VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI has relaxed the rules on the use of the Mass celebrated before the Second Vatican Council.
In a document titled Summorum Pontificum, issued July 7, the Pope has instructed bishops to make the Tridentine Mass freely available in any parish that desires to have it.
The Holy Father called the instruction the “fruit of much reflection, numerous consultations and prayer.” It comes into effect Sept. 14, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
At present, any priest or group of faithful wishing to celebrate the old Latin rite requires the permission of their bishop who can arbitrarily refuse the request.
But from September, all the faithful will now have the right to use without further permission what Pope Benedict describes as this “extraordinary form” — the Mass celebrated according to the 1962 Missal of Blessed Pope John XXIII.
The “ordinary form” of the Mass will continue to be the 1970 Novus Ordo Mass of Pope Paul VI.
Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Vicar of Rome, said unity drove the decision.
“His first and principal motive concerned the unity of the Church,” he wrote July 8, “unity that subsists not only in space but also time and that is not compatible with rupture and opposition between different phases of her historical development.”
A large part of that striving for unity includes reconciliation with the Society of St. Pius X. The society has long pushed for liberalization of the old Mass. Its four bishops remain excommunicated for being consecrated without permission from Rome.
Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior general of the Society, was quoted July 8 saying, “This is really an historic day. We convey to Pope Benedict XVI our profound gratitude. His document is a gift of Grace. It’s not just any step, it’s a step in the right direction. It’s an act of justice, extraordinary supernatural help in a moment of grave ecclesial crisis.”
Bishop Fellay added that the Pope’s reaffirmation of the post-conciliar Mass meant discussions on “doctrinal issues must continue,” but said the document is a “fundamental step which will accelerate the way [to reconciliation], and we hope to tackle the question of excommunication in a state of calm.”‘Treasure Chest’
Among Tridentine Mass devotees in undisputed union with Rome, the initial response to Summorum Pontificum has been overwhelmingly favorable.
“Pope Benedict has broken open the treasure chest of the Lord!” said Michael Dunnigan, chairman of Una Voce America, the largest lay organization in the U.S. promoting wider access to the traditional Mass.
Dunnigan said his organization greeted news of the Pope’s decree with “profound gratitude.” He added that the traditional Mass “is a true gem of the Church’s heritage, and the Holy Father has taken the most important step toward making it available to many more of the faithful.”
Father Joseph Kramer, parish priest at San Gregorio dei Muratori, one of three churches in Rome permitted to celebrate Mass using the 1962 Missal, said the document “went beyond what we could ever have hoped for.”
He particularly welcomed how the Holy Father placed both rites in historical and cultural context, and stressed continuity. Placing them under one Roman Rite “certainly resolves a lot of the possible frictions that otherwise might arise,” he said.
Father Kramer also believed both rites could mutually influence the other for the better.
“It’s a great godsend and something I and my friends have been praying for, for a long time,” said Luke De Weese, a Tridentine rite devotee from Lexington, Ky. “It was greater than I expected insofar as he made it very clear in the motu proprio, and in the accompanying letter, that the pre-conciliar liturgy was never abrogated.”
Added De Weese, “It seems to me the Catholic Church is like a very large international family and in the past 50 years we’ve gone through a major crisis of identity which is centered around the crisis of how we should celebrate the liturgy.”The Document
The new directives allow that “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.”
The priests who use the Latin-language 1962 Roman Missal, however, “must be qualified to do so and not juridically impeded.” Priests are also allowed to use the Roman Breviary promulgated by John XXIII in 1962.
The papal directives state that 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,” and that lay faithful may attend.
“In parishes, where there is a stable group of faithful who adhere to the earlier liturgical tradition,” the letter states, “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 harmonizes with the ordinary pastoral care of the parish ... avoiding discord and favoring the unity of the whole Church.”
The norms allow for only one pre-Vatican II Mass to be said in parishes on Sundays and feast days.
In an accompanying explanatory letter to bishops, the Holy Father said he had issued this decree, given motu proprio (on his own initiative), for two main reasons.
Firstly, contrary to the concerns of those who feared such a change would foment division, he believes this instruction will help foster internal unity within the Church. He calls on those who may disagree to “generously open” their hearts, and reminds the Church to realize that this “extraordinary” and “ordinary” form of the Mass are not “two Rites” but actually the “twofold use of one and the same rite” and therefore “mutually enriching.”
In the history of the liturgy there is “growth and progress, but no rupture,” Pope Benedict explained. “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.”
The second reason for the document was in order to respond to the demands of some Catholics, including growing numbers of young people, who had found deformations of the modern liturgy following the Second Vatican Council “hard to bear” and wished to “recover the form of liturgy that was sacred to them.”
From his previous writings, the Holy Father is known to hold the same view, and he shared them in the letter.
“I too lived through that period with all its hopes and its confusion,” he wrote. “And I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church.”Precise Norms
To facilitate implementation of the motu proprio, he has included more “precise juridical norms.” These were lacking in the most recent document on the Tridentine rite, Pope John Paul II’s 1988 motu proprio Ecclesia Dei adflicta, which trusted bishops to generously grant permission to use the rite.
Benedict stresses that local bishops remain the overseers and custodians of the liturgy in their dioceses. And, he said, the new norms also “free bishops from constantly having to evaluate anew how they are to respond to various situations.”
Father Kramer, who celebrates the older form of the Mass in Rome, said bishops have nothing to fear. “It’s not going to be a big explosion, a big reversal of the general direction of the Church,” Father Kramer said. It’s going to make the practice of the faith easier for a relatively small number of people within Catholicism.”
He added that increasing the availability of the “old rite” will take time. “For this Mass you really need quite an infrastructure,” he said. “A priest alone in a parish with 10 or 20 people cannot really set this up. This rite requires a lot people to get it going, acolytes, sacristans, a choir, and this means a commitment not only in terms of number of people but also finances. And since these things have been disposed of over the last 40 years, they need to be put back in place.”
Edward Pentin writes