Online Edition –
July – August 2007
Vol. XIII, No. 5
Pope Extends Use of the "1962 Missal" — What Does this Mean?
by Helen Hull Hitchcock
Pope Benedict XVI has issued a motu proprio expanding use of the Missal as it was before the Second Vatican Council.
“Why is so much being made of this decision by Benedict XVI?”, one reader wrote. “Who wants to go to a Tridentine Mass? Where are the throngs of Catholics yearning for Latin?” Another asked, “Does this mean that Rome has given up on stopping abuses in Masses in the vernacular?”
These questions from serious Catholics show genuine concern about how the pope’s decision will affect the Church today. They also reveal some confusion about what “the Latin Mass” means. (Hint: the universal language of the Catholic Church is Latin — so the official language of current versions of all liturgical books is also Latin.)
First, let’s review the recent news:
On June 27, a group of bishops, from Europe and the English-speaking countries and Brazil, met at the Vatican with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State, who introduced to them Pope Benedict’s new document broadening the use of older liturgical books for Mass and other sacraments. The document, in the works for about a year, was accompanied by an explanatory letter by Pope Benedict addressed to bishops.
The Vatican communiqué released June 28 said:
Yesterday afternoon in the Vatican, a meeting was held under the presidency of the Cardinal Secretary of State in which the content and spirit of the Holy Father’s forthcoming motu proprio on the use of the Missal promulgated by John XXIII in 1962 was explained to representatives from various episcopal conferences. The Holy Father also arrived to greet those present, spending nearly an hour in deep conversation with them.
The publication of the document —which will be accompanied by an extensive personal letter from the Holy Father to individual bishops — is expected within a few days, once the document itself has been sent to all the bishops with an indication of when it will come into effect.
As of press time, the document had not been released, and the title and other details of its contents and its accompanying letter from Pope Benedict were unavailable. Two US bishops attended the Vatican meeting: Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, and St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke. Among others in attendance were the presidents of the bishops’ conferences of France, England-Wales, Germany, Switzerland and Italy.
What is a ‘motu proprio’?
Motu proprio (roughly, “of his own accord”) is the name given to documents that the pope alone decides to issue, usually in the form of a decree responding to a specific question or situation. Such documents usually begin by stating the reason for the action before announcing the resulting decision (e.g., new law or regulations).
On one level, Pope Benedict’s recent action can be seen as the latest of the Holy See’s efforts of nearly three decades to respond to Catholics who object to the “new” Missal approved by Pope Paul VI in 1969 (published in 1970) and other changes in the celebration of Mass following the Second Vatican Council — including, but not limited to, use of the vernacular. This is not his only objective; however, a brief review of the history of these efforts by the Holy See to overcome divisions in the Church may be useful in understanding the context of the pope’s decision.
“The Church of God Afflicted”
A movement opposing the Council’s changes was begun in 1970 by French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, when he established the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) at Ecône, Switzerland. Archbishop Lefebvre, refused to accept the authority of the Second Vatican Council and the pope(s). Although he had signed the Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, he resisted any liturgical deviation from the pre-conciliar Missal, and regarded all post-Conciliar changes in the celebration of Mass as invalid.
In 1980, Pope John Paul II ordered a report from the world’s bishops about their experience with the 1970 Missal, largely in response to increasing resistance by Archbishop Lefebvre and his followers. In September 1982, at its first “General Chapter”, the SSPX announced:
We pray for the pope, but we refuse to follow him in his errors on religious freedom, ecumenism, socialism and the application of reforms destructive for the Church. Our apparent disobedience is true obedience to the Church and to the pope as successor of Peter in the measure that he continues to maintain holy Tradition….
In October 1984, Pope John Paul II responded to continuing problems with the SSPX by means of a letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW) sent to all bishops conferences.
This letter, Quattor abhinc annos (“Four years ago”), “grants to diocesan bishops the possibility of using an indult whereby priests and faithful who … present a request to their own bishop, may be able to celebrate Mass by using the Roman Missal according to the 1962 edition”. The brief letter also asked bishops to report on the results of this “indult” to the Congregation after a year.
But this did not succeed. Rather, the problems intensified, and the relations of the SSPX with the Holy See deteriorated further. Archbishop Lefebvre continued to reject not only the post-Conciliar liturgical reforms, but also the concepts of religious freedom and ecumenism formulated by the Second Vatican Council.
In August 1985, Archbishop Lefebvre and Brazilian Bishop de Castro Mayer wrote an open letter to Pope John Paul II, which said, in part:
Holy Father, your responsibility is heavily engaged in this new and false conception of the Church which is drawing clergy and faithful into heresy and schism. If the Synod of Bishops perseveres in this direction you will no longer be the Good Shepherd. Please put an end to the invasion of Modernism within the Church.
The Holy See continued negotiations with Archbishop Lefebvre, without success.
In May 1988, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (then-prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) and Archbishop Lefebvre reached an accord; and a “Protocol” was signed by both on May 5, by which Archbishop Lefebvre agreed to accept and adhere to the Magisterium. It said, in part,
With regard to certain points taught by the Second Vatican Council or concerning later reforms of the liturgy and law, and which seem to us able to be reconciled with the Tradition only with difficulty, we commit ourselves to have a positive attitude of study and of communication with the Holy See, avoiding all polemics.
Furthermore, the Protocol stated, “We declare in addition to recognize the validity of the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Sacraments celebrated with the intention of doing that which the Church does and according to the rites indicated in the typical editions of the Roman Missal and the Rituals of the Sacraments promulgated by Popes Paul VI and John Paul II”.
But these efforts and concessions were to no avail. Ignoring the Protocol agreement he had signed May 5, and Pope John Paul’s express orders, Archbishop Lefebvre went ahead with ordination of bishops on June 30 — dashing any hopes of reconciliation, and leading to Lefebvre’s excommunication.
Two days later, on July 2, 1988, Pope John Paul II issued a motu proprio, Ecclesia Dei adflicta (“The Church of God afflicted”), addressing the continuing problem of the Lefebvrist movement’s actions that rejected the authority of the Church — even to accusing the popes of heresy. The motu proprio begins thus:
With great affliction the Church has learned of the unlawful episcopal ordination conferred on 30 June last  by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, which has frustrated all the efforts made during the previous years to ensure the full communion with the Church of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X founded by the same Mons. [Archbishop] Lefebvre. These efforts, especially intense during recent months, in which the Apostolic See has shown comprehension to the limits of the possible, were all to no avail.
The Holy Father explains:
The root of this schismatic act can be discerned in an incomplete and contradictory notion of Tradition. Incomplete, because it does not take sufficiently into account the living character of Tradition, which, as the Second Vatican Council clearly taught, “comes from the apostles and progresses in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is a growth in insight into the realities and words that are being passed on” (EDA 1, 4. Emphases original. Vatican translation).
Pope John Paul also emphasized the gravity of the situation of the Lefebvrists:
Everyone should be aware that formal adherence to the schism is a grave offense against God and carries the penalty of excommunication decreed by the Church’s law. (EDA 5c)
But also, to help overcome the “sad event”, Pope John Paul established by this motu proprio the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei to oversee the efforts at reconciliation with “those Catholics who feel attached to some previous liturgical and disciplinary forms of the Latin tradition” (EDA 5c).
The Commission’s purpose was “to collaborate with the bishops, with the dicasteries [offices] of the Roman Curia and with other interested circles in order to facilitate the full ecclesial communion of priests, seminarians, communities or individual men and women religious linked, to date, in various ways, to the Fraternity founded by Archbishop Lefebvre who desire to remain united to the Successor of Peter in the Catholic Church, conserving their spiritual and liturgical traditions in the light of the Protocol signed May 5 last  by Cardinal Ratzinger and Archbishop Lefebvre” (EDA 6a).
“Moreover”, Pope John Paul concluded, “respect must everywhere be shown for the feelings of all those who are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition, by a wide and generous application of the directives already issued some time ago by the Apostolic See, for the use of the Roman Missal according to the typical edition of 1962” (EDA 6c); and he asked for prayers for unity.
Archbishop Lefebvre, who had been Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers from 1961 until he resigned in 1968, died on March 25, 1991. The SSPX has been headed since 1994 by Bishop Bernard Fellay. The current president of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei is Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos.
New “Old Mass” Societies Form
Soon after Pope John Paul’s motu proprio, new priestly societies were organized, such as the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP – 1988) by former followers of Archbishop Lefebvre, and the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest (ICKSP – 1990). These societies are dedicated exclusively to using the so-called “Tridentine” liturgical books for Mass, as well as for the other sacraments and rituals and the Divine Office.
“Tridentine” refers to the Council of Trent, though the word is often used to describe the revision of the Roman Missal by Pope Pius V in 1570, which he made mandatory for use throughout the Western Church (except for those liturgical forms that had been in use for more than 200 years). This Missal was revised several times (e.g., 1604, by Pope Clement VIII; 1634, by Pope Urban VIII); its last revision before the Second Vatican Council was made by Pope John XXIII in 1962.
Which “Latin Mass”?
Mass celebrated according to the 1962 Missal is inaccurately called “the Latin Mass”, however. The current Roman Missal, promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970, now in its “third typical edition” of 2002, is also in Latin. Though the Second Vatican Council permitted use of the vernacular, it has always been permissible to celebrate Mass in Latin using the “new” Missal. (Among notable early examples of the Mass regularly celebrated in Latin using the new books were Monsignor Richard Schuler’s St. Agnes Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the Brompton Oratory in London.)
Pope Benedict’s new motu proprio addresses this confusion in terminology, designating the current Missal the “ordinary form” and the 1962 version as the “extraordinary form” of the same Roman Rite.
Continuity, not Contradiction, in “Two Forms of Celebration”
In October 1998, at a conference held in Rome to observe the tenth anniversary of Ecclesia Dei adflicta, then-Cardinal Ratzinger pointed out persistent difficulties and divisions: some regarded “attachment to the old Liturgy” as disruptive, he said, while others continued to have “reservations” about the Council itself and about “obedience towards the legitimate pastors of the Church”.
To overcome such difficulties, Cardinal Ratzinger stressed the importance of continuity. He told his audience of “traditionalist” Catholics that the “old Mass” had “never been abolished” by the Council, and that the liturgical abuses that arose following the Council were the result of “lack of obedience to the Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium”.
“It is very important to observe the essential criteria of the Constitution on the Liturgy” Cardinal Ratzinger said, “including when one celebrates according to the old Missal! The moment when this Liturgy truly touches the faithful with its beauty and its richness, then it will be loved, then it will no longer be irreconcilably opposed to the new Liturgy, providing that these criteria are indeed applied as the Council wished”.
Cardinal Ratzinger also strongly emphasized, in this 1998 address, the continuity between the two forms of the Liturgy:
Different spiritual and theological emphases will certainly continue to exist, but there will no longer be two contradictory ways of being a Christian; there will instead be that richness which pertains to the same single Catholic faith. When, some years ago, somebody proposed “a new liturgical movement” in order to avoid the two forms of the Liturgy becoming too distanced from each other, and in order to bring about their close convergence, at that time some of the friends of the old Liturgy expressed their fear that this would only be a stratagem or a ruse, intended to eliminate the old Liturgy finally and completely.
Such anxieties and fears really must end! If the unity of faith and the oneness of the mystery appear clearly within the two forms of celebration, that can only be a reason for everybody to rejoice and to thank the good Lord. Inasmuch as we all believe, live and act with these intentions, we shall also be able to persuade the bishops that the presence of the old Liturgy does not disturb or break the unity of their diocese, but is rather a gift destined to build-up the Body of Christ, of which we are all the servants.
The stress on continuity and unity is consistent with Pope Benedict’s more recent observations — in his Apostolic Letter, Sacramentum Caritatis, of February 22, 2007, for example. In the introduction, he emphasizes the unity and continuity of the Liturgy:
If we consider the [2000-year] history of God’s Church, guided by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, we can gratefully admire the orderly development of the ritual forms in which we commemorate the event of our salvation. From the varied forms of the early centuries, still resplendent in the rites of the Ancient Churches of the East, up to the spread of the Roman rite; from the clear indications of the Council of Trent and the Missal of Saint Pius V to the liturgical renewal called for by the Second Vatican Council: in every age of the Church’s history the Eucharistic celebration, as the source and summit of her life and mission, shines forth in the liturgical rite in all its richness and variety…. The Synod of Bishops was able to evaluate the reception of the renewal in the years following the Council. There were many expressions of appreciation. The difficulties and even the occasional abuses which were noted, it was affirmed, cannot overshadow the benefits and the validity of the liturgical renewal, whose riches are yet to be fully explored. Concretely, the changes which the Council called for need to be understood within the overall unity of the historical development of the rite itself, without the introduction of artificial discontinuities (SC 3).
In Sacramentum Caritatis Pope Benedict repeatedly refers to this continuity of the “immense patrimony” of the Church — the great heritage transmitted throughout her 2000-year history by the celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy.
Will the motu proprio finally achieve reconciliation with the SSPX? It may help, but this is not likely to happen soon.
In February this year, SSPX leader Bishop Fellay wrote a letter on the expected motu proprio, published on the SSPX web site. He believes that “It is quite unlikely that this motu proprio will be followed by a mass movement. The priests and faithful who desire the old liturgy are proportionally few in number”; and he notes that “the distrust born of years of self-defense and combat … will not be easily allayed”.
Bishop Fellay’s letter emphasizes that extending use of the “Traditional Mass” fulfills only one of the SSPX demands. “For thirty years we have refused to take the poison; it is for this reason that we have been rejected, and it is still the condition (more or less hidden) that Rome imposes for accepting us. Ecumenism, religious liberty, and collegiality remain the points of contention over which we will not budge”, he wrote, and the “actual terms of the motu proprio may require other distinctions and clarifications”.
But if reconciling the SSPX was the initial reason for the Holy See’s efforts in the past, it is not Pope Benedict’s sole purpose in issuing this motu proprio. Much has changed since 1988. He has the welfare of the entire Church in mind.
The “Treasures of the Church”
After the June 27 meeting with bishops to introduce the pope’s motu proprio on the two liturgical forms of the Roman Rite, Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos said that use of the pre-Vatican II Mass in Latin “is not a step backward”, but a sign that the pope “wants to make available to the Church all the treasures of the Latin liturgy that have, for centuries, nourished the spiritual life of so many generations of Catholic faithful”.
Last May 26, in an address to Latin American bishops in Brazil, Cardinal Castrillón said, “[t]he 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”.
“For these reasons”, he said, “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. There is today a new and renewed interest in this Liturgy, which has never been abolished and which, as we have said, is considered a treasure, and because of this the Holy Father believes that the time has come to ease … the access to this Liturgy, making it an extraordinary form of the one Roman Rite”.
Cardinal Bertone also talked with reporters after the June 27 meeting. Seeming to respond to speculations that a priest on his own initiative could establish celebrations of the “Old Mass” (or “extraordinary form”) without his bishop’s approval, Cardinal Bertone stressed the importance of the bishop’s role:
“The role of the bishop is central in the dispositions of the order of celebrations. Priests are not autonomous, but are placed under the bishop, who makes reference to the pope and to the Liturgy of the universal Church”, he said. “In short, there is a communion in the Church, and there should be harmony in this beautiful orchestra”.
Bishops may be urged more strongly to promote “harmony” in all celebrations of the Mass.
Cardinal Bertone also said, “The pope has written a beautiful letter to all the bishops of the world, explaining why the Church should revalue and reclaim the liturgical form that preceded the [Second Vatican] Council, which is a great richness in the history of the Church”.
July 7, 2007 -Pope Benedict XVI – Summorum Pontificium issued motu proprio (unofficial English translation on US bishops website: http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/the-mass/extraordinary-form/upload/VISEnglishSummPont.pdf
Letter of Pope Benedict XVI to the Bishops on Summorum Pontificum