Will a New Papal Document Curtail Use of the Old Mass?
On the internet, there are increasing worries among traditional Catholics that an upcoming Vatican Instruction on how to implement Summorum Pontificum will curtail use of the Old Mass
By Robert Moynihan
Will the Vatican soon issue a document calling for some restrictions on the use of the old rite of the Mass?
The internet, especially in traditional Catholic circles, is abuzz with reports that this may be about to happen.
But for the moment, these reports are based only on rumors.
Officially, no one yet knows the content of the upcoming Vatican Instruction to give guidelines for the implementation of Summorum Pontificum — the dramatic and controversial July 7, 2007 papal motu proprio in which Benedict XVI, after long hesitation, granted wider use of the old, pre-Vatican II liturgy, also known as the Tridentine liturgy or the Latin Mass.
The upcoming document is indeed being prepared; that much is certain.
It is said to bear the date of February 22 — just four days from now.
But it is not likely to be made public on February 22, but some days or weeks later, as often happens with Roman documents, and the document can even be rewritten during that time, after the date it is signed.
So we may be in for a considerable period of uncertainty on this question. And that will naturally allow room for fears based on uncertain or partial information to grow.
According to unconfirmed “leaks” of portions of the document’s contents, the Instruction will, somewhat unexpectedly, contain two clauses which will restrict the celebration of the old rite.
I say “somewhat unexpectedly” because the expectation for this document was that it would concretize what Benedict said in 2007 was his desire for a “generous” granting of permission to celebrate the old liturgy “widely.”
It therefore seems strange to many that, if the reports are true, it may contain new restrictions, as if this would be out of keeping with Benedict’s own expressed will.
First, according to these reports, the old Mass will not be able to be freely celebrated in places where “non-Roman” Western rites once flourished, especially in Milan, where the Ambrosian rite flourished. (This is of importance because Milan is one of the largest dioceses in the world.)
In an internet report on the Catholic website Rorate Coeli (https://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/2011/02/instruction-ii-ghettoization-must-start.html), we read:
“In its current draft, the Instruction definitely ‘clarifies’ that the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum is applied exclusively to the Roman Rite, in the strictest interpretation of the word. Therefore, not to the non-Roman Latin Rites: the clearly minoritarian or even forgotten Mozarabic, Braga, or Sarum rites. But the rule would apply also to the not few religious who have tried to rediscover their Traditional rites or uses: Dominicans and Carmelites, in particular, but also Carthusians, Norbertines… What is surprising is that the extension of the spirit of the motu proprio to other Western rites and uses had always been assumed…
“This restrictive rule,” the web site continues, “would in particular (and would seem thus planned, considering the complications of the Italian Church) exclude the application of the motu proprio to the Traditional Liturgy of the largest diocese in the Old World, and third with most Catholics in the world: Milan. Excluding the enclaves of Roman Rite, the motu proprio would be void in the Archdiocese and in the Ambrosian zones of the Diocese of Lugano, Switzerland.
“For over five million Catholics in that area, and for religious priests dedicated to their rites or uses, the rules to be applied would not be those of Summorum (the Traditional Liturgy as a right of priests and groups of faithful), but only Ecclesia-Dei-like privileges and concessions, granted by the liturgical authorities of the Archdiocese (in the case of Milan) or the Superiors (in the case of the orders).
“Why such a restriction? In legal terms, nothing seems to demand it: the text of Summorum is sufficiently ambiguous that it can be interpreted in both ways…
“This first major point of the instruction has, thus, a clear repressive and punitive intention. Its sense would be extremely dangerous: that the Traditional liturgies of the West, rather than being encouraged (as the letter of the motu proprio makes clear), must be contained, regulated, oppressed. Not a clear declaration of rights, but a bureaucratic web of limited privileges and concessions: this small example seems to set the general new tone regarding the Traditional Liturgy.
“This may seem minor,” the Rorate Coeli website concludes. “Yet it is quite significant in what it reveals: an interpretation of the rights recognized by Summorum as privileges or ‘indults’ that can be curtailed.”
Second, and “much, much, more serious and insidious” says Rorate Coeli, is the report that “the Instruction, in its current draft, will explicitly prevent Bishops from using the Traditional Rite of Holy Orders.”
In other words, bishops will not be able freely to ordain their seminarians using the old rite.
They will be able to celebrate all of the other sacraments — baptism, confirmation, etc. — according to the old rite, but not holy orders, unless they receive ask permission first from Rome.
There will be two exceptions, according to the leaked information, when bishops may use the old rite in priestly ordination ceremonies.
The first involves those institutes (the Ecclesia Dei institutes) and particular Churches dedicated exclusively to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.
The other exception is that the Bishop that desires to ordain a certain seminarian in the ancient Rite will have to ask prior permission to Rome (to the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei), which will then evaluate if said permission should be granted or not.
“What is to be achieved by this odious restrictive interpretation?” Rorate Coeli asks. “Why should bishops be forbidden to choose with which Rite to ordain their own deacons and priests? The intention is, among others, to ghettoize the Traditional Rite of this most pivotal of all Sacraments, Holy Orders; and, further, to identify ‘problematic’ bishops and future priests, with all consequences that could entail (including for their careers).”
The website concludes: “It is an alarming sign that the thrust of the Instruction is once again to make, even in law, all Catholics attached to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite or those who merely appreciate it (and, in this case, even Bishops and poor hopeful seminarians) second-class Catholics.”
Some web bloggers argue that the leaks that have been leaked thus far are disinformation, that there is an effort being made to confuse people just before the Instruction’s appearance.
“These documents go through many drafts, with many changes,” one blogger wrote. “My guess is that such info is disinformation, intending to influence the document or – perhaps more importantly – its reception… It might have happened like this: A few powerful German or French bishops communicate with or visit Ecclesia Dei, recommending that certain restrictions be in the Instruction. Then word is put out through sources that such restrictions will be in the Instruction. A similar MO [modus operandi] was used before Humanae Vitae was promulgated.”
Father John Zuhlsdorf, whose popular website “What Does the Prayer Really Say?” (https://wdtprs.com/blog) has reported on the leaks, has encouraged his readers to pray for the Holy Father.
“If you are concerned about what might happen to Summorum Pontificum,” he writes, “pray and fast. Don’t whine. Don’t panic. Don’t fret. Don’t behave like a suddenly headless chicken.
“Do what a committed Catholic warrior would do for a cause that is dear,” Zuhldsorf continues. “Go to church and spend time before the Blessed Sacrament every day until this resolves one way or another. Ask Jesus to either stop the Instruction or to make Summorum Pontificum even better. Pray the Rosary for the Holy Father. Ask our Blessed Mother to move the Holy Father to keep Summorum Pontificum strong, to make it even stronger. Pray to the Holy Father’s guardian angels constantly during the day asking them to strengthen him and to weaken his many enemies, some of them very close to him.”
Zuhlsdorf and others desire to “keep Summorum Pontificum strong” because they see the revival of the old liturgy as positive not only for the Church’s cultural identity, but also for the holiness of her faith and morals.
One blogger, noting that he had just read through the “shocking” Philadelphia Grand Jury report, just published, on the investigation into the priestly abuse of minors in the archdiocese of Philadelphia, expresses a feeling widely shared by traditional Catholics: that the loss of the sense of the sacred which followed the introduction of the new Mass in 1970 — for whatever reason — also contributed to a loss of moral discipline, of a moral compass, among many Catholics, especially among the clergy, and that the return to the faith and practice inculcated by the old Mass is the best way to restore the holiness of the life of the Church and end the scandals.
But, this blogger notes, after four decades, a return to that faith and practice is bitterly opposed by many in the Church, some of them very powerful and highly placed.
A Petition on this Matter
At the following web address, you can find a petition in several languages which asks the Holy Father to intervene, if necessary, to revise the wording of this draft document: https://www.motuproprioappeal.com/
Here is the text of that petition:
Appeal for the Preservation of the Integrity of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum
An Appeal to the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, Pertaining to the Instruction/Clarification of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum
Most Holy Father, we the undersigned:
1. Express our profound gratitude to Your Holiness for your personal liturgical example to the Universal Church. You are a true homo liturgicus whose love for the sacred liturgy is an inspiration; it teaches more clearly than words the centrality of the liturgy in the life of the Church.
2. Thank Your Holiness for your gift to the Church of your 2007 Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum. Since 2007 it has brought forth many fruits, including greater unity in the Church of Christ and a widespread enrichment of the liturgical life of the Church.
3. Note with sadness the continuing and real opposition to the implementation of Summorum Pontificum in many dioceses and on the part of many members of the hierarchy, the suffering and distress this continues to cause many of Christ’s faithful and the obstacle this opposition is to an effective reconciliation within the Church.
4. Note with anxiety the apparent signs that a forthcoming Instruction on Summorum Pontificum will, in some way, take away from what you have legally established in that Motu Proprio and from its wide application in the generous spirit so eloquently explained by Your Holiness in the letter accompanying it: “Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows.”
5. Express our grave concern that any restrictive measures would cause scandal, disunity and suffering in the Church and would frustrate the reconciliation you so earnestly desire, as well as impede further liturgical renewal and development in continuity with Tradition, which is already so great a fruit of your pontificate.
6. Express our hope, our desire and our urgent appeal that the good Your Holiness personally initiated through Summorum Pontificum not be allowed to be hindered by such restrictions.
7. Turn to you with filial trust and as obedient sons and daughters, Most Holy Father, and ask that you urgently consider our concerns and intervene if you judge it necessary.
8. Assure Your Holiness of our continuing prayers, of our deep affection and of our loyalty.
If you go to the web site, you can add your name to this petition.