Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

The Key Points in Universae Ecclesiae

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | May 13, 2011

It is difficult for me to be sympathetic to the endless quarrels over the liturgy. I like to think this is because the only factor of real concern to me in liturgical celebration is whether or not we imitate Christ by our obedience. But I must also admit that I am not particularly liturgically oriented, and I tend not to become emotionally attached to liturgy of any type. Nor do I believe that any particular approved liturgy is intrinsically associated with either better doctrine or superior piety. This may be helpful in trying to see the big picture, but it doesn’t help me bond with those who are passionate on the subject.

So what does a cold observer see in the latest Vatican Instruction on the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, Universae Ecclesiae? I see four major points:

  1. The extraordinary form is just that, extraordinary. A presumably discontented user has already posted a comment in response to our news story on the Instruction to the effect that the terminology of “ordinary” and “extraordinary” do not reflect the “equal dignity” the Vatican claims for the older form. While this comment is not accurate, since dignity does not depend on frequency of use, it unwittingly underlines a central point in Benedict’s effort to make the extraordinary form more widely available, a point which is by the very nature of things presupposed in every provision of Universae Ecclesiae. The so-called Novus Ordo, the missal of Paul VI, is in fact the ordinary form of the Roman Rite. The so-called Tridentine Mass, in the form of the missal of John XXIII, is to be considered extraordinary, a liturgy to be celebrated when those who are particularly attached to it wish it. It is not—and is not intended to be—the ordinary or regular form of the rite, the form celebrated by default, as it were, in the universal Church.
  2. Benedict XVI is enduringly serious about meeting traditional liturgical desires. This latest Instruction is yet another administrative effort to get bishops to provide the extraordinary form wherever there is a genuinely Catholic desire for it (see point 4, below). It makes it very clear that any stable group of the faithful is to be accommodated, it defines the terms, and it makes clear that even a collection of persons from an individual parish who manifest a fresh desire for the extraordinary form (i.e., not just before but after the promulgation of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum) constitute such a group. Moreover, any priest is to be judged qualified to celebrate the extraordinary form with a congregation if he can properly understand and verbalize the Latin text, if he presents himself voluntarily to do so, and if he has celebrated according to the Extraordinary Form in the past. Bishops are to make adequate training available and, in the absence of qualified priests, they may request priests from approved Institutes which celebrate according to the extraordinary form. Finally, all priests have the right to celebrate according to the extraordinary form sine populo (without the people, privately) without any further permission from their ecclesiastical superiors.
  3. Some resistance to the extraordinary form will continue. Although larger disputes are to be handled by the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, it is both natural and necessary that “in deciding individual cases, the pastor…is to be guided by his own prudence,” though “motivated by pastoral zeal and a spirit of generous welcome” (17.1). Similarly, it is inescapable that it belongs to the diocesan bishops “to monitor liturgical matters in order to guarantee the common good and to ensure that everything is proceeding in peace and serenity in their Dioceses”, even if this responsibility is to be carried on “always in agreement with the mens [mind] of the Holy Father clearly expressed by the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum.” Inevitably then, the attitudes of individual pastors and bishops will determine how easy or difficult it is for “stable groups of the faithful” to have their desires for the extraordinary form met. Universae Ecclesiae simply offers greater clarity and applies a little more pressure to accommodate them.
  4. There is a “fidelity” requirement. I mentionied earlier that there must be a “genuinely Catholic desire” for the extraordinary form. Most proponents of the extraordinary form have argued that the ordinary form has contributed to the doctrinal confusion and moral laxity in the Church over the past two generations. But some proponents have gone considerably farther by refusing their obedience to disciplinary and doctrinal decisions of the Holy See and also by declaring the ordinary form of the Roman Rite to be invalid—that is, incapable of being used to confect the Eucharist. Whatever the sources of recent Catholic confusion, which the last two popes have so clearly attempted to correct on many fronts, neither Benedict XVI nor the Ecclesia Dei Commission are prepared to give a pass to proponents of the extraordinary form who remain disobedient. Thus the final requirement for fulfilling the requests of stable groups of the faithful reads as follows:
    The faithful who ask for the celebration of the forma extraordinaria must not in any way support or belong to groups which show themselves to be against the validity or legitimacy of the Holy Mass or the Sacraments celebrated in the forma ordinaria or against the Roman Pontiff as Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church. (19)

Universae Ecclesiae also details the use of the Extraordinary Form for Confirmation, Holy Orders, the Breviary, the Sacred Triduum, and the rites of religious orders. One could also speculate on Benedict’s full range of motives in sticking with his program for the extraordinary form, but these are not at all addressed in the Instruction. In terms of what Universae Ecclesiae specifically covers, I believe the most important points to be taken from the document are the four I have enumerated above.

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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  • Posted by: - May. 17, 2011 8:41 AM ET USA

    While it is certainly true that neither form guarantees better doctrine or superior piety, it's clear to me both through observation and experience that the NO, with its endemic deficiencies in form and practice, lies at the heart of the dilution and banalization of the Faith. Lex orandi, lex credendi: it's that simple. The elevation of the EF will do a great service to the NO through a challenge to authenticity, majesty, mystery, humility, hierarchy, universality, and proximity to the Lord.

  • Posted by: Te_Deum - May. 17, 2011 6:21 AM ET USA

    Being in a traditional parish which offers both forms, with the ordinary form being celebrated in a very reserved way, I can attest that how the ordinary form is celebrated matters. For most people, the line between how the OF is suppose to be celebrated and the many innovations foreign to what was written at Vatican II has caused much confusion about the nature of worship itself, which should always be God-centered regardless of form.

  • Posted by: bkmajer3729 - May. 16, 2011 11:00 PM ET USA

    The Holy Spirit knew what He was doing in Vatican II. The stakes are indeed huge. Interestingly debate context never allows comparative discussion of other approved Rites (i.e. Byzantine). Christ's presence is identical regardless of Rite form. Feeling is important but what we do at Mass is less important than what God does. Everyone seems to have the right answer here but Rome. No disrespect - what makes any Mass extraordinary is THE Mystical Event given to us by Christ.

  • Posted by: Justin8110 - May. 16, 2011 8:19 PM ET USA

    I'm so happy the Holy Father is trying to make the traditional Latin Mass more available. One of the joys of being a Catholic is the traditional Latin Mass, at least for me it is. If I had a choice I would attend the old rite exclusively and I look forward to a time when all Catholics will be able to make that choice for themselves. Thank God there is an FSSP parish only 40 minutes from me where the Faith is preached without apology or fuzziness and the Mass is reverent.

  • Posted by: - May. 16, 2011 7:51 PM ET USA

    I agree with most everything you said except for deciding that the issues are emotionaly based. The Mass is the "School of the Eucharist". The Mass is to teach us Charity, to receive, Jesus, God, Love, Charity, and go out to the rest of the world to love them. If there are significant flaws in the way we we do our liturgy (which I believe there are), it will affect our prayer and faith life outside of Mass.

  • Posted by: - May. 16, 2011 7:17 PM ET USA

    Obviously, many of the bishops believed, and still believe, that the mass of the ages represents a threat of some kind. Make of that what you will, but "emotional attachment" doesn't seem to be the issue.

  • Posted by: - May. 15, 2011 7:42 AM ET USA

    Many believe that the 'horizontalization' of the Mass embodied in the Ordinary Form is at the heart of the present widespread collapse of faith and doctrinal confusion. It's not merely a matter of aesthetics that cause many to want the EF Mass: it's about re-verticalizing the Mass, re-envigorating the faith, and ultimately saving the world. The stakes are huge.

  • Posted by: - May. 14, 2011 12:22 PM ET USA

    What makes the Tridentine Mass extraordinary is that a tourist traveling all over Europe could attend Sunday Mass in any country, whatever the vernacular, and with his own missal, follow the entire Mass, missing only the homily. Now THAT'S something truly Catholic, truly universal. It would also make it much easier for the Church to accommodate a parish with diverse linguistic needs, without needing priests who know so many languages for Sunday masses, let alone deciding which daily mass to say.

  • Posted by: koinonia - May. 14, 2011 9:41 AM ET USA

    Pope Benedict writes: "What was sacred to prior generations remains sacred and great for us as well, and cannot suddenly be prohibited altogether or even judged harmful." Therein lies the problem. For decades many were maligned and even condemned for saying the same thing he is saying. I believe this pontiff values the connection between liturgy and doctrine, and I believe this is the major impetus for his remarkable efforts to set the record straight. Interesting and extraordinary times.

  • Posted by: koinonia - May. 13, 2011 10:13 PM ET USA

    There is much more to the liturgical "quarrels" than emotional attachments. And this is true for all parties involved. The Church exists to save souls. There is no more efficacious means than the holy sacrifice of the Mass. Pope Benedict's actions are remarkable. They are unprecedented, and I don't blame liberals one bit for being angry. Many are toppling overboard as the Barque makes a hard turn to starboard in a short time. One wonders just what the Holy Father sees lying ahead.

  • Posted by: BLRallo3059 - May. 13, 2011 4:54 PM ET USA

    While I don't have a doctrinal beef with the Novus Ordo, I do have one with the banal and just plain ugly music and language that are the norm in so many parishes. I don't get the uproar over some Latin now and then, especially beautiful refrains like Angus Dei and Sanctus. I grew up with the Latin Mass, sang in the Gregorian choir in school and remember all of it fondly. Tambourines at Mass are neither reverential nor beautiful. Some compromise would go a long way towards muting complaints.