Dear friends in Christ,
Last month,* The Northern Cross reported on the Holy Father’s decision to relax restrictions on the use of the Tridentine Mass, the Latin-language liturgy that predates the Second Vatican Council. Pope Benedict XVI said that Mass celebrated according to the 1962 Roman Missal, commonly referred to as the Tridentine Rite, should be made available in every parish where groups of the faithful desire it. The Holy Father’s decision was promulgated on July 7 under the title “Summorum Pontificum” and will take effect on Sept. 14, the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
Over the past weeks, I have received questions about the implementation of these norms in the Diocese of Duluth. Put quite simply, of course, the response is that, on Sept. 14, “Summorum Pontificum” becomes the universal law of the church. As such, the norms must be followed in every parish and diocese throughout the world.
Practically speaking, I anticipate some challenges with implementation in the Diocese of Duluth. Primary among them is one that the Holy Father himself mentioned in a cover letter to “Summorum Pontificum,” which he addressed to the bishops of the world: “The use of the old Missal presupposes a certain degree of liturgical formation and knowledge of the Latin language; neither of these is found very often.” In order to celebrate the Tridentine Rite, or the “extraordinary form” of the Mass as it is called by “Summorum Pontificum,” a priest must be suitably qualified. This means that, for a legitimate use of the extraordinary form, a priest must have the minimum rubrical knowledge of the Mass as it was celebrated before the Second Vatican Council and the minimum linguistic ability to reverently and precisely recite the prayers of the Mass in the Latin language.
It should be remembered that the Second Vatican Council did not prohibit the use of the Latin language in celebrating the Mass. The Mass that is celebrated in our parishes today can properly be celebrated by any priest in either the English or Latin language, or for that matter in any other language, provided that the texts used have been authorized by the Holy See.
What the Second Vatican Council did do was modify some of the prayers of the Mass, allow for the priest to celebrate Mass facing the people, and promote greater participation on the part of the faithful in the celebration of the Mass.
“Summorum Pontificum” aims to provide more ready access to the Mass as it was celebrated prior to the modifications permitted by the Second Vatican Council. In addition to the Latin language and position of the priest at the altar, the difference between the celebration of the Mass as permitted by “Summorum Pontificum” (pre-Vatican II) and the celebration after the Second Vatican Council (post-Vatican II) might be summarized as displayed in the box that appears on this page.
In the cover letter to the bishops that accompanied “Summorum Pontificum,” Pope Benedict mentions what prompted him to make access to the pre-Vatican II Mass more available: “At the time of the introduction of the new Missal, it did not seem necessary to issue specific norms for the possible use of the earlier Missal. .. . Afterwards, however, it soon became apparent that a good number of people remained strongly attached to this usage of the Roman Rite. . . . [Others] desired to recover the form of the sacred liturgy that was dear to them . . . because in many places celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal, but the latter actually was understood as authorizing or even requiring creativity, which frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear. . . . And I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church.”
These latter comments of Pope Benedict XVI echo those of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II: “It must be lamented that, especially in the years following the post-conciliar liturgical reform, as a result of a misguided sense of creativity and adaptation, there have been a number of abuses which have been a source of suffering for many. A certain reaction against ‘formalism’ has led some, especially in certain regions, to consider the ‘forms’ chosen by the Church’s greatest liturgical tradition and her Magisterium as non-binding and to introduce unauthorized innovations which are often completely inappropriate.
“I consider it my duty, therefore, to appeal urgently that the liturgical norms for the celebration of the Eucharist be observed with great fidelity. These norms are a concrete expression of the authentically ecclesial nature of the Eucharist; this is their deepest meaning. Liturgy is never anyone’s private property, be it of the celebrant or of the community in which the mysteries are celebrated.. . . Our time, too, calls for a renewed awareness and appreciation of liturgical norms as a reflection of, and a witness to, the one universal Church made present in every celebration of the Eucharist. Priests who faithfully celebrate Mass according to the liturgical norms, and communities which confirm to those norms, quietly but eloquently demonstrate their love for the Church” (“Ecclesia de Eucharistia,” 52).
With these words, we are reminded that, in the churches and chapels of this diocese, the observance of liturgical norms cannot be arbitrary. If Mass is to be celebrated according to the extraordinary form, it must be celebrated by a priest who has the minimum rubrical knowledge of the Mass as it was celebrated before the Second Vatican Council and minimum linguistic ability to reverently and precisely recite the prayers of the Mass in the Latin language. In such instances, too, the congregation must participate in the Mass by observing all the liturgical norms and using prayer books that translate the prayers and rubrics for them.
When Mass is celebrated in our churches and chapels, whether according to the ordinary rite or the extraordinary rite, there are also important liturgical norms that help to raise the mind and heart to God through the sacred mysteries celebrated. Here I mention just a few, but I encourage those who are interested to give a full reading to the “General Instruction of the Roman Missal” (GIRM) promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 2001.
Before the celebration of the Mass, “it is commendable that silence be observed in the church” (GIRM, 45). The chalice and other sacred vessels are to be made from precious metals. If they are made from less than precious metals, at least the chalice and paten are to be gilded on the inside. The use of glass or ceramic chalices, patens or ciborium is not permitted (GIRM, 328-329). For the priest, the chasuble is to be worn over the alb and stole (GIRM, 337). On entering and leaving the church, all genuflect to the Most Blessed Sacrament if the tabernacle is present in the main body of the church (GIRM, 273-274). The tabernacle is to be located either in the sanctuary or in a chapel that is connected to the church and suitable for private adoration and prayer (GIRM, 315). If churches do not have a chapel that is truly distinct and separate from the main body of the church, the tabernacle is to be located in the sanctuary. During the celebration of the Mass, people “should kneel beginning after the singing or recitation of the Sanctus until after the Amen of the Eucharistic Prayer, except when prevented on occasion by reasons of health, lack of space, the large number of people present, or some other good reason” (GIRM, 43).
In his encyclical “Sacramentum Caritatis,” Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that the faithful adherence to the liturgical norms has for 2,000 years sustained the faith life of all believers (38). This is the purpose of liturgy, regardless of the language in which it is prayed and celebrated.
With prayerful best wishes, I am
Most Reverend Dennis M. Schnurr
Bishop of Duluth**
* This article appeared in the newsletter of the Diocese of Duluth, in August, 2007.
** Now Coadjutor Archbishop of Cincinnati