Thursday, August 03, 2017

On the Bishop’s Sung Mass and the Recent PCED Decree

We recently published notice of a clarification issued by the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, to the effect that the so-called Pontifical Sung Mass, i.e., Mass sung by a bishop without the full ceremonies of the Pontifical Solemn Mass, and without assistant priest, deacon and subdeacon, does not exist according to the liturgical books of the Extraordinary Form currently in use. This was met with some negative reactions in the Disqus combox and on our Facebook page, and so I make bold to offer some thoughts on what this clarification really means and entails.

The Pontifical Sung Mass was created by the decree Inter Oecumenici, which was issued on September 26, 1964, and became legally active on March 7 of the following year. The decree simply states that “It is allowed, when necessary, for bishops to celebrate a sung Mass following the form used by priests.” It says nothing at all as to whether the bishop should retain any of the ceremonies of the Pontifical or Prelatitial Mass, and if so, which ones. Ad litteram, since none are stated, they should all be omitted. This is a change without precedent in the history of the Roman Rite; it has never been licit for a prelate to celebrate Mass with no indication of his rank.

This rubrical gap was the first sign of an emerging carelessness and chaos in regard to the liturgy which was also hitherto unknown. The Church had previously been extremely prudent and precise in guaranteeing that the rites of the Holy Mass properly reflect Her theological understanding of the Mass and the priesthood, and all the more so in regard to the Mass of a bishop. It is completely inappropriate for a bishop to simply pretend to not be a bishop when exercising the fullness of the priesthood vested in him as a successor of the Apostles. This was recognized by the post-Conciliar reform itself, in which this change was walked back.

I recall someone telling me once that different forms of the Pontifical Mass existed in the Middle Ages, and that they were often simpler than the Roman Pontifical Mass of the Tridentine liturgical books. I see no problem with someone doing a serious study of how they were done, if indeed sufficient documentation exists to make such a study possible, and reviving them for cases where it is genuinely impossible to put together a proper solemn Pontifical. We may make the analogy with something which was done by the Cistercians in the 1930s, when they successfully revived a medieval form of solemn Mass without a subdeacon, sometimes known as a Missa diaconalis. (This practice was also permitted by Inter oecumenici.)

For reference, here is a link to a set of rubrics put together by the SSPX for a bishop’s sung Mass, importing into it the use of the miter, crozier, pectoral cross and skull cap, the ewer and basin, and a variety of the ceremonies of the Solemn Pontifical Mass, e.g. putting the maniple on before saying “Indulgentiam.” For the most part, these provisions seem to me fairly reasonable, regardless of their liceity, and certainly more appropriate than a bishop celebrating “in the manner of a priest.”

(I cannot help but note in passing that these rubrics begin by saying that a bishop’s Missa cantata “is allowed”, without citing who allowed it or when. As one of my Latin teachers was fond of pointing out, the word or words immediately after the opening words of a Papal document are often extremely significant, as in “Gaudium et spes, luctus et angor - The joy and hope, the mourning and anguish.” In this case, the significant third word, after “Inter” and “Ecumenici”, is “Concilii”, as in “Among the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council’s primary achievements must be counted the Constitution on the Liturgy…”)

The problem, as I see it, therefore lies not in the concept of the Pontifical Sung Mass per se, but in the specific formulation of it, or rather, the completely lack thereof, given by Inter oecumenici.

Some readers have commented that their local bishops had been celebrating a Missa cantata for their communities, which they will now perhaps either cancel or reduce to a low Mass. This is certainly to be regretted, as the preferable option would be to arrange for a Pontifical Solemn Mass. (For example, Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin, has celebrated quite a number of Solemn Pontifical Masses in recent years.) However, the alternative is at the very least problematic, namely, the celebration of Mass according to a form which does not exist, and therefore can only take place in a rubrical vacuum.

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