celebrations that look too much like the old rite,” Stephen White wrote in The Catholic Thing.
For progressives, the key is that any use of the Latin Mass has strengthened Catholic conservatives, according to Rita Ferrone, author of “Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium”. This has helped fuel bitter debates over the sacramental status of President Joe Biden and others who oppose Church doctrines on abortion, same-sex marriage, and related issues.
“Opening up more space for older rites has aggravated conflicts in the Church and led to the politicization of the Eucharist,” noted Ferrone, writing for Commonweal magazine. “The opposition to Pope Francis has also found a base in traditionalist communities. His teaching on marriage and the family, his call for pastoral accompaniment, and above all his commitment to ecological responsibility and economic justice, have been fiercely opposed in such circles.
In a typical Twitter exchange on these issues, Christopher Lamb of The Tablet noted, “We have a Latin American Pope determined to implement Vatican Council II, both in his word and in his spirit. It still confuses some in the Church.
National Review’s Michael Brendan Dougherty responded, “No one is confused about what’s going on. Hey, when does he implement the council’s call to keep Gregorian chant in the liturgy?
Terry Mattingly runs GetReligion.org and lives in Oak Ridge, Tenn. He is a principal investigator at the Overby Center at the University of Mississippi.