Summorum Pontificum

Pope Benedict's Motu Proprio on the Traditional Latin Mass

Elevation of the Host during Mass at St. Mary's Oratory, Rockford, IL (Photo © Scott P. Richert)
Fr. Brian A.T. Bovee elevates the Host during a Traditional Latin Mass at Saint Mary's Oratory, Rockford, Illinois, May 9, 2010. (Photo © Scott P. Richert)

Introduction to Summorum Pontificum

On July 7, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI issued the Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum. Rumored for almost two years, the document represents the most significant liturgical development in the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and the promulgation of the Mass of Pope Paul VI in 1969. It restores, as one of the two approved forms of the Mass, the Traditional Latin Mass, celebrated according to the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope John XXIII in 1962.

Often called the "Tridentine Mass," this is the Mass as celebrated before Pope Paul VI issued his Novus Ordo.

Quick Facts

  • Latin Title: Summorum Pontificum
  • English Title: "Of the Supreme Pontiffs"
  • Type of Document: Apostolic Letter "Motu Proprio"
  • Date Issued: July 7, 2007
  • Issued By: Pope Benedict XVI
  • Full Text: Summorum Pontificum (at the Vatican website)

"Two Usages of the One Roman Rite"

From September 14, 2007 (the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross), the Novus Ordo has been considered the "ordinary use" of the Mass, while the Traditional Latin Mass has been considered the "extraordinary use." Both can be said in the same parish and by the same priest. A priest can also celebrate the sacraments of Baptism, Marriage, Confession, and the Anointing of the Sick in the extraordinary use, and bishops can celebrate Confirmation.

Summorum Pontificum, however, establishes certain rules that have to be followed.

Rules for the Private Celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass

Regarding private celebration, Summorum Pontificum states that, "In Masses celebrated without the people, each Catholic priest of the Latin rite . . . may use the Roman Missal published by Bl. Pope John XXIII in 1962, or the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970, and may do so on any day with the exception of the Easter Triduum."

Such celebrations of the Traditional Latin Mass may "also be attended by faithful who, of their own free will, ask to be admitted." It is possible for a church to continue to offer the Novus Ordo publicly, while also having private celebrations of the Traditional Latin Mass.

Rules for the Public Celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass

The faithful who desire public celebrations (scheduled Masses) of the Traditional Latin Mass (and other sacraments) should approach their pastor, and "the pastor should willingly accept their requests." Such public celebrations "may take place on working days; while on Sundays and feast days one such celebration may also be held."

The provision for Sundays and feast days ensures that, on days when Catholics are obligated to attend Mass, at least one Mass will be celebrated according to the Novus Ordo, since parishes are supposed to have a minimum of two Masses on Sundays and holy days.

The Role of the Bishop

In the past, the bishop determined whether a priest of his diocese could use the 1962 Missal. Now, the decision is left to the priest, while the faithful are empowered to request it. "If a group of lay faithful . . . has not obtained satisfaction to their requests from the pastor, they should inform the diocesan bishop.

The bishop is strongly requested to satisfy their wishes."

The bishop may also "erect a personal parish . . . for celebrations following the ancient form of the Roman rite." In other words, Summorum Pontificum ensures that bishops will provide for wide celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass.

Other Provisions of Summorum Pontificum

There are two unexpected provisions in the motu proprio. First, priests who are required to pray the Divine Office (the daily liturgical prayers of the Church) may now use the 1962 Breviary, whose calendar and prayers correspond to the 1962 Missal.

Second, in a departure from the traditional practice, "In Masses celebrated in the presence of the people in accordance with the Missal of Bl. John XXIII, the readings may be given in the vernacular" or common language of the people, rather than in Latin.

It was common, in the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass, to offer the readings in Latin but then to read them again in the vernacular before the homily; now, they can be read in the vernacular during the celebration itself.

Universae Ecclesiae: On the Application of Summorum Pontificum

On May 13, 2011 (the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima), the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei released the Instruction Universae Ecclesiae ("To the Universal Church"), "on the application of the Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum." Pope Benedict's intent in issuing Summorum Pontificum, Universae Ecclesiae notes, was threefold:

  • a.) offering to all the faithful the Roman Liturgy in the Usus Antiquior, considered as a precious treasure to be preserved;
  • b.) effectively guaranteeing and ensuring the use of the forma extraordinaria ['extraordinary form'] for all who ask for it, given that the use of the 1962 Roman Liturgy is a faculty generously granted for the good of the faithful and therefore is to be interpreted in a sense favourable to the faithful who are its principal addressees;
  • c.) promoting reconciliation at the heart of the Church.

In the almost four years between the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum and the publication of Universae Ecclesiae, those goals had not been met, and indeed had often been actively blocked by some of those charged with implementing Summorum Pontificum (namely, diocesan bishops). Thus the need for Universae Ecclesiae.

Quick Facts

  • Latin Title: Universae Ecclesiae
  • English Title: "To the Universal Church"
  • Type of Document: Instruction
  • Date Issued: May 13, 2011 (the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima); signed on April 30, 2011 (the memorial of Pope Saint Pius V, who promulgated the Roman Missal that codified the Traditional Latin Mass)
  • Issued By: The Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, and signed by the president of the commission, William Cardinal Levada, who is also prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
  • Full Text: Universae Ecclesiae (at the Vatican website)

Universae Ecclesiae Stresses the Teaching Authority of Pope Benedict

The Introduction to Universae Ecclesiae minces no words, making it clear that Summorum Pontificum is an expression of the legitimate teaching authority of Pope Benedict: "The Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum constitutes an important expression of the Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff and of his munus of regulating and ordering the Church’s Sacred Liturgy." Summorum Pontificum is not simply another document: "With this Motu Proprio, the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI promulgated a universal law for the Church . . . " In this, Pope Benedict follows "the Sovereign Pontiffs in caring for the Sacred Liturgy and in their recognition of liturgical books," especially Saint Gregory the Great (to whom the Traditional Latin Mass, at least in its broad outlines, is traditionally ascribed) and Saint Pius V, who promulgated the Missale Romanum in 1570 in a successful effort to standardize the practice of the liturgy in the Western Church.

The Continuity of the Roman Rite

Universae Ecclesiae, however, also recalls the efforts of Blessed John XXIII in updating the Missale Romanum, and of Pope Paul VI in issuing the new missal (the Novus Ordo Missae or "ordinary form" of the Mass) and of Blessed John Paul II in revising it in 1990. The emphasis is on the continuity of the Roman Rite, expressed both by the 400 years of use of the Missale Romanum (which "has enjoyed a particular prominence in history") and the repetition of the formula of Summorum Pontificum in describing the Old and New Masses: "The Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI and the last edition prepared under Pope John XXIII, are two forms of the Roman Liturgy, defined respectively as ordinaria ['ordinary'] and extraordinaria ['extraordinary']: they are two usages of the one Roman Rite, one alongside the other. Both are the expression of the same lex orandi ['rule of prayer'] of the Church."

Universae Ecclesiae stresses this point by quoting from Pope Benedict's words in Summorum Pontificum:

There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal. In the history of the Liturgy growth and progress are found, but not a rupture. What was sacred for prior generations, remains sacred and great for us as well, and cannot be suddenly prohibited altogether or even judged harmful.

It is precisely because of the continuity of the Roman Rite that the Traditional Latin Mass, "On account of its venerable and ancient use, . . . is to be maintained with appropriate honor."

The Responsibilities
 of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei

Universae Ecclesiae expands the responsibilities of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei "beyond the faculties previously granted by Pope John Paul II and confirmed by Pope Benedict XVI." While the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei has been responsible for "monitoring the observance and application of the provisions of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum," the commission now has "the power to decide upon recourses legitimately sent to it . . . against any possible singular administrative provision of an Ordinary which appears to be contrary to the Motu Proprio."

This is an important change. Under Summorum Pontificum, any priest who desires to say the Traditional Latin Mass has the right to do so, but some bishops have nevertheless actively prevented them from doing so. Now, any priest who has been prevented from saying the Traditional Latin Mass can go directly to the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei for redress.

The Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei will also now "have the task of looking after future editions of liturgical texts pertaining to the forma extraordinaria of the Roman Rite."

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi

There is a powerful symbolism in the expansion of the powers of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, signaled in Pope Benedict's 2009 motu proprio Ecclesiae Unitatem, which made the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith the ex officio head of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei. Catholics attached to the Traditional Latin Mass have long pointed to the saying Lex orandi, lex credendi ("the rule of prayer is the rule of belief") as proof of the need for stability in the liturgy—a stability that, they argue, was lost with the promulgation of the Novus Ordo. Both Summorum Pontificum and Universae Ecclesiae take Lex orandi, lex credendi as their guiding principle, and the symbolic unification of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei stresses Pope Benedict's commitment to the principle.

The Proper Interpretation and Correct Application of Summorum Pontificum

The bulk of Universae Ecclesiae concerns questions that have arisen since the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum in 2007, especially questions raised by "the Bishops of the world" (which, in effect, means those bishops who have been reluctant to implement the provisions of Summorum Pontificum in their dioceses). The more notable of the "specific norms" implemented by Universae Ecclesiae are discussed below, but they can be summarized thusly: In almost every case, the provisions of Summorum Pontificum should be interpreted in the broadest possible sense—that is, in the manner most favorable to the priests and faithful who wish to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass.

The one exception to this broad interpretation of Summorum Pontificum concerns the faithful who "in any way support or belong to groups which show themselves to be against the validity or legitimacy of the Holy Mass or the Sacraments celebrated in the forma ordinaria or against the Roman Pontiff as Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church." While this provision is in keeping with the insistence of both Summorum Pontificum and Universae Ecclesiae on the continuity of the Roman Rite as expressed in both the ordinary and extraordinary forms (which solidifies the position of the Traditional Latin Mass), it is likely to be a source of discontent for those who hope that the Novus Ordo may one day disappear.

Specific Norms of Universae Ecclesiae Concerning Bishops, Priests, and Laity

  • Bishops are to "undertake all necessary measures to ensure respect for the forma extraordinaria of the Roman Rite," "always in agreement with the mens ['mind'] of the Holy Father clearly expressed by the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum."
  • Any "group of the faithful" attached to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, whether that group existed before the publication of Summorum Pontificum or came together afterward, and whether that group belongs to a single parish or to "different parishes or dioceses," can legitimately request the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass, and the request should be respected.
  • Pastors are to allow visiting priests to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass, and "Even in sanctuaries and places of pilgrimage the possibility to celebrate in the forma extraordinaria is to be offered to groups of pilgrims who request it . . . , if there is a qualified priest."
  • Small groups of the faithful can ask the local bishop to "identify a church in which these faithful may be able to come together for such celebrations, in order to ensure easier participation and a more worthy celebration of the Holy Mass" (and the bishop, in keeping with his responsibilities listed above, should do so).
  • "Every Catholic priest who is not impeded by Canon Law is to be considered idoneus ('qualified') for the celebration of the Holy Mass in the forma extraordinaria" and "priests are presumed to be qualified who present themselves spontaneously to celebrate the forma extraordinaria, and have celebrated it previously." This removes one objection raised by many bishops, who claimed that most priests in their diocese were not qualified to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass.
  • In case such bishops continue to raise this objection, however, Universae Ecclesiae declares that, "In Dioceses without qualified priests, Diocesan Bishops can request assistance from priests of the Institutes erected by the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, either to celebrate the forma extraordinaria or to teach others how to celebrate it."
  • Moreover, the problem of a lack of qualified priests should disappear over time, because bishops "are asked to offer their clergy the possibility of acquiring adequate preparation for celebrations in the forma extraordinaria. This applies also to Seminaries, where future priests should be given proper formation, including study of Latin and, where pastoral needs suggest it, the opportunity to learn the forma extraordinaria of the Roman Rite."
  • While there has been some question whether priests who wished to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass could do so without any laity present, Universae Ecclesiae makes it clear that they can: "For such celebrations . . . priests, by provision of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, do not require any special permission from their Ordinaries or superiors."

Specific Norms of Universae Ecclesiae Concerning the Liturgy and the Sacraments

  • While the "liturgical books of the forma extraordinaria are to be used as they are" (that is, no one celebrating the Traditional Latin Mass can alter the Mass to suit his own preferences), "New saints and certain of the new prefaces can and ought to be inserted into the 1962 Missal," just as new saints were inserted into the calendar before 1962. To do otherwise would be to make the Traditional Latin Mass a museum piece rather than a living liturgy of the universal Church.
  • Similarly, "the readings of the Holy Mass of the Missal of 1962 can be proclaimed either solely in the Latin language, or in Latin followed by the vernacular [the common language of the people attending the Mass] or, in Low Masses, solely in the vernacular." While the latter might seem like an innovation, the use of the vernacular alone at Low Masses was allowed even before the Novus Ordo was promulgated.
  • Any changes affecting the celebration of the Mass "promulgated from 1962 onwards and incompatible with the rubrics of the liturgical books in effect in 1962" do not apply to the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass (for instance, the use of female altar servers and concelebration).
  • Confirmation can be conducted according to "the older formula for the rite of Confirmation," and in "Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life which are under the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei" (that is, organizations that have permission to celebrate only the Traditional Latin Mass) ordinations can be conducted according to the older formula.
  • Any priest can choose to use the Roman Breviary "in effect in 1962" in place of the newer Liturgy of the Hours, provided he prays it "entirely and in the Latin language." (The flipside, of course, is that a priest who chooses to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass is not required to use the older edition of the Roman Breviary.)
  • The Easter Triduum can be celebrated in the extraordinary form, even if the celebration has to take place in a church where the ordinary form has also been celebrated. (Normally, the liturgies of the Triduum can only be celebrated once in each church.)
  • "The use of the liturgical books proper to the Religious Orders which were in effect in 1962 is permitted," even if those religious orders do not normally celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass.
  • And finally, "The use of the Pontificale Romanum, the Rituale Romanum, as well as the Caeremoniale Episcoporum in effect in 1962, is permitted," provided that these rituals are conducted according to the liturgical law in place in 1962 and no minor orders (which were abolished with the revision of the Mass in 1970) are bestowed (except in "Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life which are under the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei"). Essentially, this means that a group of the faithful (up to and including an entire diocese), together their priests and bishop, can celebrate all of the sacraments in the extraordinary form.