.- Today marks the historic issuance of Pope Benedict’s apostolic letter on the use of the Roman Missal of 1962. The much talked about letter begins with the Pope giving a history of the use of the Roman Missal, and then provides, among other things, an explanation of the purpose of this Motu Proprio.
Before launching into the history of the pre-Vatican II Missal, the Pope makes the distinction that while some believe that it was done away with by the liturgical reforms of Vatican II, this was never the case.
“I would like to draw attention to the fact that this Missal was never juridically abrogated and, consequently, in principle, was always permitted.”
In order for his new letter to be understood correctly, Benedict XVI gives his readers some historical context.
Some have argued that since no new norms were given for the use of the old Missal that it was de facto discarded. However, the Pope responded that, “At the time of the introduction of the new Missal, it did not seem necessary to issue specific norms for the possible use of the earlier Missal. Probably it was thought that it would be a matter of a few individual cases which would be resolved, case by case, on the local level.”
“Afterwards, however, it soon became apparent that a good number of people remained strongly attached to this usage of the Roman Rite, which had been familiar to them from childhood.”
Benedict also mentioned Archbishop Lefebvre, who led a breakaway group from the Church called the Society of St. Pius X. Amongst this group, “fidelity to the old Missal became an external mark of identity; the reasons for the break, which arose over this, however, were at a deeper level.”
Pope Benedict then described the turmoil surrounding the reform of Vatican II and the struggle of many of the faithful who wished to preserve the pre-conciliar Missal. “This occurred above all because in many places celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal, but the latter actually was understood as authorizing or even requiring creativity, which frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear.”
On a personal note, the pontiff mentioned his own experience of the Vatican II “period with all its hopes and its confusion.” In addition, he said, “I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church.”
Pope John Paul II’s Reforms
Given this painful context, Benedict XVI explained that John Paul II felt obliged to provide guidelines for the use of the 1962 Missal which came in the form of his Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei (2 July 1988).
This document did not give specific instructions for the use of the Missal but only provided general guidelines for Bishops to allow this usage of the Roman Rite. At the time, the Pope primarily wanted to assist the Society of Saint Pius X to recover full unity with the Successor of Peter, and sought to heal a wound experienced ever more painfully.
“Unfortunately this reconciliation has not yet come about. Nonetheless, a number of communities have gratefully made use of the possibilities provided by the Motu Proprio.”
Reason for Benedict’s Motu Proprio
The main purpose of this Motu Proprio is to “provide precise juridical norms so that the Church can attain fuller unity” and “to free Bishops from constantly having to evaluate anew how they are to respond to various situations.”
The full text of the Motu Proprio can be found in our Documents section or by clicking here.
Summary of the Twelve Articles of Summorum Pontificum
Whatever is decreed by Us by means of this Motu Proprio, we order to be firm and ratified and to be observed as of 14 September this year, the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, all things to the contrary notwithstanding.