This letter of Pope Benedict XVI was issued 7 July
2007 together with his Apostolic Letter "Summorum Pontificum" on the
celebration of the Roman Rite according to the Missal of 1962. The
following is the Vatican's unofficial translation of the official Latin
Summorum Pontificum issued Motu Proprio
My dear Brother Bishops,
With great trust and hope, I am consigning to you as Pastors the text of
a new Apostolic Letter "Motu Proprio data" on the use of the Roman
liturgy prior to the reform of 1970. The document is the fruit of much
reflection, numerous consultations and prayer.
News reports and judgments made without sufficient information have
created no little confusion. There have been very divergent reactions
ranging from joyful acceptance to harsh opposition, about a plan whose
contents were in reality unknown.
This document was most directly opposed on account of two fears, which I
would like to address somewhat more closely in this letter.
In the first place, there is the fear that the document detracts from
the authority of the Second Vatican Council, one of whose essential
decisions – the liturgical reform – is being called into question. This
fear is unfounded. In this regard, it must first be said that the Missal
published by Paul VI and then republished in two subsequent editions by
John Paul II, obviously is and continues to be the normal Form – the
Forma ordinaria – of the Eucharistic Liturgy. The last version of the
Missale Romanum prior to the Council, which was published with the
authority of Pope John XXIII in 1962 and used during the Council, will
now be able to be used as a Forma extraordinaria of the liturgical
celebration. 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.
As for the use of the 1962 Missal as a Forma extraordinaria of the
liturgy of the Mass, I would like to draw attention to the fact that
this Missal was never juridically abrogated and, consequently, in
principle, was always permitted. At the time of the introduction of the
new Missal, it did not seem necessary to issue specific norms for the
possible use of the earlier Missal. Probably it was thought that it
would be a matter of a few individual cases which would be resolved,
case by case, on the local level. Afterwards, however, it soon became
apparent that a good number of people remained strongly attached to this
usage of the Roman Rite, which had been familiar to them from childhood.
This was especially the case in countries where the liturgical movement
had provided many people with a notable liturgical formation and a deep,
personal familiarity with the earlier Form of the liturgical
celebration. We all know that, in the movement led by Archbishop
Lefebvre, fidelity to the old Missal became an external mark of
identity; the reasons for the break which arose over this, however, were
at a deeper level. Many people who clearly accepted the binding
character of the Second Vatican Council, and were faithful to the Pope
and the Bishops, nonetheless also desired to recover the form of the
sacred liturgy that was dear to them. This occurred above all because 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.
Pope John Paul II thus felt obliged to provide, in his Motu Proprio
Ecclesia Dei (2 July 1988), guidelines for the use of the 1962 Missal;
that document, however, did not contain detailed prescriptions but
appealed in a general way to the generous response of Bishops towards
the "legitimate aspirations" of those members of the faithful who
requested this usage of the Roman Rite. At the time, the Pope primarily
wanted to assist the Society of Saint Pius X to recover full unity with
the Successor of Peter, and sought to heal a wound experienced ever more
painfully. Unfortunately this reconciliation has not yet come about.
Nonetheless, a number of communities have gratefully made use of the
possibilities provided by the Motu Proprio. On the other hand,
difficulties remain concerning the use of the 1962 Missal outside of
these groups, because of the lack of precise juridical norms,
particularly because Bishops, in such cases, frequently feared that the
authority of the Council would be called into question. 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.
In the second place, the fear was expressed in discussions about the
awaited Motu Proprio, that the possibility of a wider use of the 1962
Missal would lead to disarray or even divisions within parish
communities. 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. Already from these concrete presuppositions, it is clearly seen
that the new Missal will certainly remain the ordinary Form of the Roman
Rite, not only on account of the juridical norms, but also because of
the actual situation of the communities of the faithful.
It is true that there have been exaggerations and at times social
aspects unduly linked to the attitude of the faithful attached to the
ancient Latin liturgical tradition. Your charity and pastoral prudence
will be an incentive and guide for improving these. For that matter, 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 "Ecclesia Dei" Commission, in contact with various
bodies devoted to the usus antiquior, will study the practical
possibilities in this regard. 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. I think of a sentence in the
Second Letter to the Corinthians, where Paul writes: "Our mouth is open
to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide. You are not restricted by us,
but you are restricted in your own affections. In return … widen your
hearts also!" (2 Cor 6:11-13). Paul was certainly speaking in another
context, but his exhortation can and must touch us too, precisely on
this subject. 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. Needless to say, in order to experience full
communion, the priests of the communities adhering to the former usage
cannot, as a matter of principle, exclude celebrating according to the
new books. The total exclusion of the new rite would not in fact be
consistent with the recognition of its value and holiness.
In conclusion, dear Brothers, I very much wish to stress that these new
norms do not in any way lessen your own authority and responsibility,
either for the liturgy or for the pastoral care of your faithful. Each
Bishop, in fact, is the moderator of the liturgy in his own Diocese (cf.
Sacrosanctum Concilium, 22: "Sacrae Liturgiae moderatio ab Ecclesiae
auctoritate unice pendet quae quidem est apud Apostolicam Sedem et, ad
normam iuris, apud Episcopum").
Nothing is taken away, then, from the authority of the Bishop, whose
role remains that of being watchful that all is done in peace and
serenity. Should some problem arise which the parish priest cannot
resolve, the local Ordinary will always be able to intervene, in full
harmony, however, with all that has been laid down by the new norms of
the Motu Proprio.
Furthermore, I invite you, dear Brothers, to send to the Holy See an
account of your experiences, three years after this Motu Proprio has
taken effect. If truly serious difficulties come to light, ways to
remedy them can be sought.
Dear Brothers, with gratitude and trust, I entrust to your hearts as
Pastors these pages and the norms of the Motu Proprio. Let us always be
mindful of the words of the Apostle Paul addressed to the presbyters of
Ephesus: "Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the
Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the Church of God which
he obtained with the blood of his own Son" (Acts 20:28).
I entrust these norms to the powerful intercession of Mary, Mother of
the Church, and I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing to you, dear
Brothers, to the parish priests of your dioceses, and to all the
priests, your co-workers, as well as to all your faithful.
Given at Saint Peter’s, 7 July 2007
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