POPE FRANCIS has clamped down on the use of the pre-Vatican II Roman Missal, which, he says, has been exploited to encourage disagreement, divide the faithful, and impede the Church’s moving forward.
In doing so, he overturns significant concessions to traditionalists made by his immediate predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, with the Apostolic Letter (motu proprio) Summorum Pontificum of July 2007, which allowed priests to celebrate according to the 1962 edition of the Missale Romanum without seeking permission from their superiors.
This rite, referred to by Pope Benedict as the Extraordinary Form, differs from the new liturgy authorised after Second Vatican Council, which Pope Benedict called the Ordinary Form, not only in being celebrated in Latin rather than (usually) the vernacular, but including the silent canon, and prayers and ceremonial that were rarely experienced by most Roman Catholics in the decades after 1970.
Pope Benedict, however, provided not only for parish priests who were celebrating mass without a congregation to use the 1962 Missal at will, but for such celebrations to be “attended also by members of the lay faithful when spontaneously requested to do so, with respect to requirements of the law. . .
“Where a group of the faithful attached to the previous liturgical tradition stably exists, the parish priest should willingly accede to their request to celebrate Holy Mass according to the rite of the 1962 Roman Missal. He should ensure that the good of these members of the faithful is harmonised with the ordinary pastoral care of the parish, under the governance of the bishop.”
Pope Benedict also allowed for the use of the older rite in marriages, funerals, pilgrimages, baptisms, penance, and the anointing of the sick, “if advantageous for the good of souls”.
Most people understood the motives for that legislation, Pope Francis writes to bishops in an accompanying letter to his Apostolic Letter Traditionis Custodes, and refers to “the desire to foster the healing of the schism with the movement of Mons. Lefebvre”. The ecclesial intention had been to restore the unity of the Church, and bishops had been asked to “accept with generosity” the “just aspirations” of the faithful who requested the use of that missal.
But responses to a questionnaire to the bishops from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith revealed “a situation that preoccupies and saddens me”, Pope Francis writes.
“Regrettably, the pastoral objective of my predecessors, who had intended ‘to do everything possible to ensure that all those who truly possessed the desire for unity would find it possible to remain in this unity or to discover it anew’ has been exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce the divergences, and encourage disagreements that injure the Church, block her path, and expose her to the peril of division.
“At the same time, I am saddened by abuses in the celebration of the liturgy on all sides. In common with Benedict XVI, I deplore the fact that in many places the prescriptions of the new Missal are not observed in celebration, but indeed come to be interpreted as an authorisation for or even a requirement of creativity, which leads to almost unbearable distortions.”
He goes further, declaring himself saddened by the rejection not only of liturgical reform, but of the Second Vatican Council itself,by those “claiming, with unfounded and unsustainable assertions, that it betrayed the Tradition and the ‘true Church’. . . To doubt the Council is to doubt the intentions of those very Fathers who exercised their collegial power in a solemn manner . . . and, in the final analysis, to doubt the Holy Spirit himself who guides the Church.”
He has, therefore, taken a “firm decision to abrogate all the norms, instructions and permissions that precede the present motu proprio”.
He tells the bishops that it is up to them to apply the norms of the present, and to “proceed in such a way as to return to a unitary form of celebration, and to determine case by case the reality of the groups which celebrate with the Missale Romanum. . .
“At the same time, I ask you to be vigilant in ensuring that every liturgy be celebrated with decorum and fidelity to the liturgical books promulgated after Vatican Council II, without the eccentricities that could easily degenerate into abuses.”
Bishops must consult the Vatican now before permitting 1962 celebrations under stricted limited conditions, and not in parishes.