On the seventh day of the seventh month of the seventh year of the new millenium, Pope Benedict XVI declared an armistice in the 'Great War' that has raged over the Sacred Liturgy in the West for forty years.
The Apostolic Letter, Summorum Pontificum, issued that day as a Motu Proprio (by the Pope's personal initiative), is a ground-breaking reconciliation between the Roman Missals of 1570 and 1970.
The fundamental canonical point of Summorum Pontificum is that the ancient or historical usage of the Roman Rite, as codified in the Missal of Pope St Pius V in 1570 and reissued in its last form by Blessed Pope John XXIII in 1962, was not abrogated or abolished by the subsequent promulgation in 1970 of a newer usage of the Roman Rite, following Vatican Council II, by Pope Paul VI.
The prologue of the Apostolic Letter develops the point, made in its opening sentence, that 'it has been the constant concern of the Supreme Pontiffs up to the present to ensure that the Church of Christ offers a worthy worship to the Divine Majesty'.
Benedict draws special attention to the role of St Gregory the Great, 'who made every effort to ensure that the new peoples of Europe received both the Catholic faith and the treasures of worship and culture that had been accumulated by the Romans in the preceding centuries.' Here is a bold assertion, by the way, that faith, worship and culture belong together - and a hint, perhaps, that the 'new evangelisation' pioneered by John Paul II must look back to Gregory the Great's methods for inspiration.
At the conclusion of this survey, Benedict, in solemn legal form, decrees the following: 'The Roman Missal promulgated by Paul VI is the ordinary expression of the Lex orandi [Law of praying] of the Catholic Church of the Latin rite. Nonetheless, the Roman Missal promulgated by St Pius V and reissued by Bl. John XXIII is to be considered as an extraordinary expression of that same Lex orandi, and must be given due honour 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 [Law of believing]. They are, in fact, two uses of the one Roman rite. It is, therefore, permissible to celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass following the typical edition of the Roman Missal promulgated by Bl. John XXIII in 1962 and never abrogated, as an extraordinary form of the Liturgy of the Church.'
Based on the recognition that the historical usage of the Roman Rite has never been banned, the Pope goes on to regulate its use in the current ecclesial situation: all priests of the Latin Rite are entitled to use the 1962 Missal freely for 'private' Masses, to which those faithful who request may be freely admitted.
Regarding public Masses, pastors of parishes are asked to provide for the needs of stable groups of the faithful who adhere to the older usage, on a daily basis as well as Sundays. As well, all of the sacraments may be administered in their older form. Provision is made for religious communities to use either Missal (or both) on a regular basis.
The creation by bishops of personal parishes for the stable celebration of the ancient usage, and the pastoral care of those attached to this liturgy, is encouraged. Finally, where difficulties arise in securing the rights of the faithful, means of practical assistance and legal enforcement are provided for, including direct appeals to the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei.
One can only say that Benedict has used the keys of St Peter with the wisdom of Solomon! By maintaining the unity of the Roman Rite, with two usages, the Pontiff not only refuses to canonise extremism in any direction, but provides perhaps the most powerful example possible of the 'hermeneutic of continuity and reform', in the application and interpretation of Vatican Council II, in accordance with his address to the Roman curia of 22 December 2005.
In a letter sent to the bishops of the world, explaining his reasons for issuing the Motu Proprio, Benedict underlines precisely this point: 'There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal. In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. 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.'
But the Pope insists that this recognition also places a corresponding obligation on the clergy of existing Ecclesia Dei communities (such as the Fraternity of St Peter), for whom the older usage is in fact normative: '[I]n order to experience full communion, the priests of the communities adhering to the former usage cannot, as a matter of principle, exclude celebrating according to the new books. The total exclusion of the new rite would not in fact be consistent with the recognition of its value and holiness.'
The practical acceptance of this 'hermeneutic of continuity' by all Catholics, whatever their liturgical preference, will be a guarantee against 'internal' schism.
It would be a great mistake to view this initiative of the Pope as concerned only, or even principally, with the already very serious attempts by the Holy See to reconcile the Society of St Pius X (founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre), or with a desire simply to make adequate provision for those within the Church who remain attached to the older forms.
Both motives are present, and worthy, but they do not exhaust the meaning of this Papal initiative, which will have ramifications for centuries. Those who think that 'nothing will change' (and there are such among both 'liberal' and 'conservative' mindsets) could not be more wrong.
Firstly, over a period of time, we must expect a greater and more diffuse use of the older Missal. Already, in various dioceses around the world, there are stable communities adhering fully to the older usage, served by clergy of the various Ecclesia Dei congregations, such as the Institute of Christ the King and the Fraternity of St Peter.
These will remain, but in addition we can expect to see the older usage emerge as a regular feature of parish life in places that continue to use mainly the newer usage. This will gain traction as the generational change identified as a key issue by the Pope in his letter to the bishops gathers pace: ' [I]t has clearly been demonstrated that young persons too have discovered this liturgical form [that of 1962], felt its attraction and found in it a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, particularly suited to them.'
The emergence at World Youth Day 2005 of Juventutem, a chapter of youth committed to the traditional liturgical usages, is but one example of this - and Juventutem will again have a presence at WYD 2008 in Australia.
Let us consider for a moment the impact this decision should have on seminary formation. If the Pope's insistence in Sacramentum Caritatis that seminarians are to learn how to celebrate Mass in Latin is to be taken seriously, and if we are now assured in Summorum Pontificum that there is but one Roman Rite with two usages, it is not out of order to expect students for the priesthood to be given the opportunity to learn to how to celebrate both usages of their own Rite.
No doubt it will be objected from various quarters that such requirements 'do not apply in Australia': the fact remains that we are talking about the Catholic Church, not the Australian Church, and I am not aware that the Pope's universal jurisdiction stops at Timor.
Finally, as an 'interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church', Summorum Pontificum is certainly aimed at assisting the return of the Society of St Pius X to full communion (although whether this will come about remains to be seen).
But this motive does not exhaust the meaning of 'interior reconciliation'. The Pope speaks very movingly in his letter to bishops about the problem of ongoing liturgical abuses in the celebration of the newer forms, drawing from his own personal experiences: ' I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church.'
By insisting on the 'hermeneutic of continuity' in a practical sense, the Pope believes that 'the two Forms of the usage of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching'. In this connection, he speaks of the older Missal using some of the newer prefaces, and celebrating saints canonised since 1962, and of the newer usage learning how 'to demonstrate, more powerfully than has been the case hitherto, the sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage.'
This is a clear endorsement of the so-called 'Reform of the Reform', championed by Fr Joseph Fessio SJ and others. Clearly, the Pope expects a resurgent and vital presence by the older usage of the Roman Rite to 'inform', organically, the celebration of the newer usage: and perhaps, eventually, to inspire textual and ritual revisions to the newer Missal itself.
In Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict has given us the liturgical armistice: together, under his leadership, let us work together to build the peace.
Fr Glen Tattersall is the Chaplain for the Latin Mass community of the Melbourne Archdiocese.