A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH
Pius V's 1570 Bull
ROME, 31 OCT. 2006 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
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Q: "Quo Primum" is a papal bull decreed by Pope St. Pius V on July 14, 1570, which set in stone for all time the exactness of the holy sacrifice of the Mass to be said in the mother tongue of the Church. To quote his instruction: "[I]t shall be unlawful henceforth and forever throughout the Christian world to sing or to read Masses according to any formula other than that of this Missal published by Us; ..." Another: "... which shall have the force of law in perpetuity, We order and enjoin under pain of Our displeasure that nothing be added to Our newly published Missal, nothing omitted therefrom, and nothing whatsoever altered therein." Another: "In the case of those resident in other parts of the world it shall be excommunication 'latae sententiae' and all other penalties at Our discretion ..." Finally: "Should any person venture to do so, let him understand that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul." In the light of the foregoing: 1) Can an ancient papal bull be amended, changed, modified, abrogated, etc., by future popes? If yes, then what are the conditions? 2) Is the Mass of Pope Paul VI licit and valid? — A.D., Carindale, Australia
A: A papal bull (from "bolla," the leaden seal attached to the document) is a solemn instrument that popes use for various questions such as doctrinal decisions, canonizations, disciplinary questions, jubilees and the like. Only occasionally have they been used for the liturgy.
A bull's influence on later popes depends on the nature of its content and not the legal force of the document as such.
Thus a bull such as "Ineffabilis Deus" through which Blessed Pius IX defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854 is a definitive and irreformable act.
Other bulls may contain a mixture of doctrinal and disciplinary matters. An example would be Pius IV's 1564 document "Dominici Gregis Custodiae" containing the rules for forbidding books, among which was the norm that reading a translation of the Old Testament was restricted to learned and pious men with permission from the bishop.
Such norms are evidently tied to the circumstances of time and place and may be adjusted, attenuated or abrogated by future popes as situations change.
St. Pius V's bull "Quo Primum" is above all a legal document although it also contains some doctrinal elements. As such it is not intended to be definitive in the same way as a doctrinal definition would be and would not bind St. Pius V himself or future popes if they decided to further fine-tune the missal.
The saintly Pope's concern was to ensure as much unity as possible for the liturgy in a time when such unity was sorely needed. Even so, the same bull contains a clause exempting any Church which had its own ordo more than 200 years old. Many local Churches could have availed of this concession but most preferred to adopt the new missal for practical reasons.
Some religious orders and some dioceses such as Lyon in France and Milan in Italy did opt to legitimately maintain their own rite. Thus expressions such as "it shall be unlawful henceforth and forever throughout the Christian world to sing or to read Masses according to any formula other than that of this Missal published by Us" cannot be interpreted in an absolutely literal sense.
Likewise, legal expressions such as "which shall have the force of law in perpetuity, We order and enjoin under pain of Our displeasure that nothing be added to Our newly published Missal, nothing omitted therefrom, and nothing whatsoever altered therein" cannot be literally interpreted as binding on possible later actions of Pope St. Pius V or upon his successors. The strictures fall only upon those who act without due authority.
If it were otherwise, then Pope St. Pius V would have excommunicated himself a couple of years after publishing "Quo Primum" when he added the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary to the missal following the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, not to mention Pope Clement XI who canonized Pius V in 1712, thus altering the missal.
Among the many other Popes who would have thus incurred "the wrath of Almighty God and of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul" would have been St. Pius X for reforming the calendar, Pius XI who added the first new preface in centuries for the feast of Christ the King, Pius XII for completely revamping the rites of Holy Week as well as simplifying the rubrics, and Blessed John XXIII for adding St. Joseph's name to the Roman Canon.
Certainly, the reform undertaken under the Servant of God Pope Paul VI ranged more widely than anything done under earlier Popes since St. Pius V. But Paul VI acted with the same papal authority as all of them.
As the Roman proverb goes: "Popes die, the Pope never." Each individual pontiff — saint or sinner though he be — holds the same authority, granted by Christ, to bind and loose, forgive or retain, so that the Lord's flock may be fed through the centuries.
It is for this reason that, except in matters of faith and morals, a pope's disciplinary decrees in matters such as the non-essential elements of liturgical rites are never "set in stone" and can be changed by a subsequent Supreme Pontiff whenever he believes that the duty of feeding Christ's flock requires it.
Finally, the answer to the second question should be already clear, the so-called Mass of Paul VI is both valid and licit. ZE06103140
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Follow-up: Pius V's 1570 Bull [11-14-2006]
Some readers wrote to corroborate our comments (Oct. 31) on the legal force of Pope St. Pius V's bull "Quo Primum."
A Cincinnati correspondent wrote: "The instruction printed in the Roman Missal of 1570 was for the benefit of the printers who worked the presses. This was to ensure that everything would be printed exactly as the Church intended without serious mistakes, intentional or otherwise."
This is true, above all, of the final part of the document containing some of the more severe expressions of excommunication and especially regarding printers who were outside of the Pope's civil jurisdiction. Those under his authority were subject above all to fines and loss of their printing license.
The earlier part of the bull refers to printers as well as to "every patriarch, administrator and all other persons of whatsoever ecclesiastical dignity, be they even Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church or possessed of any other rank or pre-eminence," who were henceforth obliged to follow the new missal and forbidden to change anything.
It is worth noting that the decree nowhere mentions that it has any binding force on future papal action.
Another correspondent writing from the Middle East offers the parallel case of the 1568 document "Quod a Nobis" which introduced the new Roman breviary two years before the new missal. This document contains many expressions similar to "Quo Primum" regarding, for instance, the perpetual force of law, the obligation of use in all places, and the total prohibition of adding or omitting anything.
Our reader then comments: "As you are undoubtedly aware, St. Pius X radically rearranged the ancient Roman Psalter and changed a few lessons for a few days, and provided contracted lessons, among other changes in 1913. Moreover, he forbade the use of the old Psalter. This clearly shows that he was not bound by the prescriptions issued in 'Quod a Nobis' and since these are similar to those of 'Quo Primum,' those must not be binding either.
"I have found using 'Quod a Nobis' more effective because the adherents to 'Quo Primum' argue that it is restricted to the Ordinary (either whole or from the Offertory to Last Gospel), or to the Temporale only (despite evidence in encyclicals like 'Grande Munus' to the contrary). Since the Psalter is the most fundamental part of the breviary, no such statement can be made with regard to 'Quod a Nobis.'" ZE06111422
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