Concerning the Apostolic Letter Ecclesia Dei

Concerning the Apostolic Letter Ecclesia Dei

Augustine Cardinal Meyer

The following text is from the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei. This commission is responsible for carrying out the Holy Father's desire, expressed in his apostolic letter Eccleisa Dei, that bishops grant a "wide and generous application" of the norms for the celebration of Mass according to the Missal of 1962 (Tridentine Mass). This letter was undated, but signed by Augustin Cardinal Mayer, Prefect of the Pontifical Commission. It had been delivered to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and further disseminated by a memorandum dated 19 April 1991, from the Office of the General Secretary, NCCB, to all the bishops in the United States.

Prot. No. 500/90

Your Excellency:

I write to you as a brother in the episcopal college charged by the Holy Father to carry out the provisions of his Apostolic Letter Ecclesia Dei of 2 July 1988. My objective in addressing myself to you now is precisely to encourage you in the exercise of your pastoral mission to those who legitimately request the celebration of the Holy Mass according to the 1962 typical edition of the Roman Missal.

Perhaps a review of developments which led to the issuance of Ecclesia Dei would be helpful in this regard.

1. On 3 October 1984, the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship issued Quattour abhinc annos in which the Holy Father granted to diocesan bishops "the possibility of using an indult whereby priests and faithful . . . may be able to celebrate Mass by using the Roman Missal according to the 1962 edition."

The following conditions were stipulated: 

a) that those requesting permission do not "call into question the legitimacy and doctrinal exactitude of the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Pius VI in 1970";

b) that such celebrations take place only for groups requesting them, not in parish  churches (except with the bishop's permission in extraordinary cases) and under conditions laid down by the bishop;

c) that "these celebrations must be according to the 1962 Missal and in Latin"; 

d) that there "be no interchanging of texts and rites of the two Missals"; and 

e) that each bishop had to inform the Congregation "of the concessions granted by him, and, at the end of a year from the granting of this indult, he must report on the result of the application."

2. A special Commissio Cardinalitia ad hoc ipsum instituta charged with reviewing the use made of the indult met in December of 1986. At that time the Cardinals unanimously agreed that the conditions laid down in Quattour abhinc annos were too restrictive and should be relaxed.

3. As you well know, in response to the illicit ordination of bishops at Econe on 30 June 1988 and wishing to uphold the principles which had been established in the previous and unfortunately unfruitful dialogue with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, the Holy Father issued Ecclesia Dei, motu proprio, on 2 July 1988.

While insisting that the root of the schismatic act of Archbishop Lefebvre lies in an "incomplete and contradictory notion of Tradition" which fails to "take sufficiently into account the living character of Tradition" (no. 4), he also maintained with equal firmness that "it is necessary that all the pastors and the other faithful have a new awareness, not only of the lawfulness but also of the richness for the Church of a diversity of charisms, traditions of spirituality, and apostolate" (no. 5, a).

Consequently, addressing himself "to all those Catholic faithful who feel attached to some previous liturgical and disciplinary forms of the Latin tradition," and not just to the former adherents of Archbishop Lefebvre, he expressed his will "to guarantee respect for their rightful aspirations (no. 5, c). In order to provide for these legitimate desires of the faithful he established this Pontifical Commission and indicated his mind with regard to its primary task, stating:

". . . respect must everywhere be shown for the feelings of those who are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition, by a wide and generous application of the directives already issued some time ago by the Apostolic See for use of the Roman Missal according to the 1962 typical edition (no. 6, c)."

Consequently, Your Excellency, we wish to encourage you to facilitate the proper and reverent celebration of the liturgical rites according to the Roman Miss of 1962 wherever there is a genuine desire for this on the part of the priests and faithful. This should not be construed as a promotion of that Missal in prejudice to the one promulgated eight years later, but simply a pastoral provision to meet the "rightful aspirations" of those who wish to worship according to the Latin liturgical tradition as celebrated for centuries.

In the light of the Holy Father's motu proprio, then, we offer the following guidelines and suggestions:

1. There is no reason now why the so-called "Tridentine" Mass cannot be celebrated in a parish church where this would be a genuine pastoral service to the faithful asking for it. Care should be taken, of course, for a harmonious integration into the already existing parish liturgical schedule.

2. The regularity and frequency of the celebration of this liturgy, whether to be celebrated on Sundays, Holydays, and/or weekdays, will depend on the needs of the faithful. Our recommendation is that, in places where the faithful have made a request for the regular celebration for the Mass according to the 1962 Roman Missal, a weekly Sunday and Holyday Mass be scheduled in a central location and at a convenient time on a trial basis for a period of several months. Afterwards further evaluation and adjustment should be made.

3. Of course the celebrants of the "Tridentine" Mass should not fail in their preaching and contacts with the faithful attending such Masses to emphasize their own adherence to the legislation of the universal Church and their acknowledgment of the doctrinal and juridical value of the liturgy as revised after the Second Vatican Council. Under such conditions, it would seem unnecessary, even unduly painful, to impose further restrictions upon those who wish to attend such celebrations.

4. Although the Holy Father has given this Pontifical Commission the faculty to grant the use of the 1962 typical edition of the Roman Missal to all those who request it, while the Commission informs the appropriate Ordinary thereof, we would much prefer that such faculties be granted by the Ordinary himself for the sake of strengthening the bond of ecclesial communion between those priests and faithful and their local Pastors.

5. Following upon the "wide and generous application" of the principles laid down in Quattour abhinc annos and the directives of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium 51 & 54), the new Lectionary in the vernacular could be used as a way of "providing a richer fare for the faithful at the table of God's Word" in Masses celebrated according to the 1962 Missal. However, we believe that this usage should not be imposed on congregations who decidedly wish to maintain the former liturgical tradition in its integrity according to the provision of the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei. Such an imposition might also be less likely to invite back to full communion with the Church at this time those who have lapsed into schismatic worship.

6. Since a number of older and retired priests who have a deep appreciation of the previous Latin liturgical tradition have approached their individual Ordinaries as well as this Pontifical Commission to obtain the celebret for the use of the 1962 Missal, it would seem particularly suitable to utilize the services of such priests where possible for the celebration of this Mass. It may well be discovered that even retired priests who have not requested this faculty would nonetheless be willing to provide this special form of pastoral care for those who request it.

Finally, Your Excellency, it is my sincere desire that this fraternal letter will be for us who are members of the episcopal college an incentive to exercise that manus episcopale described so beautifully in Lumen Gentium 23:

"Individual bishops, insofar as they are set over particular Churches, exercise their pastoral office over the portion of the People of God assigned to them, not over other Churches, nor the Church universal. But insofar as they are members of the episcopal college and legitimate successors of the apostles, by Christ's arrangement and decree, each is bound to have such care and solicitude for the whole Church which, though it not be exercised by an act of jurisdiction, does for all that redound in an eminent degree to the advantage of the universal Church. For all the bishops have the obligation of fostering and safeguarding the unity of faith and of upholding the discipline which is common to the whole Church."

"I am pleased to avail myself of this opportunity to extend my best wishes to you in your shepherding of the flock entrusted to your care and to assure you of my willing collaboration that, in all circumstances, God may be glorified in the worship of His Holy Church."

Augustin Cardinal Mayer, Prefect