07/07/2007, 00.00
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Pope: faithful may have “Tridentine” Mass if they wish

With a motu propio, Benedict XVI established that the current norms for the celebration of Mass are for “ordinary” use, however the “extraordinary” use of the Missal of Pius V is possible too. A letter written to bishops across the world highlights the concern to rebuild the unity of the Church, broken by the traditionalists of Mgr Lefebvre.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Those who wish will have the right to say Mass in Latin, the celebration with the celebrant’s back to the faithful and all those “old” formulas that were substituted, but not abrogated, by the Missal of Paul VI, which in 1970 welcomed the guidelines of the Second Vatican Council as regards the liturgy. This is the outcome of the motu proprio “Summorum Pontificum”, or rather of the norm established by Benedict XVI and issued today, “on the use of the Roman liturgy prior to the reform of 1970”.

The motu propio was promulgated with explicit reference to the rebuilding of ecclesial unity broken by the schism of Mgr Marcel Lefebvre, for which “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.” The phrase – written today by the man who, as head of the dicastery of the doctrine of the faith, conducted the useless negotiations with the traditionalist bishop – is contained in a “Letter to all the bishops of the world”, which the Pope wished to be attached to the document.

The motu proprio, then, beyond juridical formulas, affirms that from now, in the Catholic Church, the so-called Tridentine Mass, in the form approved by John XXIII in 1962, is fully permissible. In Article 1 of the document, in fact, one reads that the “Roman Missal promulgated by Paul VI is the normal form, forma ordinaria, of the ‘lex orandi’ (law of prayer) of the Catholic Church of the Latin rite. However the Roman Missal promulgated by St Pius V and newly edited by Blessed John XXIII, should be considered as an extraordinary form, forma extraordinaria, of the same ‘lex orandi’ and should be regarded with due honour for its venerable and ancient usage.” So it is a matter of “twofold use of one and the same Roman rite” and for the celebration “according to one or other Missal, the priest does not need any permission, neither of the Apostolic See nor of his Ordinary”.

In the same logic, “in those parishes where there is the stable presence of a group of faithful who adhere to the preceding liturgical tradition, the parish should gladly welcome their requests for the celebration of Holy Mass according to the rite of the Roman Missal edited in 1962” (Art. 5. § 1), “even in particular circumstances like marriages, funeral rites or one-off celebrations, for example, pilgrimages ”(Art. 5. § 3). If the plea of the faithful is not met by the parish priest, they may turn to the bishop who is “earnestly requested to fulfill their desire” (art. 7).  

In his letter to the bishops, Benedict XVI first of all describes as “unfounded” 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.” 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.”

As for the 1962 Missal, continued the Pope, it was never juridically abrogated and moreover, a “good number of people remained strongly attached to this usage of the Roman Rite, which had been familiar to them from childhood”.

In this regard, Benedict XVI said that “fidelity to the old Missal became an external mark of identity” in the movement led by Archbishop Lefebvre, “the reasons for the break which arose over this, however, were at a deeper level. Many people who clearly accepted the binding character of the Second Vatican Council, and were faithful to the Pope and the Bishops, nonetheless also desired to recover the form of the sacred liturgy that was dear to them. This occurred above all because in many places celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal, but the latter actually was understood as authorizing or even requiring creativity, which frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear. I am speaking from experience, since I too lived through that period with all its hopes and its confusion. And I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church.”

As for the schism of Mgr Lefebvre, despite the efforts of John Paul II, who in 1988 allowed the use of the 1962 Missal, entrusting the concession “to the generosity of bishops”, the “reconciliation” with traditionalists “unfortunately has not succeeded so far”.

In the second place, the pope said he felt that fears that the use of the old Missal could produce “divisions or even break-ups” among the faithful were not “quite founded”, not least because it calls for “a certain degree of liturgical formation and some knowledge of the Latin language; neither of these is found very often.”

The last topic tackled was the concern about the authority of the bishop, raised, for example, in France, arising from the idea that he would in practice be obliged to accept the Tridentine Missal. About this, Benedict XVI wrote: “Nothing is taken away, then, from the authority of the Bishop, whose role remains that of being watchful that all is done in peace and serenity. Should some problem arise which the parish priest cannot resolve, the local Ordinary will always be able to intervene, in full harmony, however, with all that has been laid down by the new norms of the Motu Proprio.”

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