Summorum Pontificum, 5 Years Later

Pope Benedict’s 2007 motu proprio brings renewed appreciation for the sacred liturgy.

(photo: Wikipedia)

Ever since Summorum Pontificum took effect in September 2007, Mary Kraychy has heard many laudatory comments regarding the traditional Latin Mass.

Kraychy is the executive director of the Coalition in Support of Ecclesia Dei, a group formed to support Pope John Paul II’s 1988 apostolic letter, issued motu proprio (“on his own initiative”).

In the document, the Holy Father notified the Church of the excommunication of five clerics associated with the Society of St. Pius X, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre being the most notable among them.

However, Ecclesia Dei also contained the announcement of a pontifical commission by the same name, whose purpose was to facilitate the full ecclesial communion of those who had been associated with the Society of St. Pius X by allowing for wider use of the traditional Latin Mass.

“Pope John Paul II wanted the Society of St. Pius X to understand that, while he did support their appreciation for the traditional liturgy, he wanted to ensure that it would be offered under his guidance as the visible head of the Church,” Kraychy said. “He encouraged bishops to make ‘a wide and generous application of the directives’ released by the Congregation for Divine Worship in a 1984 letter regarding that very issue.”

That letter, Quattuor Abhinc Annos (Four Years Ago), was sent to the presidents of bishops’ conferences around the world. Bishops were informed that those who desired to worship according to the 1962 Missal would be able to do so, under certain conditions.

The two most significant were that those requesting such worship believe in the validity of the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970 and that such worship occur in the times and places determined by the bishop.

However, four years after the letter was released, there was still very little response to the Holy Father’s lead, Kraychy said. She attributed this to a misunderstanding of the status of the 1962 Missal in the Church. “There was a belief, common among bishops and laity, that the traditional Latin Mass was peculiar, archaic or even downright unacceptable,” she said. “There was a widespread impression that the ‘old Mass’ had been outlawed forever and that ‘piano and guitar Masses’ in English were now the norm.”

Kraychy didn’t want to stand by while this notion prevailed.

In an attempt to improve the situation, she formed, along with 14 other laypeople, the Coalition in Support of Ecclesia Dei (distinct from the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei). “We started doing everything we could to make known the status of the traditional liturgy and to encourage its broader availability,” she said.

These efforts met with success, but nothing along the lines of what happened after Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum, also issued motu proprio, took effect on Sept. 14, 2007.

On that date, priests in the Latin rite were no longer obliged to ask permission of their bishop to offer the traditional liturgy.

The 1962 Missal was officially opened up to any priest who wished to use it and to any “stable group of the faithful” who wished to participate in its use.

The Holy Father’s action facilitated an upsurge in the number of traditional Latin Masses offered.

By September 2007, Kraychy counted 235 Sunday Masses regularly offered according to the 1962 Missal in the United States. Five years later, the number has grown to 475.

“We had seen a slow but steady increase in the number of Sunday Latin Masses prior to September of 2007, but since then, it has become a rapid and steady increase. If you take the previous five-year period [2002-2007], there was a net gain of 55 Sunday Masses, while in the last five years, there was net gain of 240,” she said.

When it comes to weekday Masses, the numbers appear to be even more impressive, Kraychy believes, although the coalition does not keep exact figures for them.

“In addition to the priests who offer the extraordinary form exclusively, there are many more who do so on a limited basis, usually during the week,” she said. “The former group is comprised mostly of order priests, such as those from the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter [FSSP] and the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest. The latter group is mostly made up of diocesan priests.”

Diocesan priests constitute the majority of participants at liturgical workshops sponsored by the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius. The classes on topics like the history, spirituality and rubrics of the traditional Latin Mass started just prior to the release of Summorum Pontificum and continue to this day.

Over the past five years, almost 1,000 priests and seminarians have been trained by the Canons Regular to offer Mass according to the 1962 Missal. Roughly 80% of these participants are from dioceses, and 20% belong to religious orders.

The next workshop will take place Oct. 23-26 in Chicago, where the 1,000th participant will be trained. This is in stark contrast to the years before Summorum Pontificum, when Father Scott Haynes of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius said training occurred only on an as-requested basis: “Before the release of the Holy Father’s motu proprio, we had one or two priests at a time come to us for assistance in learning the 1962 Missal. Then, immediately before it came out, we had our first official workshop, and we haven’t let up since. We’re very pleased with the Holy Father’s action, and we’re eager to help more priests and seminarians learn what is now called the ‘extraordinary form.’”

There is an online tutorial available at the Canons Regular’s website (, along with other resources on the traditional liturgy, such as CDs, DVDs and books.

A new book, The Mystical Theology of the Mass, will be added to the assortment later this year. It was written by Father Haynes and includes a foreword by Cardinal Raymond Burke and an introduction by Alice von Hildebrand. The book — and many of the other resources — are designed for both clergy and the laity.

The Canons Regular also provide instruction for laypeople, and Father Haynes welcomes this opportunity to make the extraordinary form better understood and accepted.

“There are definitely laypeople who already have a desire to participate in the extraordinary form, but there are some who aren’t sure what to expect, and some are even apprehensive,” he said. “We want to assure them that while there are different forms of the Mass, we’re all Catholic, and we’re not in a competition. We’re simply trying to give due honor to almighty God through reverent worship.”

The goal of reverent worship has also been a hallmark of Jesuit Father Joseph Fessio’s life. The founder and president of Ignatius Press believes that the Mass can be offered reverently in both the ordinary form (according to the Missal of Pope Paul VI) and in the extraordinary form (according to the Missal of Blessed Pope John XXIII).

“While it may surprise some people, I think the ordinary form of the Mass, if it is actually conducted as Pope Paul VI intended, can be just as beautiful as the extraordinary form,” Father Fessio stated. “But it can’t be done arbitrarily, as it largely has been over the past four decades. It has to be done as it was truly intended by Pope Paul VI.”

What does such a Mass look like? Father Fessio indicates that it looks much like a Mass offered according to the 1962 Missal.

This is one of the reasons he doesn’t use the unqualified term “Latin Mass” regarding the older Missal. “The specific reasons people list for attending the extraordinary form are things such as use of Latin, the priest facing the same direction as the congregation, the employment of Gregorian chant. Yet all of these can be done with the ordinary form.”

Father Fessio utilizes these features at his own Masses, including those he celebrated recently at the Napa Institute’s second annual conference. “At the Napa conference in late July, there were four to five Masses per day, and all of them were done ad orientem — with priest and people facing in the same direction. This was true of the ordinary and the extraordinary form, and no one seemed to have a problem with it.”

A major reason why it went so smoothly, Father Fessio believes, was Summorum Pontificum, which made the extraordinary form more available than it had been. “There’s no question that Summorum has made the extraordinary form more available, so the faithful have been able to witness the beauty of the traditional liturgy firsthand. The horror and hostility expressed by some at the release of Summorum have been blunted by the reality before their eyes. For five years we’ve seen that there’s nothing to fear, but much to be thankful for.”

This gratitude has made Father Fessio’s work of restoring the novus ordo Mass much easier. “When the faithful realize the novus ordo was supposed to be an organic development of tradition, rather than a break from it, things go more smoothly in steering it to where it should be,” he said.

One major inspiration for Father Fessio’s labors is Pope Benedict, who taught him in graduate school. “I was very fortunate to learn from one of the best minds in the Church while pursuing my doctorate in theology,” Father Fessio said. “He has had important things to say on so many topics, but the liturgy is one realm that might stand out above the rest. Even in the 1970s, he was publicly questioning the reforms taking place, because they were not called for by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, and they did not constitute an organic development of the liturgy.”

These criticisms didn’t become well known in the English-speaking world until Ignatius Press published The Ratzinger Report in 1985 and Feast of Faith in 1986. Then, in 2000, came The Spirit of the Liturgy, his best-known work on the topic.

By the time he succeeded Pope John Paul II in 2005, a number of observers expected Pope Benedict to do something grand regarding the traditional liturgy. Their expectations were met in 2007 with the release of Summorum Pontificum, a document that has helped in very practical ways to renew appreciation for the sacred liturgy in the hearts and minds of the faithful.

Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.