Is the Motu Proprio Still Imminent?

Three Cardinals and an Archbishop Give Clues to its Contents

Brian Mershon

Three curial cardinals and one archbishop have now spoken publicly on details of the expected motu proprio by Pope Benedict XVI reportedly easing restrictions on the Traditional Roman rite of Holy Mass.

Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, president of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei (PCED), in a May 16 address to the Latin American bishops at their Fifth General Conference in Aparecida, in São Paulo, Brazil, confirmed, “The Holy Father has the intention of extending to the entire Latin Church the possibility of celebrating Holy Mass and the Sacraments according to the liturgical books promulgated by Blessed John XXIII in 1962.”

Previous to Cardinal Castrillón’s intervention, Cardinal Walter Kasper publicly affirmed the document’s existence and the Pope’s firm intention to promulgate it despite objections from some Jewish groups over its prayers for Jews to convert to Catholicism.

Cardinal Castrillón also confirmed what the Holy See’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio  Bertone, said in an April 2 interview with Le Figaro, which is that the publication of the motu proprio was imminent, not merely probable. In his address to the Latin America bishops, Cardinal Castrillón said that the Traditional Latin liturgy “has never been abolished” and that the Holy Father believes the time has come (without mention of any specific timeframe) to ease these restrictions as the 1986 meeting of Cardinals (revealed first by Alfons Cardinal Stickler) had recommended to Pope John Paul II.

Extraordinary Traditional Latin Rite

According to Cardinal Castrillón, this “extraordinary form of the one Roman rite” would be a “generous offer” of the Pope who wishes to preserve and maintain the worth of the Traditional Latin liturgy. Cardinal Castrillón said the primary motivation behind the Pope’s easing these restrictions would be not a turning back of the clock, but it will be instead “an expression of his pastoral will, (who) wishes to put at the disposal of the whole Church all the treasures of the Latin Liturgy which for centuries has nourished the spiritual life of so many generations of Catholic faithful.”

Cardinal Castrillón said, “The Holy Father wishes to preserve the immense spiritual, cultural, and aesthetic treasures linked to the Ancient Liturgy. The retrieval of this wealth is linked to the no less precious one of the current Liturgy of the Church.”

Cardinal Bertone’s Le Figaro interview came shortly after the promulgation of the apostolic exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, and he said, “The Holy Father thus asks the bishops, priests and faithful to adhere to the true application of the texts of the Council, for example, by the use of Latin and Gregorian chant,” which he further claims were desired to be fostered by the Council Fathers and Pope Paul VI.

Motu Proprio Part of Pope’s Desired Liturgical Renewal

It is clear that Pope Benedict XVI will issue a motu proprio easing restrictions on the Traditional Latin rite. It is also just as clear that coupled with Sacramentum Caritatis, this motu proprio, and increased attention given to a small, but growing pocket of the Church, is part of his systematic plan to bring the Church’s liturgical landscape into order over time—the “reform of the reform” as some have dubbed it.

Whatever the traditionalist Catholics’ attitudes might be to this longer-term liturgical “reform of the reform” to bring the Novus Ordo missae more into line with the Traditional liturgy, the Pope will also be meeting the first condition of the bishops of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) by formally acknowledging that all Latin-rite priests have the right to offer the Traditional Latin liturgy for the good of the entire Church.

Indeed, in a previous interview in the autumn of 2006, Archbishop Ranjith, Secretary to the Office of Divine Worship and the Sacraments, he said the Traditional Roman rite is a treasure for the entire Church, not just for the “Lefebvrites.” And in many public interviews, Bishop Bernard Fellay, has repeatedly emphasized this very same point.

That is, the SSPX desires this freeing of the Mass for the good of the entire Church to ease the crisis in which it now finds itself to be in throughout the entire world. In other words, the SSPX desires this first condition for the Church, not for itself, as some have mistakenly accused them.

Step One of Three for the SSPX

This motu proprio will be the first of three steps necessary for further canonical regularization of the SSPX: freeing the Traditional rite; lifting the decrees of excommunication against the SSPX bishops, and then theological discussions on Vatican II.

In December 2006, Cardinal Medina Estevez, after a meeting of the PCED, said they discussed two documents in their four-hour meeting. One was the motu proprio, with another being the juridical framework for the SSPX. We have heard very much in the media and on blogs about the first document, but very little of the second.

Indeed, in a January interview with The Remnant, Bishop Fellay said he had absolutely no idea about the contents of any such document and that nothing had been forwarded to SSPX leadership for their review or consideration. However, we do know that such a document exists based upon Cardinal Medina’s comments after the last publicly-announced PCED meeting.

Clues to Contents of Motu Proprio

However, we now have some further clues to the contents of the motu proprio from the recent Cardinal Castrillón interview, Cardinal Bertone’s interview, as well as the November 27, 2006 announcement from the Archdiocese of Genoa, which perhaps gave an outline of preparation on what to expect. Interestingly, Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco, archbishop of Genoa, Italy and president of the Italian Episcopal conference, is a good friend of Cardinal Bertone’s, and his Archdiocesan website posted some “clarifications” on the upcoming motu proprio on November 27, 2006.

Since this time, Archbishop Bagnasco has been appointed by the Pope as the new president of the Italian Episcopal Conference, and had an audience with Pope Benedict on Monday, May 21, 2007.


Following are some contents that most likely will be contained in the motu proprio that have been affirmed in recent curial interviews, as well as from the Archdiocese of Genoa “clarifications.”


·         The Traditional Roman (Latin) rite will become part of the one Roman rite and will be called “extraordinary.” Cardinal Castrillón confirmed this publicly May 16. While this “extraordinary” terminology is a juridical term, its connotative definition will surely make for some interesting analysis alongside the quite “ordinary” rite of the Bugnini missal of 1970.

·         In the Le Figaro interview, Cardinal Bertone said, “The Pope himself will explain his motivations and the framework of his decision. The Sovereign Pontiff will personally explain his vision for the use of the ancient Missal to the Christian people, and particularly to the Bishops.”

·         Also from Le Figaro, Cardinal Bertone said the Traditional rite would instead keep its own liturgical calendar, based upon the 1962 missal. In other words, there would be no mixing of liturgical calendars with the Bugnini missal.

·         The Second Vatican Council did not abolish the Mass of St. Pius V nor asked it to be abolished; rather the Council asked the reform of the order.

·         The Missal of Pope Paul VI is valid, if celebrated with the proper matter, form and intention.

·         The Pope, due to his supreme authority outlined in the First Vatican Council, has the power to promulgate binding and valid juridical and pastoral acts.

·         The legitimate and fruitful celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass requires full ecclesial communion, of which the Supreme Pontiff is the guarantor.

·         The easing of the restrictions of the Traditional Roman rite cannot be equated in any manner with rejecting the Second Vatican Council as a legitimate council, nor the teaching and teaching authority of Popes John XXIII and/or Paul VI.

·         The document most likely will retrace the history of the indults beginning with the 1984 indult, and further expansion in 1988.

·         Different liturgies have existed in the Church since the fourth century, and these have always been viewed as tangible signs of the Church’s vitality.

·         The Council of Trent, and following, Quo Primum, issued by Pope St. Pius V, did not will to unify all the existing rites of the Church. In fact, all rites for churches and religious orders that were at least 200 years old were allowed to continue in their own rite.

·         The missals of Pope St. Pius V and of Paul VI should not, and cannot be presented as “expressing opposite (or conflicting) views,” nor as mutually irreconcilable.

·         The liturgical decisions of Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI should not be viewed in an opposed manner, but instead, with a hermeneutic of continuity.


Brian Mershon has written for numerous Catholic and lay publications, both print and online. He has a master’s degree in theology and a bachelor’s in news-editorial journalism.