“News reports and judgments made without sufficient information have created no little confusion,” wrote Pope Benedict in reference to his newest Apostolic Letter. The news of the letter has provoked two fears: first, that the reforms of Vatican II would be called into question, and second, that giving universal approval to the older Missal would divide parishes. However, the Holy Father says that both fears are unfounded.
Citing the past history of the Church, Benedict said that too often, divisions worsened because of the lack of action by the leaders of the Church. “This glance at the past imposes an obligation on us today: to make every effort to make it possible for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew.” For this reason, the Pope decided to issue today’s Motu Proprio, which will take affect on September 14th, the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
He also addressed the two main fears that have been raised by his critics.
Validity of the Second Vatican Council
“The fear that the document detracts from the authority of the Second Vatican Council… is unfounded,” wrote the Pope. To answer this fear, he maintained that the liturgy promulgated by the Second Vatican Council remains the norm, while the older form remains the extraordinary form.
Some claim that the old Missal was done away with at the Second Vatican Council, however, Benedict wrote, “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.”
Lest there be priests who use the Motu Proprio to refuse to celebrate the liturgy according to the new Missal, the Pope wrote that, “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.”
Old Missal could cause parish divisions
The second fear expressed by detractors of the new norms, was that the universal approval of the 1962 Missal would lead to disarray or even divisions within parish communities. Speaking to this fear, Benedict wrote, “This fear also strikes me as quite unfounded. The use of the old Missal presupposes a certain degree of liturgical formation and some knowledge of the Latin language; neither of these is found very often.”
According to the Pope, those who fear a severe decline in the use of the Novus Ordo do not have to worry because, “the new Missal will certainly remain the ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, not only on account of the juridical norms, but also because of the actual situation of the communities of the faithful.”
Contrary to causing divisions, the two forms of the Roman Missal should, in fact, serve to enrich one another. The Holy Father says that the reverence which the Old Missal inspires should mark the celebration of the new Missal as well. “The most sure guarantee that the Missal of Paul VI can unite parish communities and be loved by them consists in its being celebrated with great reverence in harmony with the liturgical directives. This will bring out the spiritual richness and the theological depth of this Missal.”
Bishops and the Implementation of the Motu Proprio
The final issue addressed by the pontiff is the authority and responsibility of the bishops. “I very much wish to stress that these new norms do not in any way lessen your own authority and responsibility, either for the liturgy or for the pastoral care of your faithful. Each Bishop, in fact, is the moderator of the liturgy in his own Diocese,” wrote Benedict.
“Nothing is taken away, then, from the authority of the Bishop, whose role remains that of being watchful that all is done in peace and serenity. Should some problem arise which the parish priest cannot resolve, the local Ordinary will always be able to intervene, in full harmony, however, with all that has been laid down by the new norms of the Motu Proprio.”
“Furthermore, I invite you, dear Brothers, to send to the Holy See an account of your experiences, three years after this Motu Proprio has taken effect. If truly serious difficulties come to light, ways to remedy them can be sought.”
The Holy Father closed his introductory letter by entrusting the new norms to Mary Mother of the Church and imparting his Apostolic Blessing.