Questions on Tridentine Mass,
CDF Document answered
My dear People of God, there are two matters that I wish to address. Some of you have posed questions concerning two recent Vatican documents. The first is the Holy Father¹s Motu Proprio allowing for greater freedom in celebrating the Latin Mass and the other is the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith¹s "Responses to some questions regarding certain aspects of the doctrine on the Church". Documents from the Vatican often involve fine points that the popular press, in the interests of simplicity and ease, find difficult to convey. I cannot presume to answer all of the questions that have surfaced, but I would pray that what I say offers some clarification. I would address them in order.
THE TRIDENTINE MASS
A Motu Proprio is a document of great importance issued by a pope on a matter that adjusts a practice in the Church. In this case, the Motu Proprio is entitled "Summorum Pontificum" and states clearly that the Mass promulgated by Pope Paul VI (as celebrated today in our parish churches) and the Mass of Pope St. Pius V, reissued by Blessed John XXIII (typically called the Tridentine Mass and celebrated at present only with special permission) are, and I quote, "two usages of the one Roman rite." In Pope Benedict XVI¹s letter to the bishops, he writes, "It is not appropriate to speak of these two versions of the Roman Missal as if they were Œtwo Rites.¹ Rather, it is a matter of a twofold use of one and the same rite." At a practical level, beginning September 14, 2007, any priest, competent in Latin and in the rite itself, can celebrate the Mass of Pope St. Pius V, in the form published by Blessed John XXIII. No further permission is needed. The role of the bishop is to insure "that all is done in peace and serenity" (the Papal Explanatory Letter to Bishops of July 7, 2007). This, of course, I intend to do.
Is this a return to the past? Pope Benedict XVI does not think so. Nor do I. "What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too," the pope writes. If one studies the history of the Church carefully, one finds that the Church has always found room for multiple usages in the Roman Rite. I recall as a child encountering the "Dominican Rite" with its slight variations while serving Mass or learning about the ancient "Ambrosian Rite" celebrated in Milan, Italy. The history of the Church is rich, and the Church is universal. It is much broader than anyone can possibly imagine.
In effect, what Pope Benedict XVI has done is respond to a need. In providing for the normal celebration of an older form, the pope is answering the need many have expressed. There are those for whom the older usage of the rite is expressive, uplifting, and prayerful. Why not provide for this need without prejudice to the newer rite? As the pope states, "Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows" (the Papal Explanatory Letter to Bishops of July 7, 2007).
As bishop, my role is to act as moderator for the liturgy in the diocese. For that reason I must insure that the Mass of the Roman Rite is celebrated authentically and reverently, whether in the form promulgated by Pope Paul VI or the form of Pope St. Pius V promulgated by Pope Blessed John XXIII.
The second matter that requires some comment involves a document issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This Vatican Congregation often issues clarifications concerning matters of faith. The document in question was addressed primarily to theologians and scholars. The document is directed towards the Church¹s self-understanding of its own nature. The topic dealt with the nature of the Church founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ. The key statement is as follows: "This Church, constituted and organized in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him" (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 8,2). Some ask the question: why use "subsists in" instead of "is"?
The Congregation answers that use of "subsists in" does not change the doctrine of the Church. "There are Œnumerous elements of sanctification and of truth¹ which are found outside her structure, but which Œas gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, impel towards Catholic Unity¹" (Responses of the Congregation for the Faith, June 29, 2007). In other words, there are elements of salvation outside the Catholic Church. The truth and fullness of Catholicism overflows even into those who do not claim it. There are elements that lead to salvation found outside the structure of the Catholic Church that lead to salvation precisely because they are Catholic.
The Congregation concludes by explaining the definition of an "ecclesial community" in distinction to a church. Simply, Christian Communities that have abolished the priesthood and thus apostolic succession have "not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery" and "cannot, according to the Catholic doctrine, be called ŒChurches¹ in the proper sense" (Responses of the Congregation for the Faith, June 29, 2007). The term "Church" has a specific meaning.
Nothing of what I read in the Congregation¹s response negates in any way the spirit of understanding and reconciliation that we promote in ecumenical relations. When I think of the backwards, primitive and narrow-minded bigotry between religions that I encountered as a child growing up, we have come a long way. That narrow-mindedness still manifests itself in the popular characterization of the Catholic Church as "backwards", "bureaucratic" or "insensitive." I am encouraged when often those outside communion with the Catholic Church are most ready to understand the fine distinctions made by documents such as this one from the Congregation and see them as a sign of "welcome" instead of a "closed door."
Our first and foremost commitment must be to preach the Gospel message of Christ, his redeeming passion, death and resurrection. For the Catholic, the Church is indispensable in this proclamation. As St. Paul writes, "And how can they believe unless they have heard of him? And how can they hear unless there is someone to preach? And how can men preach unless they are sent?" (Romans 10:14-15). For the Catholic, the Church insures the integrity, historical continuity, and communication of the message. It is the Church who believes, listens, preaches, and sends.
In any discussion, it helps if the parties know what it is they believe. The next step is to approach the other with compassion and understanding. In true ecumenism we strive to understand first what it is we believe. In this the Congregation has tried to help. That being said, we move into an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust rooted in Christ.
Toward that end may we work that "all may be one" (John 17:21).