Monday, January 09, 2023

Minutes from the Commission of Cardinals That Advised John Paul II to Lift Restrictions on the Old Missal

Most people who have read about the liturgical reform and the revival of the traditional Roman Rite have stumbled across references to the commission of cardinals set up by Pope John Paul II in 1986 to evaluate several questions—among them whether Paul VI had abrogated the preconciliar Missale Romanum in promulgating his own missal in 1969.

Since there is a lot of misinformation circulating nowadays about the old and new missals, some of it sadly disseminated from the Vatican, I consider it important to publish here at NLM a translation of an Italian text by Cardinal Dario Castrillón-Hoyos and retrieved from the “” website, that is, the Congregation for the Clergy’s site before it transitioned to “” This Italian text is still there, albeit only discoverable if you have the URL (here), dated to October 2008. Below is a screenshot to show where I found it, in case it is taken down after the appearance of the present article. (I have also copied into a file the complete Italian text for the same reason. We would not want to lose this precious historical evidence.)

His Eminence discusses not only Summorum Pontificum but also the work of the 1986 commission that prepared the way for Summorum Pontificum; he quotes at length from the minutes of this commission. It is truly remarkable just how much of that momentous motu proprio of 2007 was already present in nuce as far back as 1986. As far as I can tell, very few know about this text, which is not only a precious historical document but a witness to principles that will someday be vindicated anew under better leadership.

Responses of the Cardinal President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei to Certain Questions

Since the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei has received frequent questions on the reasons for the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, some of which are based on the prescriptions of the Document Quattuor Abhinc Annos sent by the Congregation for Divine Worship to the Presidents of the Bishops’ Conferences on October 3, 1984, the President of the same Commission, His Eminence Card. Dario Castrillon Hoyos, saw fit to give the following answers:

Question: Is it licit to refer to the Letter Quattuor Abhinc Annos to regulate matters pertaining to the celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, that is, according to the 1962 Roman Missal?

Answer: Evidently not. For, with the publication of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, the prescriptions for the use of the 1962 Missal, previously issued by the Quattuor Abhinc Annos and, subsequently, by the Motu Proprio of the Servant of God John Paul II Ecclesia Dei Adflicta, come to an end. In fact, the same Summorum Pontificum, from Article 1, explicitly states that “the conditions for the use of this Missal established by the earlier documents Quattuor Abhinc Annos and Ecclesia Dei are replaced.” The Motu Proprio enumerates the new conditions. Therefore, one can no longer refer to the restrictions established by those two documents, for the celebration according to the 1962 Missal.

Question: What are the substantial differences between the latest Motu Proprio and the two previous documents pertaining to this matter?

Answer: The first substantial difference is certainly that it is now licit to celebrate Mass according to the Extraordinary Rite without the need for a special permission, called an “indult.” The Holy Father Benedict XVI established, once and for all, that the Roman Rite consists of two Forms, to which he wished to give the names “Ordinary Form” (the celebration of the Novus Ordo, according to the Missal of Paul VI of 1970) and “Extraordinary Form” (the celebration of the Gregorian Rite, according to the Missal of B. John XXIII of 1962), and confirmed that this Missal of 1962 has never been abrogated. Another difference is that in Masses celebrated without the people, any Catholic priest of the Latin Rite, whether secular or religious, may use either Missal (Art. 2). Furthermore, in Masses without the people or with the people, it is upon the pastor or rector of the church, where it is intended to celebrate, to give permission to all those priests who present the “Celebret” given by their Ordinary. If they deny permission, the Bishop, according to the Motu Proprio, must see to it that permission is granted (see Article 7).

It is important to know that already an ad hoc Cardinal’s Commission of December 12, 1986, formed by the Eminent Cardinals Paul Augustin Mayer, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Agostino Casaroli, Bernardin Gantin, Joseph Ratzinger, William W. Baum, Edouard Gagnon, Alfons Stickler, and Antonio Innocenti, had been created by the Holy Father’s will, for the purpose of examining the possible measures to be taken to remedy the established ineffectiveness of the pontifical indult Quattuor Abhinc Annos about the restoration of the so-called Tridentine Mass in the Latin Church with the Roman Missal of the Typical Edition of 1962, issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship with Prot. No. 686/84 of October 3, 1984. This Commission had proposed to the Holy Father John Paul II, even then, for this purpose, some substantial elements that were [only] taken up in the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum.

Allow me to make a summary of the minutes presenting the interventions of the Eminent Cardinals in order to understand how the later documents substantially reflect the vision achieved by such an important Commission of Cardinals shortly after Quattuor Abhinc Annos. Indeed, in the minutes it was stated that:

“The concern, desire and mind of the Holy Father [John Paul II] is the promotion of internal concord in the Church and the edification of the brethren within it.

“This is to be accomplished also through the primary rebuilding of communion in the practice of the lex orandi, such as the sound implementation of the liturgical reform, while dutifully respecting the legitimate needs of minority groups that are often distinguished not only for full theoretical orthodoxy but also for authentic exemplarity in the practice of intensely lived Christian life and of sincere and devoted attachment to the Apostolic See.

“Therefore, there must be a commitment of conscience on the part of all—bishops, priests, and faithful—to remove the scandalous arbitrariness that a misunderstood ‘creativity’ has produced, giving rise to the so-called ‘wild Masses’ and other desecrations that have wounded many of the aforementioned faithful by alienating them from the easy acceptance of the liturgical reform and the new ritual books, including the Missal, which erroneously appeared, unfortunately and precisely because of such unedifying desacralization, almost as the cause of it.”

In the same Commission it was proposed that:

“It shall be reiterated, on the part of the competent Dicastery, that the Pope desires internal pacification among all the faithful of the local Churches through the concrete implementation of the concession he made with the indult.

“The bishops shall carry out the will of the Supreme Pontiff by placing themselves spiritually in harmony with His intentions [for granting the indult generously].

“An adequate response is to be given, from the bishops, to those who wanted to discourage the implementation of the indult by presenting it as a reason for division instead of rebuilding. The response was to be not polemical but pastoral, explaining, with delicacy and patience, the letter and spirit of the indult.”

Furthermore, it was stated with authority that:

“The real problem at issue does not seem to be so much the artificial conflict that the indult is intended to resolve, but rather the one that lies upstream of it and was its real cause—that is, the conflict between the rightful implementation of the liturgical reform and the tolerated abuses produced by uncontrolled fantasy. Therefore, in addition to the indult, a far more general level of intervention is required on the part of the Holy See to eliminate the aforementioned habitual abuse that deforms the conciliar liturgical reform.

“The indult, as it stands, on the one hand, gives the impression that the Latin Mass, so-called ‘Tridentine,’ was an inferior and second-rate reality, which was restored only out of tolerant commiseration with those who requested it, and, on the other hand, gives the impression, precisely with all the heavy conditions it contains, that the Holy See itself considers it as such and would not have granted it unless it was forced to do so.

“It is necessary to reiterate and clarify to the bishops the true will of the Holy Father, which consists, not negatively in a concession of tolerance, but positively in a real pastoral initiative taken not to quiet the reaction to the abuses but to recompose the disagreement into reconciliation.

“It is necessary to remove all the conditions contained in the Indult, in order to eliminate the impression bishops have that the Holy See does not want it and the impression on the part of the faithful that they are asking for something almost barely tolerated by the Holy See.”

In the interventions of the assembled Eminences, it emerged that:

“One was in favor of granting the indult to all the faithful and priests who wished to make use of it in aedificationem [for edification] and without anti-Conciliar instrumentalization.

“It is necessary to make it clear to the Bishops that the indult corresponds to a will of the Pope meant to be observed, and it is necessary to make it clear to the faithful that they should respectfully request the implementation of the Pope’s will, so that the Bishops, when faced with respectful requests, will no longer have reason to refuse.

“It should be asked whether, in order to foster reconciliation, it is really necessary to ask the bishop’s consent at all to celebrate Holy Mass in Latin.

“As a general mentality, it would be opportune to tone down the strictness of the limiting conditions of the indult and to eliminate the additional conditions on the Bishops.

“As far as any restriction to particular groups is concerned, since the indult was conceived for them, it should be maintained—but iuxta modum, that is, on the one hand, not meaning by ‘groups’ just three or four persons and, on the other hand, not prohibiting that other persons [not part of the original group] may join the groups that took the initiative in the practice of the concession obtained.”

In the same Commission it was pointed out that:

“There is no difficulty in allowing readings in the vernacular.

“As to the optional use of the [new] Lectionary, there were reservations, fearing some confusion may arise because of the imperfect correspondence between the calendars of the two Missals, while no difficulty was seen in allowing the use of the Prefaces of the new Missal.

“The conditions added by the Bishops and also conditions regarding [the use of] non-parish churches and groups contained in the Indult would have to be removed.

“Under the premise that Latin, as an expression of unity, cannot and must not disappear from the Church, and desiring the Bishops to be ‘helped’ more than to be too ‘respected’ in their prerogatives, it is necessary to come to their aid by reducing the complex conditioning casuistry of the indult to criteria of greater simplicity; it could also thus eliminate the impression that, with those conditions, the Holy See wanted to make it clear that it had granted the indult only obtorto collo [having been seized by the neck]. Moreover, in doing so, the evolutionary coherence of the corrective pontifical measures could be highlighted by obviating their contradictory contrasts.

Citing then No. 23 of Sacrosanctum Concilium “concerning the criteria to be observed in reconciling tradition and progress in liturgical reform, and No. 26 of the same conciliar document, on the subject of the norms that must preside over such reform, as deriving from the hierarchical and communal nature of the liturgy, it was proposed (a) to insist, in the eventual document revising the indult, on the objectivity and not the arbitrariness of the implementation of liturgical reform; (b) to make it equally clear how both the use of the Latin language and the use of one or another edition of the Roman Missal should be considered within the framework of that logic; (c) to grant, at least in large cities, that on feast days there be a Holy Mass in Latin with free choice of one or the other typical edition (1962 or 1980) of the Roman Missal.

“It was proposed, likewise, to extend the granting of the Indult also to Ordinaries, religious Superiors General, Provincials, and others.

“About the necessity or otherwise of the Bishop’s assent for the celebration of the Holy Mass in Latin, it was recalled that Paul VI had said that, per se, the Priest, privately, should celebrate in Latin, since the concession made for the use of vernacular languages is only of a pastoral order, to enable the faithful to understand the contents of the rite and, thus, to participate better.

“The need to leave free the option of the use of either Missal for the celebration of the Holy Mass in Latin was reiterated.

“About the type of intervention [to be desired—i.e., what eventually became Summorum Pontificum], one would opt for a new papal document in which, taking stock of the current real situation of liturgical reform, the aforementioned freedom of choice between the two Missals in Latin would be clearly established, presenting one as a development and not as a juxtaposition of the other and eliminating the impression that each Missal is the temporary product of each historical epoch.

“Referring to the previous concerns expressed, the need was reiterated to ensure the [presentation of] evidence of the logical developmental linearity of the documents of the Church and the free option between the two Missals for the celebration of the Holy Mass, and it was proposed to emphasize that they cannot be considered except insofar as one is a development of the other, since liturgical norms, not being true ‘laws,’ cannot be abrogated but only surrogated—the preceding in the following.”

A report of all this was made to the Holy Father [John Paul II].

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