Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 16, 2007
Pope relaxes restrictions on use of Tridentine Mass
Priests do not need bishop's permission to celebrate old liturgy
By JOHN THAVIS
Catholic News Service
In a long-awaited overture to disaffected Catholic traditionalists, Pope Benedict relaxed restrictions on the use of the Tridentine Mass, the Latin-language liturgy that predates the Second Vatican Council.
The pope said Mass celebrated according to the 1962 Roman Missal, commonly known as the Tridentine rite, should be made available in every parish where groups of the faithful desire it.
He said that while the new Roman Missal, introduced in 1970, remains the ordinary way of Catholic worship, the 1962 missal should be considered "the extraordinary expression of the same law of prayer."
"They are, in fact, two usages of the one Roman rite," he said.
The pope's directive came July 7 in a four-page apostolic letter titled Summorum Pontificum. The new norms will take effect Sept. 14, the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
An explanatory letter from the pontiff to the world's bishops dismissed fears that the decree would foment divisions in the Church or be seen as a retreat from Vatican II.
The pope said the new Mass rite undoubtedly would remain the Church's predominant form of worship. Use of the old missal presupposes a certain degree of liturgical formation and some knowledge of the Latin language, and "neither of these is found very often," he said.
But the pope expressed sympathy with Catholics attached to the Tridentine rite and uncomfortable with the new Mass. In the post-Vatican II period, he said, excessive liturgical creativity often 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 confusion. And I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church."
The Latin Mass has been allowed as a liturgical exception since 1984, but Catholics had to request permission from local bishops, who did not always consent.
The new decree altered the bishop's role, maintaining his general oversight on liturgy but removing him from initial decisions on Tridentine Masses.
The text said that where "a group of faithful attached to the previous liturgical tradition exists stably," the pastor should "willingly accede" to their request to make the old Mass available.
Priests must be qualified
However, the document stipulates that priests who use the 1962 Roman Missal must be qualified to do so. Some experts believe a lack of priests trained to say the old Mass could present problems, at least initially, in responding to local requests.
As well, the document said, local pastors should balance special requests for the old liturgy with the ordinary pastoral demands of the parish.
It offered some guidelines: On Sundays and feast days, parishes may offer only one Tridentine Mass; the old Mass also can be celebrated on weekdays and in circumstances such as pilgrimages.
When a group of the lay faithful "does not obtain what it requests from the pastor," it should inform the local bishop, who is "earnestly requested to grant their desire," the document said.
If the bishop is unable to provide for this kind of celebration, the matter goes to the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, which is charged with "maintaining vigilance over the observance and application" of the new decree, it said.
The document said the 1962 missal can be used for the sacraments of Baptism, Marriage, Penance and the Anointing of the Sick, if the faithful request it. Bishops may celebrate the sacrament of Confirmation according to the old rite, too.
The text allowed for Mass readings in local languages, even when the 1962 missal is being used, using a Lectionary approved by Vatican.
New Mass has value, holiness
In his letter, Pope Benedict said the priests who celebrate according to the Tridentine rite cannot, as a matter of principle, exclude celebrating the new Mass.
"The total exclusion of the new rite would not, in fact, be consistent with the recognition of its value and holiness."
That could be an important point in the Vatican's reconciliation efforts with the Society of St. Pius X, founded by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who was excommunicated in 1988. The society rejects the new Mass and several important teachings of Vatican II.
In a statement July 7, the head of the Lefebvrite society, Bishop Bernard Fellay, welcomed the pope's decree and said it had created a "favourable climate" for ongoing dialogue with the Vatican. But he said doctrinal differences must be settled before there can be reconciliation.
Although the decree was issued motu proprio, a phrase that signifies a pope is acting on his own initiative, Pope Benedict consulted with the world's cardinals and bishops for nearly two years.
The strongest apprehensions were voiced by French and German bishops, who worried that internal Church unity - and their own authority - could be weakened by creating parallel worshipping communities.
Other bishops said the move could be seen as delegitimizing the liturgical reform of Vatican II.
The pope, in his explanatory letter, dismissed both fears as "unfounded."
Progress, but no rupture
He emphasized that although the new Mass of 1970 was designed to replace the old liturgy, the 1962 Roman Missal was "never juridically abrogated." Its restoration as an extraordinary form of worship thus does not undermine the council's decisions, he said.
"In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture," he said. "What earlier generations held as sacred remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful."
As for Church unity, the pope told the bishops that he had freed them from having to decide on requests for the old liturgy, but was relying on them to maintain communion among their faithful.
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