by Phil Lawler
Vatican, Jul. 7, 2007 (CWNews.com) - With a motu proprio entitled Summorum Pontificum, made public on July 7, Pope Benedict XVI (bio - news) has provided for a much broader use of the Roman Missal of 1962, explaining that he hopes to encourage "interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church."
The long-awaited motu proprio, which had been the subject of intensive speculation within the Church for more than a year, gives every priest the right to celebrate the Mass using the 1962 Missal, and instructs pastors to "willingly accept" requests from the faithful for access to the older liturgical form.
The motu proprio sets forth new norms for the Roman liturgy, superseding the norms previously established by Pope John Paul II (bio - news) in his own motu proprio of 1988, Ecclesia Dei. The new canonical norms established by Pope Benedict will take effect on September 14.
Pope Benedict emphasizes that there are not two different rites, but two different forms of the Roman rite: the ordinary form, according to the current Roman Missal, and the extraordinary form, which uses the Missal that was in universal use prior to the liturgical changes that followed the Second Vatican Council.
Pope Benedict issued this motu proprio-- the 5th such document of his pontificate-- along with a letter to the world's bishops explaining the move. The text of the Pope's letter is also available on the Vatican web site.
In his explanatory letter the Holy Father acknowledges that some bishops expressed strong opposition to the release of the motu proprio. Their opposition, he writes in his explanatory letter, was based on fears that the wider use of the pre-conciliar liturgy could appear to undermine the authority of Vatican II, and/or cause divisions with the Catholic Church. These fears will prove unfounded, Pope Benedict says, if the faithful recognize the two forms of the Roman rite as equally valid forms of the same universal liturgy.
The Pope also acknowledges that some Catholics find a greater sense of reverence in the older liturgy-- in what will now be known as the extraordinary form of the Roman rite. He voices the hope that "the two forms of the usage of the Roman rite can be mutually enriching," suggesting that the simultaneous existence of the two different forms will encourage an organic development of new liturgical practices, stimulating "the reform of the reform."
Why it was needed
From the first days of his pontificate, Benedict XVI has emphasized the continuity of the Catholic tradition, insisting that the teachings of Vatican II must be interpreted in light of the constant teachings of the Church in the preceding centuries. With Summorum Pontificum he applies that same rule to the Roman liturgy-- and provides new norms of canon law to carry out that rule.
Even before he became Pope Benedict XVI, in his many written works on the liturgy, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger remarked that the Novus Ordo liturgy was not the organic reform that had been recommended by Vatican II, but a break in continuity-- a new form that had been imposed upon the faithful, while the old order of the Mass was abruptly discarded. In the opening passage of Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict indirectly refers to that complaint when he says that the universal Church must uphold "the usages universally handed down by apostolic and unbroken tradition."
These traditions, the Pope continues, "are to be maintained not only so that errors may be avoided, but also so that the faith may be passed on in its integrity, since the Church’s rule of prayer (lex orandi) corresponds to her rule of belief (lex credendi).” Because the old Latin liturgy nourished the faithful for centuries, he reasons, it is incumbent upon the Church today to ensure that "this liturgical edifice, so to speak, might once again appear splendid in its dignity and harmony.”
While recognizing the glory of the older liturgical forms, Pope Benedict also frankly alludes to the chaos that has followed the liturgical changes of Vatican II. In his letter to the world's bishops the Pontiff reminds them that he has lived through the era of change-- indeed he was one of the champions of liturgical reform as envisioned by the Council-- and seen the uneven and sometimes appalling results. He remarks, "I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church."
With his motu proprio the Holy Father hopes to restore reverence through a wider use of the "extraordinary form" of the liturgy-- the Mass of the 1962 Missal. At the same time, it is clear, he hopes that the wider use of the old form, with its scrupulous attention to rubrics, will encourage a more faithful and reverent approach to the ordinary form in the Novus Ordo Muss.
What is new?
Summorum Pontificum states flatly that the old form of the Mass, the 1962 Missal, was never abrogated. Implicitly the Pope is recognizing that many faithful Catholics have suffered a grave injustice, since they were told that the old form of the liturgy was now forbidden.
At present-- until the new norms established in the motu proprio take effect on September 14-- Catholics who seek access to the old Mass must petition their diocesan bishop, who may grant permission of the use of the 1962 Missal, under the terms of Pope John Paul's Ecclesia Dei-- or he may choose not to allow it.
With his new norms Pope Benedict recognizes that many bishops have not allowed the "wide and generous" access to the old form that his predecessor had encouraged. Citing St. Paul's words to the Corinthians (2 Cor 6), the Pope now exhorts all bishops: "Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows."
But Pope Benedict goes beyond exhortation, and establishes the rights of the faithful in terms of canon law. Every priest has the right to use the "extraordinary form," and needs no further permission. Wherever a "stable group" of parishioners asks for the old Mass, their pastor should "willingly accept" their request, the Pope adds.
In short, whereas Ecclesia Dei treated the celebration of old Mass as an unusual concession that the diocesan bishop could grant, Summorum Pontificum establishes the "extraordinary form" as a normal usage of the Roman rite. For the past two decades the presumption has been that the 1962 Missal could not be used, and the bishop has had the authority to make exceptions to that norm. Now the presumption is that the 1962 Missal can be used, and bishops have the burden of explaining why it should not be available-- as, for instance, when no priest is adequately qualified to celebrate the old Mass.
If the faithful do not have access to the "extraordinary form," because of particular circumstances in their parishes, Pope Benedict says that they should approach the bishop. And if their bishop does not satisfy their request, he invites them to bring their problem to the Vatican's Ecclesia Dei commission-- where, one assumes, they will find a sympathetic hearing.
Pope Benedict does insist that priests who use the extraordinary form of the Mass should recognize the validity of the new liturgy. He writes that "priests of the communities adhering to the former usage cannot, as a matter of principle, exclude celebrating according to the new books." However, he allows for the celebration of the other sacraments-- confirmation, ordination, weddings and funerals-- according to the old rubrics.
The Pope stipulates that the "extraordinary form" of the Mass should be celebrated using the Roman Missal of 1962-- that is, in accordance with the old liturgical calendar. He does suggest that the readings from Scripture could be done in the vernacular. Otherwise he makes no change in the old liturgy.
The Pope allows for the possibility that some "personal parishes" will be created in which the old liturgy is the regular usage. He allows religious institutes to choose the old liturgy for their own communities. In ordinary parishes he envisions the use of the "extraordinary form" for one Sunday Mass. He stipulates that the 1962 Missal should not be used for the Easter Triduum in parishes, since during the Triduum the entire parish is drawn together for the celebration in the ordinary form.
What the motu proprio is not
Because much coverage of the motu proprio has been misleading-- especially in the secular media-- it is important to be clear about several things that Summorum Pontificum does not do, and several effects that the Holy Father obviously does not intend:
- The motu proprio does not restore the use of Latin to the liturgy. Priests have always had the right to use Latin in celebrating the Novus Ordo liturgy-- the "ordinary" form of the Roman rite. Indeed the use of Latin has always been strongly encouraged by the Vatican, even if few pastors have responded.
- The motu proprio does not require priests to use the older liturgy. Pope Benedict is not imposing any new liturgical forms; he is allowing the faithful to make use of an old form-- which, as he carefully points out, was never banned. Those lay Catholics who prefer the post-conciliar liturgy have no cause for concern; the new liturgy will remain the commonplace experience in most parishes.
- The Pope is not aiming this document solely at reconciliation of the alienated traditionalists in groups such as the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX)-- although he recognizes that the revival of the old liturgy will be viewed by traditionalists as a positive sign. Summorum Pontificum is intended for the entire Catholic Church, not for a small, disaffected minority. The restoration of the Latin Mass has been only one of several demands consistently made by SSPX leaders, and the motu proprio will not bridge the gap that separates them from the Holy See. Pope Benedict recognizes this fact in the letter that accompanies the document. He writes: "We all know that, in the movement led by Archbishop Lefebvre, fidelity to the old Missal became an external mark of identity; the reasons for the break which arose over this, however, were at a deeper level." And in the first formal response to the motu proprio from the SSPX leadership, Bishop Bernard Fellay, while welcoming the document, confirmed that it was not enough to bring about reconciliation. Bishop Fellay told his followers that the Pope's explanatory letter "does not conceal that difficulties still remain." The SSPX leader voiced his hope that the new policies "would allow for a calmer approach to the doctrinal questions that are at issue-- after the removal of the decree of excommunications that still affects the SSPX bishops."
- The motu proprio does not prescribe policies for a 3-year trial period. Although the Pope encourages bishops to report on their experiences with the new norms after 3 years, he gives no indication that the policies will be subject to change after that interval.
- The document does not restore the use of language that Jewish leaders have found offensive. Stories that spread quickly through the secular press, based on confused reporting, predicted that Jewish people would be shocked by the liturgical changes. Those stories were wholly inaccurate; the language in question was never a factor in the Pope's decision.
Pope Benedict is not the first Pontiff to authorize wider use of the 1962 Missal. Pope John Paul II called for a "wide and generous" application of the indult he provided in Ecclesia Dei in 1988. But that "wide and generous" application was not forthcoming from the world's bishops. In all too many cases the bishops discourage the use of the old liturgy, and offer permission only under very limited circumstances-- in some cases clearly hoping to make it inconvenient for the faithful to attend the Latin Mass.
During the last year many bishops-- especially in France, Germany, the US, and Great Britain-- actively opposed the Pope's plan to release Summorum Pontificum. Will their resistance now manifest itself within their own dioceses, despite the Pope's extra efforts to answer their concerns?
The motu proprio gives diocesan bishops far less discretion in enforcing the liturgical norms, since the Pope emphasizes that priests have the right to celebrate the older form of the Mass without any special permission. The practical test of the motu proprio, then, may be whether bishops put pressure on their priests to discourage the extraordinary form.
Informed sources believe that the Pope plans to augment the authority of the Ecclesia Dei commission, enabling that Vatican bureau to answer complaints about resistance to the motu proprio as well as to help with its implementation. No doubt the powers of that pontifical commission will be tested soon after the September 14 date when the new norms go into effect.
In America, the liturgy committee of the US bishops' conference has already released a special newsletter dedicated to Summorum Pontificum, including both the papal documents themselves and a series of questions and answers about the new norms and the extraordinary form of the liturgy. Particularly in light of the hostility that the US bishops' committee has sometimes exhibited toward liturgical norms from Rome, the newsletter offers a remarkably even-handed and sympathetic perspective on the motu proprio.
In particular it is gratifying to read that the US bishops' liturgy committee recognizes the many Catholics have been troubled by the Novus Ordo liturgy because of "the false sense of creativity unfortunately practiced by some in the celebration of the post-conciliar liturgical rites." Citing the words of Pope Benedict, the newsletter notes that this "creative" approach has led to "deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear." Insofar as the US bishops are now officially recognizing that experimentation has deformed the liturgy, Summorum Pontificum is already yielding rich fruit.
To be fair one must acknowledge that although many bishops have shown themselves unfriendly toward tradition-minded Catholics-- despite the pleas of John Paul II in Ecclesia Dei-- some traditionalists have been every bit as unfriendly in their attitude toward their bishops. Some traditionalists pounce on any opportunity to criticize the new liturgy, and a few-- a minority, certainly, but a very outspoken and divisive minority-- question whether the Novus Ordo liturgy is valid. The response to Summorum Pontificum in traditionalist circles will be another key test. If the motu proprio is warmly welcomed, that positive response might encourage bishops toward a generous implementation; if traditionalists fall into a pattern of carping criticism, bishops will feel that their hostility is justified.
In his explanatory letter, Pope Benedict is writing to bishops, not to lay traditionalists. So he can only urge the bishops to make an extra effort to accommodate reasonable requests. "It is true," he concedes, that there have been and at times social aspects unduly linked to the attitude of the faithful attached to the ancient Latin liturgical tradition. Your charity and pastoral prudence will be an incentive and guide for improving these."
The "reform of the reform"
Perhaps the most intriguing line in the Pope's explanatory letter accompanying the motu proprio comes immediately after he notes that "the two forms of the usage of the Roman rite can be mutually enriching." The Pope says that new Prefaces, and celebrations for some new saints, should be added to the 1962 Missal. Then he adds: "The Ecclesia Dei ommission, in contact with various bodies devoted to the usus antiquior, will study the practical possibilities in this regard."
That passage confirms that Pope Benedict sees Summorum Pontificum as one necessary step in a long-term reform of the liturgy. He apparently hopes that some elements of the new Novus Ordo liturgy will be integrated into the old Mass, while as some aspects of the extraordinary form will enrich the ordinary. In the long term, one suspects, the Pope sees a convergence of the two forms, bringing about the true organic reform of the liturgy that Vatican II envisioned.
"In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture," the Pope writes. "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. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place."