PUBLISHER’S NOTE: On July 7, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI issued an apostolic letter motu proprio (given on his own initiative to the Church) that addressed a serious concern long-neglected: the status of the ancient form of the Roman liturgy. After nearly four decades of difficulties between Rome and those Catholics who favored the preservation of the vetus ordo, the first article of the letter — entitled Summorum Pontificum — rang out like a shot across the Catholic world:
The Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI is the ordinary expression of the lex orandi (rule of prayer) of the Catholic Church of the Latin rite. The Roman Missal promulgated by Saint Pius V and revised by Blessed John XXIII is nonetheless to be considered an extraordinary expression of the same lex orandi of the Church and duly honoured for its venerable and ancient usage. These two expressions of the Church’s lex orandi will in no way lead to a division in the Church’s lex credendi (rule of faith); for they are two usages of the one Roman rite.
It is therefore permitted to celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass following the typical edition of the Roman Missal, which was promulgated by Blessed John XXIII in 1962 and never abrogated, as an extraordinary form of the Church’s Liturgy.
Advocates of the Church’s venerable liturgy had long argued that the older missal was not (and could not simply be) abrogated; that priests could not be forbidden to offer Masses according to this form; that communities should not need an “indult” to assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass celebrated in the same way it had been throughout the majority of the Church’s history. Here at last was confirmation of what they had long believed. Further, it opened a door, at long last, for Catholics the world over to have the freedom to worship God in according to the deepest desires of their souls and in common with their forebears in faith. This would benefit not only those faithful who remembered and felt a deep appreciation for the traditional liturgy, but also for the many young men and women — priests, religious, and laity alike — who would come to discover its great beauty and spiritual benefit for the first time through its increased availability.
In the accompanying letter to Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict made the heart of the issue plain:
What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.
Summorum Pontificum was made effective on September 14, 2007. Yesterday marked the seventh anniversary of this momentous document and the opportunities it offered Holy Mother Church to enrich her liturgical life. In today’s feature, Dr. Peter Kwasniewski leads us in an examination of where we are, and where we should be, as regards the implementation of Pope Benedict XVI’s most notable motu proprio.
As we commemorate the seventh anniversary of the implementation of this momentous motu proprio, every member of the Latin Rite should do an examination of conscience, taking an inventory of attitudes, policies, and practices.
Bishops: Have you seen to it that the Extraordinary Form—which “must be given due honor for its venerable and ancient usage”—is widely available in your diocese, since “it behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place”? Have you seen to it that training sessions are made available for priests and seminarians, so that they may benefit from this profound school of prayer, the nourishment of countless saints, stretching back to the first millennium of the Church?
Priests: Have you taken advantage of the opportunities for learning the usus antiquior? Have you responded generously when the faithful ask for the sacraments in the traditional rites? Have you proactively taken steps to offer it to the faithful even when they do not request it, confident that the Holy Spirit can and will use this magnificent treasure of the Church to enrich the lives of many believers?
Laity: Have you supported your diocese, your bishop, your pastor, your clergy, in a friendly and generous manner, so that they may more readily accede to legitimate desires for the usus antiquior? Do you pray for them when they are resistant, dismissive, irritated, or even spiteful? Have you repeatedly asked for the traditional Mass and sacraments, humbly but confidently? Have you been ready and willing to help defray the expenses associated with instruction in this rite and the celebration of it? Do you try to find ways to spread knowledge and love of the Extraordinary Form among the youth?
Everyone: Have we fully and consistently embraced the legislation of Pope Benedict XVI’s motu proprio and the truly pastoral wisdom of his accompanying letter to all the bishops?
Things vary from diocese to diocese, of course, but, speaking generally, the answer to this last question cannot yet be in the affirmative. In spite of manifest desire among many groups of the faithful, made up of people of many age groups and backgrounds, the traditional Latin Mass has not joined the Ordinary Form as a regular occurrence (say, Sundays and Holy Days) in most parishes and chapels throughout the world, surely a sign that Pope Benedict’s desire to effect a deep reconciliation in the Church and to inject into the Ordinary Form a new spirit of fidelity to tradition has been largely unheeded.
The situation as it stands points to a longstanding problem in the Church. For close to 50 years, those who loved (or who have come to love) the traditional Latin Mass have been treated like second-class citizens, if not lepers. This is not my own exaggerated perception; Joseph Ratzinger himself saw it this way, and said so more than once!
To judge from praxis, no Catholic is allowed to be without the Ordinary Form; but when it comes to the Extraordinary Form, it can be ignored, excluded, cancelled, discontinued, and decreased – regardless of the spiritual lives of those Catholics who attend it or desire it. Imagine the outcry if a pastor of a mainstream parish said to his people: “I’m going on vacation the next two weeks, and in my absence a priest from the Fraternity of Saint Peter will come and celebrate the Tridentine Mass for all of you. Sorry, there won’t be any Novus Ordo Masses for those two weeks.”
Why, then, does the same thing frequently happen in the other direction? Is it because trained clergy are not readily available? Yes, that’s a challenge. But it is more honest to admit that there is a double standard at work—one that exists in spite of the law of the Church established in the motu proprio. The attitude would best be described thus: “If you are a Catholic who attends the Ordinary Form, you must be guaranteed access to it (and never should you be forced to attend the Extraordinary Form); but if you are an Extraordinary Form-loving Catholic, be content with whatever people are willing to give you, and know that you’ll frequently have no choice but to attend the Ordinary Form.”
Most Catholics have not submitted their intellects and wills to the authoritative determination of Pope Benedict XVI, who established in Summorum Pontificum that the two forms of the Roman Rite are canonically equal and that requests for the traditional form of Mass should be granted, as long as those requesting it do not deny the validity of the new missal. He did not specify how often the Mass should be made available because he logically assumed that supply would meet demand, as long as no one failed to be as generous as they ought to be. Put simply, if there is a desire for a weekly Mass, let a weekly Mass be provided as soon as may be. If there is a desire for a daily Mass, and a congregation large enough to make such a thing reasonable in the circumstances, then let a weekday Mass be provided.
In the pre-Summorum world, St. John Paul II asked bishops to provide generously for the faithful attached to the Latin liturgical tradition. Nevertheless, such a provision was still understood as a kind of favor, an exception, a special case. This model was decisively put aside by Summorum Pontificum, which regularized the Extraordinary Form as a treasure for all Catholics, to be provided directly by priests. It still happens far too often, however, that provision of the Extraordinary Form is treated as a favor or privilege rather than a just response to a legitimate request, a duty that corresponds to a genuine right on the part of the faithful.
Is it any wonder that there is such a heightened sensitivity, even irritability, among more traditionally-minded Catholics? If you are not so minded, try placing yourself in their shoes and see how it would feel if the thing that most of all enkindled and illuminated your life of faith — the thing that enkindled and illuminated the Church for 1,500 years — was rarely or irregularly given to you, treated as harmful or dangerous, while you yourself were viewed as if you belonged to a fringe group or sect.
Pope Benedict XVI knew that there was only one way to get beyond this decades-old impasse: deregulate, destigmatize, depressurize the whole thing with a transparent and magnanimous welcoming of all that the Faith itself allows. That is what a full and consistent implementation of Summorum Pontificum would look like – and when each parish and chaplaincy has accomplished it, we will then be able to say, without the slightest qualm of conscience, that we are altogether faithful to the Magisterium and totally committed to the service of Christ and His Church.
Dr. Peter Kwasniewski is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and The Catholic University of America who taught at the International Theological Institute in Austria, the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austria Program, and Wyoming Catholic College, which he helped establish in 2006. Today he is a full-time writer and speaker on traditional Catholicism whose work appears online at, among others, OnePeterFive, New Liturgical Movement, LifeSiteNews, The Remnant, and Catholic Family News. He has published eleven books, including Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright: The Genius and Timeliness of the Traditional Latin Mass (Angelico, 2020) and The Holy Bread of Eternal Life: Restoring Eucharistic Reverence in an Age of Impiety (Sophia, 2020). Visit his website at www.peterkwasniewski.com.