A reader of the blog sent me scans of Memorandum dated 1 August about the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum by the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida (USA) issued by Fr. Thomas Willis, Director of Liturgy, on the authority of the bishop His Excellency Most Reverend Victor Galeone.
Nota bene: Scans of documents are interesting, but they are not very helpful as far as what I can do with them for this blog. My usual practice is to make comments within the texts. I can’t do that with a scan and I don’t have the time to transcribe them. If you want to increase the chance that I will comment, kindly transcribe them accurately.
However, this document from the Diocese of St. Augustine astonished me, so I will say something about it. I wonder if you will have the same reaction.
Here are a few excerpts.
2. Only priests who are qualified may celebrate the extraordinary form of the Mass and the sacraments even privately. [Emphases in the original] Those qualified must evidence an ability with the Latin language as well as the rubrics for the proper celebration of the Mass in the extraordinary form. Bishop Galeone reserves to himself the authority to determine whether priest is qualified to celebrate Mass and the other sacraments using the extraordinary form. Generally, the priest must demonstrate a sufficient knowledge of Latin such that the priest is not simply reciting the words of the liturgy, but has an understand of the meaning of what he is saying.
Okay… I am not a canonist, but I can read, and can read LATIN at at. The Apostolic Letter does not say that the priest needs a command of the Latin language suggested by this paragraph above. The Latin word idoneus is used in the Motu Proprio to indicate the qualifications of the priest. Idoneous never means "expert" or "well-trained" or "schooled" or anything of the kind. It refers to the minimum qualifications. This is why the eminent canonist and Archbishop of New York, Edward Card. Egan stated that
II. Priests who choose to celebrate Mass in the "extraordinary" form must have a sufficient knowledge of the Latin language to pronounce the words correctly.
There are wildly diverging interpretations of the Motu Proprio emerging in dioceses of the USA. The more hostile will try to hem in the priest and reduce his rights.
The principle of interpretation of Canon Law summarized in the Latin phrase odiosa restringenda, favoribilia ampliantur means that when laws grant favorable things or expand rights, the laws must be interpreted as openly, widely, loosely, favorably as possible so that a person’s rights are truly respected. When laws restrict a person’s rights, they must be interpreted as narrowly as possible, so as to protect rights. A narrow interpretation restricts the way the law can be applied.
The opposite was done in this paragraph above. Here, the priest’s rights are improperly restricted based on a far too strict idea of idoneus.
The second issue I have with this excessive restriction placed on priests who want to use the older form is that it seems to imply a double standard, a much harsher standard than that imposed in practice on priests who will use only the ordinary form.
Let me exaggerate a bit, propose the absurd to make my point.
Will His Excellency now also impose some sort of examination or assessment of a priest’s knowledge of the meaning of Mass texts of the Novus Ordo? According to the present and then future ICEL English? According to the Latin texts? I would settle for either. I would be very interested to know what priests in that diocese think the word "refrigerium" means in the Roman Canon, or what the image of "dew of the Holy Spirit" means in the 2nd Eucharist Prayer which H. E. Bishop Trautman is so concerned about. Just what does "The Mystery of Faith" mean? What do the Collects really say? Even in translation? Shall we have the priest write an essay on the fruits of Holy Mass before he can say Mass? Can we be sure that priests, especially those for whom rubrics are suggestions, understand what they are saying? Just what does kissing the altar mean anyway? What about priests who are getting a bit older? Should they be examined regularly to make sure they are still competent? Perhaps we should examine them along with those who need to be examined before they can use the extraordinary form. Perhaps before the Chrism Mass each year there can be a regular exam by the bishop of his priests to make sure they understand what the sacred mysteries of Holy Mass mean in the texts and gestures.
Here is another paragraph:
4. A pastor may not, on his own initiative schedule a public Mass according to the extraordinary form. The Apostolic Letter requires that a "stable group of the faithful who adhere to the earlier liturgical tradition" make a request for the extraordinary form to be celebrated. Bishop Galeone has determined that such a group should be faithful of the parish [Emphases in the original] and should number at least 50 people for such a request to be granted.
First, the provisions of the Motu Proprio do not require that the priest even inform the bishop, much less ask for permission. The provisions focus entirely on the decision of the pastor. On the other hand, I think it is entirely reasonable that the pastor inform the bishop. At least in that way when people are looking for the older Mass, the chancery can tell them.
Second, notice that there is a minimum number imposed of 50… 50… people. Let’s leave aside for a moment that they must be registered in the parish or living in the territory ("of the parish"). This is outside the provisions of the Motu Proprio, which does not specify the number.
The diocesan norm quotes an unofficial and inaccurate translation of the Latin, which has the word coetus. A coetus has no specific number and can be, in fact, very small. It is certainly more than two. Some say as small as three people, which could include the priest himself since he is at the parish. The adverb used in the Latin, NOT an adjective like English "stable" – no derivation of which is to be found in the Latin document – is continenter which means "continuously". There must be a group of an unspecified number continuously present (Art. 5, § 1. In paroeciis, ubi coetus fidelium traditioni liturgicae antecedenti adhaerentium continenter exsistit…) . I will admit that it does not seem reasonable that if only three people are asking for Holy Mass that the Mass schedule should change. Still, I do not believe that the Motu Proprio foresees that a bishop establish a minimum number of people.
On the other hand, what if there are only three people of the parish asking but there are 100 from other parishes who are eager to come also and those people were always around? It does happen in parishes that on a Sunday 100 people from other places do show up on a weekly basis. In that case, I think it would be reasonable to have the Mass in the older form.
I am reminded of Abraham bargaining with God not to destroy Sodom. "What if there are only 45? Shall you deny these people Mass, Your Excellency, if there are only 45?"
The bottom line is this. As much as I hate to say it, the Memo strikes me as an exercise in intimidation. Even for private Masses, priests are supposed to submit themselves to a Latin exam? (Does this sound familiar? It ought to: this is what Bishop Trautman said he would do.) Can you see priests doing that?
How is a priest to follow the norm of Summorum Pontificum that he is to accept requests of the the faithful willingly (libenter suscipiat) under these conditions?
I am not a canonist. I claim no expertise other than what I studied and continue to study. Canonists can correct me if I am getting this wrong and I welcome substantive expert correction.
But it seems to me that, far from the spirit of the Church’s tradition of interpreting law to favor people rather than to repress their rights, undue restrictions are being placed on the application of the Motu Proprio that seem not to be in keeping with the Motu Proprio itself. I suspect that some day they will need some modification once the appropriate questions are raised by those qualified.