What future for the Mass after the Universæ Ecclesiæ Instruction?
We offer you this month, with the permission of the author, an article from "Mass of Ages", the magazine of the influential Latin Mass Society in the UK. After having met with French monks devoted to the revival of the Church in France, John Pedler explains the new liturgical situation after the publication of the instruction Universae Ecclesia.
I – John Pedler's article
The Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei’s Instruction of 30 April 2011 removes several of the excuses a number of bishops have made for their reluctance to implement the “universal law of the Church” established by Pope Benedict’s Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum of 7 July 2007. The Pope’s conciliatory letter to bishops accompanying the Motu Proprio assured them that, as provided by Sacrosanctum Concilium 22, “each bishop is the moderator of the liturgy in his own diocese” and could therefore intervene wherever there was a problem, with the important qualification: “in full harmony, however, with all that has been laid down by the new norms of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum”.
But a number of bishops still found ways to interpret Summorum Pontificum to continue to avoid being generous in granting permission for the 1962 Mass of John XXIII although they had been exhorted to do so by Pope John Paul II in his Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei, 1988.
The pope required that three years after Summorum Pontificum came into effect (14 September 2007) there should be an enquiry into its effects worldwide. The Instruction which results from this enquiry comes “with the desire to guarantee the proper interpretation and correct application of the Motu Proprio”.
Some bishops’ conferences (including the French one) provided replies that were lukewarm (if that) to the pope’s initiative, and clashed markedly with information from other sources (e.g. the Vatican diplomatic service, lay organisations like the international Una Voce movement, and communities providing the Extraordinary Form). A principal complaint was that many bishops were interpreting the Motu Proprio in ways to justify their long-standing policy of minimising use of the Extraordinary Form.
The 30 April 2011 Instruction makes it plain that these excuses are not valid. It goes further by confirming that the “Vicar of Christ and Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church” aims at offering the Extraordinary Form to all the faithful, and guaranteeing its use for all who ask for it. And, most significantly it declares that the Holy Father’s concern is also to “promote reconciliation at the heart of the Church”.
There is a disciplinary warning too: the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei is ”hierarchical Superior” and has the power to decide, where there has been legitimate complaint, on any decision of a bishop “which appears contrary to the Motu Proprio”.
So in the six years of Pope Benedict’s pontificate, the Mass of John XXIII has come from being at best a poor relation to being one of two equally valid rites of the Roman Church – an Extraordinary Form to be celebrated whenever asked for by any group of faithful from anywhere, even one only just formed ad hoc by some pilgrims arriving at a shrine.
Two equally valid rites means that the lex credendi, lex orandi for both are the same. The Ordinary Form – as Paul VI himself stated in his introduction to the first edition of his missal - reaffirms the traditional theology of the Mass as Sacrifice and the Real Presence. So the changes of 1969 do not, as many have implied, open the way towards a neo-protestant interpretation of “the Lord’s supper”.
To the great relief of many, this recognition of two equally valid rites is designed to put an end to the “trads” versus “progs” division which has done so much harm to the Church since the 1960s. The pope sees the Extraordinary Form as providing a “touchstone” of holiness for those offering the Ordinary Form which remains the usual Form. And it is the Holy, as then Cardinal Ratzinger, pointed out, that the young seek but so often have not been finding in the post-Conciliar Church.
It is ironic that it was assumed in the 1970s that there would be no call for the “Traditional Mass” once the pre-Vatican II generation passed away, yet today it is the young – often those considering vocations, young priests, and lay people with young families – who are now pressing so persistently for the Extraordinary Form and through it, for the revival of the Church. The torch of the Holiness of the Mass – in both its Forms – is being passed successfully to a new generation. And, as Fr. Jean-Paul Argouac’h points out in the March/April Edition of Reforme Liturgique, the Mass is at the heart not only of the Church but also of Christianity.
There was a time after the election of 78 year old Benedict XVI when quite a few believed (and not a few hoped) that his papacy would prove a flash in the pan – a stop-gap pope’s vain attempt to “set back the clock” by reviving a lost past. But in the seventh year of Benedict’s pontificate his purposes for the Church’s renewal are prevailing and are shared by those most influential in Rome. The hermeneutic of continuity has taken deep root. It is the lax liturgical practices of the 60’s and 70’s that are passing away with an older generation of bishops and clergy. Those who have been in Rome to discuss these matters in the last two years have returned greatly encouraged. The discipline of the Catholic Church is being restored gently, but firmly by the successor of Peter.
With the 2011 Universæ Ecclesiæ Instruction leaving no doubt about the papal intent of Summorum Pontificum, religious and laity calling for a greater use of the Extraordinary Form are no longer humble petitioners, but now have the backing of the highest authorities when discussing the liturgy with bishops.
With this sea change, there are two fundamental questions – what is the way forward for the Extraordinary Form, now accepted as the standard for Holiness? And what can be done to evoke that same Holiness in celebrations of the Ordinary Form?
To take the Extraordinary Form first. Perhaps what is most important is to pursue the right of all priests, with the minimal qualifications now permitted, to celebrate according to the 1962 Missal, and to ensure that seminaries do indeed, as is required, offer Latin and training for this purpose – which of course implies teaching the theology which lies behind it. Training for today’s priests is essential. And what graces will be granted for those who celebrate the 1962 Mass daily!
Introducing the Extraordinary Form to parishes is clearly important if it is to be a beacon for enhancing the Holiness with which the Ordinary Form is celebrated. Low Mass will not serve for this - a sung High Mass once a month, even every two months, should surely be the norm to aim at. Then there is the option – in France, at present usually denied – of inviting priests in communities using the 1962 Missal to take over parishes for which no priest can be found given the crippling shortage of vocations for the Ordinary Form. But in France today there are cases where bishops prefer to close churches or seek priests from Africa, rather than from such communities!
Another option is the designation of particular churches for the Extraordinary Form. This can be very useful in making that Mass regularly available throughout a country – but, unless care is taken, this can lead to isolation as has occurred in some cases in France (“out of sight, out of mind” some bishops hoped). That can be countered by arranging for the priest and his “team” at such churches to visit cathedrals and other churches to celebrate High Mass from time to time where the necessary expertise is lacking. Were this to happen not only the general public but the media would once again be aware of th