A Vatican commission is expected to issue further guidelines on the implementation of Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic letter aimed at liberalizing celebration of the Mass in Latin.

According to Vatican sources, officials are drawing up the document to accompany guidelines the Pope has already given, but no date has been set for its release.

Summorum Pontificum, which came into force worldwide Sept. 14, stipulates that the Latin-language Mass — now designated as the “extraordinary form” of the Mass — should be available when a group of faithful requests it and a qualified priest is available.

Some clergy, however, have questioned what the precise characteristics of the group of faithful should be, and what specific knowledge and training a priest needs to celebrate the Mass according to the 1962 Missal.

The resistance of some bishops drew a strong rebuke from Archbishop Albert Malcolm Ranjith Patabendige Don, Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

In a Nov. 5 interview with the Italian journal Petrus, he said that he found it difficult to understand the reaction “and even rebellion” of clergy who have tried to limit access to the older Mass.

“On the part of some dioceses, there have been interpretive documents that inexplicably aim to limit the motu proprio of the Pope,” said Archbishop Ranjith. Behind these attempts, he said, “there hide on the one hand ideological prejudices and, on the other hand, pride, which is one of the most serious sins.”

Guideline Gambit

Benedict issued the motu proprio in order to bring “interior reconciliation” to the Church, and out of pastoral concern for Catholics who want to celebrate the older form of the Mass but were denied permission by their bishops. Supporters of the extraordinary form say that in some cases the denials are continuing, but in more subtle forms through some bishops issuing their own guidelines on the implementation of the motu proprio.

Traditionalists suggest that the real motive for such guidelines often is a belief that celebrating the extraordinary form of the Mass is a regressive step.

“They think this way of celebrating the Mass is over and it should not be a model for today,” said Loïc Merian of the France-based Centre International d’Etudes Liturgiques (International Center for Liturgical Studies).

One Vatican official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Summorum Pontificum opponents view Latin Mass supporters as being “like members of the Pius X Society,” and therefore “disobedient” to the spirit of the Second Vatican Council.

Latin Mass proponents insist that Summorum Pontificum is very much in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council as it gives initiative to the laity rather than the Church hierarchy.

“The direction of this change has been unmistakably towards decentralization,” said Michael Dunnigan, chairman of the traditionalist organization Una Voce America.

Bishop Arthur Roche of Leeds, England, was accused of erroneously stating in a letter to priests that it was up to him as a bishop to decide if the old Mass could be celebrated. Speaking to the Register Nov. 13, Bishop Roche denied he was opposed to celebration of the extraordinary form.

“My letter to the priests of the diocese was a matter of courtesy,” said Bishop Roche, who is the chairman of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, said. “It is normal practice to explain the contents and ramifications of new legislation in an ad clerum (clerical document) of this kind.”

Bishop Roche said he believed some people had “mischievously misinterpreted” his intentions, not knowing that he had trained six priests to celebrate the old Mass a year before the motu proprio was published.

Added Bishop Roche, “I have no difficulty whatsoever with Summorum Pontificum.”

‘Come Together’

Some observers see the guidelines as merely the necessary birth pangs of such a significant Vatican document. And, according to Msgr. Michael Schmitz, provincial superior of the U.S. branch of the traditionalist Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, Summorum Pontificum ultimately could serve as an instrument to promote unity.

“My greatest hope is that we can all come together to help one another to strengthen the Church,” said Msgr. Schmitz. “If we have these little battles between us, nothing will change, but if we pursue the direction in which the Holy Father is leading us, things will again be Christian and that is what we need.”

Edward Pentin writes

from Rome.