The chairman of the U.K.’s Latin Mass Society described it as a “wonderful day for the Church,” while the chairman of Una Voce America said it was another decisive turning point in the Holy Father’s program of further unifying the faithful.

They were commenting on Universae Ecclesiae, the new Vatican instruction which calls on local bishops and pastors to respond generously to Catholics who seek celebration of the Mass in the extraordinary form, according to the 1962 Roman Missal.

The instruction, issued May 13, said priests should approve such Masses for groups of faithful, even when such groups are small or are formed of people from different parishes or dioceses. These faithful cannot, however, contest the validity of the modern Mass or the authority of the Pope.

“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,” it said. The instruction added that, depending on pastoral needs, bishops should make sure seminarians are trained in celebrating the traditional Latin liturgy, otherwise known as the extraordinary form of the Mass.

At the same time, the Vatican said the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei would be responsible for ensuring local Church officials were making the old rite available where warranted.

The instruction was issued by the Ecclesia Dei commission and approved by Pope Benedict XVI. It came nearly four years after the Pope, in a motu proprio letter entitled Summorum Pontificum, relaxed restrictions on use of the extraordinary form and said it should be made available in every parish where groups of the faithful desire it.

The new instruction primarily reaffirms and strengthens Summorum Pontificum; it aims to clarify and resolve some of the disputes that have arisen since its implementation in 2007. One of the most significant problems has been resistance by some bishops to requests from the faithful for the extraordinary form of the Mass.

In comments to the Register May 17, Michael Dunnigan, chairman of the old Mass group Una Voce America, said Universae Ecclesiae marked “another decisive turning point in the Holy Father’s program of insisting that the rupture between the post-Vatican II Church and the pre-Vatican II Church be healed.” He added: “The Holy See has reaffirmed Summorum Pontificum unmistakably, and, most significantly, it has placed unprecedented emphasis on the rights of the faithful to have access to this form of the Mass.”

Giving examples of how the new instruction “clears away” many of the reasons some bishops have used to prevent celebration of the old Mass, he pointed out that the instruction does not require priests to be Latin experts. Dunnigan said the instruction proclaims “in clear terms that this Mass is the spiritual patrimony of anyone who wishes to attend it, and not merely of those who happen to have grown up with it.”

In a section listing “specific norms,” the instruction addressed several of these issues, including the question of who can celebrate the so-called Tridentine Mass. It said that priests who use the 1962 Roman Missal must be “qualified” to do so, but did not spell out requirements.

In an explanatory note, the Vatican said the instruction was “a very balanced text, which seeks to promote — as the Pope intended — the peaceful use of the liturgy.” At the same time, it added, the text “is animated by faith in the bishops’ pastoral wisdom and insists very strongly on the spirit of ecclesial communion, which must be present in everyone — faithful, priests, bishops — so that the purpose of reconciliation, as it is present in the Holy Father’s decision, is not impeded or frustrated, but encouraged and achieved.”

Writing in L’Osservatore Romano May 14, Msgr. Guido Pozzo, secretary of Ecclesia Dei, further emphasized the conciliatory nature of the instruction.

The Pope, he wrote, “wanted to help all Catholics to live the truth of the liturgy in order that, by knowing and participating in the old Roman form of celebration, they might grasp that the [Second Vatican Council’s] Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium wanted to reform the liturgy in continuity with tradition.”

Joseph Shaw, chairman of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales, said the instruction “confirmed what we all knew — that Summorum Pontificum is a gift to the whole Church designed to end the ‘liturgy wars’ and establish the full membership of the extraordinary form.”

Some believe its warning against groups who are against the modern Mass, or groups that are “against the authority of the Pope,” was a reference to the breakaway ultra-traditionalist Society of St. Pius X or Society of St. Pius V. However, the SSPX claims the Pope’s lifting of the excommunications on four of its bishops in 2009 was made “precisely because Rome considered that they were not opposed to the primacy of the Pope.”

Nevertheless, contrary to the Pope’s own views, the fraternity has stated there was a “divergence” between the traditional Mass and the Novus Ordo Missae (modern Mass) — a divergence, it believes, that can only be resolved on a “doctrinal basis.”

Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, told reporters May 14 that the Pope’s long-term aim is not simply to allow the old and new rites to coexist, but to move toward a “common rite” that is shaped by the mutual enrichment of the two Mass forms. He said that, in effect, the Pope is launching a new liturgical-reform movement, and those who resist it, including “rigid” progressives, mistakenly view the Second Vatican Council as a rupture with the Church’s liturgical tradition.

Edward Pentin writes from Rome.