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Gerard O’ConnellDecember 18, 2021
Cardinal Walter Brandmuller elevates the Eucharist during a Tridentine Latin Mass at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on May 15, 2011. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has taken a decisive step to clarify the norms for “the correct application” of the motu proprio “Traditionis Custodes,” issued by Pope Francis last July, regarding the celebration of the Tridentine Latin Mass and pre-Vatican II Latin-rite liturgy.

Today, Dec. 18, the congregation provided answers to the 11 most frequently asked questions bishops have sent to the congregation since the publication of the decree, explained Archbishop Arthur Roche, the prefect of the congregation, in an accompanying letter sent to the president of all the bishops’ conferences, dated Dec. 4.

The answers are presented in the traditional format used by the Vatican: “responsa ad dubia” (answer to a doubt or question). That format normally entails a simple affirmative or negative answer, but in this case the congregation also provided explanatory notes for the bishops.

Archbishop Roche recalled that “it is the duty of the bishops, cum Petro et sub Petro, (with Peter and under Peter), to safeguard communion.”

Archbishop Roche informed the presidents of the conferences that Pope Francis “gave his consent” to the publication of the answers and to the explanatory notes that accompany them, on Nov. 18.

He recalled that the aim of the motu proprio is “to continue in the search for ecclesial communion, which is expressed by recognizing in the liturgical books promulgated by Popes Saint Paul VI and Saint John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of the Second Vatican Council, the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.”

He wrote, “every prescribed norm has always the sole purpose of preserving the gift of ecclesial communion by walking together, with conviction of mind and heart, in the direction indicated by the Holy Father.”

The motu proprio has encountered resistance from some bishops, priests and the lay faithful. In June, Archbishop J. Augustine Di Noia, adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, identified three countries—the United States, France and the United Kingdom—where movements could be found that aggressively promoted the Tridentine Latin Mass.

Archbishop Roche recalled that “it is the duty of the bishops, cum Petro et sub Petro, (with Peter and under Peter), to safeguard communion.” He reminded the bishops that “as pastors we must not lend ourselves to sterile polemics, capable only of creating division, in which the ritual itself is often exploited by ideological viewpoints. Rather, we are all called to rediscover the value of the liturgical reform by preserving the truth and beauty of the Rite that it has given us. For this to happen, we are aware that a renewed and continuous liturgical formation is necessary both for Priests and for the lay faithful.”

Archbishop Roche: "As pastors we must not lend ourselves to sterile polemics, capable only of creating division, in which the ritual itself is often exploited by ideological viewpoints."

Vatican Media provided the following summary of the responses, which has been edited for clarity and style.

Parish churches

The first question concerns the possibility of celebrating the pre-conciliar rite in a parish church, should there be no other possibility of finding a church, oratory or chapel for a group of faithful that celebrate using the 1962 Roman Missal. This possibility is excluded by the motu proprio to emphasize that the celebration of the Mass with the previously-used rite is a concession limited to these groups and is not part of the ordinary life of the parish community.

The response is affirmative. The congregation, at the request of the local bishop, can grant this but only if the impossibility of using another church, oratory or chapel has been ascertained and without inserting the celebration in the parish Mass schedule. In addition, such celebrations must not occur simultaneously with other pastoral activities of the parish. These directions, the response explains, are not intended to marginalize the faithful who frequent the old rite, but rather serve as a reminder that it “is a concession to provide for their good,” and not “an opportunity to promote the previous rite” no longer in force.

Use of the old rite for the celebration of the sacraments

The second question concerns the possibility of celebrating not only the Eucharist with the 1962 Missale Romanum, but also the other sacraments provided for by the Rituale Romanum (the last typical edition—editio typica—is dated 1952) and by the Pontificale Romanum used prior to the liturgical reform.

The response is negative. The motu proprio intends to re-establish throughout the whole church of the Roman Rite a single and identical prayer expressing its unity, according to the liturgical books promulgated by Popes Paul VI and John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of the Second Vatican Council, and in line with the tradition of the church.

The Rituale Romanum contains the sacraments of baptism, penance, matrimony, anointing of the sick and rites such as funerals; while the Pontificale Romanum concerns those sacraments presided over by a Bishop—confirmation and ordination.

To progress in the direction indicated by Pope Francis, permission to use abrogated liturgical books should not be granted and the faithful should be accompanied “towards a full understanding of the value of the celebration in the ritual form” flowing from the liturgical reform.

There are, however, some important distinctions. The responsum specifies that it would be possible to use the former Roman Rituale only in “canonically erected personal parishes,” that is, exclusively in those parishes already designated by the bishop and dedicated to the faithful who frequent the former rite.

However, even in these parishes it is not permitted to use the Roman Pontificale for confirmation or ordination. The reason for the prohibition regarding confirmation is that this sacrament was modified by Pope Saint Paul VI and, therefore, it is not held opportune to resort to the abolished rite, given that it underwent substantial changes.

Concelebration

Another query concerns the possibility of granting permission to use the old Missal to those priests who do not recognize the validity or legitimacy of concelebration and who, therefore, refuse to concelebrate the Chrism Mass with the bishop on Holy Thursday.

The response is negative. However, prior to revoking the concession, the bishop is asked “to establish a fraternal dialogue with the priest, to ascertain that this attitude does not exclude the validity and legitimacy of the liturgical reform” of Vatican II and the magisterium of the supreme pontiffs. Prior to revoking the concession, the bishop should offer the priest the necessary time for a “sincere discussion,” inviting him to participate in the concelebration.

Readings from authorized translations

Another question regards the possibility of using the complete Bible text in choosing the Scripture readings indicated in the 1962 Roman Missal.

The response is affirmative.The old Missal, in addition to containing the rite of the Mass, also contained the text of the readings. It was after the liturgical reform that the Missal (containing the rubrics and prayers) was separated from the Lectionary (containing the texts from Sacred Scripture for the readings). Since Pope Francis’ motu proprio prescribed that the Latin readings contained in the old Missal were always to be proclaimed in the vernacular language of each country, the use of a translation of the Bible approved by the individual Episcopal Conferences for use in the liturgy was approved. What is not authorized, however, is the publication of a true and proper ‘Lectionary’ in the vernacular language using the cycle of readings provided for in the old rite.

Permission for new priests to celebrate Mass using the Roman Missal of 1962

A fifth query asks whether the diocesan bishop has to obtain authorization from the Holy See to allow priests in his diocese ordained after the publication of the motu proprio on 16 July 2021 to celebrate Mass using the Roman Missal of 1962.

The response is affirmative.The necessary concession must be authorized by the Holy See.

This clarification is necessary because the Italian and English versions of Pope Francis’ motu proprio state that prior to granting the authorization, the bishop was to “consult the Apostolic See” (Art. 4). In the official version of the document, the Latin text states that prior to granting any concession to a new priest the bishop must first receive the necessary authorization from Rome.

The Congregation for Divine Worship encourages all seminary formators to accompany future deacons and priests to gain "an understanding and experience of the richness of the liturgical reform called for by the Second Vatican Council.”

Experimental periods and territories

Another question regarded the possibility of a bishop granting permission to use the old Missal for a specific period of time, so as to reserve the possibility of an evaluation.

The response is affirmative.The concession is restricted to the territory of the bishop’s diocese.

Restrictions on permission

Another question concerned cases in which a priest authorized to use the old Missal is absent. Must the priest who substitutes for him must also have received a formal authorization to use the old Missal?

The response is affirmative. Authorization is also required for the deacons and other instituted ministers who participate in the celebration of the pre-Conciliar Mass.

Celebrating two Masses on the same day

One query concerned the possibility of “bination” (the celebration of two Masses on the same day by the same priest).

The response is negative. On weekdays, a parish priest or chaplain is not authorized to celebrate the new Rite with members of the faithful, and then to celebrate the Mass again with the old Rite either with an assembly or in private. Celebrating two Masses on weekdays is granted only for pastoral reasons, which do not exist in this case, since the faithful have the possibility of participating in the Eucharist celebrated according to the Missal flowing from the post-conciliar reform.

A similar question was whether a priest authorized to use the old Missal can celebrate two Masses for two separate groups on the same day using that Missal.

The response is negative. This does not constitute a “just cause” or a “pastoral necessity,” since the faithful have the possibility of participating in the Eucharist in the current ritual form.

The full text from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments can be found here.

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