ROME — In a surprise move, the grand master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta has decreed that all public liturgical ceremonies within the chivalric order must now be performed according to the ordinary and not the extraordinary form of the Roman rite.

Writing to members of the order worldwide Monday, Fra’ Giacomo Dalla Torre said he had decided to issue the instruction in his capacity “as supreme guarantor of the cohesion and communion” of the order.

He said the directive applies to “all the official celebrations, such as investitures, Masses during our pilgrimages, memorial Masses, as well as the feasts and solemnities of the Order.”

The Sovereign Military Order of Malta is a lay religious order headquartered in Rome dating back to the First Crusade. It has long defended the faith against persecution and been dedicated to helping care for the poor, the sick and the vulnerable.

The ordinary form of the Roman rite is the liturgy used according to the 1970 Roman Missal of St. Paul VI while the extraordinary form is the rite that appeared in typical editions of the Roman Missal published from 1570 to 1962. The extraordinary form is also known as the Tridentine Mass, the Old Rite, Usus Antiquior or the Traditional Latin Mass.

In his letter, Dalla Torre prefaced his decision by stating that Benedict XVI’s 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, which liberalized use of the extraordinary form, allowed “every priest the freedom to celebrate” the Tridentine Mass “privately.”

But he added that according to Article 3 of the decree, “inside a religious institute the matter is to be decided by the Major Superior according to the norm of law and their particular statutes.”

Eugenio Ajroldi di Robbiate, the spokesman for the Order of Malta, told the Register June 11 that Dalla Torre took the decision “for the sake of uniformity on a global level,” adding that “each individual member remains free to attend the Mass of his or her choice.”

“The grand master is saying nothing different to what the Catholic Church says,” he continued. “He just registered an instruction that he had been supporting for quite some time.”

Critics of the extraordinary form say it divides the faithful and ignores the reasons for the liturgical reform that followed the Second Vatican Council. Some influential European members of the order hold this view, particularly within the order’s German and Scandinavian associations, and are said to have lobbied for this change for some time.

But supporters of the extraordinary form believe that Dalla Torre is misstating the law, and in particular Article 3, which states:

If communities of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, whether of pontifical or diocesan right, wish to celebrate the conventual or community Mass in their own oratories according to the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal, they are permitted to do so.  If an individual community or an entire Institute or Society wishes to have such celebrations frequently, habitually or permanently, the matter is to be decided by the Major Superiors according to the norm of law and their particular laws and statutes.

A canonist member of the order speaking to the Register on condition of anonymity said it is “evident” that the norm gives superiors the faculty to allow permission to celebrate in the extraordinary form “‘often or habitually or permanently’ or not.”

“But clearly it does not authorize them to prohibit or eliminate or make the extraordinary form practically impossible,” the source added. “The faculty is for the purpose of increasing the celebration of the Old Rite, not to decrease it or to eliminate it.”

He said the grand master had made a “sad decision,” which “goes against the ratio legis” and “invalidates it.” He said a “lower applicable or determinative norm cannot go against the superior norm, from whom it also receives the power to apply it.”

Another canonist, though not within the order, said rather than unify the order, the decision penalizes those “who were simply doing what the law of the Church allows.”

They feel hurt, he said, and the letter “may have a truly divisive effect” as it may seem to “favor one side.” Dalla Torre is thus “separating himself from the other side and declaring at the same time that there are two sides, whereas no one was saying it up until now,” he said.

Roger McCaffrey, the publisher of The Traditionalist magazine, wondered, “How can a Knight of Malta stand in the way of a universal right given to priests by a supreme pontiff?” and said such a decision reminds him of being back “in the 1970s.”

He and others highlight Benedict’s letter to bishops on Summorum Pontificum in which he said “there is no contradiction” nor “rupture” between the “two editions of the Roman Missal.”

“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,” Benedict wrote, adding that fears that wider use of the 1962 Missal would lead “to disarray or even divisions within parish communities” were “quite unfounded.”

The International Una Voce Federation, an organisation promoting and defending the Traditional Latin Mass, said in a June 13 statement that it noted “with regret” the grand master’s letter, adding that it “does not accurately present” the provisions of Summorum Pontificum and “neglects the right of the faithful” to request Mass in the extraordinary form.

 

Internal Political Battles

Sources within the order told the Register June 11 that the move, which has caused shock and consternation among Knights and Dames who have a preference for the extraordinary form, is part of a political battle between members wishing to “modernize” the Knights and using the ordinary rite to further those ends, and more traditional and conservative members.

Baron Albrecht von Boeselager, who was re-elected as grand chancellor last month for another five-year term, is seen as the key figure behind this directive, along with “other modernists who have seized direction of the order,” according to one well-placed source speaking on condition of anonymity.

The source added that Von Boeselager is known in the Vatican to be “strongly opposed” to the Traditional Latin Mass and that Dalla Torre is “completely” under the authority of Von Boeselager who “had him elected grand master for precisely that reason.”

Almost all the conservative members of the Sovereign Council of the Order (its governing body) were recently replaced with those wishing to modernize the order, sources say.

“The risk is that the order will be turned into a secular institute,” said another source who asked for anonymity for fear of being expelled for speaking out.

Many of the members we spoke to asked not to be named due to fear of retaliation, complaining the order is being run like a “dictatorship” and that its leaders are “unchallengeable.”

Another inside source said, “We keep hearing that this is an age of decentralization but instead it seems our options keep disappearing.”