Peregrinatio Summorum Pontificum 2022

sabato 25 settembre 2021

“Traditionis custodes”: Notes at First Reading by Guido Ferro Canale

Il testo italiano: “Traditionis custodes”: Note a una prima lettura [qui].
“Traditionis custodes”: Notes at First Reading

by Guido Ferro Canale

1. Premise; 1.1 Transitional Law: it is lawful to celebrate until further notice; 1.2 The logic of suspicion and its consequences; 1.3 Re-education camps until the Mass will die out?; 2. The legal status of the Tridentine Mass; 3. The competent authority; 4. The condition of the Priests; 5. The coetus fidelium; 6. Conclusions.

1. Premise

For the time being, a canonical analysis of the m.p. “Traditionis custodes”, formed and published on 16 July 2021 from St. John Lateran, caput et mater omnium ecclesiarum Urbis et orbis [head and mother of other the churches of Rome and of the world — TN], (1) can only be affected by the immediate impact of the text and, above all, by the lack of its Latin version; it will therefore be necessary to consider the Italian draft as the original, because this is what the Bulletin of the Press Office indicates. The document is entitled “Sull’uso della Liturgia romana anteriore alla riforma del 1970” [“On the Use of the Roman Liturgy Prior to the 1970 Reform”, just like the “Summorum Pontificum”, and subjects this use to new conditions, more restrictive than the previous ones, repealing incompatible norms. It is accompanied by a Letter to the Bishops, certainly precious for knowing the mens legislatoris [the mind, the intentions of the legislator — TN], but in and of itself devoid of a normative character: it helps to interpret the law when it is uncertain (cf. can. 17), not to establish something that is not written in it.

But, especially in the face of an abrogative clause that seems aimed at making a tabula rasa [a clean sweep — TN] of all the pre-existing things, it is necessary to remember some general principles of canon law which point in the opposite direction:
  • the abrogation for incompatibility presupposes the complete reorganization of the subject matter (can. 20); if only a few points are changed, there is a partial abrogation, also known as derogation, but the rest of the pre-existing regulations remain in force;
  • when in doubt, the abrogation, either total or partial, is not presumed; indeed, the two laws must be reconciled through proper statutory construction (can. 21);
  • all the provisions in favor of individual or associated faithful must always be interpreted in such a way that they effectively achieve an advantage (cf. cann. 36, 77, 92);
  • the laws that restrict the use of rights are subject to strict interpretation (can. 18);
  • particular law, such as eg. statutes and constitutions of religious, and customs ab immemorabili [from time immemorial — TN] are abrogated only if expressly mentioned (cann. 20 and 28).
The first point is particularly important in our case because, despite the nature of the title, actually the scope of this new m.p. is much narrower. As already noted in one of the first reactions “in the heat of the moment”, it focuses exclusively on the Mass, without saying anything about the other Sacraments, the Sacramentals or the Breviary: therefore, the “Summorum Pontificum” remains in force on all these things.

Let’s therefore examine the new juridical regime of the conditions to which the celebration according to the 1962 Missal is subjected.

1.1 Transitional Law: it is lawful to celebrate until further notice

The most urgent problem of all concerns the transitional phase, since an immediate entry into force of the new discipline is foreseen, which essentially provides for the re-examination, by the Bishops, of all the public Masses already authorized, of the existing groups and even of the Personal parishes erected, without a transitory discipline that clarifies with what should we comply in the meantime. Fortunately, cann. 46 and 47 help us: the authorization to celebrate, also provided by the “Summorum Pontificum” with respect to requests for a coetus [group — TN], is an administrative act, precisely a licentia [authorization — TN], and therefore 
  1. it retains its value even if the competence to decide changes (as in this case, since it has been transferred from the parish priests to the bishops); a fortiori [with stronger reason — TN], therefore, if — as in fact happens in most cases — it has been granted by the Bishop; 
  2. In order to revoke or modify it, a new specific provision is required, which will only become effective upon notification to the recipients.
The same goes for the fact that the law has changed and there are new conditions for authorizing: can. 58 §1 does actually dictate that the decrees lose their value when the law in application of which they were issued ceases; but, even if some authorizing act may have been titled “decree”, this is an error which does not change the nature of licentia and even less does it affect the applicable regime, which is that of rescripts (can. 59 §2), which do not cease per legem contrariam [by a contrary law — TN] (can. 73). (2) The opposite interpretation, moreover, would be clearly unfair: even groups of faithful who could very well satisfy the new requirements and continue in the celebrations would be forced to interrupt them for the time needed to see how… to get the status quo ante [the previous situation - TN] confirmed. Definitely, this would make little sense".

In other words: de iure [by law — TN], as long as the individual Bishops do not intervene, everything remains and continues as before.

1.2 The logic of suspicion and its consequences

This leads us, almost automatically, to deal with the problems related to the occasio legis [the factual assessment the moved the legislator to intervene — TN]. Problems which, in turn, can assume an interpretative value with respect to a doubtful normative text, eg. can. 17.

The only reason given for the normative intervention, to which the Pope even says to be “forced” by the circumstances, is that “A possibility offered by Saint John Paul II and with even greater magnanimity by Benedict XVI in order to recompose the unity of ecclesial body in respect of the various liturgical sensitivities has been used to increase distances, harden differences, build contrasts that hurt the Church and hinder her path, exposing her to the risk of divisions […] I am saddened by an instrumental use of the Missale Romanum of 1962, increasingly characterized by a growing rejection not only of the liturgical reform, but of the Second Vatican Council, with the groundless and unsustainable assertion that it betrayed Tradition and the ‘true Church.’”

The phenomenon does exist: let’s not deny it, let’s not bury our heads in the sand.

The logic of the “Summorum Pontificum” was a logic of reconciliation. Many felt that they could avail themselves of the rights granted by it in a diametrically opposite sense. And too many have gone from reservations on the liturgical reform, which are perfectly legitimate and justified in themselves, to the radical denial of the “legitimacy” of the Missal of Paul VI, that is, to deny that it has the substantial value of canon law as (defective, but nonetheless) actually ordered to the common good. On the whole problem, I can only refer to what I wrote elsewhere just a few days ago, because the topic is too broad for this venue; I limit myself to saying that this “refusal in principle of the value and sanctity [= capacity to sanctify] of the new rite” was not allowed even by Benedict XVI and its increasing diffusion offered the enemies of the traditional Liturgy the best pretext possible.

But what in individuals as private persons — one name above all: Andrea Grillo, whose comment on the new rules deserves attention — is a pretext and nothing more, in the mouth of the legislator has become the motive cause of the law. Which, paradoxically if you like, has its advantages: it often happens, in many spheres and different circumstances, that those who have nothing to do with something pay the price for problems caused by others… However, canon law never follows this logic, because it considers the salvation of every single soul so important as to bend even the letter of the law; and therefore, inevitably, each case and each person makes a story in itself.

In other words: the legislator considered it necessary to arrange a thorough check, to ascertain “that these groups do not exclude the validity and legitimacy of the liturgical reform, the dictates of the Second Vatican Council and the Magisterium of the Supreme Pontiffs” (art. 3 § 1 TC). But if he had considered — as a legislator, beyond the hypothetical personal opinions of J. M. Bergoglio — that all or almost all the members of the groups do not meet this requirement, logically he would have prohibited outright the use of the 1962 Missal in Masses cum populo [with the participation of the believers — TN], thus restoring the pre-1984 regime.

Instead he didn’t do that.

I repeat it: he didn’t do that.

Therefore, since many Bishops imbued with the “spirit of the Council” will certainly want to do so, it is necessary to oppose them with the irrationality of an absolute presumption of guilt of which, moreover, neither the normative text nor the accompanying letter bear any trace.

1.3 Re-education camps until the Mass will die out?

Both the “Quattuor abhinc annos” and the “Universae Ecclesiae” insisted on the need to recognize “the validity and legitimacy” of the Missal of Paul VI; now, art. 3 §1 extends the field to the “liturgical reform.” The Letter to the Bishops amply clarifies that, in the mens legislatoris [the mind, the intentions of the legislator — TN], it took place in full harmony with the will of the more recent Council, as well as in a manner faithful to Tradition, and it is imperative that the Bishops work “to return to a unitary celebratory form,” the new one. That’s enough to ask ourselves whether the “pastoral and spiritual care of the faithful,” pursuant to art. 3 §4 TC, should not consist — also or perhaps above all — in convincing them that “Anyone wishing to celebrate with devotion according to the antecedent liturgical form will find it easy to find in the Roman Missal reformed according to the mind of the Second Vatican Council all the elements of the Roman Rite, in particular the Roman canon, which constitutes one of the most characterizing elements.”

Without any doubt, the logic of mutual enrichment between the two forms of the Roman rite must be considered superseded, because the very idea of a “reform of the reform” in which something is recovered that would have been lost has all but disappeared from the plans: now the Holy Spirit is invoked “so that for your care and vigilance He may express communion even in the unity of a single Rite, in which the great richness of the Roman liturgical tradition is preserved.” In short, the ideal goal is certainly everybody’s adhesion to the Great Reform.

But “reality is superior to the idea.”

The law has not set expiration dates for the use of the earlier Liturgy, it has not positively prescribed that it continue only on condition that the faithful accept its temporary character and as a preparation to their re-education; for this reason alone if nothing else, as a matter of law the rule applies according to which neither the temporariness of the law nor the precariousness of rights, or even of acts of grace, are presumed (“Decet concessum a principe beneficium esse mansurum”: Regulae Juris in Sexto, n. 16), while on the pastoral level at least a space is opened that I allow myself to define, by analogy, “amorisletitian”, in which the faithful could remain indefinitely in a disapproved situation, which however is the maximum that God asks of them in those given circumstances.

But is it really a disapproved situation?

Actually, the Letter to the Bishops seems to distinguish three different situations:
  1. “the will to favor the recomposition of the schism with the movement led by Archbishop Lefebvre,” which is the alleged main reason for the 1984/88 pardon; in this regard, no innovations are introduced, in the sense that the aim of recomposing the schism cannot be repudiated by any Pope, much less by one who has objectively lavished concessions aimed at this, and that the only provision concerning the so called Institutes of the “Ecclesia Dei” limits itself to transferring competence over them to another Dicastery of the Roman Curia;
  2. “the possibility of freely using the Roman Missal promulgated by Saint Pius V, determining a parallel use to the Roman Missal promulgated by Saint Paul VI,” seen essentially as an abusive reading, a source of phenomena that Benedict XVI intended to regulate and of a category of faithful who “are rooted in the previous celebratory form and need time to return to the Roman Rite promulgated by Saints Paul VI and John Paul II”; (3) here it should be noted that their need for time is accepted, while providing for their “good” through the celebrations in place;
  3. the use of the 1962 Missal as a source of dispute, which must immediately cease.
With regard to point 2, it can certainly be added that the Bishops are exhorted to act in such a way as to convince the faithful to re-enter the “novusordist” ranks, but this must be done in such a way as not to push them to break ecclesiastical communion (see point 1) and in particular through the action against the liturgical abuses that have invaded the reformed rites, “so that every liturgy be celebrated with decorum and fidelity to the liturgical books promulgated after the Second Vatican Council,” on the clear assumption that the faithful who have passed to the Vetus are above all disgusted by the abuses — which may well have been their initial motive in many cases — and therefore would have no problem returning to a well-celebrated Novus, which I believe is a groundless opinion.

Following this logic, therefore, it must be concluded that, at least as long as the abuses remain practiced on a large scale, the celebrations according to the 1962 Missal will have to continue: revoking them before would mean pushing to break away those faithful who at that point — even according to the Pope — would not find the richness of the tradition of the Roman rite, but a distorted Mass; moreover it would apply only half a mens pontificia [pontifical mind, intention — TN] which is instead unitary.

It goes without saying that I do not consider at all a decisive action against the abuses probable and that the Bishop who undertakes it, in addition to finding himself undoubtedly overwhelmed with criticism from the same sectors that oppose the Tridentine rite, might not even oppose the latter.
2. The juridical condition of the Tridentine Mass
TC art. 1 reads: “The liturgical books promulgated by the Holy Pontiffs Paul VI and John Paul II, in accordance with the decrees of the Second Vatican Council, are the only expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.” The compliance with the Council will at least appear doubtful to anyone who reads the text of the Constitution on the Liturgy … (4) and this has a certain importance for the interpretation of art. 1.

In fact, it abrogates art. 1 of the “Summorum Pontificum” for incompatibility, where it established that the expressions of this only one lex orandi were two, the ordinary and the extraordinary form. The aim is essentially to deprive the Missal of St. Pius V of theological significance: all Tradition is transferred into the new Missal and is expressed by it, the Letter to the Bishops tells us. This thesis doesn’t stand up to the test of facts, as Matthew Hazell has shown only a few days ago, at least with regard to eucology; but hic et nunc [for the moment — TN] let’s take it as it is enunciated.

All the rest of art. 1 of “Summorum Pontificum” remains in force.

First of all, the injunction to attribute due honor to the previous Missal is by no means denied: “It is not to contradict the dignity and grandeur of that Rite that the Bishops gathered in an ecumenical council asked for it to be reformed,” the Letter to the Bishops also writes.

Neither is the question clarified apertis verbis [explicitly — TN] by Benedict XVI — in the form of a law and therefore with the value of authentic interpretation pursuant to can. 16 §1 — addressed again: the 1962 Missal was never abrogated. Leaving all other considerations aside, if that had been the intent, the abrogative clause would also have included ab immemorial [existing from time immemorial —TN] customs and indults, since the Congregation for Divine Worship knows at least since 1974 that traditionalists rely on the former and on the latter — precisely the so called “perpetual indult” of St. Pius V — to advocate non-abrogation.

For this fundamental reason, it doesn’t matter how suspicious and restrictive the rest of TC may sound: the principle “celebrare licet” [celebration is allowed — TN] is still in force. Although caution must be exercised with the provisional vernacular versions, the constant use of the terms “authorization” and “authorize” confirms this: not only in the Italian administrative law, but also in the canonical context (where, however, the terminology is much more fluid), you are granted something that is not due in itself or in any case a faculty that you did not have before, but it is authorized, always and only, the exercise of a right that you already possess.

So can we still speak of a right to the Mass of St. Pius V?


A mistreated right, we could say. Watched on sight with guns pointed. Kept only in view of its more or less gentle euthanasia, more or less imminent. But still a right.

At least for those who are already “rooted” in this Liturgy: precisely the right ex can. 214 to “worship God according to the prescriptions of one’s own rite, approved by the legitimate Pastors of the Church.” (5) Because a Missal in force, by definition, cannot be considered disapproved. (6)

This is all the more true in our case, since, despite the indisputable logic of the suspicion that animates it, the Letter to the Bishops basically implies that Benedict XVI was wrong in the prognostic assessment of the absence of divisions, disavowal of the Council or contestation of the reform; but not in his intention of “facilitating access to those — even young people — «who discover this liturgical form, feel attracted to it and find in it a particularly appropriate form for them, which provides them with an encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist»” and not even in the underlying judgment of fact. On the contrary, at the moment in which he writes that “A possibility offered by Saint John Paul II and with even greater magnanimity by Benedict XVI in order to reconstruct the unity of the ecclesial body in respect of the various liturgical sensibilities has been used to increase distances…,” so much so as to force him (!) to revoke it, the Pope implies that it would be or would have been good to “recompose unity […] respecting the various liturgical sensibilities” and that TC deprives the faithful of something good, in the name of a greater good. There is no doubt that he considers preferable the fruits of the liturgical reform, which would ensure a full realization of the participatio actuosa [active participation — TN]; however, he lashes out against the “distorted use” of a missal which “for four centuries […] has been […] the principal expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite, carrying out a unifying function in the Church,” ( 7) not against the Missal in itself nor against the liturgical sensitivity linked to it: he wants to teach it to find what it is looking for in the reformed Missal, but does not say that it is looking for the wrong things. (8)

In short, for this complex of reasons, the right to the Tridentine rite in the 1962 version persists and remains in force. There has been talk of a so-called “de facto abrogation”. No: saying “de facto abrogation” is a contradiction in terms, abrogation is a legal phenomenon, not an empirically observable fact.

Instead, what TC undoubtedly wants to do and does is to subject the use of a law still in force to conditions much more restrictive than before. Let’s see which ones.
3. The competent authority
According to TC art. 2, “The diocesan bishop, as a moderator, promoter and custodian of all liturgical life in the particular Church entrusted to him, is responsible for regulating liturgical celebrations in his own diocese. Therefore, it is his exclusive competence to authorize the use of the Missale Romanum of 1962 in the diocese, following the guidelines of the Apostolic See.” (9)

This competence is exclusive. With all due respect to the already mentioned columnist of Rorate Caeli, this means that the one attributed to parish priests by SP art. 5 does not survive; however, the measures they adopted up to now do.

Furthermore, since the notes recall the general discipline of the Code on the powers and duties of the Bishop, it can well be referred to in order to clarify what “in the diocese” means.

First of all, the executive power, which comes into play here, pursuant to can. 136, is exercised on the subjects (and, under certain conditions, on those who are passing through the territory). However, the discipline envisaged for Institutes and Societies of pontifical right provides that, although they do not become subjects of the local Ordinary because they are subjected to the Holy See and to their own Superiors (cf. can. 134), they nevertheless need his authorization to initiate any type of external apostolate, including liturgical celebrations open to the generality of the faithful. In other words: pontifical right allows an Institute the right to establish itself where it wants, because its existence is legitimized by those who have full, supreme, immediate and universal jurisdiction; but since the divine constitution of the Church associate to it another level, that of the individual Bishops, each time the consent of the interested one is required in order to be able to do anything that involves the faithful committed to his care.

Therefore, the Institutes of “Ecclesia Dei” may celebrate without episcopal authorization internally, not if they intend to carry out an external apostolate in the Diocese in which they are located.

This, on the other hand, is the situation that has always existed, de iure and de facto, since 1988.

Which, moreover, confirms to us that with respect to these Institutes nothing has changed: their Priests are authorized ipso iure [by the very same law — TN], by virtue of the privileges granted at the erection of the individual realities, and they do not need to be authorized by the Holy See, which has as a matter of fact already done so in a general way, nor by their Superiors, to whom the provision of TC art. 2 cannot be extended, because, ex can. 134 §3, the expression “diocesan bishop” does not even include the Vicar General.
4. The condition of the Priests
As is known, art. 2 of the “Summorum Pontificum” established full freedom, for all the priests of the Latin Church, to celebrate sine populo [without the participation of the faithful — TN] with one or the other of the two Roman Missals in force. It was relevant news, because since 1969 the various measures had, on the contrary, always required permission (from the Ordinary or from the Holy See) also for ancient Masses sine populo.

Articles 4 and 5 of TC restore this authorization regime, applicable in all cases other than public celebrations for a stable group, regulated by art. 3. I must again disagree with the columnist of Rorate Caeli, according to whom only Masses cum populo [with the participation of the faithful — TN] should be authorized: the difference in discipline between those who were ordained before TC and those who will be after it, in my opinion, can only be explained by the fact that SP 2 was considered a right acquired permanently by each individual Priest: the continuation of its exercise in the future is regulated, however leaving it to the diocesan Bishop. Instead, the future ordained priests are subjected to a more severe regime, because even the Bishop is obliged to “consult” the Holy See. It is not too clear what should or could be evaluated better than by him, who knows the person.

It will be said that even for the latter, however, there is talk of authorization, which implies that they too enjoy a right. Sure. But it is a right grounded on another basis.

Art. 1 of TC has abrogated the starting point for the expression “extraordinary form”, which does not appear at all in the rest of the new m.p.

And yet, the legislator reiterated, there and especially in the Letter to the Bishops, that the two Missals belong to the same rite. He could not do otherwise, after all, if he wanted to emphasize any kind of continuity between Roman liturgical tradition and reform.

But then, if both of these Missals can be used, what will they be but two forms of the same rite?

In my opinion, it is precisely the case of the newly ordained priests that proves that they remain so even under the empire of TC (which perhaps avoids speaking of an extraordinary form because it hopes that it will not have a permanent character): according to can. 846 §2, all Latin ministers must celebrate the sacraments according to their “own rite”. This was precisely the premise of SP 2: if we are still within the same rite, then it makes sense that each priest of that rite may freely choose between the two Missals. And for those who were already priests under the force of this norm, a right has crystallized for which they did not need any permission, neither from the Ordinary nor from the Holy See; (10) it is only a question of regulating the continuation of their effective exercise. But if there is a right even for those who have not been able to benefit from SP 2, what can be the basis for it? I would say can. 846 §2, in conjunction with the parts still in force of SP 1: there is no contradiction between the two different versions — let’s call them like that — of the Roman rite (after all, this is also what today’s exaltation of the reform says!), they are both in force, therefore the minister may choose within the proper rite.
A significantly important point: it turns out that art. 4 of “Summorum Pontificum” has not been abrogated, therefore the faithful can still be admitted to the celebrations sine populo.

At present, this seems to be the only way to satisfy the aspirations of the coetus [groups — TN] born in the future and, unfortunately, also of those already born but that have not yet seen their “right aspirations” met. Furthermore, it corresponds to what is generally recommended by the Code to the Priest (can. 906) and to the exercise of a faculty pertaining to every faithful (can. 923).
5. The coetus fidelium
For what was explained not by chance at the beginning, §§ 1.1-1.3, in principle every coetus preserves its Mass.

At least until further provision.

So, in practical terms, the first thing to do is simply to move on. Maybe on should be making contacts with the Bishop in advance, out of scruple or out of prudence. But not out of any obligation.

After that, the Bishop will have to somehow make sure that the group in question does not exclude “the validity and legitimacy of the liturgical reform, of the dictates of the Second Vatican Council and of the Magisterium of the Supreme Pontiffs.”

In practice it will happen that some will believe that the very existence of such groups implies a radical exclusion of all this (thus contradicting the text of TC itself); the others, ultimately, will have to be satisfied with the statements of the individuals, with the fact that they present themselves before the competent authority and with the previous experience in the relations with them, given that we are talking about coetus that already enjoy Mass.

In my opinion, the undue exclusion must be referred to the coetus as such: the literal tone, also supported by logic, requires it, because the erroneous positions of one adherent cannot harm all the others, especially since the coetus could very well be a reality of pure fact, not formalized in association not even in terms of state law, and that it is by no means certain that all the members know each other and also meet extra Missam [outside the Mass — TN]. In concrete terms, the only viable path for the Bishop seems to be to verify the public declarations of the leaders, or of whoever presents himself to him as a declared representative of the coetus. And since it is not difficult nowadays to collect large amounts of comments on the Internet, I am really afraid that more than one person risks unwelcome surprises.

On the other hand it should also be noted that, unlike the “Quattuor abhinc annos”, TC does not forbid doubts about the validity and legitimacy of the liturgical reform, but only the positive exclusion of the same. A contrary reading would clash with can. 212. It does not therefore seem forbidden to argue that the ancient rite is better than the new, as long as the latter is not utterly devoid of value: to affirm that a law is truly such does not mean to call it perfect or to consider it the absolute best. Of course, it is not certain that the mitre-wearing interlocutor will be so understanding or so attentive to the logic of such distinctions.
As for the adherence to the Magisterium, the very maximum that could be expected — perhaps: there are good reasons to consider it a disproportionate imposition — is the Profession of Faith, required pursuant to can. 833 to anyone who has to assume an ecclesiastical office, therefore valid a fortiori [with stronger reason — TN] for those who most certainly do not pretend to carry out an official charge. In John Paul II’s formula, it provides for a global assent to the entire Magisterium, however differentiated according to its three degrees (and therefore with implicit recognition of the existence of licit dissent from the mere authenticum [just authentic — TN] one); this should eliminate any problems.

From a practical point of view, the new regime sees some light in the shadows.

First of all, the celebrations can be authorized in “one or more places,” which allows the fortunate Dioceses where there are more Masses to continue like before.

Furthermore, the prohibition of celebrating them in parish churches, beyond the impression of apartheid it arouses (and in fact the exhumation of this part of the “Quattuor abhinc annos” is explained precisely by the abandonment of the logic of mutual enrichment), at least in Italy should not create major problems, given the abundance of non-parish churches, oratories and chapels, and in practice it also avoids thorny issues such as the preparation of the presbytery, which are a constant issue in the cohabitation with the Novus.

Finally, the ban on erecting new personal parishes implies, a contrario, that the rest of art. 10 of the “Summorum Pontificum” is still in force: rectors or chaplains may still be appointed, indeed this appears in full harmony with the precept of TC 3 §4, which rightly wants “that the priest in charge has at heart not only the dignified celebration of the liturgy, but the pastoral and spiritual care of the faithful.” 

End of lights. 

An element that I could define as shadowy, in the sense that according to me it is positive but risks damaging many faithful even unaware, is the fact that TC, always and only referring to the “Missal of 1962”, excludes the legitimacy of the use of the Missals prior to the reforms of Pius XII. The trend towards their recovery has taken hold in recent years and perhaps explains the fourth question of the questionnaire from which TC arises: “Are the norms and conditions of the Summorum Pontificum respected?”. Certainly, this manifestation of the will of the legislator makes worthless whatever custom was forming in this sense, leaving at the most the privileges for the use of the pre-reformed Holy Week enjoyed by dom Alcuin Reid and his monks in Provence, as well as some Institutes of the “Ecclesia Dei”, if what was a temporary and ad experimentum [experimental — TN] faculty has not already expired. On the one hand, I can only rejoice to see the law in force clarified and confirmed; on the other hand, I fear that even historical realities are at risk, perhaps without even knowing or understanding why.

Let’s deal with the shadows.

The heaviest is undoubtedly the prohibition on “authorizing the establishment of new groups,” which actually — since groups are created de facto, moreover in the exercise of a right pursuant to can. 215 — prohibits authorizing Masses for groups not yet existing at the TC date. It is a true prohibition, not a mere recommendation (“will take care” acts as a reinforcement), and any dispensation belongs to the Apostolic See, therefore to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

This undoubtedly means that the logic underlying SP and especially the “Universae Ecclesiae”, according to which this liturgical form is a treasure to be offered to all, is rejected. A logic, moreover, closely linked to the idea of a “reform of the reform” and not compatible with the exaltation of the reformed rites as they stand (de iure, with clear distinctions from the actual praxis).

However, the indult of Agatha Christie and that of 1984 already reasoned in terms of an Indian reservation. And the Indians are not extinct at all.
In addition, it should be noted that, in the original text, the “Quattuor abhinc annos” even provided for Masses reserved for specific persons, essentially with nominative concession. But this regime has fallen out of practice, even if only due to the impracticability of any kind of document control at the entrance to the church, and there has been a transition to a recognized right to the coetus, understood as a group to which other people can join. This principle remains valid: nothing in the text of TC suggests a use of coetus different from that of SP and of the established practice even prior to it. Indeed, the status quo ante [previous situation — TN] regulated by SP 5 is precisely the prerequisite of TC 3.

As to occasional celebrations, provided for in art. 5 §3 SP and not mentioned in TC, I believe that we must distinguish: if they are requested by members of the coetus, it is logical that the Priest delegated by the Bishop should provide for their pastoral care; where there is no pre-existing coetus or the request comes from outside the Diocese, the general competence of the Bishop will be valid in accordance with TC 2; but a Priest who wanted to celebrate sine populo, provided by his Ordinary with the authorization to use that Missal, and obviously with the Celebret required under can. 903, will be authorized by the parish priest or rector of the church to which he is addressing.

On the other hand, the faculty granted to the Bishop to establish the days of stable celebrations means that weekly attendance is not in itself ensured, much less the Sacred Triduum (provided for by EU 33); moreover, in past practice there have been too many episcopal ad experimentum [experimental — TN] authorizations to celebrate once a month, or with similar intervals.

However, once again the status quo ante [previous situation — TN] needs to be considered.

Any change for the worse, especially in the frequency but also in the timetable, has an impact on an already authorized situation and implies damage for those faithful: at the very least, it must be justified and, even before that, discussed with the interested parties (cf. cann. 50 and 51).

It should be noted that art. 7 of the “Summorum Pontificum” has not been abrogated: the faithful retain the right to recourse, which can also land up in the Signatura. And since this is the Court — the only one — where the demands of justice, not mere opportunity, are asserted against the ecclesiastical administration, it follows that theirs remains a subjective right. Especially since it is a permission already granted.

A final note with respect to the requirement to proceed “in personal parishes canonically erected for the benefit of these faithful, with an appropriate verification in order to achieve the effective usefulness for spiritual growth, and evaluate whether to maintain them or not.” (TC 3 §5). I cannot help but find insulting towards the Bishops themselves the affirmation addressed to them by the Letter, according to which these entities were born for reasons “linked more to the desire and will of individual priests than to the real need of the «faithful holy People of God»”: God only knows who could have written what in the reports sent to Rome, to provoke such a judgment. But the evaluation of whether to keep them or not is very easy for those who have just decided to establish them, such as eg. the Archbishop of Ferrara; and in general, since ecclesiastical offices have a stable character by definition (cf. can. 145), their survival — even though it is threatened — corresponds to some extent to the whole status of the Tridentine Mass the day after TC.
What will happen from now on will essentially depend on three variables: the attitude of the faithful, priests and bishops.

With regard to the latter, one may well fear to witness a slaughter of coetus, were it not that the most hostile have always prevented any celebration from being authorized. So, net of the changes and adjustments to the political climate, there may not even be too many storms unleashed.

I believe the worst thing the faithful can do right is lose their temper. Therefore I deem it urgent to let everyone know that, by right, the celebrations in progress continue to take place regularly and it is up to the Bishops to move, if and to what extent they want to do so.

But the most important variable is the priests.

We are not living in the 1970s: the clergy has shrunk too much, but this means that the percentage of priests interested in celebrating more antiquo [in the ancient way — TN] has grown. Furthermore, the average age has dropped. All this reduces the risk of sanctions, ceteris paribus [other things being equal — TN].

That there is a certain number of defections due to timidity or careerism must be taken into account. Just as a certain number of faithful will turn to Lefebvrians, Williamsonians and sedevacantists — according to each case —, especially if their Bishop will use a heavy hand.

But if, in general, those Priests who discovered the traditional Mass thanks to the “Summorum Pontificum” hold firm in their will to celebrate it, their concrete situation and that of the faithful will not worsen. At least not for those who have already obtained the celebration pursuant to the previous m.p.; the others, today, can only hope for semi-clandestine forms of aid or join already authorized coetus.

We should still wonder, of course, what kind of future may exist for the Institutes of “Ecclesia Dei”: should their existence also be considered timed? In the text of TC, nothing allows us to deduce it, but the logic of the Letter to the Bishops seems to be exactly that: will the purpose of recomposing unity prevail? Only the first moves of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life will be able to suggest an answer to this question. It goes without saying that a new crisis similar to that of the years 1999-2000 — however on a much larger scale — would put these realities in the very sad condition of having to choose between “full communion” and fidelity to the founding charism. There is also the abstract possibility that the 2000-2001 proposal will be revisited: to bring together all traditionalists, priests and laity, in an Apostolic Administration with world jurisdiction, a de facto ritual Church even though with cumulative jurisdiction with the Bishops. But this would force us to say, in essence, that it would be a different rite…

In 1988 the traditionalist question seemed to have been settled, not to say doomed, by the rupture between Rome and Léfebvre. Ten years later, the Roman pilgrimage of the “Ecclesia Dei” realities revealed a young, vital, growing people.

What kind of situation will we face in ten years?

In the best scenario, more or less all the Mass centers will have survived, after the exodus of the more radical elements the coetus will have started growing again, the Institutes of the “Ecclesia Dei” will have grown in their turn and new coetus will continue to knock on the door of the Bishop, or even of the Pope, in search of a dispensation from the prohibition.

In the worst one, we will see a chain reaction between suppressions, faithful who react very harshly (which is according to me — but not according to many Bishops — understandable), more suppressions, priests on the run and Institutes of the “Ecclesia Dei” relegated to the ghetto, distorted or even suppressed. There’s no doubt about the fact that in this case the realities that today are not in “full communion” would grow, but I doubt that they would succeed in compensating for the losses suffered.

I believe that the reality that we will see will be somewhere between these two extremes. But in any case there is a certainty: in ten years, the clerical 1968-inspired generation, infatuated with the conciliar revolution, will either be dead or in chronic conditions. Today, it is these characters who are the main problem. The goal is to reach this deadline alive, active and in strength until they are no longer in strength, active and not even alive (if not in the afterlife). For this alone, the signs of the times do not herald a clear sky, it’s true, but they rather show a summer storm instead of another forty-year crossing in the desert. This Mass was not dead then and will not die now: it remains to be seen whether it can still be effectively celebrated in “full communion” or only at the price of breaking with Rome.

Ultimately, it is up to Rome to decide.

Genoa, 17 July 2021, Guido Ferro Canale
(1) With immediate effect, because — at least according to the Italian version of the newspaper’s website — it appeared the same day in L’Osservatore Romano.
(2) Art. 8 TC, “The previous norms, instructions, concessions and customs, which do not comply with the provisions of this Motu Proprio, are abrogated,” cannot be applied the other way around: meanwhile, strictly speaking, a licentia is not a concession, because it does not grant a grace, but an act of justice that allows to exercise a right that somebody already has; moreover, all the other terms (norms, instructions, customs) refer to general rules and, in case of doubt, it must be understood that the same applies to this, therefore it must refer to privileges; last but not least, if it is necessary for the abrogation “that they do not comply with the provisions of this Motu Proprio,” the situation must in any case be re-examined, therefore, waiting for the “result” — precisely — of this judgment, the status quo ante cannot but remain in force.
(3) It hardly seems necessary to observe that, in general, a Lefebvrian does not “return” to the Mass of Paul VI, because he has never had anything to do with it.
(4) Not to mention A. REID, Sacrosanctum concilium and the Reform of the Ordo Missae, in Antiphon 3 (2010), pp. 277-95.
(5) It is very true that the expression “proper rite”, when the CIC was written, could only refer to the Eastern rites, the only ones that were then organized on a personal basis with relative problems of effectiveness and coexistence, at least when the Orientals are in Latin territory; but this certainly does not exclude that the scope of application of this right can be later extended — as in fact it has been extended — to the coexistence of what are called two forms of the same rite, however, for the practical purposes of can. 214 (and possibly by analogy) they are two distinct complexes of “praescripta proprii ritus” [provisions of their own rite — TN].
(6) A comparison with the condition of the Mozarabic rite is not useless: after the reform approved by John Paul II, it continues to be used where it was kept by privilege (and there is talk of its “ordinary use”, without particular problems or restrictions), but there is the possibility of its “extraordinary use”, only for occasional celebrations authorized in advance on the condition (inter cetera [among other things — TN]) that the faithful be prepared from time to time: with respect to this “extraordinary use” there is obviously no right because they could not “take root” in the rite in question. But although the ordinary use of the Mozarabic Missal is so limited, essentially for historical reasons, this does not at all imply its disapproval.
(7) Notice that this phrase implies that the variants of the Roman rite that remained in force after 1571 were themselves “expressions of [its] lex orandi”. In other words, the idea put forward by the “Summorum Pontificum” is not disowned as absurd in itself.
(8) Even for me, who since 2008 justify the “two forms of the same rite” by speaking of an “optional Romanity” of the Novus Ordo, whose major problem lies precisely in being optional, this evaluation, no matter if papal, is grossly erroneous. I concede that, within the new Missal, there are (also) materials with which to put something traditional together; but the very fact of having to put it together is the antithesis of the liturgical tradition and, in any case, significant gaps remain, from the prayers of the Offertory to the systematic attenuation of the sense of sin. (9) Strictly speaking, it should rather be about following the “norms”; but the broader term probably also includes the practice of the Roman Curia, which, moreover, is a source of law in the silence of the law (can. 19).
(10) Furthermore, the indults issued by the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” until 14 September 2007 should still be considered valid, without prejudice to the right of the Bishop to re-examine the situation. Source
Translation by Antonio Marcantonio, MA

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