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Universae Ecclesiae

Pope Locks Down Bishops Unfriendly to MP

Christopher A. Ferrara & Michael J. Matt POSTED: , May 13, 2011
Special Report from Rome  

(ROME, May 13, 2011) On a beautiful sunny morning here in Rome  a handful of journalists, including your correspondents, gathered at the Vatican Press Office to receive an advance copy of the long-awaited instruction on the implementation of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum.  The document is entitled Universae Ecclesiae and is signed by William Cardinal Levada and Secretary of Ecclesia Dei Mons. Guido Pozzo.

Upon second reading, the overall intent of the document as a legal framework becomes clear:  (1) Summorum Pontificum is "a universal law for the Church intended to establish new regulations for the use of the Roman Liturgy in effect in 1962;" (2) the Ecclesia Dei Commission is to serve as a court of appeal by the faithful "against any possible singular administrative provision of an Ordinary which appears to be contrary to the Motu Proprio," and its decisions shall be binding on the bishops, who may appeal to the Apostolic Signatura (which is hardly likely to overrule the papal commission); (3) while the bishops are to "monitor liturgical matters to guarantee the common good and to ensure that everything is proceeding in peace and serenity in their Dioceses," they are to do so "always in agreement with the mens [mind] of the Holy Father clearly expressed by the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum.

And what is the mind of the Holy Father?  Here the Instruction is at its strongest. The Instruction declares that the Pope "reaffirms the traditional principle, recognized from time immemorial and necessary to be maintained in the future, that [quoting Summorum] "each particular Church must be in accord with the universal Church not only regarding the doctrine of the faith... but also as to usages handed down by apostolic and unbroken tradition.  They are to be maintained not only so that errors may be avoided, but also that the faith may be passed on in its integrity, since the Church's rule of prayer (lex orandi) corresponds to her rule of belief.... What was sacred for prior generations remains sacred and great for us as well, and cannot suddenly be prohibited altogether  or even judged harmful."

So much for the neo-Catholic bromide that the Latin Mass pertains merely to "tradition with a small 't'" and can be amended or discarded at the Pope's pleasure.  Indeed, the Instruction cites Saint Gregory the Great and Saint Pius V as "those Roman Pontiffs who, in a particular way, were notable in this task" of preserving "usages handed down by apostolic and unbroken tradition."

The mind of the Pope is further specified in a declaration that Benedict, as "Vicar of Christ [!] and Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church... has the aim of"

  • "offering to all the faithful the Roman Liturgy in the Usus Antiquoir";

  • "effectively guaranteeing and ensuring the use of the forma extraordinaria" for all who ask for it..."

Note well the key principle that the traditional Mass is to be made available to every member of the Church who requests it.  The epoch of the niggardly indult is over.

On that score the Instruction clarifies that the vexed term "group of the faithful" requesting the traditional Mass means "some people" in a particular parish or even "persons coming from different dioceses or parishes, who gather together in a specific parish church or in an oratory or chapel for this purpose."  No particular minimum number is required.  A group of the faithful may even "approach the Ordinary of the place to identify a church" for celebration of the traditional Mass, presumably with the right to appeal to the Ecclesia Dei Commission if the Bishop refuses to make the church available.  This provision is clearly targeted at bishops who claim no parish is available.

Further, when a priest "presents himself occasionally in a parish church or an oratory with some of the faithful" to celebrate the traditional Mass "the pastor or rector... is to permit such a celebration..." And when the faithful request the traditional Mass at sanctuaries and places of pilgrimage, they are to be given access "if there is a qualified priest." Here the bishops are bypassed completely.

As for the question of what constitutes a "qualified priest," the bishops are stripped of another pretext for impeding the Motu Proprio.  The Instruction declares that "Every Catholic priest who is not impeded by Canon Law is to be considered idoneus ("qualified") for the celebration of the Holy Mass in the forma extraordinaria." The only knowledge of Latin required  is enough to "pronounce the words correctly and understand their meaning."  Moreover, there are to be no Latin tests as prerequisites for offering the traditional Latin Mass: "priests are presumed to be qualified who present themselves to celebrate [the Latin Mass]... and have celebrated it previously.

The Instruction reaffirms that priests require no permission from "their Ordinaries or superiors" to celebrate the traditional Mass privately. This means that absolutely every priest in the Roman Rite is free to return to the Traditional Mass for "private" celebrations, which of course may involve the attendance of certain members of the faithful.

What about fears that we will see Communion in the hand or even altar girls at Traditional Masses?  The Instruction slams the door on any possible attempt to impose  Novus Ordo rubrics on the traditional liturgy, declaring that the MP "derogates" from the "sacred rites promulgated from 1960 onwards and incompatible with the rubrics in effect from 1962."  In other words, in an ironic development the traditional rubrics are now considered to be legally sanctioned exceptions to the prevailing liturgical law of the Novus Ordo, in just the way the Novus Ordo was introduced as a derogation from the liturgical law of the traditional Roman Rite.

Further important housekeeping includes clarification that Confirmation, Minor Orders and the Easter Triduum are all to be made available in the Traditional Rite for those who seek them (with Traditional Minor Orders rituals being reserved to institutes and societies under the Ecclesia Dei Commission).  Remarkably, the Instruction provides that the Triduum should be made available even in Novus Ordo parishes, even when this would entail a repetition ("not excluding the possibility of a repetition") of the Triduum in the same parish or oratory. Thus is eliminated the prospect, feared by some, that Latin Mass adherents would be compelled to participate in the Novus Ordo Triduum.

The Instruction also confirms that the traditional Breviary, Pontificale and Rituale are all permitted for Latin Mass institutes and societies.

Not all the news is good.  Of particular concern is paragraph 19 of the Instruction, which provides that those who seek access to the Traditional Liturgy "must not in any way support or belong to groups which show themselves to be against the validity or legitimacy" of the Novus Ordo rites or "against the Roman Pontiff as Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church."  There is clearly here the potential for application of an ideological litmus test, employing alarmingly open-ended terminology.  Only time will tell whether and to what extent this virtually standardless provision will become pernicious.  One can be optimistic on this score, however, in view of the permission granted to the Institute of the Good Shepherd to engage in legitimate criticism of the Novus Ordo, as indeed the current Pope has done when writing as Cardinal Ratzinger.

Of less concern in the bad news department is the provision that "new saints and certain of the new prefaces can and ought to be inserted into the 1962 Missal, according to provisions which will be indicated subsequently."  The Roman Missal has always been open to the inclusion of new Feast Days and Prefaces, and, significantly, there is no suggestion that the Novus Ordo calendar or readings as such are to be incorporated into the Traditional Liturgy. 

All in all, the Instruction is not the disaster we feared, and indeed it seems to have limited rather drastically the room in which certain bishops thought they could maneuver to militate against the MP.  Of course, the document is only as good as its enforcement and as to this we shall have to wait and see. But, in sum, today cannot be seen as a good day for those who had hoped the Instruction would signal Novus Ordo revanchism.  We cannot fail to note the significance of the approval of the document by the Holy Father on the very Feast of St. Pius V.

Overall, a sigh of relief is indicated, but not without vigilance for what will no doubt be a continuing rearguard action against the dreaded return of liturgical tradition.

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