Hide other sections
« Back to news list
The Mass: Back to the Future

Forthcoming papal decree authorizes expanded use of Tridentine Mass, Vatican says

By Gerard O'Connell
VATICAN CITY (UCAN) – According to the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI will, in a few days, authorize wider use of the Tridentine Mass as an "extraordinary" form of the Latin Rite.

A Vatican statement released on June 28 says the forthcoming Motu Proprio, a decree the pope issues "on his own initiative," will expand "the use of the Missal promulgated by Blessed John XXIII in 1962."

In 1969, Pope Paul VI suppressed that missal, which was issued on the eve of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), by promulgating a radically revised one that reflects Council-inspired changes, including the use of the vernacular.

Before becoming pope, Benedict XVI harbored serious reservations about that suppression. In the interview-book Salt of the Earth (1997), he says: "A community is calling its very being into question when it suddenly declares that what was its holiest and highest possession is strictly forbidden and when it makes the longing for it seem downright indecent." In his view, "the old rite should be granted much more generously to all who desire it."

He moved decisively in that direction late June 27 afternoon when he spoke to cardinals and bishops from 14 countries and seven bishops' conferences at a meeting held sub secreto (under secrecy) in the Vatican. He told them that his Motu Proprio will allow broader use of the missal promulgated by Pope John XXIII, which actually is a revised version of the Pius V Missal of 1570.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the secretary of state, convened the gathering aware that several episcopal conferences strongly oppose reinstating the Tridentine Mass on a wider scale. The cardinal invited representatives of some bishops' conferences and a small number of other bishops who favor the return of the old rite to attend.

Almost half the participants came from Europe: two each from Italy and France, and one each from Germany, the United Kingdom and Switzerland. Also attending were two from the United States, two from Africa and one from Asia. The Asian participant was Cardinal Telesphore Toppo of Ranchi, India, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India.

Though nearly half the world's Catholics live in Latin American, the only representative from that region at the meeting was Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, 77, president of the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei."

The commission, which Pope John Paul II set up in 1988 to reconcile members of the Saint Pius X Society and the pope, strongly advocates reinstating the Pius V Missal, as John XXIII updated and revised it, to foster reconciliation.

The society's founder, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, went into schism in 1988 by ordaining four members of his society as bishops without papal approval.

Besides getting a copy of the Motu Proprio, participants received a letter Pope Benedict wrote to explain why he is issuing the decree. Some participants admitted it was hard to understand the Motu Proprio because it is in Latin.

Cardinal Bertone refuted media reports intimating that the papal decree will remove power from bishops in this matter. As the pope had done in his letter, the cardinal outlined three key reasons for issuing the document.

The first and main one is to ease the full communion and reconciliation of the St. Pius X Society with the pope. Suppression of the Tridentine Mass was a major reason for Archbishop Lefebvre and his followers to break with the pope.

The "Lefebvrites" also disagreed with much of what the Second Vatican Council taught about ecumenism and interfaith dialogue. The meeting's participants were given updated statistics on the Saint Pius X Society.

A second reason for the Motu Proprio is to enable "wider use" of the Tridentine Mass. Unlike the "ordinary form" approved by Paul VI in 1969, in the Motu Proprio, the Tridentine Mass is considered an "extraordinary" expression of the Latin Rite.

John Paul II authorized bishops to approve requests of people for the Tridentine Mass, but many bishops have refused to do so. Benedict, lobbied by traditionalists and basically sympathetic to them, devised the "extraordinary" form as a way to unblock the situation and accommodate those people.

The third reason for the Motu Proprio is to preserve "the treasures" of the Church's older culture, including Latin in the liturgy, and to integrate them into the contemporary culture.

Pope Benedict suggested in his nearly one-hour meeting with participants that if five or six Sunday Masses are offered in a diocesan cathedral, the bishop could designate one of them for celebration according to the John XXIII missal, if a sizable number of people ask for it.

All participants expressed their views at the meeting. Some saw the Motu Proprio as an expression of "pastoral charity," or a strong affirmation of "diversity in unity." By the end of the meeting, most indicated their basic acceptance of the text, but a few, like the French, still had reservations.

The Motu Proprio provides for a review of the situation in three years.

School Supplies