July 7th is the traditional feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius, the missionaries who introduced a venacular liturgy to the Slavic Church. And now, July 7th may also be remembered as the day when Pope Benedict XVI reintroduced a Latin liturgy to the Roman Church.
The Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum is finally here, set to take effect on the exquisitely appropriate feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 14th). The Pope tells us in his accompanying letter to the Bishops that "the document is the fruit of much reflection ... and prayer," and it shows.
What Didn't Happen
Summorum, though, has not met all expectations. Contrary to earlier press reports, it does not contain a numerical figure (previously rumored to have been thirty) for how many are required to petition for a Tridentine Mass. This frees the document from unnecessary regimentation, which is reasonable for a Church whose parishes vary widely in size.
Nor, thank goodness, was there any change to the Good Friday prayer for the conversion of the Jewish people -- though at the time of this writing (mid-July) protestations from lobbyists like the ADL's Abe Foxman continue unabated. Needless to say, if the prayer ever served as an occasion of bigotry (which has never been proved), what is needed is not further tinkering but a deeper understanding of its meaning.
By making the traditional liturgy universally accessible, the Holy Father is affirming that the Mass of the Ages belongs to every Catholic, not just those with a particular spirituality or vocation.
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Contrary to some hopes, Summorum did not create a personal prelature or apostolic administration along the lines of Opus Dei, one that would safeguard the classical liturgy from the harassment of hierarchs and liturgists. Yet what the Pope has given us is far greater, even if it means having to endure some of the same difficulties as before. By making the traditional liturgy universally accessible, the Holy Father is affirming that the Mass of the Ages belongs to every Catholic, not just those with a particular spirituality or vocation. It lies at the center of the Catholic patrimony, not ina carefully sequestered ghetto for a few eccentrics and malcontents.
Further, thought the 1962 Missal is now universally available, no mention is made of a universal indult. This is a subtle yet tremendous change in language. In Church parlance an indult denotes permission to do something not allowed by the common law. It is thus an exception to the rule, an exception that, int he case of Pope John Paul II's 1988 Ecclesia Dei indult, was conceded begrudgingly. By speaking instead of two forms of the same rite, one extraordinary (the 1962 Missal) and the other ordinary (1970), Benedict has redrawn the map. No longer is the old Mass an exception to the rule; it is an established part of it. True, it will be a less frequently occurring form of Catholic worship, but there is a significant legal and even psychological difference between more frequent and less frequent on the one hand and a rule and its exception on the other. And as one blogger wryly remarked, "Let's hope that the term 'extraordinary' when referring to the 1962 Missal will be as broadly applied as it is when referring to 'extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion'!"
Power to the People
Another way in which Summorum redraws the map is by locating the initiative with the faithful and requiring the pastor and Bishop to address their needs (Article 5, para. 1). As Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos explained, "If a group ... having a priest available to do it, asks to celebrate this Mass, the pastor or rector of the church cannot oppose it."1 Indeed, the entire trajectory of Summorum is from the ground up: the faithful petition their pastor, and if he cannot accommodate them, they are to appeal to the Bishop; if the Bishop does not help, the matter should be referred to an expanded Ecclesia Dei Pontifical Commission (5 para. 1, 7). In a twist that some might consider ironic, Summorum performatively reaffirms Vatican II's teaching on not only the clergy but the laity as the people of God.
Summorum also offers a robust vindication of the legitimate aspirations and claims that traditional Catholics have been making for decades. The Pope gently reminds the Bishops that it was their own failure to implement Pope John Paul II's indult that led to the Motu Proprio, and he laments the liturgical "deformations" that betrayed the aims of Vatican II and caused great suffering among the faithful -- including, he adds in a touching personal note, himself.2 His Holiness also rejects the old canard that attachment to the classical liturgy is geriatric nostalgia by speaking of all the young who have been drawn to it, and he accords greater intellectual respect to traditionalists by mentioning those whose attachments have been "formed by the liturgical movement," that is, by study and prayer rather than mindless habit or mere allergy to the new."3
The Pope gently reminds the Bishops that it was their own failure to implement Pope John Paul II's indult that led to the Motu Proprio, and he laments the liturgical "deformations" that betrayed the aims of Vatican II and caused great suffering among the faithful -- including, he adds in a touching personal note, himself.
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Most significantly, Summorum explicitly states that the 1962 Missal was "never abrogated" (Article 1).4 A special group of Cardinals studying the issue in 1986 arrived at the same conclusion, but their report was gagged by protests from several national Bishops' conferences. For the past few years Cardinals Estevez and Castrillon Hoyos have reasserted the group's findings, but they were politely ignored. No more.
The Holy Father, however, is not blind to the vices that plague some traditionalists, who might be prone to "exaggerations and [unsavory] social aspects."5 Yet even here Benedict tells his Bishops that the best way to help them is by responding with charity. Put differently, if you want people to stop acting like freaks and fanatics, stop treating them like freaks and fanatics.
Summorum does not provide a carte blanche for the 1962 Missal. The group petitioning for the old Mass must be "stable" (5 para. 1), or as the Latin puts it, coetus ... qui continenter existit: "a group that exists consistently."6 Ordination is the only Sacrament not mentioned as one that can be conferred according to the old usage, but no matter: the traditional seminaries will be able to continue their current practices, as Summorum is primarily addressing parish life. The priest must be capable of celebrating the classical form and be juridically unimpeded (5 para. 4), and he can privately celebrate the Mass every day of the year except during the Sacred Triduum --- a reasonable restriction, since this is the practice for all private Masses on those days (and note that it does not forbid public Tridentine services during the Triduum).
Though the priest is obliged to accommodate the requests of the faithful for a traditional Mass, he must harmonize their welfare with the rest of the parish's (5 para. 1). No doubt the desire for peaceful harmony also prompted the limitation of the only one Tridentine Mass on Sundays and feast days (5 para. 2). Since Summorum is principally concerned with the Sunday celebrations that will be created by it, this should except churches that currently have more than one Sunday Tridentine Mass.7
All of these things are to be carried out "under the guidance of the Bishop in accordance with Canon 392" (5 para. 1). The Pope is quick to stress that his decision in no way undermines the Bishop's authority: though the rules of the game may have changed, the Bishop remains its referee.8 Given the intrinsic nature of episcopal orders, this is as it should be. And it is significant that His Holiness contextualizes this guidance in terms of Canon 392, which does not elucidate a Bishop's right to curtail liturgies but his duty to protect them for abuse. Bishops, in other words, are being instructed to promote a proper observace of the 1962 Missal in the dioceses.
One of the reasons Pope Benedict define the 1962 and 1970 Missals as two forms of the same rie is to underscore that there has been no "rupture" in the Church's liturgy. This, of course, might sound like an inaccurate claim, for do not the many novelties in the 1970 Missal mark a sharp departure from the Church's tradition of organicliturgical development?
As is clear from his writings as cardinal, the Holy Father is aware that not everything in the Novus Ordo is the fruit of organic development, but also needs a viable framework in which the new Missal can
be evaluated dispassionately.
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As is clear from his writings as cardinal, the Holy Father is aware that not everything in the Novus Ordo is the fruit of organic development, but also needs a viable framework in which the new Missal can be evaluated dispassionately. By speaking of a single rite with two forms, Benedict is advancing what he elsewhere calls a "hermeneutic of continuity," an interpretation of vatican II and its aftermath in light of the great tradition rather than vice versa. In the long run, this approach will do much good in restoring the very continuity that has been breached by the distorted beliefs and practices rampant today.
The most potentially problematic clause of Summorum is Article 6, which states that at a Tridentine Mass "the readings may be given in the vernacular, using editions recognized by the Apostolic See."
At the time of this writing, it remains unclear as to whether this refers simply to duly approved translations of the 1962 readings or to the use of the 1970 new Lectionary. The Ecclesia Dei commission has apparently authorized the latter in the past, so Article 6 could be referring to this as well.9 Such is the interpratation that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has given10 (see inset on page 19).
It would certainly be strange if this were the article's meaning, especially in light of the Vatican's own understanding of the 1962 Missal. The day the Motu Proprio was released, the Holy See Press Office issued a statement explaining the extraordinary form of the Roman rite to the media. One of the things the explanatory note states is that the 'form' is a 'complete' Missal in the Latin language, that is, it also contains readings for the celbrations (that is it is not disctinct from the 'Lectionary' as the later 1970 Missal is).
Is it then the Church's intention to allow a break int he very integrity it acknowledges? Grafting onto the old Missal the new Lectionary, which is based on a completely different set of organized principles and is incongruous with the collects and other propers of the 1962 calendar, would constitute precisely the kind of contrived dallying that Pope Benedict so eloquently rejected as a cardinal. And it saddles the extraordinary form with the Notoriously poor English. translations currently difiguring the 1970 Missal. Clearly the matter requires greater clarification from Ecclesia Dei.
Nevertheless, even if Article 6 should permit the new Lectionary, the good news is that it will probably not have much impact. Ecclesia Dei, as we have just noted, has been offering this same option for years, and it has never, to my knowledge, been acted upon. Moreover, since the entire trajectory of Summorum is from the ground up, the initiative for such a move would remain with the faithful themselves. And I am fairly confident that traditionalists will use this option for their Masses as much as progressive priests use the now optional maniple for theirs.
What Article 6 clearly does allow, however, is the biblical readings from the 1962 Missal to be proclaimed in the vernacular instead of Latin. This, too, is not unprecedented (Ecclesia Dei has always allowed this), nor does it necessarily constitute a disregard for ritual purity. Indeed, the late Michael Davies (if only he had lived to see this day!) spoke favorably of this possibility.11 My own sense is that many traditionalists, having been scarred by one too many liturgical deformations, will be loathe to adopt this practice and that it might be prudent to defer the issue; either way, charity should prevail in determining the best local course of action.
One change that all parties can welcome, however, is the statement that "new Saints and some of the new Prefaces can and should be inserted in the old Missal."12 This is not a recipe for reckless alteration but for careful and authentic development, especially since it is to be carried out in cooperation with traditional bodies like the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter and the Institute of Christ the King.13 Until now, one could not celebrate in the traditional form the feast of Saint Padre Pio (a bitter irony given the Saint's love for the old Mass), of Saint Thomas More (which was not on the universal calendar in 1962), of Saint Faustina, or of the many other saints recently canonized. Similarly, it is not unreasonable to add prefaces to the 1570/1962 Missal, which has fewer than its medieval predecessors. In the 1962 Missal, for example, there is no proper preface for Advent, and thus the generic Common Preface or the Preface of the Holy Trinity is used from June all the way up to Christmas Eve.
Until now, one could not celebrate in the traditional form the feast of Saint Padre Pio (a bitter irony given the Saint's love for the old Mass)
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But the deeper significance to this move is that the classical form is finally "unfrozen." As long as the Tridentine Missal was petrified in the year 1962, it could be seen as a museum piece, something as beautiful but as lifeless as a butterfly in amber -- and something that could be quietly put back into storage once this whole traditionalist brouhaha faded. But now, the traditional Missal will yet again reflect the ever growing roster of God's saints; it will yet again be capable of an authentic development that adds to rather than subtracts from its richness. Though seeminly minor, these proposals decisively ensure the ancient form's dynamic and ongoing vitality.
Because Summorum Pontificum does not and cannot provide a panacea for the current liturgical crisis, the dark night of abuse is far from over and the progress will remain slow. If experience is any guide, papal documents do not so much make things happen as set the conditions for making them happen. The onus, then, is on the grass-roots level, with the priests and faithful.
Finally, we should not forget Pope Benedict XVI. It was hiis vision and his determination in the face of stultifying opposition that made this outstanding document possible; and for this gift to the Church he now faces an escalating wave of hostility from enemies within and without. Let us fervently pray for our Supreme Pontiff and gladly heed his call for boundless charity as we work towards that "inner reconciliation in the heart of the Church" animating his liturgical largesse.
- From an interview in the Intalian magazine 30 Giorni, translated and cited by Catholic News Service. Emphasis mine. [back]
- Cf. the Pope's "Letter to the Bishops on the Occasion of the Publication of the Apostolic Letter 'Motu Proprio Data' Summorum Pontificum," Vatican translation. The letter does not contain official paragraph numbers, and so I am unable to cite it more precisely. [back]
- Ibid. [back]
- The Holy Father repeats this in the letter as well. [back]
- Letter. [back]
- With the exception of my literal rendering here of the Latin, all citations of Summorum are taken from the unofficial English translation of the Vatican Information Services. [back]
- Similarly, it should exempt "personal parishes" such as those run by the FSSP (1). The matter, however, may require greater clarification from Ecclesia Dei. [back]
- Cf. the letter. [back]
- Cf. Michael Davies, "The Missal of 1962: A Rock of Stability," TLM 10:2 (Spring 2001), 12. [back]
- USCCB Newsletter, Vol. XLIII (June-July 2007), q. 12, p. 24. [back]
- Unfortunately I cannot locate the passage. As attested by Alcuin Reid's amazon.com book reviews, both Monsignor Klaus Gamber in his Reform of the Roman Liturgy and Aidan Nichols in his Looking at the Liturgy "accept the appropriateness of vernacular readings." The Ordinances of the Society of Saint Pius X, signed by Archbishop Lefebvre, purportedly permit readings exclusively in the vernacular, and at least one SSPX priest, Fr. Basil Wrighton, speaks of the practice as "reasonable" (cf. "Roman Protestants," Angelus, August 1982). [back]
- Letter. [back]
- Ibid. [back]