Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Msgr. David Q. Liptak

Q. I see that there is a lot of confusion about the recent (July) Vatican statement on restoring the Latin Mass. Could you outline what the Holy Father has said, and why?

A. Yes, there has been considerable confusion about the recent (July) document issued by Pope Benedict XVI concerning the use of the Roman Missal, as promulgated by Blessed Pope John XXIII in 1962. It goes without saying that even supposedly enlightened reporters for many secular media forms simply do not understand, or else do not read.

First, the document, in Latin, is a Papal statement, issued on Papal initiative; hence it is technically described as an Apostolic Letter “Motu Proprio data.” The Latin “motu proprio” means “on [his] own initiative.”

Second, even though the new Order of Mass, which can be celebrated in the vernacular (e.g., English, French, German, Spanish, Polish, etc.) was promulgated as normative since Pope Paul VI’s Missal of 1970, the Latin Missal of John XXIII and Paul VI has never been formally abrogated. Hence, the phrase “return of the Latin Missal” is not accurate.

Now, Pope Benedict is saying, this Latin Missal of 1962 may be used without any special permissions as an alternate form of the Roman Liturgy, even though the Missal of Paul VI, which may be celebrated in the vernacular, certainly remains the normal form (Latin: Forma ordinaria). Therefore, the Latin Mass is really an extraordinary form (Latin: Forma extraordinaria). The Holy Father stresses that it is inappropriate to refer to “two rites”; rather, references to “two forms” of the Roman Eucharistic Liturgy are correct.

Why did Pope Benedict issue this motu proprio, entitled Summorum Pontificium?

For one thing Benedict, after surveying the global situation for years, came to the conclusion that “no small numbers of faithful adhered and continue to adhere with great love and affection” to earlier liturgical forms.” This situation had already persuaded Pope John Paul II to permit limited use of the Latin Missal of 1962. (See Quattuor abhinc anno, dated 1984; and Ecclesia Dei, dated 1988. Cf. Summorum Pontificium, Introduction.)

In this context, Benedict has moved to do all that he can do to regain “reconciliation and unity” in view of divisions within the body of the Church owing to liturgical modifications. In a Pastoral Letter to bishops concerning restoration of the Latin Missal, he noted an impression gleaned from historical problems that – these words are especially noteworthy – “at critical moments, when divisions were coming about, not enough was done by the Church’s leaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity.” Hence, this “glance” of history “imposes on us today an obligation: to make every effort to enable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew.” ( 12)

Concretely, what does the new motu proprio allow?

First, any priest may himself now use the Latin Missal of John XXIII, on any day, except during the Easter Triduum (from Holy Thursday to the Easter Mass). (Art. 2)

Second, where a “stable” group of faithful who adhere to the traditional “form” (the original Latin uses the adverb continenter, signifying “continuously”) requests such a Mass, a pastor (parochus) may comply, keeping in mind (1) the spiritual welfare of the group, and (2) the guidance of the Bishop, in accordance with Canon 392 of the Code, (3) together with the need for sensitivity to retaining pastoral unity and avoiding discord. (Art. 5, 1)

Third, one of the Sunday (or Major Feast Day) Masses may be celebrated in the extraordinary Latin “form.” (Art. 5,  2)

Fourth, use of the Latin Missal may be used in response to requests for funerals or marriages, etc. (Art. 5  3)

Also – this is obvious – priests must be qualified to use the Latin. (There are many priests today who do not know either Latin or the Latin Mass.) (Art. 5,  4) This is where veteran priests can be instructive.

In Latin Masses, the readings may be in the approved vernaculars. (Art. 6) Revisions of the Roman Missal, including more Bible readings, are being considered. This is also true of adding more Prefaces. (See Letter accompanying the motu proprio).

Other liturgical rites, such as Baptism and the Anointing of the Sick, may be conducted in the approved Latin form.

Incidentally, the Latin form of the Missal does not provide for concelebration. No mention is made in the new document as to whether the celebrant faces or has his back to the people, as if he were leading a pilgrimage. Among the requirements that are specified are that some parts (i.e., the Canon) are said in a subdued voice (See Letter), and only the Roman Canon, or Eucharistic Prayer I, is included.

There are other most interesting details about the new Papal document, which will be treated in context as the latest norms are set forth by our bishops. Priests act in accordance with the guidelines of the bishops, of course.

The motu proprio sets a date of 14 September, 2007 (the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross), for implementation.