Saturday, July 7, 2007

Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum wherein in the long awaited motu proprio is finally issued

Today His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI officially promulgated his much anticipated motu proprio allowing for the broader use of the 1962 Latin Missale Romanum, published by Pope John XXIII just prior to the Second Vatican Council. This form of the one Roman Liturgy, according to the motu, is to be used as an extraordinary form with the Mass promulgated by Pope Paul VI after the Council remaining the ordinary and normative form of the Roman Rite. This decision handed down on the Pope's own authority (which is what motu proprio means) goes into effect on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, which is 14 September 2007.

The motu was issued in the form of an Apostolic Letter and is entitled Summorum Pontificum. Along with the Apostolic Letter, Pope Benedict simultaneously published a letter to all Roman Rite bishops in the world in which, after giving a brief overview of the Roman liturgy from 1962 to the present, the Holy Father explains his rationale for issuing the motu. "This document," writes the Holy Father, "was most directly opposed on account of two fears, which I would like to address somewhat more closely in this letter.

"In the first place, there is the fear that the document detracts from the authority of the Second Vatican Council, one of whose essential decisions - the liturgical reform - is being called into question.

"This fear is unfounded. In this regard, it must first be said that the Missal published by Paul VI and then republished in two subsequent editions by John Paul II, obviously is and continues to be the normal form - the 'Forma ordinaria' - of the Eucharistic liturgy. The last version of the 'Missale Romanum' prior to the Council, which was published with the authority of Pope John XXIII in 1962 and used during the Council, will now be able to be used as a 'Forma extraordinaria' of the liturgical celebration. It is not appropriate to speak of these two versions of the Roman Missal as if they were 'two rites.' Rather, it is a matter of a twofold use of one and the same rite."

He continues: "In the second place, the fear was expressed in discussions about the awaited Motu Proprio, that the possibility of a wider use of the 1962 Missal would lead to disarray or even divisions within parish communities. This fear also strikes me as quite unfounded. The use of the old Missal presupposes a certain degree of liturgical formation and some knowledge of the Latin language; neither of these is found very often. Already from these concrete presuppositions, it is clearly seen that the new Missal will certainly remain the ordinary form of the Roman Rite, not only on account of the juridical norms, but also because of the actual situation of the communities of the faithful."

Pope Benedict then gives "the positive reason which motivated my decision to issue this Motu Proprio updating that of 1988. It is a matter of coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church. Looking back over the past, to the divisions which in the course of the centuries have rent the Body of Christ, one continually has the impression that, at critical moments when divisions were coming about, not enough was done by the Church's leaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity. One has the impression that omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were able to harden. This glance at the past imposes an obligation on us today: to make every effort to unable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew. I think of a sentence in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, where Paul writes: 'Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return . widen your hearts also!' (2 Cor 6:11-13). Paul was certainly speaking in another context, but his exhortation can and must touch us too, precisely on this subject. Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows."

Article 1 of Summorum Pontifice:
"The Roman Missal promulgated by Paul VI is the ordinary expression of the 'Lex orandi' (Law of prayer) of the Catholic Church of the Latin rite. Nonetheless, the Roman Missal promulgated by St. Pius V and reissued by Bl. John XXIII is to be considered as an extraordinary expression of that same 'Lex orandi,' and must be given due honour for its venerable and ancient usage. These two expressions of the Church's Lex orandi will in no any way lead to a division in the Church's 'Lex credendi' (Law of belief). They are, in fact two usages of the one Roman rite."

Without getting too deeply into it, I find this article dubious. Just as I am not convinced by the arguments set forth in the letter to Roman Rite bishops that seeks to assuage their fears about this change, which takes the celebration of the 1962 liturgy out of their hands, such a drastic change in the lex orandi of the Church must necessarily affect the Church's lex credendi, not to mention our lex agendi. It is a giant step in the wrong direction to allow any kind of normativity for the private celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy, which permitting the 1962 Rite clearly does in Article 2, which reads in part, "In Masses celebrated without the people, each Catholic priest of the Latin rite, whether secular or regular, may use the Roman Missal published by Bl. Pope John XXIII in 1962, or the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970." I have to admit in all fairness that when it comes to the eucharistic liturgy, I am a Sunday/Holy Day of obligation mass-goer and a Lauds/Vespers prayer the rest of the time. Hence, I am fairly Eastern Christian in this regard.

Finally, the Holy See's Press Office published "an explanatory note concerning the Motu Proprio 'Summorum Pontificum'. The most important paragraphs of the note are given below:

"The Motu Proprio 'Summorum Pontificum' lays down new rules for the use of the Roman liturgy that preceded the reform of 1970. The reasons for such provisions are clearly explained in the Holy Father's letter to bishops which accompanies the Motu Proprio (the two documents have been sent to all the presidents of episcopal conferences and to all nuncios, who have arranged to distribute them to all bishops).

"The fundamental provision is as follows: the Roman liturgy will have two forms ('usus'):

"a) The ordinary form is the one that follows the liturgical reform undertaken by Pope Paul VI in the year 1970, as it appears in the liturgical books promulgated at that time. There is an official edition in Latin which may be used always and everywhere, and translations in divers languages published by the various episcopal conferences.

"b) The extraordinary form: which is that celebrated in accordance with the liturgical books published by Blessed Pope John XXIII in 1962."

In paragraph 8 the note reads: 'The bishop of a particular place may erect a personal parish, wherever there is to be found a very substantial number of faithful who wish to follow the earlier liturgy. It would be appropriate for the numbers of faithful to be substantial, even if not comparable to those of other parishes.'

"The explanatory note also highlights some of the characteristics of the 1962 Missal:

"It is a 'complete' or 'integral' Missal in the Latin language, that is, it also contains the readings for the celebrations (it is not distinct from the 'Lectionary' as the later 1970 Missal is).

"It contains just one Eucharistic prayer, the 'Roman Canon' (corresponding to the first Eucharist Prayer of the later Missal, which includes a choice of various Eucharistic Prayers).

"Various prayers (including a large part of the Canon) are recited by the priest in a low voice inaudible to the people.

"Other differences include the reading of the beginning of the Gospel of John at the end of Mass.

"The 1962 Missal does not provide for concelebration. It says nothing concerning the direction of the altar or of the celebrant (whether facing the people or not).

"The Pope's Letter envisages the possibility of future enrichment of the 1962 Missal (inclusion of new saints, new prefaces, etc.)."


  1. Deacon Dodge,
    Welcome back from St. Mary's University!

    You mentioned that the Pope's letter takes the celebration of the 1962 liturgy out of our bishop's hands. That this is a drastic change in the lex orandi which must affect the Church's lex credendi.

    Couldn't the exact same words have been written some forty years ago concerning the changes to what was then the ordinary expression of the liturgy?

    I wish that the explanatory notes you listed would have highlighted the characteristics of the 1962 Missal in a better light.

    I was just confirmed this Easter so I can be considered one who is great in sin and small in experience. In my RCIA class I was taught the old mass was for the lack of a better word - lame. Once did I have the opportunity to attend the old mass in Kansas City for the feast of the Ascension. It was on a Thursday and it was not lame. In fact all of the weaknesses I was told about seemed to me to be its greatest strengths.

    I'm hopeful that the Motu will prove fruitful beyond my own personal joy.

    Anyway, thank you for your thoughtful blog and your service to our Lord.

  2. First of all, thank you for the thoughtful way in which you present your point-of-view.

    The old high masses, which were rare and far between were alright, depending on the quality of the choir. However, as the congregation followed the Mass, when they were not fervently praying a private devotion, the priest went at his own pace and there was not even synchronization between the priest and the choir. The low masses were mundane in the extreme with the priest generally mumbling his way through daily Mass in fifteen minutes or so. No doubt the Feast of the Ascension in K.C. was a high mass.

    Let me be clear, I have no problem with the 1962 Missal being done under the supervision of bishops with the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter supplying diocese in which there is a pastoral necessity as determined by the bishop. This is what Pope John Paul II did in 1988. Removing the bishops from the equation seems a break in ecclesiastical order that is unwarrented and sets the stage for some ugliness that is wholly unnecessary.

    I would just state that any eucharistic celebration in which the congregation is superflous is inferior and a departure from Christian tradition. This is not to say that there are not many worthy elements carried forward from the Tridentine Mass, which was a universalization of the Roman Rite which, up until a few centuries earlier had itself proven highly adaptable. Latin still holds, rightfully, a privileged place in the Roman Rite. Even within the Novus Ordo, I am gratified to see that more and more commnities are singing parts of the mass, like the Agnus Dei and the Sanctus in Latin. i do appreciate the Holy Father's built-in desire to review this motu in three years time based the experience of various bishops throughout the world. I also appreciate the Pope Benedict's pastoral desire to bring the Society of Pius X back into the fold and to end the schism.

    The good news is that in places in which the Latin mass is made available people will come to see on their own that it is not very compelling. A private Mass is very much like a rounded square. the 1962 missal has the advantage of giving the presider the option of reading Scripture in the vernacular and removes references to "the perfidious Jews."

    Any notion that what Pope Paul VI did was without the endorsement of the consensus of the Council fathers of Vatican II is ludicris.

    Anyway, we'll see. It worries me not.