Saturday, July 07, 2007

Summorum Pontificum

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As many of you know, the pope has issued the long-awaited motu proprio "Summorum Pontificum" (Latin original here; English translation here) which will lift many of the former restrictions on the celebration of the classical version of the Roman liturgy which was in use prior to the Novus Ordo Missae promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1969. The English translation of Benedict XVI's explanatory letter to bishops is here.

It is a glorious day for all who love the liturgy, a wonderful opportunity for a renewal of faith and devotion that all of us should endeavor to take advantage of. I am sure the blessings to the Latin church will spill over into the worship life of other churches as well. One thing that should get particular attention is the fact that the need for the liberalization of the older version of the rite has become more imperative because of the growing response of young generations to the classical rites. (Could the New Mass end up going the way of New Coke? If so, it won't happen right away; but over time, who knows?) Below, I have pulled some key quotes from the pope's explanatory letter.

It is not appropriate to speak of these two versions of the Roman Missal as if they were “two Rites”. Rather, it is a matter of a twofold use of one and the same rite.

. . . 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. . . .

Immediately after the Second Vatican Council it was presumed that requests for the use of the 1962 Missal would be limited to the older generation which had grown up with it, but in the meantime it has clearly been demonstrated that young persons too have discovered this liturgical form, felt its attraction and found in it a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, particularly suited to them. Thus the need has arisen for a clearer juridical regulation which had not been foreseen at the time of the 1988 Motu Proprio. The present Norms are also meant to free Bishops from constantly having to evaluate anew how they are to respond to various situations.

. . . the two Forms of the usage of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching: new Saints and some of the new Prefaces can and should be inserted in the old Missal. . . . The celebration of the Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI will be able to demonstrate, more powerfully than has been the case hitherto, the sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage. The most sure guarantee that the Missal of Paul VI can unite parish communities and be loved by them consists in its being celebrated with great reverence in harmony with the liturgical directives. This will bring out the spiritual richness and the theological depth of this Missal.

. . . I now come to the positive reason which motivated my decision to issue this Motu Proprio updating that of 1988. It is a matter of coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church. Looking back over the past, to the divisions which in the course of the centuries have rent the Body of Christ, 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. This glance at the past imposes an obligation on us today: to make every effort to unable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew. . . . Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows.

There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal. In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. 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. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.

It seems to me that the two versions of the Roman Rite not only can co-exist, but also will mutually enrich the celebration of the other. The common celebration of the older missal cannot but help bring some sense of normalcy and heritage to the spiritual life of the congregations using the newer missal. Likewise, in this shared life, the newer missal may over time help bring the enrichment and reform to the older missal which is closer to the reform which the Second Vatican Council envisioned in the first place.

Can the two missals co-exist in a parish the way "Rite One" and "Rite Two" (and the 1928 and 1979 BCPs) do in American Episcopal churches? I think it is both possible and doable. But it will take dedication, patience, and charity. Do not expect every experience to go well. Fr Phillips from Our Lady of the Atonement Church in San Antonio relates a bad experience with the 1962 missal in his own parish here. But he still thinks the development is still a good things overall and can work.

As the Holy Father noted: "It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place."


Anonymous said...

I remember growing up in the 60's and all of my Catholic friends had no idea what was going on at a latin mass. It was not until the change over to English that the common Catholic church goer were "included" in the worship. Does the Church really want to go back to the exclusive days when the priests were the elite because they were educated to understand and participate in the Mass.

Courageous Grace said...

I have never been to a Latin mass...but I do believe I would be able to understand what was going on. Perhaps it is my classical training in music (for which knowing a bit of Latin, especially church Latin, is very helpful) combined with knowing the general order in which mass is carried out that makes me think this...but I do feel I could do it.

Jon said...

Dopel has a point, although Pope Benedict's letter seems to indicate that he assumes that the old mass will only be used where there are enough people able to understand what is going on. If one can't understand what is being said, there is a higher risk of reducing the mass to a form of entertainment than exists when people can understand the words, and it should go without saying that the point of the mass isn't entertainment.


Anonymous said...

I think what most people do not realize is that the Latin Mass congregations today are not the typical 50s congregations. The LM congregations are far more formed in their faith and in their understanding of the liturgy, probably because they have had to go out of their way to find and engage this expression of the faith. The question is, can some of that formation and devotion be the leaven in the lump for typical Catholics in typical parishes? I think it cannot but help.

Timothy Matkin +

Jon said...

I dunno, the difficulties Fr. Phillip's post outlined need to be taken seriously and they really could counteract the good impulse to more and better formation.