Friday, May 13, 2011

Universae Ecclesiae and You

Today the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei released the Instruction Universae Ecclesiae.  (Fr. Z has the text here  In layman's terms, it is an instruction about how Pope Benedict's Summorum Pontificium should be understood and applied.  What follows will be a few brief thoughts on it.

1.)  Not much really changes with this document in my neck of the woods where the Extraordinary Form is concerned.  I know of two churches by me that offer the EF more than once a week, and another that offers the EF at least once a month if not more, all within 35 miles of my apartment.  For those who aren't spoiled rotten like this humble journalist, hopefully things will get better.

2.)  The document reminds people that the motu proprio wasn't made just to placate a bunch of nostalgic curmudgeons.  The Pope wanted to liberalize the Extraordinary Form because he felt it would be a great grace for the faithful, all the faithful.  There have been some who were under the mistaken idea that since they didn't have an "SSPX problem", they didn't need to worry.  The Instruction says otherwise.

3.)  The "stable group" asking for the Extraordinary Form is not clarified by what it must be, but that it need not be certain things.  It need not be people from the home parish.  It need not be a sizable congregation.  It need not be, etc etc.  Furthermore, what constitutes a "qualified" priest is given.  In short, do you have a remedial understanding of Latin that gives you the ability to pronounce the Mass and understand what is being said?  Have you celebrated it before?  Congratulations, you are qualified!

4.)  For awhile, people have been under the mistaken understanding Bishops could still prohibit priests in good standing from celebrating the Extraordinary Form.  The Instruction says otherwise.  Any decision regarding these manners is made by the Commission Ecclesia Dei.  To the extent a Bishop has a role, they should help facilitate the decisions from the Commission.  This gives a nice reminder that while a Bishop has considerable local autonomy, he does not have such autonomy over the liturgy.  If Rome has said that priests are free to celebrate the Extraordinary Form, and that it should be made as available to the faithful as possible, then Roma locuta est. 

5.)  Now onto the things I find interesting.  First, the Motu Proprio constitutes an "important expression of the Magesterium of the Roman Pontiff."  There are those who falsely believed that what Benedict was doing was simply disciplinary.  This really isn't so.  If we remember, the point of the Motu Proprio was to emphasize that:

What was sacred for prior generations, remains sacred and great for us as well, and cannot be suddenly prohibited altogether or even judged harmful
The Council of Trent makes perfectly clear that when dealing with liturgical manners, doctrine is so intertwined, the issue of infallibility is certainly at play.  While the Motu Proprio was far from an infallible statement, in matters regarding the liturgy, this is clearly more than just a simple prudential statement.

6.)  Ironically enough, the Instruction puts to rest what used to be a "hot topic" amongst traditionalists:  the status of the Extraordinary Form.  Was it suppressed?  The Instruction says no.  It states:
The Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificium was accompanied by a letter from the Holy Father to Bishops, with the same date as the Motu Proprio (7 July 2007). This letter gave further explanations regarding the appropriateness and the need for the Motu Proprio; it was a matter of overcoming a lacuna by providing new norms for the use of the Roman Liturgy of 1962. Such norms were needed particularly on account of the fact that, when the new Missal had been introduced under Pope Paul VI, it had not seemed necessary to issue guidelines regulating the use of the 1962 Liturgy.
I argued precisely this almost 7 years ago against a certain traditionalist back when I ran the weblog Restore the Church.  It was this position that was part of me "selling out" and "moderating" my beliefs.  Simply put, Paul VI didn't abolish the Extraordinary Form.  Quite frankly, it is an open question if a Pope has the authority to abolish as forbidden something with over a millenia of usage in the liturgical tradition of the Church. (Being the principal form of worship in the Roman Rite to boot.)  Paul VI and those behind the Ordinary Form could not conceive that people would be less than thrilled with the final product, and of all the abuses that crept in.   Since this situation happened, the church had to address how the aspirations of these faithful Catholics should be met.

7.)  After having received the approval from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei will have the task of looking after future editions of liturgical texts pertaining to the forma extraordinaria of the Roman Rite. 

While the first instinct of the traditionalist is going to be a little leery of this statement, this really shouldn't be a surprise.  The Extraordinary Form is not meant to be a "dead" liturgy.  There have been saints since the 1962 calendar was put into place, and there could be other small reforms such as the additions of prefaces, etc.  If this happens, let us just hope those in authority learned their lesson about organic reform this time.

8.)  In paragraph 28, we are told that if there was something which is on the liturgical books that conflicts with the books in 1962, we can't use those practices in our celebration of the Extraordinary Form.  Not shocking at all.  Most of us don't want thousands of "eucharistic ministers", altar girls, Evita style cantors from the lectionary, etc, at our Mass.  The Instruction simply makes sure we won't.

There are a few other things I left out (such as permission for the vernacular to be used during the readings at Low Mass), so go read the document for yourselves.  In a future post, I'd like to focus on the issue of seminaries, and what to do from here on out.  As always, Fr. Z gets it basically right.

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