Almost four years since the promulgation of the Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum, in which Pope Benedict recognised the equivalence in law of the more ancient use, or Extraordinary Form, of the Roman Rite (1962 Missal), and the new or Ordinary Form (1970 Missal), the Holy See has moved to provide detailed norms and binding interpretations of Summorum Pontificum.
The decree Universae Ecclesiae, issued by the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei on 13 May 2011, reflects the Holy See's considered response to the reports received from the Bishops of the Latin Rite on the third anniversary of Summorum Pontificum, and the practical difficulties - including significant Episcopal opposition - that have arisen in attempting to implement the Motu Proprio.
In its introduction, Universae Ecclesiae affirms that Summorum Pontificum was an act of the Pope's Magisterium, or teaching office, as well as of his power of governance in the ordering of the liturgy. There is a clear inference here that giving due honour to the received liturgical traditions of the Church is central to demonstrating the "hermeneutic of continuity" which underpins Pope Benedict's Ecclesiology, and his interpretation of Vatican Council II.
Consistent with this, the new instruction states that Summorum Pontificum had as its aims not only the provision of the traditional liturgy for those who ask for it, but to offer to all the faithful the ancient use of the Roman Rite as a precious treasure to be preserved, and to promote reconciliation at the heart of the Church.
Clearly, this "reconciliation" is both broader and deeper than the matter of the Society of St Pius X (SSPX): the phenomenon of the SSPX and other similar groups is to a great extent a reaction against a widespread praxis of discontinuity, and entrenched abuses, tolerated in many places for decades.
The demonstration of continuity in the belief and practice of the Church before and after Vatican II is not so much an intellectual challenge, as an existential one. In this, the vigour of the traditional liturgy surely has a central role to play. Commenting on the new Instruction in his recent address to the Italian Bishops' Conference, Cardinal Bagnasco (President of the Conference) stated that it was necessary to express gratitude to the Pope for this Instruction, which provides for "a more binding and harmonious recovery - within each Diocese - of the entire liturgical patrimony of the universal Church."
Given these aims, the instruction reminds bishops that it is their task to ensure respect for the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, in accordance with the mind of the Holy Father as expressed in Summorum Pontificum. Practically, this means not only responding in a positive and helpful way to particular requests from the faithful, but also making serious systemic provision for clergy to be trained in the traditional liturgy.
The Instruction explicitly asks bishops to offer their priests the possibility of acquiring adequate preparation for the celebration of Mass in the Extraordinary Form. Most significantly, the Instruction states that this opportunity to learn the Extraordinary Form should apply especially to seminaries. In the first instance, this demands that future priests be taught Latin. Here, the Instruction underlines the obligation imposed on those concerned with priestly formation by Canon 249, which insists that those in preparation for the priesthood should be well versed in Latin. It remains to be seen to what extent bishops and seminaries in Australia will take this duty seriously.
The Instruction provides a helpful clarification of terms used in Summorum Pontificum, the meaning of which had been contested. The most important of these is the meaning of a "group of the Faithful" attached to the Extraordinary Form, existing in a "stable manner".
The broadest possible interpretation is given to this, so that a group of any number (there is no minimum) can come together from different parishes (or even dioceses!) and make a request for the celebration of the Extraordinary Form in any church, including a parish church.
One wonders whether the reference to petitioners being able to come from different dioceses is a hint that other juridical arrangements may be under consideration, where diocesan bishops continue to decline to cooperate: something along the lines of the Anglican Ordinariate, for instance? In any event, Universae Ecclesiae provides for the Ecclesia Dei Commission, as hierarchical superior, to receive appeals against decisions by diocesan bishops, to adjudicate in cases of controversy and answer relevant dubia. The decrees by which the Commission decides recourses may themselves be challenged in a final appeal to the Church's highest court, the Apostolic Signatura. All of these provisions for recourse will provide great relief and hope to many Catholics who have suffered having their fundamental rights of worship denied.
Important measures to safeguard the integrity of the Extraordinary Form are also put in place by Universae Ecclesiae with celebrants reminded of their obligation to know and follow the rubrics. Most significantly, it is stated that Summorum Pontificum derogates from all those liturgical laws promulgated after 1962 that are incompatible with the rubrics of the 1962 liturgical books. This means that Communion in the hand, lay Ministers of the Eucharist and female altar servers remain forbidden for Extraordinary Form celebrations.
Finally, it is announced that further provision will be made at some point for the inclusion of new saints, and also new prefaces, in the Missal of the Extraordinary Form, thus ensuring that while it maintains its integrity the ancient use does not "ossify" in its 1962 edition.
The significance of Universae Ecclesiae is perhaps not yet apparent to most. However, together with its "mother document" Summorum Pontificum, it re-establishes "religious freedom" for the liturgical patrimony of the Western Church, and for those Catholics who adhere to this tradition. Whatever the views of the current ecclesiastical establishments, it will be honoured, together with Pope Benedict XVI, by posterity.
Fr Glen Tattersall is a priest of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. He is senior chaplain of the Catholic Community of Bl. John Henry Newman, comprised of those Faithful who are attached to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Fr Tattersall is Rector of St Aloysius' Church, Caulfield North, where the chaplaincy is based. For further information see the Chaplaincy's website: newman-community-melbourne.org.