Dossier on the Motu Proprio of Benedict XVI: Summorum Pontificum cura
There is a paragraph in the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy that would seem to have a bearing on the question of the canonical status of the Missal of St Pius V (henceforth also referred to as “Old Mass” or “Old Rite”). Before specifying the ways in which the rite of Mass is to be revised, Sacrosanctum Concilium states in paragraph 49:
For this reason the sacred Council, having in mind those Masses which are celebrated with the assistance of the faithful, especially on Sundays and feasts of obligation, has made the following decrees in order that the sacrifice of the Mass, even in the ritual forms of its celebration, may become pastorally efficacious to the fullest degree.
Quapropter, ut Sacrificium Missae, etiam rituum forma, plenam pastoralem efficacitatem assequatur, Sacrosanctum Concilium, ratione habita Missarum, quae concurrente populo celebrantur, praesertim diebus dominicis et festis de praecepto, ea quae sequuntur decernit.
This passage presumes that there are two forms of the rite of Mass, one with the assistance of the faithful, especially on Sundays and feasts of obligation (cum populo), and one without the assistance of the faithful (sine populo). It would seem to be the Council’s intention that the revisions, which are introduced in the subsequent paragraphs of Sacrosanctum Concilium, concern only the rite of Mass cum populo. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy obviously envisages that the Old Mass continues to exist as the priest’s form of celebrating the Eucharistic sacrifice sine populo; this would also mean that priest have a right to celebrate the Old Rite as a private Mass.
The Constitution Missale Romanum of Pope Paul VI (1969)
Pope Paul VI’s Constitution Missale Romanum of 1969 is, as the subtitle makes clear, “a promulgation of the Roman Missal revised by the decree of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council”. The Constitution merely proposes a new form of the Mass, but it does not contain any clauses that would indicate the abrogation, that is, the abolition by total substitution of the Missal of Pope St Pius V.
The Bull Quo Primum, issued by Pius V in 1570, codified and consolidated the immemorial and universal custom that had regulated the Roman liturgy through the centuries from the time of Gregory the Great at the end of the sixth century. Two points are worth noting here:
First, to Quo Primum we can, in any case, apply can. 21 CIC: “In dubio revocatio legis praexistentis non praesumitur, sed leges posteriores ad priores trahendae sunt et his, quantum fieri potest, conciliandae”. For all practical purposes this means that if the Old Mass has lost its privileged position, it nevertheless continues to exist and the faithful have a right to it.
Secondly, the Constitution Missale Romanum did not explicitly abolish (as the law required) the immemorial and universal custom on which, before Quo Primum (and later together with it), rested the Old Mass. Therefore it continues to exist although it is perhaps no longer protected by a written law. This was noted by scholars, but even then no supplementary law was passed to abolish that custom.
Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, whom Paul VI put in charge of the post-conciliar liturgical reform, wanted to obtain an explicit ruling to the effect that the Novus Ordo Missae of 1970 abrogates the Old Mass, so that the latter would be suppressed de jure. To apply for such a ruling to the Pontifical Commission for the Interpretation of Conciliar Documents, he needed permission from the Cardinal Secretary of State. On 10 June 1974 the Secretary of State refused to give the requested permission on the grounds that such an attempt would be seen as “casting odium on the liturgical tradition” (A. Bugnini, The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-1975, Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1990, p. 300-301).
The Indult Quattuor Abhinc Annos of Pope John Paul II (1984)
On 3 October 1984, Pope John Paul II promulgated the Indult Quattuor abhinc annos in which he allowed bishops to grant the Old Mass to those faithful who would request it. An indult is a measure by which somebody invested with authority in the Church can grant, in order to favour the salvation of souls (which is the purpose of canon law, before which all laws must bow), an exception to the law (derogation); it is akin to dispensation, but with a wider scope.
An indult, therefore, presupposes the existence of a law which has to be relaxed, in our case a law which had forbidden or abolished the Old Mass. As we have seen, such a law does not exist, and therefore in this case, strictly speaking, “indult” is a misnomer, since the faithful even today have a right to the Old Mass on the basis of the non-abolished immemorial custom.
The Commissio Cardinalitia of 1986
In 1986 Pope John Paul II appointed a commission of nine cardinals to examine the legal status of the Old Mass. The commission consisted of Agostino Cardinal Casaroli, Bernard Cardinal Gantin, Paul Augustin Cardinal Mayer, Antonio Cardinal Innocenti, Silvio Cardinal Oddi, Petro Cardinal Palazzini, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Alfons Cardinal Stickler and Jozef Cardinal Tomko and it was instructed to examine whether the New Rite of Mass promulgated by Pope Paul VI abrogated the Old Rite, and whether a bishop can prohibit his priests from celebrating the Old Mass.
The commission met in December 1986. Eight of nine cardinals answered that the New Mass had not abrogated the Old Mass. The nine cardinals unanimously determined that Pope Paul VI never gave the bishops the authority to forbid priest from celebrating Mass according to the Missal of St Pius V. The commission judged the conditions for the 1984 indult too restrictive and proposed their relaxation. These conclusions served as functional guidelines for the Commission Ecclesia Dei, but they were never promulgated.
In this context, it should be noted that the Holy See does recognize the right of the priest to celebrate the traditional Mass; this is borne out by the fact that whenever priests are unjustly suspended for celebrating the Old Mass against the will of their bishops, the Roman Curia always nullifies the penalty whenever the cases are appealed. It is the present jurisprudence of the Church that, upon appeal, any suspension that an Ordinary attempts to inflict on a priest for celebrating the Old Mass against the will of the bishop is automatically nullified.
The Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei Adflicta of Pope John Paul II (1988)
On 2 July 1988 Pope John Paul II promulgated his Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei in which he expressed his will to guarantee respect for the rightful aspirations of those attached to the Latin liturgical tradition, and in order to achieve this aim he established the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei.
In a letter to the Ecclesia Dei Society of Australia dated 11 May 1990 Cardinal Mayer gives an authoritative interpretation of the Motu Proprio. The President of the Ecclesia Dei Commission criticizes the Congregation for Divine Worship for sabotaging the Pope’s intentions, and then proceeds to explain the privilege granted by Ecclesia Dei while at the same time suggesting that the old Mass was never really abolished:
It should be noted that the somewhat pejorative language of Quattuor abhinc annos with regard to “the problem of priests and faithful holding to the so-called Tridentine Mass” was completely avoided in the Apostolic Letter Ecclesia Dei. In the latter document issued by the Supreme Pontiff himself reference is simply made to “those Catholic faithful who feel attached to some previous liturgical and disciplinary forms of the Latin tradition” (5, c) and “those who are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition” (6, c). It would seem unduly prejudicial to continue referring to allusions in the earlier document of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments which have been superseded by a papal Motu Proprio.
Cardinal Medina on the Third Editio Typica of the Missal of Paul VI (2002)
Cardinal Medina Estévez, Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship writes in a letter of 21 May 2004:
I reaffirm my personal opinion that the abrogation of the Missal of St Pius V is not proven and I can add that the decree that I signed promulgating the third typical edition of the Roman Missal does not contain any clause that abrogates the ancient form of the Roman Rite. (…) And I can also add that the absence of any abrogation clause whatsoever did not happen by chance, nor as it caused by inadvertence, but was intentional.
An English version of this letter is published in Mass of Ages, November 2005, p. 28.
The present Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, was himself involved in the Commission; I should like to end with a quotation from his book God and the World (published originally in German in the year 2000):
For fostering a true consciousness in liturgical matters, it is also important that the proscription against the form of liturgy in valid use up to 1970 should be lifted. Anyone who nowadays advocates the continuing existence of this liturgy or takes part in it is treated like a leper; all tolerance ends here. There has never been anything like this in history; in doing this we are despising and proscribing the Church’s whole past. How can one trust her present if things are that way? I must say, quite openly, that I don’t understand why so any of my episcopal brethren have to a great extent submitted to this rule of intolerance, which for no apparent reason is opposed to making the necessary inner reconciliations within the Church.
J. Ratzinger, God and the World: A Conversation with Peter Seewald,San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002, 416.
Bibliography by Uwe Michael lang
– Neri Capponi, “Bishops against the Pope: The Motu Proprio ‘Ecclesia Dei’ and the Extension of the Indult”, in The Latin Mass, Winter 1996
– Georg May, Die alte und die neue Messe. Die Rechtslage hinsichtlich des Ordo Missae, 4. durchgesehene und durch ein Register ergänzte Auflage, Sankt Augustin: Richarz, 1991
2. THE ‘RENOVATIO’ OF THE ROMAN MISSAL
1. The Ordo Missae and the Institutio generalis Missalis Romani promulgated with the Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanum of Paul VI, constitute – as the said document itself states - a “renovatio” of the Roman Missal promulgated by St. Pius V by decree of the Council of Trent in 1570, and in fact the Constitution praises the Missal for the fruits of evangelisation and holiness gained in four centuries by both priests and faithful.
Pope Pius XII – the Constitution recalls– noted the need for revision and enrichment, calling for a revision of the Ordo of Holy Week; thence “huiusmodi Missalis Romani renovatio nequaquam ex improvviso inducta putanda est”. Even the Roman Missal of 1570 was the result of comparison and revision of ancients manuscripts and liturgical fonts, including eastern fonts, brought again into the light.
With regard to the rites of the Ordo Missae the Constitution states: “probe servata eorum substantia, simpliciores facti sunt”. Furthermore it says the Missal was revised introducing, in addtion to the venerable patrimony of the Roman Liturgy, new norms for celebration.
2. Despite some perplexity provoked by certain modern language versions, the “renovatio” of the other parts of the Missal is part of the physiological process of formation of liturgical books beginning with the ancient Roman Sacramentaries and eastern Euchologies of which, as we know, there were various editions, although one never abrogated the other. If the Gregorian Sacramentary and the Missal of St Pius V, for example, had been abrogated, how could one have drawn from them for the “renovatio”? Novus simply means the latest, ulterior development, not something different. Precisely because of coherent progress, the Missal is the tool of a degree of liturgical unity, in which there exist “legitimas varietates et aptationes”(cfr Sacrosanctum Concilium, n 38-40).
Now, everyone knows that the new Ordo contains no few variants; indeed in the Editio Typica of 2000 they are even more numerous and are indicated, for example, with terms such as “vel” and “ pro opportunitate”. So it happens that on the one hand, some use these variants to distort, defer or even omit certain parts; on the other, there are those who prefer to use always the same eucharistic prayer and formulas. So, why should we wonder that some ask to use only the Roman Canon, certain prefaces and the ritual structures of the Roman Missal in the 1962 Edition issued by Pope John XXIII, and erroneously referred to as the “Tridentine rite”?
Therefore Vatican II operated in the context of tradition and in tradition is set the legitimacy of the Ordo of Paul VI which is not in opposition to that of his predecessor, it never has been. So, no liturgical book or part of it has been abrogated, unless it contained errors: which happened precisely for the Institutio generalis Missalis Romani in 1969 when it had just been published and which Paul VI suspended for certain doctrinal ‘inaccuracies' and then had published again in May 1970 with amendments made at paragraph 7.
3. Everyone is called to acknowledge the Missal as an eloquent expression of Church Tradition: it is senseless to de-legitimate anything of the old rite - it would be like severing the roots - from which the new comes, revealing the fecundity of the old. John Paul II recalled that “in the Roman Missal of St Pius V, as in many Easter Liturgies, there are beautiful prayers with which the priest expresses a most profound sense of humility and reverence before the holy mysteries: those prayers reveal the very substance of the Liturgy”( 21 September 2001).
Not to mention the criteria of reciprocal generosity and mercy which should exist in the Church, following the Lord's example. Precisely this was the sense of an Indult issued by John Paul II on 3 October 1984 to celebrate Mass according to the Roman Missal of 1962 and now the Motu Proprio of Benedict XVI; this does not discredit the Liturgical Renewal as such but concern for the unity of the Church prevails 1. Because rather any hardening of positions, for the Liturgy must be valid the principle of Ecclesia semper reformanda, with the wise balance of nova et vetera taught by the Gospel
We can conclude with an important text of the then Cardinal Ratzinger, who gave a conference on 24 October 1998 for pilgrims who had come to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei issued by John Paul II:
“The Council did not reform (in the sense of re-invent) the liturgical books, it ordered their revision and issued certain basic norms for that revision. In the first place the Council gave a definition of the Liturgy, and this definition is the term of comparison for every liturgical celebration. Whoever overlooks these norms or puts aside the normae generales found at paragraphs 34 - 36 of the Constitutio De Sacra Liturgia (SC), is certainly guilty of disobedience towards the Council! It is in the light of these criteria that liturgical celebrations must be assessed, whether they follow the old books or the new ones. It is good to recall here that Cardinal Newman observed that throughout her history the Church never abolished or banned orthodox forms of liturgy, something which would have been quite alien to the ecclesial spirit. An orthodox liturgy, that is, one which reveals the true faith, is never a compilation of various ceremonies, performed according to pragmatic criteria, constructed in a positivistic and arbitrary manner, today in such a way, tomorrow in another. Orthodox forms of a rite are a living reality, born of a dialogue of love between the Church and her Spouse. They are the expression of the Church's life and have nourished faith, prayer and true life of generations and in specific forms they incarnate both God's initiative and man's response. These rites can come to an end if those who used them in a particular epoch die, or if the living conditions of those people should change. The Church authority has the power to define and limit the use of such rites in the different historical situations, but she can never simply ban them! So the Council ordered the reform of the Liturgical Books but it did not ban the previous ones” (Notiziario 126-127 di UNA VOCE).
Rigidity and uniformity requested by certain well known liturgists, has never been part of the Church's liturgical practice. The Indult was a call for tolerance, the Motu Proprio amplified and, hopefully, implemented it more fully.
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