Immemorial Rite

I have been musing on the news of the new Institute of the Good Shepherd and the comments/dialog taking place in another entry here in this blog.

When Pope Pius V issued Quo primum he made it clear that local rites which had a certain antiquity should be continued in those places and could be used at will.  However, he stated that anyone in those localities could also use at will the Missale Romanum and that they couldn’t be impeded from using the Roman Rite even though there was a local rite.  As a result the rights of the priests in such a place were expanded rather than diminished.

When the Novus Ordo was implemented there was a rather different attitude.  Many sought to restrict the rights of priests to say the older form of Mass of the Roman Rite and impose on them only the use of the Novus Ordo.  The iron clad claim was made by the vast majority that the older form of Mass, of great antiquity, as forbidden.  As a result the rights of priests in ALL places were diminished rather than expanded.

However, many do not know that from the get go, Paul VI had made it explicit that the older form of Mass could stil be used in some places and by some priests.  So, it was NEVER completely abrogated (that is, forbidden in an absolute way for all and everywhere).  In the 80′s a commission of cardinals came to the same conclusions and later Pope John Paul II issued legislation in this regard in 1986.  This "indult" to use the older form was then supposed to be greatly and generously expanded through the Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei adflicta, but we all know that many stingy clerics dragged their feet.  And they are still dragging them.

The debate about whether or not priests need specific faculties to use also the older form of Mass continues.  I have the explicit faculty from the Holy See and so I personally don’t worry too much about this for my own celebrations of Mass using the 1962 Missale.  However, many priests who want to say the older Mass at least privately (say, they have a "day off" or are retired) want to have a clean conscience in doing so.  They don’t want to do a thing that is contrary to the law, and that is much to their credit. 

A universal "liberalization" or better "freeing up" of the older form, by an act of Pope Benedict, could resolve the debate for good and lighten the consciences of many.

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12 Responses to Immemorial Rite

  1. Jon says:

    Father,

    You’ve stated the case with simplicity and direction. Precisely what we need as October draws near.

    After that I have but one question; is there any way of knowing if a guy named Ganswein reads your blog?

  2. John says:

    Fr., perhaps you can help me to understand something. People say that we must not take the statement “in perpetuity” too literally. So according to some forever doesn’t really mean forever. They use the excuse that one Pope cannot bind on another one. The Council of Trent teaches that whoever says the Mass should be said exclusively in the vernacular let him be anathema. Vatican II calls for parts of the Mass to be said in the vernacular. My question is why can we dismiss so much from earlier teachings and councils and yet be obligated to accept w/o question the teachings of Vatican II. To some people if you question Vatican II is is as though you are denying the existence of God Himself.

  3. Jon: I think a couple people around him do.

  4. John: Forever… sure. Well, I suppose in the case of things like matters of discipline, “forever” means until such time as another law is issued that changes the situation. That is to say that “forever” indicates that, since there is no expiration date for the law, the law continues to be in force until there is another law arising from a change of conditions, etc.

  5. John says:

    But was the Mass of Pius V a matter of discipline or faith? Was not the Mass codified as such directly because of the Protestant revolt and the Council seeking to define Catholic teaching in the Mass that the Protestants were rejecting?

  6. Kurt says:

    John,

    If I recall correctly, Trent said that it was not “importune” to allow for the use of the vernacular in the Mass. 400 years later the fathers of Vatican II decided it was opportune to the vernacular in places, but did not it anywhere. Within five years (c. 1970) the vernacular was allowed all throughout the Mass and practically treated by many as obligatory, but the anathema of Trent still stands: Anyone who says that the Mass (not but ) be said in the vernacular is wrong.

    As to your other questions (and I know you weren’t asking me) I have heard quite traditional canon lawyers like Neri Capponi say that the “in perpetuity” language of Quo Primum was simply part of the Late Medieval/Renaissance papal rhetoric of the time. Popes didn’t mean it literally–but if they did ( though they didn’t)–they were clearly exceeding their authority. Although these disciplinary decisions are meant to butress doctrine, they are ultimately disciplinary and can be modified. If this wasn’t the case we wouldn’t be able to kneel on Sunday, since this is contrary to one of the canons of the Council of Nicea.

    The magisterium makes laws to protect various doctrines which are under attack at the time (e.g. during Nicea, I believe that canon was to underscore that Sunday was not a day of penance but the day of the Resurrection–so no kneeling, which was then a very strong sign of penance). Times and issues change and what was a concern or a danger at one time isn’t necessarily so at another time. That is not to say that the magisterium can’t make mistakes in their prudential judgement on disciplinary matters. This is what seems to be going on now. I serious reconsideration by the hierarchy of the wisdom of certain prudential decisions of the past 40 years.

  7. Kurt says:

    I apologize, There are a number of mistakes in my first paragraph. It should read:

    If I recall correctly, Trent said that it was not “opportune” to allow for the use of the vernacular in the Mass. 400 years later the fathers of Vatican II decided that it was opportune to “allow” the vernacular in places, but did not “require” it anywhere. Within five years (c. 1970) the vernacular was allowed all throughout the Mass and practically treated by many as obligatory, but the anathema of Trent still stands: Anyone who says that the Mass (not but ) be said in the vernacular is wrong.

  8. Kurt says:

    Wow, I must have had a long day! Let’s try that one more time. The last sentence of that paragraph should read:

    Anyone who says that the Mass (“must” not “may” ) be said in the vernacular is wrong.

  9. Joshua says:

    Rome has said that even for a private Mass permission must be granted by the Ordinary or the superior (if the priest is religious) since it constitutes an exception to the norm—That at least was the reasoning when I wrote the PCED.

  10. Joshua: That doesn’t take into consideration the actual praxis of the Commission, about which I will say no more.

  11. Henry Edwards says:

    However, many priests who want to say the older Mass at least privately (say, they have a “day off” or are retired) want to have a clean conscience in doing so.

    This is a fair reason for Pope Benedict to do something tangible that reflects his many statements as Cardinal Ratzinger encouraging the traditional Mass. A better reason is to dispel the pall of illegitimacy – in the minds of so many fellow Catholics and (especially) priests of a certain age – that hangs over the TLM and those seeking it. There are many dioceses where a “universal indult” (or some equivalent) – or perhaps even just clear and simple words from our Holy Father – could change the atmospherics entirely (as well as some where it might have little effect under their current bishop).

    In my view, the best effect of such an action – even if it lacked iron-clad sharp teeth – would be to shift the burden of proof, from those seeking a traditional Mass to those opposing it. (An old legal adage says that “He who bears the burden of proof loses the case.”) Surely, many local indult requests now denied would be granted.

  12. Henry: Yes. Many people find it hard to understand how very badly some priests are treated by their confrers and superiors simply because of their interest in what the late Holy Father by his apostolic authority identified as a legitimate aspiration.