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Summorum Pontificum, Seven Years on.

30 July, 2014 0 Comments

By Nicholas Frankovich | First Things | 9 July  2014

An unexpected blessing of the liturgical developments that have sidelined the Mass of the Ages for the past half-century is that when we return to it now we see it with fresh eyes.


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Universae ecclesiae

18 November, 2011 0 Comments
Universae ecclesiae


on the application of the Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum of

I. Introduction

1. The Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum of the Sovereign Pontiff Benedict XVI given Motu Proprio on 7 July 2007, which came into effect on 14 September 2007, has made the richness of the Roman Liturgy more accessible to the Universal Church.

2. With this Motu Proprio, the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI promulgated a universal law for the Church, intended to establish new regulations for the use of the Roman Liturgy in effect in 1962.

3. The Holy Father, having recalled the concern of the Sovereign Pontiffs in caring for the Sacred Liturgy and in their recognition of liturgical books, reaffirms the traditional principle, recognised from time immemorial and necessary to be maintained into the future, that “each particular Church must be in accord with the universal Church not only regarding the doctrine of the faith and sacramental signs, but also as to the usages universally handed down by apostolic and unbroken tradition. These 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).”(1)

4. The Holy Father recalls also those Roman Pontiffs who, in a particular way, were notable in this task, specifically Saint Gregory the Great and Saint Pius V. The Holy Father stresses moreover that, among the sacred liturgical books, the Missale Romanum has enjoyed a particular prominence in history, and was kept up to date throughout the centuries until the time of Blessed Pope John XXIII. Subsequently in 1970, following the liturgical reform after the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI approved for the Church of the Latin rite a new Missal, which was then translated into various languages. In the year 2000, Pope John Paul II promulgated the third edition of this Missal.

5. Many of the faithful, formed in the spirit of the liturgical forms prior to the Second Vatican Council, expressed a lively desire to maintain the ancient tradition. For this reason, Pope John Paul II with a special Indult Quattuor abhinc annos issued in 1984 by the Congregation for Divine Worship, granted the faculty under certain conditions to restore the use of the Missal promulgated by Blessed Pope John XXIII. Subsequently, Pope John Paul II, with the Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei of 1988, exhorted the Bishops to be generous in granting such a faculty for all the faithful who requested it. Pope Benedict continues this policy with the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum regarding certain essential criteria for the Usus Antiquior of the Roman Rite, which are recalled here.

6. The Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI and the last edition prepared under Pope John XXIII, are two forms of the Roman Liturgy, defined respectively as ordinaria and extraordinaria: they are two usages of the one Roman Rite, one alongside the other. Both are the expression of the same lex orandi of the Church. On account of its venerable and ancient use, the forma extraordinaria is to be maintained with appropriate honor.

7. The Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum was accompanied by a letter from the Holy Father to Bishops, with the same date as the Motu Proprio (7 July 2007). This letter gave further explanations regarding the appropriateness and the need for the Motu Proprio; it was a matter of overcoming a lacuna by providing new norms for the use of the Roman Liturgy of 1962. Such norms were needed particularly on account of the fact that, when the new Missal had been introduced under Pope Paul VI, it had not seemed necessary to issue guidelines regulating the use of the 1962 Liturgy. By reason of the increase in the number of those asking to be able to use the forma extraordinaria, it has become necessary to provide certain norms in this area.

Among the statements of the Holy Father was the following: “There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal. In the history of the Liturgy growth and progress are found, but not a rupture. What was sacred for prior generations, remains sacred and great for us as well, and cannot be suddenly prohibited altogether or even judged harmful.”(2)

8. The Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum constitutes an important expression of the Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff and of his munus of regulating and ordering the Church’s Sacred Liturgy.(3) The Motu Proprio manifests his solicitude as Vicar of Christ and Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church,(4) and has the aim of:

a.) offering to all the faithful the Roman Liturgy in the Usus Antiquior, considered as a precious treasure to be preserved;

b.) effectively guaranteeing and ensuring the use of the forma extraordinaria for all who ask for it, given that the use of the 1962 Roman Liturgy is a faculty generously granted for the good of the faithful and therefore is to be interpreted in a sense favourable to the faithful who are its principal addressees;

c.) promoting reconciliation at the heart of the Church.

II. The Responsibilities
of the Pontifical Commission
Ecclesia Dei

9. The Sovereign Pontiff has conferred upon the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei ordinary vicarious power for the matters within its competence, in a particular way for monitoring the observance and application of the provisions of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum (cf. art. 12).

10. § 1. The Pontifical Commission exercises this power, beyond the faculties previously granted by Pope John Paul II and confirmed by Pope Benedict XVI (cf. Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, artt. 11-12), also by means of the power to decide upon recourses legitimately sent to it, as hierarchical Superior, against any possible singular administrative provision of an Ordinary which appears to be contrary to the Motu Proprio.

§ 2. The decrees by which the Pontifical Commission decides recourses may be challenged ad normam iuris before the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura.

11. After having received the approval from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei will have the task of looking after future editions of liturgical texts pertaining to the forma extraordinaria of the Roman Rite.

III. Specific Norms

12. Following upon the inquiry made among the Bishops of the world, and with the desire to guarantee the proper interpretation and the correct application of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, this Pontifical Commission, by virtue of the authority granted to it and the faculties which it enjoys, issues this Instruction according to can. 34 of the Code of Canon Law.

The Competence of Diocesan Bishops

13. Diocesan Bishops, according to Canon Law, are to monitor liturgical matters in order to guarantee the common good and to ensure that everything is proceeding in peace and serenity in their Dioceses(5), always in agreement with the mens of the Holy Father clearly expressed by the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum.(6) In cases of controversy or well-founded doubt about the celebration in the forma extraordinaria, the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei will adjudicate.

14. It is the task of the Diocesan Bishop to undertake all necessary measures to ensure respect for the forma extraordinaria of the Roman Rite, according to the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum.

The coetus fidelium (cf. Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, art. 5 § 1)

15. A coetus fidelium (“group of the faithful”) can be said to be stabiliter existens (“existing in a stable manner”), according to the sense of art. 5 § 1 of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, when it is constituted by some people of an individual parish who, even after the publication of the Motu Proprio, come together by reason of their veneration for the Liturgy in the Usus Antiquior, and who ask that it might be celebrated in the parish church or in an oratory or chapel; such a coetus (“group”) can also be composed of persons coming from different parishes or dioceses, who gather together in a specific parish church or in an oratory or chapel for this purpose.

16. In the case of a priest who presents himself occasionally in a parish church or an oratory with some faithful, and wishes to celebrate in the forma extraordinaria, as foreseen by articles 2 and 4 of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, the pastor or rector of the church, or the priest responsible, is to permit such a celebration, while respecting the schedule of liturgical celebrations in that same church.

17. § 1. In deciding individual cases, the pastor or the rector, or the priest responsible for a church, is to be guided by his own prudence, motivated by pastoral zeal and a spirit of generous welcome.

§ 2. In cases of groups which are quite small, they may approach the Ordinary of the place to identify a church in which these faithful may be able to come together for such celebrations, in order to ensure easier participation and a more worthy celebration of the Holy Mass.

18. Even in sanctuaries and places of pilgrimage the possibility to celebrate in the forma extraordinaria is to be offered to groups of pilgrims who request it (cf. Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, art. 5 § 3), if there is a qualified priest.

19. The faithful who ask for the celebration of the forma extraordinaria must not in any way support or belong to groups which show themselves to be against the validity or legitimacy of the Holy Mass or the Sacraments celebrated in the forma ordinaria or against the Roman Pontiff as Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church.

Sacerdos idoneus (“Qualified Priest”) (cf. Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, art 5 § 4)

20. With respect to the question of the necessary requirements for a priest to be held idoneus (“qualified”) to celebrate in the forma extraordinaria, the following is hereby stated:

a.) Every Catholic priest who is not impeded by Canon Law(7) is to be considered idoneus (“qualified”) for the celebration of the Holy Mass in the forma extraordinaria.

b.) Regarding the use of the Latin language, a basic knowledge is necessary, allowing the priest to pronounce the words correctly and understand their meaning.

c.) Regarding knowledge of the execution of the Rite, priests are presumed to be qualified who present themselves spontaneously to celebrate the forma extraordinaria, and have celebrated it previously.

21. Ordinaries are asked to offer their clergy the possibility of acquiring adequate preparation for celebrations in the forma extraordinaria. This applies also to Seminaries, where future priests should be given proper formation, including study of Latin(8) and, where pastoral needs suggest it, the opportunity to learn the forma extraordinaria of the Roman Rite.

22. In Dioceses without qualified priests, Diocesan Bishops can request assistance from priests of the Institutes erected by the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, either to the celebrate the forma extraordinaria or to teach others how to celebrate it.

23. The faculty to celebrate sine populo (or with the participation of only one minister) in the forma extraordinaria of the Roman Rite is given by the Motu Proprio to all priests, whether secular or religious (cf. Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, art. 2). For such celebrations therefore, priests, by provision of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, do not require any special permission from their Ordinaries or superiors.

Liturgical and Ecclesiastical Discipline

24. The liturgical books of the forma extraordinaria are to be used as they are. All those who wish to celebrate according to the forma extraordinaria of the Roman Rite must know the pertinent rubrics and are obliged to follow them correctly.

25. New saints and certain of the new prefaces can and ought to be inserted into the 1962 Missal(9), according to provisions which will be indicated subsequently.

26. As foreseen by article 6 of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, the readings of the Holy Mass of the Missal of 1962 can be proclaimed either solely in the Latin language, or in Latin followed by the vernacular or, in Low Masses, solely in the vernacular.

27. With regard to the disciplinary norms connected to celebration, the ecclesiastical discipline contained in the Code of Canon Law of 1983 applies.

28. Furthermore, by virtue of its character of special law, within its own area, the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum derogates from those provisions of law, connected with the sacred Rites, promulgated from 1962 onwards and incompatible with the rubrics of the liturgical books in effect in 1962.

Confirmation and Holy Orders

29. Permission to use the older formula for the rite of Confirmation was confirmed by the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum (cf. art. 9 § 2). Therefore, in the forma extraordinaria, it is not necessary to use the newer formula of Pope Paul VI as found in the Ordo Confirmationis.

30. As regards tonsure, minor orders and the subdiaconate, the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum does not introduce any change in the discipline of the Code of Canon Law of 1983; consequently, in Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life which are under the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, one who has made solemn profession or who has been definitively incorporated into a clerical institute of apostolic life, becomes incardinated as a cleric in the institute or society upon ordination to the diaconate, in accordance with canon 266 § 2 of the Code of Canon Law.

31. Only in Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life which are under the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, and in those which use the liturgical books of the forma extraordinaria, is the use of the Pontificale Romanum of 1962 for the conferral of minor and major orders permitted.

Breviarium Romanum

32. Art. 9 § 3 of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum gives clerics the faculty to use the Breviarium Romanum in effect in 1962, which is to be prayed entirely and in the Latin language.

The Sacred Triduum

33. If there is a qualified priest, a coetus fidelium (“group of faithful”), which follows the older liturgical tradition, can also celebrate the Sacred Triduum in the forma extraordinaria. When there is no church or oratory designated exclusively for such celebrations, the parish priest or Ordinary, in agreement with the qualified priest, should find some arrangement favourable to the good of souls, not excluding the possibility of a repetition of the celebration of the Sacred Triduum in the same church.

The Rites of Religious Orders

34. The use of the liturgical books proper to the Religious Orders which were in effect in 1962 is permitted.

Pontificale Romanum and the Rituale Romanum

35. The use of the Pontificale Romanum, the Rituale Romanum, as well as the Caeremoniale Episcoporum in effect in 1962, is permitted, in keeping with n. 28 of this Instruction, and always respecting n. 31 of the same Instruction.

The Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, in an audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei on 8 April 2011, approved this present Instruction and ordered its publication.

Given at Rome, at the Offices of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, 30 April, 2011, on the memorial of Pope Saint Pius V.

William Cardinal LEVADA

Mons. Guido Pozzo
1. BENEDICTUS XVI, Litterae Apostolicae Summorum Pontificum motu proprio datae, I, AAS 99 (2007) 777; cf. Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, tertia editio 2002, n. 397.

2. BENEDICTUS XVI, Epistola ad Episcopos ad producendas Litteras Apostolicas motu proprio datas, de Usu Liturgiae Romanae Instaurationi anni 1970 praecedentis, AAS 99 (2007) 798.
3. Cf. Code of Canon Law, Canon 838 §1 and §2.

4. Cf. Code of Canon Law, Canon 331.

5. Cf. Code of Canon Law, Canons 223 § 2 or 838 §1 and §4.

6. BENEDICTUS XVI, Epistola ad Episcopos ad producendas Litteras Apostolicas motu proprio datas, de Usu Liturgiae Romanae Instaurationi anni 1970 praecedentis, AAS 99 (2007) 799.

7. Cf. Code of Canon Law, Canon 900 § 2.

8. Cf. Code of Canon Law, Canon 249; Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, 36; Declaration Optatum totius, 13.

9. BENEDICTUS XVI, Epistola ad Episcopos ad producendas Litteras Apostolicas motu proprio datas, de Usu Liturgiae Romanae Instaurationi anni 1970 praecedentis, AAS 99 (2007) 797.

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Interpreting Ecclesia Dei

20 December, 2010 0 Comments
Interpreting Ecclesia Dei


The Ecclesia Dei decree seems always under attack. A recent article in Sydney’s Catholic Weekly – “Why do we have old Latin Mass?” (17 September 1995) – is just the latest.

In a sense, this recent sally is hardly news. It merely instances the disinformation campaign which has been waged against Ecclesia Dei since it was promulgated on 2 July 1988.

Criticism, condescension, minimalist interpretations: these are the reactions one would expect such a document to evoke. Why? Because Ecclesia Dei calls into question the life-time labours of people who have worked hard to bury the Catholic past and to build a new Church on present-orientated foundations (and that, in a nutshell, is what aggiornamento means).

Ecclesia Dei lets history of the bag which is the last thing that the advocates of a “modern church” want. They all know that anyone serious about living their religion – like anyone serious about doing anything well – instinctively looks to the past for models even if, in the end, they finish up doing something different. They all know that the Church of history is, even with all its disasters, an Aladdin’s Cave of inspirations. They are all acutely aware that in comparison, their “new church” is a grey world of jargon, conformism and tedium. They all know that to make this fatuous present stick – and to deprive others of a standard against which to judge it – they have to kill the past.

So, we must accept it: Ecclesia Dei will be subject to continuing criticism and diminution in official church circles for some time to come. Bearing that in mind, we need to revise from time to time what Ecclesia Dei actually says so as not to be disheartened or deterred by propaganda to the contrary.

What critics say

Before, however, looking at this Ecclesia Dei decree we should make an inventory of what its critics are saying. They claim

  • that Ecclesia Dei was issued only to accommodate the “ecclesial unity” of people attached in some way to the movement of Archbishop Lefebvre.
  • that Ecclesia Dei was issued only to cater for people who, because of their education in the former Latin liturgy, are still attached to it and (or) still have problems adjusting to the new one.
  • that Ecclesia Dei was intended only for older people, certainly not for the young.
  • that Ecclesia Dei did not confer a “right” to the traditional liturgy, merely a concession.
  • that Ecclesia Dei did not confer “official Church approval” of the traditional liturgy as an equally available rite.
  • that Ecclesia Dei makes available the traditional Roman Rite of the Mass “only in exceptional cases”.
  • that, properly understood, Ecclesia Dei is about promoting the use of Latin, as a language of Catholic unity, in the New Mass.

The question is: Does the Ecclesia Dei decree provide any foundation for these positions?On page 4 we have published the main text of the decree.

Lefebvre: Main Focus

Now it is obvious that the basic spur to action behind Ecclesia Dei was provided by Archbishop Lefebvre. Furthermore, it is equally clear that the primary preoccupation of the document is with how to accommodate his followers. Hence the emphasis in the document on “facilitating ecclesial communion”.

Given this focus, is it not reasonable to conclude that Ecclesia Dei was intended primarily for Lefebvrists?

At first blush this interpretation appears to be sound. But on further investigation these initial impressions must give way to a wider view of the document. While there can be no objection to the claim that the Lefebvre problem represented the principle activating motive behind Ecclesia Dei, to argue that Lefebvre constituted the whole concern of the decree registers a blinkered view of the facts: facts about the document itself and, more importantly, facts about the Church at large.

The other Ecclesia Dei

With regard to the facts about the Decree, the document makes significant references to Catholics other than followers of Archbishop Lefebvre. The decree addresses:

    “all those Catholic faithful who feel attached to some previous liturgical and disciplinary forms of the Latin tradition…”

Now, it has been argued that the “all those” refers only to all those connected in some way with Archbishop Lefebvre and whose “ecclesial communion” the Pope wishes to facilitate. Perhaps. But then the document goes on to speak of measures to “guarantee respect for their rightful aspirations.” This is the most important phrase in Ecclesia Dei. It is the “rightful aspirations” which universalise the Decree.The reasoning behind this claim is compelling. If the desire to worship according to the Latin tradition is a “rightful aspiration” for a Lefebvrist, then it is equally a rightful aspiration for all other Latin Catholics as well. If Latin Catholics in general cannot have a “rightful aspiration” to retain their liturgical heritage – an absurd proposition, in any case – then particular Latin Catholics (including followers of Mgr Lefebvre) cannot have one either. What’s good for the goose, is good for the gander.

Consequently, the address made by the Pontiff “To all those Catholic faithful…” takes on a wider dimension of significance. Rome was very much aware that there were Catholics throughout the western world – people not attracted to the Lefebvre movement – who cheered on May 5, 1988 when the Archbishop and Cardinal Ratzinger initialled a settlement of the long-running dispute.

Rome makes admission

Rome also knew that these same people were filled with gloom when the Archbishop reneged on the May 5 agreement. The traditional Mass constituency was far wider than Lefebvre’s and Rome could not risk driving more Catholics into his camp by letting the opportunity slip. Thus Rome came to make the great, long delayed and ironical admission: that love for her own liturgical traditions did not disqualify one from being a faithful Catholic.

So Ecclesia Dei was not addressed to Lefebvre and his adherents alone. It was addressed to “all”. Consequently, the document declares that:

    “respect must everywhere be shown to the feelings of all those who are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition by a wide and generous application”

of the 1984 Indult which already provided access – albeit under limited conditions – to the traditional Roman Rite of Mass.But is it not possible that too much significance is being given to this document? Was Rome really aware of a movement for integral Catholic tradition which extended far beyond the confines of the Lefebvre’s own family? Has one little word – “all” – been made to bear too heavy a burden of meaning?

Powers ignored

Certainly, some people have thought so. But that is usually because they overlook a second document. This is a “rescript”, or written order, given by the Pontiff in audience on 18 October 1988 and it defined the powers of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei.

The first head of power given the Commission is significant:

    “The faculty of granting to all who seek it the use of the Roman Missal according to the 1962 edition…”

The text is referring to priests who apply for permission to use the traditional missal and the meaning is clear. The Commission is empowered to grant to any priest who requests it permission to use the traditional missal. There is no word here about old priests, or refugee Lefebvrist priests, or eccentric priests who cannot cope with change. The permission is there for any priest. All he need do is ask.The Commission also has other powers. Perhaps more important even than the first, the power of erecting seminaries and religious communities to train priests and religious irrevocably attached to the traditional liturgy.

The implication of this is devastating for those who try to minimise the meaning of Ecclesia Dei. For whom are seminaries and religious communities chiefly founded? They are founded for future priests, religious, and lay apostles. And from whence are those future vocations mainly recruited? From among the young. That is from among people most of whom have not yet experienced the traditional Roman Rite, let alone formed “rightful” aspirations for ways of life shaped by the traditional liturgy and religious disciplines.

In short, Ecclesia Dei was intended for “all” who wish to take advantage of it; and, moreover, it was intended unconditionally. There is not a word in these documents to suggest that the benefits of Ecclesia Dei are conditional upon one being an ex-Lefebvrist, of a certain age, or possessed of a certain archaic religious formation.

Needless to say, the documents we have been discussing, with their constant reference to the traditional Roman Rite – “the Roman Missal according to the 1962 edition” – have nothing at all to do with promoting the use of Latin in the new liturgy. A quaint hermeneutical fiction.

Hot from Commission

As it happens, Oriens can now report what amounts to an official interpretation of the documents from the Ecclesia Dei Commission itself. Recently, letters have been received in Australia from the Commission in response to requests for clarification of how the concept of “rightful aspiration” is to be understood.

The Commission’s ruling, dated 5 September 1995, states that:

  • The Motu Proprio “Ecclesia Dei” recognises that in itself the desire to celebrate and participate in the traditional liturgy of the Catholic Church as embodied in the liturgical books in force in 1962 represents a legitimate desire on the part of the faithful.
  • The Motu Proprio does not speak of any restrictions, including age limits, on those who aspire to worship according to the liturgical books of 1962. Neither does it state that only those who had previous experience of the Latin liturgical tradition could have such an aspiration.

It could not be simpler. The mere unconditional fact of having an aspiration “in itself” entitles anyone to benefit from the Ecclesia Dei decree.So, next time you are in your local diocesan chancery, petition in hand, have no fear. The facts are with you.

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Background to Ecclesia Dei

20 December, 2010 0 Comments
Background to Ecclesia Dei


We have come a long way since Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council. In those days the traditional Roman Rite was the norm.

Subsequently, an attempt was made to abolish that Rite. Then, in a partial about face, Rome was obliged to decree, on 2 July 1988, that Latin Catholics were allowed, after all, to use these same “forbidden” rites of worship.

How did we come to be in this sorry condition?

The “reform”

The story begins with a decision by the Second Vatican Council to reform the liturgy of the Western Church. The enabling instrument for this was the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, promulgated on 4 December 1963.

Sacrosanctum Concilium was, on the face of it, a conservative document. Even Archbishop Lefebvre signed it. In all its essentials – or so it seemed – the traditional liturgy was to remain in tact. Moreover, Latin was to remain the language of worship. Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony were still to be its music.

The trouble was that the document was full of other provisions which looked reasonable at the time but which, ultimately, provided the means for making a new kind of liturgy. The liturgical books were to be “revised”; bishops would be able to decide whether, and to what extent, vernacular languages were to be used (with the right of confirmation reserved to Rome); local variations in the liturgy were to be allowed in order to accommodate local customs (conditional on preserving the “substantial unity” of the Roman rite); etcetera.

This new normative missal was in Latin. It was translated into vernacular languages and these translations were, in effect, made obligatory.

Meanwhile, the traditional liturgy, which had been the common usage of Western Christendom for over a 1,000 years, was widely believed to have been abolished by the Apostolic Constitution, Missile Roman, of 3 April 1969, with which Pope Paul VI launched his new missal .

To justify what was done, a false historical argument was contrived. According to this, the “old” liturgy was not a truly ancient form of worship, but had been formulated in the sixteenth century to implement the liturgical decrees of the Council of Trent. On this view Paul VI was merely emulating what St. Pius V had attempted with his 1570 missal, though of course succeeding where the latter had failed.

St. Pus V, however, did not oversee the designing of new Mass; with a scrupulous respect for liturgical tradition, his missal merely sought to codify, for the first time in history, the liturgical customs of the Roman Church. No two approaches to liturgical reform could have been more different.

Of course most of us then implicitly accepted this false official history and we knuckled down obediently to the new liturgical regime. As time passed, though, we discovered that liturgical change was really an “on going process” with Eucharist prayers and sacramental rites to be continuously reinvented in order to conform to the ever-changing cultural norms of the present moment.


Moreover a growing, if small, number of Catholics were gradually coming to the conclusion that the new liturgical style was proving ambiguous about fundamental Catholic beliefs. Disillusion was setting in.

There was, however, nowhere to go for most Catholics who thought this way. They were not attracted to Archbishop Lefebvre because, however unjustly treated he had been, instinct told them to steer away from a movement which appeared at risk of going into schism.

By 1980 traditional Catholics had not dwindled to nought as they were supposed to do and Pope John Paul II sought to inquire into the matter. He requested that all the bishops of the Western Church investigate, among other things, how well the new missal had been received and how widespread was criticism of it, or resistance to it.

It will be interesting for historians to read the reports he received for, as far as one can tell, no bishop undertook any consultation with the laity, unless of course it was done in great privacy. Doubtless the Pope was advised that there was little demand for the traditional Latin Mass and, in any case, it would be a retrograde step to grant freedom of worship to the few who wanted it.

The Indult

If the Pope was thus advised, he chose to take his own course. In 1984 came the first breakthrough. On 3 October that year a circular letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship (Quattor abhinc annos) decreed an indult for tradition-minded Catholics. Under strictly limited and rather harsh conditions they were allowed to have the Mass according to the traditional Latin rite as set forth in the John XXIII (or 1962) Missal.

Commission of Cardinals

Two years later the Pope was preparing to liberalise this indult in a radical way. A commission of Cardinals had investigated the matter and had recommended in December 1986 a series of new guidelines which amounted to a virtual recognition of traditional rites equal status with the new. The Pope was preparing to implement these guidelines when bishops began descending on Rome in protest. In 1987 the proposals were shelved, for the time being.

Ratzinger-Lefebvre Agreement

The next year, however, the main breakthrough came. It appeared that Rome and Archbishop Lefebvre were at last on the point of agreement and, in fact, the Archbishop and Cardinal Ratzinger had signed a protocol on 5 May 1988 setting out the terms of agreement which included freedom of worship for those attached to the traditional liturgy. It was an exciting moment.

In the end, however, Archbishop Lefebvre reneged on the agreement and went ahead with episcopal consecrations without the required Roman mandate. For this he incurred the penalty of excommunication.

Ecclesia Dei Decree

In response, however, the Pope issued, on 2 July 1988, his Apostolic Letter “Ecclesia Dei”. In this he recognised the “rightful aspirations” of all Catholics who wished to worship according to traditional forms and he called upon bishops to apply both widely and generously the 1984 indult.

The Pope also announced the setting up of the Ecclesia Dei Commission to conduct relations between the Holy See and traditional Catholics and to work for full communion with those who had been linked to Mons. Lefebvre. (Consult library for the Ecclesia Dei Decree.)

What the Pope meant by a “wide and generous” application of the indult was spelt on 18 October 1988 when he formally granted the Ecclesia Dei Commission its various powers. These included the “granting to all who seek it” the use of the Roman Missal according to the 1962 edition.

May 1989 Episcopal Intervention

Up to this point the Pope – still under the influence of proposals made by the 1986 Commission of Cardinals – seemed ready to grant the traditional liturgy near equality of status with the new. The Ecclesia Dei Commission was the intended instrument for this purpose. However, on 16 May 1989 there was a confrontation between curial officials and representatives of the European episcopal conferences over the equality of status question. The European bishops would have none of it and the Pope backed down.

From this point onward the Commission’s power to grant permission to use the traditional missal was, for all intents and purposes, delegated to local bishops and with that any attempt to recognise in a practical way equality between the rites fell from the papal agenda.

Whether this delegation has turned out well or ill for the traditional liturgy only time will tell. Given that Rome has recognised – belatedly, as some would argue – the collegiality of the bishops, it can hardly conduct a liturgical policy which they do not support. If, on the other hand, bishops can be persuaded to implement Ecclesia Dei, however reluctantly, then the position of the traditional Mass will be that much more secure.

Roman action

Despite delegation of a key power of the Commission to the bishops, Rome has not been inactive. In fact, it has taken decisions of enduring significance. These include the pontifical erection of three religious communities exclusively attached to the traditional liturgy: the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter with its seminaries in Bavaria and Pennsylvania; the Institute of the King and Sovereign Priest; and the Servants of Jesus and Mary.

In addition, Rome has regularised the situation of several important religious communities which had either always been attached to the traditional liturgy or which returned to it after an initial attempt to implement the new liturgical policies.

These communities (all French) include the Benedictine monks and nuns at Le Barroux, the Benedictines of Fontgombault and its daughter houses, the Benedictine nuns in communities at Jouques and Rosans, and the Dominican nuns of Pontcalec and their daughter houses, and the Society of St Vincent Ferrer, a foundation of Dominican inspiration.

Finally, Rome, not without wavering and reluctance to act as final court of appeal in disputes over the matter, has endorsed the broad interpretation of the Ecclesia Dei Decree espoused by The Ecclesia Dei Society and by similar organisations throughout the Catholic world.

Whatever the difficulties traditional Catholics face today, their position has improved immeasurably since Ecclesia Dei. And while the road ahead promises to be hard, it is no longer one without hope.

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Summorum Pontificum

20 December, 2010 0 Comments
Summorum Pontificum



Up to our own times, it has been the constant concern of supreme pontiffs to ensure that the Church of Christ offers a worthy ritual to the Divine Majesty, “to the praise and glory of His name,” and “to the benefit of all His Holy Church.”

Since time immemorial it has been necessary ? as it is also for the future ? to maintain the principle according to which “each particular Church must concur with the universal Church, not only as regards the doctrine of the faith and the sacramental signs, but also as regards the usages universally accepted by uninterrupted apostolic tradition, which must be observed not only to avoid errors but also to transmit the integrity of the faith, because the Church’s law of prayer corresponds to her law of faith.” (1)

Among the pontiffs who showed that requisite concern, particularly outstanding is the name of St Gregory the Great, who made every effort to ensure that the new peoples of Europe received both the Catholic faith and the treasures of worship and culture that had been accumulated by the Romans in preceding centuries. He commanded that the form of the sacred liturgy as celebrated in Rome (concerning both the Sacrifice of Mass and the Divine Office) be conserved. He took great concern to ensure the dissemination of monks and nuns who, following the Rule of St Benedict, together with the announcement of the Gospel illustrated with their lives the wise provision of their Rule that “nothing should be placed before the work of God.” In this way the sacred liturgy, celebrated according to the Roman use, enriched not only the faith and piety but also the culture of many peoples. It is known, in fact, that the Latin liturgy of the Church in its various forms, in each century of the Christian era, has been a spur to the spiritual life of many saints, has reinforced many peoples in the virtue of religion and fecundated their piety.

Many other Roman pontiffs, in the course of the centuries, showed particular solicitude in ensuring that the sacred liturgy accomplished this task more effectively. Outstanding among them is St Pius V who, sustained by great pastoral zeal and following the exhortations of the Council of Trent, renewed the entire liturgy of the Church, oversaw the publication of liturgical books amended and “renewed in accordance with the norms of the Fathers,” and provided them for the use of the Latin Church.

One of the liturgical books of the Roman rite is the Roman Missal, which developed in the city of Rome and, with the passing of the centuries, little by little took forms very similar to that it has had in recent times.

“It was towards this same goal that succeeding Roman Pontiffs directed their energies during the subsequent centuries in order to ensure that the rites and liturgical books were brought up to date and when necessary clarified. From the beginning of this century they undertook a more general reform.” (2) Thus our predecessors Clement VIII, Urban VIII, St Pius X (3), Benedict XV, Pius XII and Blessed John XXIII all played a part.

In more recent times, Vatican Council II expressed a desire that the respectful reverence due to divine worship should be renewed and adapted to the needs of our time. Moved by this desire our predecessor, the Supreme Pontiff Paul VI, approved, in 1970, reformed and partly renewed liturgical books for the Latin Church. These, translated into the various languages of the world, were willingly accepted by bishops, priests and faithful. John Paul II amended the third typical edition of the Roman Missal. Thus Roman pontiffs have operated to ensure that “this kind of liturgical edifice … should again appear resplendent for its dignity and harmony.” (4)

But in some regions, no small numbers of faithful adhered and continue to adhere with great love and affection to the earlier liturgical forms. These had so deeply marked their culture and their spirit that in 1984 the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II, moved by a concern for the pastoral care of these faithful, with the special indult Quattuor abhinc annos, issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship, granted permission to use the Roman Missal published by Blessed John XXIII in the year 1962. Later, in the year 1988, John Paul II with the Apostolic Letter given as Motu proprioEcclesia Dei, exhorted bishops to make generous use of this power in favor of all the faithful who so desired.

Following the insistent prayers of these faithful, long deliberated upon by our predecessor John Paul II, and after having listened to the views of the Cardinal Fathers of the Consistory of 22 March 2006, having reflected deeply upon all aspects of the question, invoked the Holy Spirit and trusting in the help of God, with these Apostolic Letters we establish the following:

Art 1. The Roman Missal promulgated by Paul VI is the ordinary expression of the Lex orandi (Law of prayer) of the Catholic Church of the Latin rite. Nonetheless, the Roman Missal promulgated by St Pius V and reissued by Blessed John XXIII is to be considered as an extraordinary expression of that same Lex orandi, and must be given due honour for its venerable and ancient usage. These two expressions of the Church’s Lex orandi will in no any way lead to a division in the Church’s Lex credendi (Law of belief). They are, in fact two usages of the one Roman rite.

It is, therefore, permissible to celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass following the typical edition of the Roman Missal promulgated by Blessed John XXIII in 1962 and never abrogated, as an extraordinary form of the Liturgy of the Church. The conditions for the use of this Missal as laid down by earlier documents Quattuor abhinc annos and Ecclesia Dei, are substituted as follows:

Art. 2. In Masses celebrated without the people, each Catholic priest of the Latin rite, whether secular or regular, may use the Roman Missal published by Blessed Pope John XXIII in 1962, or the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970, and may do so on any day with the exception of the Easter Triduum. For such celebrations, with either one Missal or the other, the priest has no need for permission from the Apostolic See or from his Ordinary.

Art. 3. Communities of Institutes of consecrated life and of Societies of apostolic life, of either pontifical or diocesan right, wishing to celebrate Mass in accordance with the edition of the Roman Missal promulgated in 1962, for conventual or “community” celebration in their oratories, may do so. If an individual community or an entire Institute or Society wishes to undertake such celebrations often, habitually or permanently, the decision must be taken by the Superiors Major, in accordance with the law and following their own specific decrees and statues.

Art. 4. Celebrations of Mass as mentioned above in art. 2 may ? observing all the norms of law ? also be attended by faithful who, of their own free will, ask to be admitted.

Art. 5. ¶ 1 In parishes, where there is a stable group of faithful who adhere to the earlier liturgical tradition, the pastor should willingly accept their requests to celebrate the Mass according to the rite of the Roman Missal published in 1962, and ensure that the welfare of these faithful harmonises with the ordinary pastoral care of the parish, under the guidance of the bishop in accordance with canon 392, avoiding discord and favouring the unity of the whole Church. ¶ 2 Celebration in accordance with the Missal of Blessed John XXIII may take place on working days; while on Sundays and feast days one such celebration may also be held. ¶ 3 For faithful and priests who request it, the pastor should also allow celebrations in this extraordinary form for special circumstances such as marriages, funerals or occasional celebrations, e.g. pilgrimages. ¶ 4 Priests who use the Missal of Blessed John XXIII must be qualified to do so and not juridically impeded. ¶ 5 In churches that are not parish or conventual churches, it is the duty of the Rector of the church to grant the above permission.

Art. 6. In Masses celebrated in the presence of the people in accordance with the Missal of Blessed John XXIII, the readings may be given in the vernacular, using editions recognised by the Apostolic See.

Art. 7. If a group of lay faithful, as mentioned in art. 5 ¶ 1, has not obtained satisfaction to their requests from the pastor, they should inform the diocesan bishop. The bishop is strongly requested to satisfy their wishes. If he cannot arrange for such celebration to take place, the matter should be referred to the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei”.

Art. 8. A bishop who, desirous of satisfying such requests, but who for various reasons is unable to do so, may refer the problem to the Commission “Ecclesia Dei” to obtain counsel and assistance.

Art. 9. ¶ 1 The pastor, having attentively examined all aspects, may also grant permission to use the earlier ritual for the administration of the Sacraments of Baptism, Marriage, Penance, and the Anointing of the Sick, if the good of souls would seem to require it. ¶ 2 Ordinaries are given the right to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation using the earlier Roman Pontifical, if the good of souls would seem to require it. ¶ 2 Clerics ordained in sacris constitutis may use the Roman Breviary promulgated by Blessed John XXIII in 1962.

Art. 10. The ordinary of a particular place, if he feels it appropriate, may erect a personal parish in accordance with can. 518 for celebrations following the ancient form of the Roman rite, or appoint a chaplain, while observing all the norms of law.

Art. 11. The Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei”, erected by John Paul II in 1988 (5), continues to exercise its function. Said Commission will have the form, duties and norms that the Roman Pontiff wishes to assign it.

Art. 12. This Commission, apart from the powers it enjoys, will exercise the authority of the Holy See, supervising the observance and application of these dispositions.

We order that everything We have established with these Apostolic Letters issued as Motu proprio be considered as “established and decreed”, and to be observed from 14 September of this year, Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, whatever there may be to the contrary.

From Rome, at St Peter’s, 7 July 2007, third year of Our Pontificate.


(1) General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 3rd ed., 2002, no. 397.

(2) John Paul II, Apostolic Letter  Vicesimus quintus annus, 4 December 1988, 3: AAS 81 (1989), 899.

(3) Ibid.

(4) St Pius X, Apostolic Letter Motu propio data, Abhinc duos annos, 23 October 1913: AAS 5 (1913), 449-450; cf John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Vicesimus quintus annus, no. 3: AAS 81 (1989), 899.

(5) Cf John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Motu proprio data Ecclesia Dei, 2 July 1988, 6: AAS 80 (1988), 1498.

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