The Pope’s Statement on Use of the Tridentine Rite

The Pope’s Statement on Use of the Tridentine Rite
On 7th July Pope Benedict’s motu proprio (Latin for ‘on his own impulse’) ‘On the Use of the Liturgy Prior to the Reform of 1970’ was promulgated.
In this column I summarise what the document and the accompanying explanatory letter actually say. Next week I will look at what it will mean in practice for parishes.
The statement itself begins with a brief history of the renewal of the Roman Missal up to the current Missal of Paul VI. Mention is then made of those who adhered to ‘the earlier liturgical forms’ for whom concessions were granted in 1984 and extended in 1988.
The main body of the document follows. The first Article states that the Roman Missal of Paul VI, the one used in parishes since 1970, is the ‘ordinary expression’ of the rule of prayer of the Catholic Church. It is permissible however to celebrate Mass according to the Missal promulgated by Pius V in 1570 (the Tridentine Rite) and reissued by John XXIII in 1962 as an ‘extraordinary form’ of the liturgy of the Church.
As in the terms extra-ordinary and ordinary ministers of communion, ‘ordinary’ here means usual or normal, while ‘extraordinary’ means outside the usual or normal.
A number of conditions for use of the older form take up the rest of the motu proprio. Article 5 sets out the requirement for parishes:

“In parishes, where there is a stable group of faithful who adhere to the earlier liturgical tradition, the pastor should willingly accept their requests to celebrate the Mass according to the rite of the Roman Missal published in 1962, and ensure that the welfare of these faithful harmonizes with the ordinary pastoral care of the parish, avoiding discord and favouring the unity of the whole Church.”

Such celebrations may be held on weekdays and once on Sundays and feast days. Baptism, marriage, penance, funerals, and the anointing of the sick may also be celebrated using the earlier rite under special circumstances ‘if the good of souls would seem to require it’.
The remainder of the document deals with the course of action to be taken when problems arise in implementing the permissions after they take effect on 14th September.
Pope Benedict begins the explanatory letter that accompanies the motu proprio by addressing two fears that were expressed before its release.
He responds to the fear that the document would be seen as calling into question the authority of the Second Vatican Council by restating clearly: “The Missal published by Paul VI…obviously is and continues to be the normal form of the Eucharistic liturgy”. This point is reiterated later when he refers to ‘the value and holiness’ of the new rite.
In response to the fear that a wider use of the 1962 Missal would lead to divisions within parish communities he says:

“This fear also strikes me as quite unfounded. The use of the old Missal presupposes a certain degree of liturgical formation and some knowledge of the Latin language; neither of these is found very often. It is clearly seen that the new Missal will certainly remain the ordinary Form of the Roman Rite.”

Finally, he comes to the positive reason for the issuing of the motu proprio which is to bring about ‘an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church’ by making room for those with different views to remain in, or be restored to, unity.
The letter concludes with an invitation to the bishops to send to Rome an account of their experiences with the motu proprio in three years time so that serious difficulties can be remedied.

Elizabeth Harrington