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A Turf War over Summorum Pontificum?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Jul 12, 2007

Some people claim Summorum Pontificum authorizes a wider use of the 1962 Roman Missal. Others assert that its obvious purpose is to encourage the development of retreat centers and to declare St. Ignatius of Loyola the Patron of Spiritual Exercises.

What nobody in this heated controversy seems to realize is that there are two magisterial documents named Summorum Pontificum. The first was an encyclical issued by Pius XI in July of 1922 in praise of St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. The second was a motu proprio by Benedict XVI in July of 2007, on the subject of the Roman Missal of John XXIII.

Since both documents were issued in July, the confusion is understandable. But is all about clearing up confusion. For example, one must distinguish between the two types of documents. An encyclical is generally a document sent to all the bishops, and so to the whole Church, offering the Pope’s reflections and teaching on an important issue. A motu proprio is a specific, concrete decision or decree of the pope “given by his own motion” (motu proprio data), which means he has decided the matter personally instead of leaving it to subordinates, such as one of the Congregations.

There is also a significant difference between Benedict XVI and Pius XI, but we don’t want to strain after gnats. In any case, even as I write, our Vatican moles are scouring the Archives for any other possible befuddling data. If anything more comes to light, you’ll be the first to know. When it comes to renewing your pledges, please remember where you heard it first, and how indispensable we are.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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