Letter to bishops

Text of the letter accompanying the publication of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum and specifying its meaning for the bishops


My dear Brother Bishops,

With great trust and hope, I amconsigning to you as Pastors the text of a new Apostolic Letter “MotuProprio data” on the use of the Roman liturgy prior to the reformof 1970.  The document is the fruit of much reflection, numerousconsultations and prayer.

News reports and judgments made withoutsufficient information have created no little confusion.  Therehave been very divergent reactions ranging from joyful acceptance toharsh opposition, about a plan whose contents were in realityunknown.

This document was most directly opposedon account of two fears, which I would like to address somewhat moreclosely in this letter.

In the first place, there is the fearthat the document detracts from the authority of the Second VaticanCouncil, one of whose essential decisions – the liturgical reform –is being called into question.

This fear is unfounded.  In thisregard, it must first be said that the Missal published by Paul VIand then republished in two subsequent editions by John Paul II,obviously is and continues to be the normal Form – the Formaordinaria – of the Eucharistic Liturgy.  The last versionof the Missale Romanum prior to the Council, which waspublished with the authority of Pope John XXIII in 1962 and usedduring the Council, will now be able to be used as a Formaextraordinaria of the liturgical celebration.  It is notappropriate to speak of these two versions of the Roman Missal as ifthey were “two Rites”.  Rather, it is a matter of a twofolduse of one and the same rite.

As for the use of the 1962 Missal asa Forma extraordinaria of the liturgy of the Mass, I wouldlike to draw attention to the fact that this Missal was neverjuridically abrogated and, consequently, in principle, was alwayspermitted.  At the time of the introduction of the new Missal,it did not seem necessary to issue specific norms for the possibleuse of the earlier Missal.  Probably it was thought that itwould be a matter of a few individual cases which would be resolved,case by case, on the local level.  Afterwards, however, it soonbecame apparent that a good number of people remained stronglyattached to this usage of the Roman Rite, which had been familiar tothem from childhood.  This was especially the case in countrieswhere the liturgical movement had provided many people with a notableliturgical formation and a deep, personal familiarity with theearlier Form of the liturgical celebration.  We all know that,in the movement led by Archbishop Lefebvre, fidelity to the oldMissal became an external mark of identity; the reasons for the breakwhich arose over this, however, were at a deeper level. Many peoplewho clearly accepted the binding character of the Second VaticanCouncil, and were faithful to the Pope and the Bishops, nonethelessalso desired to recover the form of the sacred liturgy that was dearto them. This occurred above all because in many places celebrationswere not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal, but thelatter actually was understood as authorizing or even requiringcreativity, which frequently led to deformations of the liturgy whichwere hard to bear.  I am speaking from experience, since I toolived through that period with all its hopes and its confusion. And I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deeppain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church.

Pope John Paul II thus felt obliged toprovide, in his Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei (2 July 1988),guidelines for the use of the 1962 Missal; that document, however,did not contain detailed prescriptions but appealed in a general wayto the generous response of Bishops towards the “legitimateaspirations” of those members of the faithful who requested thisusage of the Roman Rite.  At the time, the Pope primarily wantedto assist the Society of Saint Pius X to recover full unity with theSuccessor of Peter, and sought to heal a wound experienced ever morepainfully.  Unfortunately this reconciliation has not yet comeabout.  Nonetheless, a number of communities have gratefullymade use of the possibilities provided by the Motu Proprio.  Onthe other hand, difficulties remain concerning the use of the 1962Missal outside of these groups, because of the lack of precisejuridical norms, particularly because Bishops, in such cases,frequently feared that the authority of the Council would be calledinto question.  Immediately after the Second Vatican Council itwas presumed that requests for the use of the 1962 Missal would belimited to the older generation which had grown up with it, but inthe meantime it has clearly been demonstrated that young persons toohave discovered this liturgical form, felt its attraction and foundin it a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most HolyEucharist, particularly suited to them. Thus the need has arisen fora clearer juridical regulation which had not been foreseen at thetime of the 1988 Motu Proprio. The present Norms are also meant tofree Bishops from constantly having to evaluate anew how they are torespond to various situations.

In the second place, the fear wasexpressed in discussions about the awaited Motu Proprio, that thepossibility of a wider use of the 1962 Missal would lead to disarrayor even divisions within parish communities.  This fear alsostrikes me as quite unfounded. The use of the old Missal presupposesa certain degree of liturgical formation and some knowledge of theLatin language; neither of these is found very often.  Alreadyfrom these concrete presuppositions, it is clearly seen that the newMissal will certainly remain the ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, notonly on account of the juridical norms, but also because of theactual situation of the communities of the faithful.

It is true that there have beenexaggerations and at times social aspects unduly linked to theattitude of the faithful attached to the ancient Latin liturgicaltradition. Your charity and pastoral prudence will be an incentiveand guide for improving these. For that matter, the two Forms of theusage of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching: new Saints andsome of the new Prefaces can and should be inserted in the oldMissal.  The “Ecclesia Dei” Commission, in contact withvarious bodies devoted to the usus antiquior, will study thepractical possibilities in this regard. The celebration of the Massaccording to the Missal of Paul VI will be able to demonstrate, morepowerfully than has been the case hitherto, the sacrality whichattracts many people to the former usage.  The most sureguarantee that the Missal of Paul VI can unite parish communities andbe loved by them consists in its being celebrated with greatreverence in harmony with the liturgical directives. This will bringout the spiritual richness and the theological depth of this Missal.

I now come to the positive reason whichmotivated my decision to issue this Motu Proprio updating that of1988. It is a matter of coming to an interior reconciliation in theheart of the Church. Looking back over the past, to the divisionswhich in the course of the centuries have rent the Body of Christ,one continually has the impression that, at critical moments whendivisions were coming about, not enough was done by the Church’sleaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity. One has theimpression that omissions on the part of the Church have had theirshare of blame for the fact that these divisions were able toharden.  This glance at the past imposes an obligation on ustoday: to make every effort to enable for all those who truly desireunity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew.  I think ofa sentence in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, where Paulwrites: “Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your ownaffections.  In return … widen your hearts also!” (2Cor 6:11-13).  Paul was certainly speaking in anothercontext, but his exhortation can and must touch us too, precisely onthis subject.  Let us generously open our hearts and make roomfor everything that the faith itself allows.

There is no contradiction between thetwo editions of the Roman Missal.  In the history of the liturgythere is growth and progress, but no rupture.  What earliergenerations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, andit cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even consideredharmful.  It behooves all of us to preserve the riches whichhave developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give themtheir proper place.  Needless to say, in order to experiencefull communion, the priests of the communities adhering to the formerusage cannot, as a matter of principle, exclude celebrating accordingto the new books.  The total exclusion of the new rite would notin fact be consistent with the recognition of its value and holiness.

In conclusion, dear Brothers, I verymuch wish to stress that these new norms do not in any way lessenyour own authority and responsibility, either for the liturgy or forthe pastoral care of your faithful.  Each Bishop, in fact, isthe moderator of the liturgy in his own Diocese (cf. SacrosanctumConcilium, 22: “Sacrae Liturgiae moderatio ab Ecclesiae auctoritateunice pendet quae quidem est apud Apostolicam Sedem et, ad normamiuris, apud Episcopum”).

Nothing is taken away, then, from theauthority of the Bishop, whose role remains that of being watchfulthat all is done in peace and serenity.  Should some problemarise which the parish priest cannot resolve, the local Ordinary willalways be able to intervene, in full harmony, however, with all thathas been laid down by the new norms of the Motu Proprio.

Furthermore, I invite you, dearBrothers, to send to the Holy See an account of your experiences,three years after this Motu Proprio has taken effect.  If trulyserious difficulties come to light, ways to remedy them can besought.

Dear Brothers, with gratitude andtrust, I entrust to your hearts as Pastors these pages and the normsof the Motu Proprio.  Let us always be mindful of the words ofthe Apostle Paul addressed to the presbyters of Ephesus: “Take heedto yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has madeyou overseers, to care for the Church of God which he obtained withthe blood of his own Son” (Acts 20:28).

I entrust these norms to the powerfulintercession of Mary, Mother of the Church, and I cordially impart myApostolic Blessing to you, dear Brothers, to the parish priests ofyour dioceses, and to all the priests, your co-workers, as well as toall your faithful.

Given at Saint Peter’s, 7 July 2007