Friday, May 13, 2011

On Universae Ecclesiae: Part I - Some Analysis and Commentary

As all know by now, the instruction pertaining to the application of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, Universae Ecclesiae, was publicly released today.

The text of the letter is in great part self-evident I think (with a few exceptions), though some interesting points do arise which I wish to highlight -- and would have done so earlier but for Blogger's impossibly bad timing in becoming unavailable to bloggers due to technical problems! (I digress; I shall operate on the "better late than never" principle.)

Overall, it was a pleasure to read this instruction and I think it will be of great benefit to laity and clergy who wish to avail themselves of the usus antiquior for it provides some important clarity on some points that had become somewhat clouded and debated these past few years.

I will separate my considerations into two parts (and thus two posts), with this first part considering the clarifications brought forward by the instruction, as well as some interesting angles springing from those clarifications. In the second part, I will follow these up with some additional comments, questions and further considerations.


Quelling the Reductionist Interpretation: One of the issues that has been faced these past few years has been a reductionist interpretation of the motu proprio. It can be summarized by a sentiment such as this: "The Pope issued this motu proprio simply as a peace offering to bring those not into full communion back into communion." The corresponding subtext is that there wasn't a broader purpose or reason behind it short of this pragmatic reason. Evidently that was indeed one reason, but only one, and a thorough reading of the plain text of the motu proprio and its accompanying explanatory letter made that rather clear as we and others have argued for sometime now. Universae Ecclesiae now makes that all the more explicit by way of its introduction. Speaking of the aim of Summorum Pontificum, it is not only noted that it sought to promote reconciliation in the Church (the last of the listed aims incidentally) but also had the aim of "offering to all the faithful the Roman Liturgy in the Usus Antiquior, considered as a precious treasure to be preserved". [NLM emphases] An important point here is that the usus antiquior is not a "carrot" or "peace offering" but rather "a precious treasure to be preserved"; further it is not only for groups not in full communion or liturgical interest groups (if you can pardon the expression) but is rather for all the faithful. In short, it is not solely a liturgy of and for the "traditionalists", it is a liturgy of the Church and all the Faithful.

The Vernacular Readings Clarified: We have long maintained here on the NLM (as have others elsewhere as well) that the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum had indeed granted a permission to use approved vernacular translations of the Epistle and Gospel within their proper liturgical context (i.e. not that these could only be done in addition to the Latin readings -- as was the case before the motu proprio). This is now definitively confirmed, with the clarification that this applies only in Low Masses. (The rationale clearly seems to be, to me at least, the lack of definitive chant melodies to accompany the vernacular lections in the various languages.) The relevant text [NLM emphasis]:

26. As foreseen by article 6 of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, the readings of the Holy Mass of the Missal of 1962 can be proclaimed either solely in the Latin language, or in Latin followed by the vernacular or, in Low Masses, solely in the vernacular.

In short; there are three options as it pertains to Low Masses.

The Lectionary Clarified: There are those who have understood the motu proprio as having opened up the possibility of using the modern Roman lectionary within the context of the usus antiquior. Here we have consistently maintained that this was not intended, foreseen, nor permitted.

Two points made in the instruction confirm this in my estimation, coming from the same section on "Liturgical and Ecclesiastical Discipline" [NLM emphases]:

24. The liturgical books of the forma extraordinaria are to be used as they are. All those who wish to celebrate according to the forma extraordinaria of the Roman Rite must know the pertinent rubrics and are obliged to follow them correctly.


26. As foreseen by article 6 of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, the readings of the Holy Mass of the Missal of 1962 can be proclaimed either solely in the Latin language, or in Latin followed by the vernacular or, in Low Masses, solely in the vernacular.

The liturgical books are to be used as they are (which naturally would include the cycle of readings contained therein) and it is very explicitly specified that in referring to the permissions given with regard to the readings, it is "the readings of the Holy Mass of the Missal of 1962" which are being referred to. No mention is made here of the modern Roman lectionary, nor is any provision made for it -- and it is noteworthy that this despite that fact that it is this same section which does make other provisions such as for new prefaces.

The only provision, or development, which is envisioned in relation to the Epistle and Gospel in the usus antiquior is that those readings may be proclaimed solely in the vernacular in the context of the Low Mass.

Growth and Development within the 1962 Missal: In addition to the vernacular permission as regards the readings of the 1962 Roman Missal (as well as the changes already made to the text of the Good Friday prayers for the Jewish people by Pope Benedict XVI), other developments, already noted as possibilities by Benedict XVI himself in 2007, are once again affirmed:
25. New saints and certain of the new prefaces can and ought to be inserted into the 1962 Missal, according to provisions which will be indicated subsequently.

Some will not like this provision of course, but, as in 2007, in principle this is very good news in my estimation for it continues to emphasize the fact that the usus antiquior is not a temporary time piece, frozen in time but instead a living Missal and liturgical tradition that continues to grow and develop as does every other liturgical book through the Church Universal. It is my own firm belief that this helps to cement its place firmly in the life of the Church.

The note that such provisions will be indicated subsequently suggests something to watch for in the future.

The Stable Body of the Faithful: Who, What, Where: No matter has perhaps been more hotly debated than the question of what constitutes a stable body of the faithful as envisioned by the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. There are a few important points here. 1. This group of faithful interested in the usus antiquior did not have to previously exist ("who, even after the publication of the Motu Proprio, come together by reason of their veneration for the Liturgy in the Usus Antiquior"); 2. This group does not have to be constituted all of people from the same parish but can even be gathered together from different parishes, even different dioceses, etc. for this purpose ("such a coetus ("group") can also be composed of persons coming from different parishes or dioceses, who gather together in a specific parish church or in an oratory or chapel for this purpose."); 3. Even groups of the faithful which are "quite small" are not excluded from this (see 17 §2).

Other points of note here are that it is confirmed that the matter is left to the determination of the parish priest or rector (17 §1), and that this is not to exclude occasional celebrations whether at a church or oratory (16), or in sanctuaries and other places of pilgrimage (18).

Priests and the Usus Antiquior: Must a priest be a Latinist in order to be qualified to celebrate the usus antiquior? This issue has come up at times with some asserting an extraordinary knowledge of Latin to be required. The instruction clarifies that "a basic knowledge is necessary, allowing the priest to pronounce the words correctly and understand their meaning". [NLM emphasis]

Another point in this section is also important: "priests are presumed to be qualified who present themselves spontaneously to celebrate the forma extraordinaria, and have celebrated it previously." There have been instances where the opposite presumption has been put into effect, thereby stunting the availability of the usus antiquior. This text makes it clear that competence in the rite is to be presumed unless demonstrated otherwise, not the inverse.

The Triduum: Following the motu proprio, some had claimed that it had intended to exclude the possibility of celebrating the Triduum according to the liturgical books of 1962 generally, or at least in the case of any individual parish or oratory where both forms are celebrated. While the universal prohibition of the 1962 Triduum was clearly never intended, this instruction now makes not only this more clear, but also the question of a parish which uses both forms:
33. If there is a qualified priest, a coetus fidelium ("group of faithful"), which follows the older liturgical tradition, can also celebrate the Sacred Triduum in the forma extraordinaria. When there is no church or oratory designated exclusively for such celebrations, the parish priest or Ordinary, in agreement with the qualified priest, should find some arrangement favourable to the good of souls, not excluding the possibility of a repetition of the celebration of the Sacred Triduum in the same church.
In short, if a parish has a body of faithful who adhere to the usus antiquior, there is no issue with the Triduum being celebrated for that group within the context of the ancient form, while the remainder of the parish celebrates it in the context of the modern form.

Clerics using the Older Breviarium Romanum: Fairly straightforward; they can do so if they like. The one interesting clarification, a point which I had often wondered about, is that they are to use the Latin form exclusively and not a vernacular translation or any mixture thereof.

Rites of the Religious Orders: A most interesting section, and probably the one that most caught my attention in the entire instruction, was that which pertained to the liturgical books of the religious orders (Carmelite, Dominican, Carthusian, Premonstratensian, etc.):
34. The use of the liturgical books proper to the Religious Orders which were in effect in 1962 is permitted.

However, as our own Fr. Augustine Thompson, O.P. notes, the Latin text is more clear on the implications of this.

34 – Sodalibus Ordinum Religiosorum licet uti propriis libris liturgicis anno 1962 vigentibus.

(Members of religious orders may use their own liturgical books as in force in 1962.)

As Father Augustine highlights, it is the word "sodalibus" which is lacking in the English translation but which is important, for by that word, reference is made not simply to the religious orders as entities, but rather and specifically to the members of the religious orders.

The effect of the instruction, therefore, is to give members of religious orders permission to use the liturgical books of their Order under the same terms as Roman priests with regard to the use of the 1962 Roman books. (i.e. they do not need permission from their superiors to use them.)


Some very interesting points are found here. More are made about the use of the Pontificale, Rituale and Caeremoniale, mostly continuing in the vein of confirming freedom of their use, but in other senses noting restrictive aspects; more points of interest are also made about the powers of PCED, as well as the matter of how to treat that which is incompatible with the rubrics of the 1962 missal. The bishops are asked to provide the necessary support and formation to their clergy, and while it would have been nice to see this mandated, it is nonetheless good that it was at least explicitly mentioned.

In the next section, I will look quickly at some of the questions that arise in my mind after reading the instruction.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: