Ramsgate

Was the Old Rite Abrogated?

Liberal Catholics continue to insist that the Traditional Rite was abrogated by Pope Paul VI. They thereby dismiss Pope Benedict’s Motu Proprio as opinion rather than law (as Bishop Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton has done). Here Dom Nicola Bux and S. Vitiello demonstrate conclusively that the Traditional Rite was never suppressed.

There is a paragraph in the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy [Sacrosanctum Concilium] that would seem to have a bearing on the question of the canonical status of the Missal of St Pius V (henceforth also referred to as ‘Old Mass’ or ‘Old Rite’). Before specifying the ways in which the rite of Mass is to be revised, Sacrosanctum Concilium states in paragraph 49: “For this reason the sacred Council, having in mind those Masses which are celebrated with the assistance of the faithful, especially on Sundays and feasts of obligation, has made the following decrees in order that the sacrifice of the Mass, even in the ritual forms of its celebration, may become pastorally efficacious to the fullest degree.” (Quapropter, ut Sacrifcium Missae, etiam rituum forma, plenam pastoralem effcacitatem assequatur, Sacrosanctum Concilium, ratione habita Missarum, quae concurrente populo celebrantur, praesertim diebus dominicis et festis de praecepto, ea quae sequuntur decernit.)

Pope St. Pius VThis passage presumes that there are two forms of the rite of Mass, one with the assistance of the faithful, especially on Sundays and feasts of obligation (cum populo), and one without the assistance of the faithful (sine populo). It would seem to be the Council’s intention that the revisions, which are introduced in the subsequent paragraphs of Sacrosanctum Concilium, concern only the rite of Mass cum populo. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy obviously envisages that the Old Mass continues to exist as the priest’s form of celebrating the Eucharistic Sacrifice sine populo; this would also mean that priests have a right to celebrate the Old Rite as a private Mass.

Missale Romanum

Pope Paul VI’s Constitution Missale Romanum of 1969 is, as the subtitle makes clear, “a promulgation of the Roman Missal revised by the decree of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council”. The Constitution merely proposes a new form of the Mass, but it does not contain any clauses that would indicate the abrogation, that is, the abolition by total substitution of the Missal of Pope St Pius V.

The Bull Quo Primum, issued by Pius V in 1570, codified and consolidated the immemorial and universal custom that had regulated the Roman liturgy through the centuries from the time of Gregory the Great at the end of the sixth century. Two points are worth noting here.

First, to Quo Primum we can, in any case, apply can. 21 CIC: “In dubio revocatio legis praexistentis non praesumitur, sed leges posteriores ad priores trahendae sunt et his, quantum fieri potest, conciliandae”. For all practical purposes this means that if the Old Mass has lost its privileged position, it nevertheless continues to exist and the faithful have a right to it.

Secondly, the Constitution Missale Romanum did not explicitly abolish (as the law required) the immemorial and universal custom on which, before Quo Primum (and later together with it), rested the Old Mass. Therefore it continues to exist although it is perhaps no longer protected by a written law. This was noted by scholars, but even then no supplementary law was passed to abolish that custom.

Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, whom Paul VI put in charge of the post-conciliar liturgical reform, wanted to obtain an explicit ruling to the effect that the Novus Ordo Missae of 1970 abrogates the Old Mass, so that the latter would be suppressed de jure. To apply for such a ruling to the Pontifical Commission for the Interpretation of Conciliar Documents, he needed permission from the Cardinal Secretary of State. On 10 June 1974 the Secretary of State refused to give the requested permission on the grounds that such an attempt would be seen as “casting odium on the liturgical tradition” (A. Bugnini, The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-1975, The Liturgical Press, 1990, pp 300-301).

Quattuor Abhinc Annos

On 3 October 1984, Pope John Paul II promulgated the Indult Quattuor Abhinc Annos in which he allowed bishops to grant the Old Mass to those faithful who would request it. An indult is a measure by which somebody invested with authority in the Church can grant, in order to favour the salvation of souls (which is the purpose of canon law, before which all laws must bow), an exception to the law (derogation); it is akin to dispensation, but with a wider scope.

An indult, therefore, presupposes the existence of a law which has to be relaxed, in our case a law which had forbidden or abolished the Old Mass. As we have seen, such a law does not exist, and therefore in this case, strictly speaking, “indult” is a misnomer, since the faithful even today have a right to the Old Mass on the basis of the non-abolished immemorial custom.

The Commissio Cardinalitia

In 1986 Pope John Paul II appointed a commission of nine cardinals to examine the legal status of the Old Mass. The commission consisted of Agostino Cardinal Casaroli, Bernard Cardinal Gantin, Paul Augustin Cardinal Mayer, Antonio Cardinal Innocenti, Silvio Cardinal Oddi, Petro Cardinal Palazzini, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Alfons Cardinal Stickler and Jozef Cardinal Tomko and it was instructed to examine whether the New Rite of Mass promulgated by Pope Paul VI abrogated the Old Rite, and whether a bishop can prohibit his priests from celebrating the Old Mass.

The commission met in December 1986. Eight of nine cardinals answered that the New Mass had not abrogated the Old Mass. The nine cardinals unanimously determined that Pope Paul VI never gave the bishops the authority to forbid priests from celebrating Mass according to the Missal of St Pius V. The commission judged the conditions for the 1984 indult too restrictive and proposed their relaxation. These conclusions served as functional guidelines for the Commission Ecclesia Dei, but they were never promulgated.

In this context, it should be noted that the Holy See does recognise the right of the priest to celebrate the Traditional Mass; this is borne out by the fact that whenever priests are unjustly suspended for celebrating the Old Mass against the will of their bishops, the Roman Curia always nullifies the penalty whenever the cases are appealed. It is the present jurisprudence of the Church that, upon appeal, any suspension that an Ordinary attempts to inflict on a priest for celebrating the Old Mass against the will of the bishop is automatically nullified.

Ecclesia Dei Adflicta

On 2 July 1988 Pope John Paul II promulgated his Motu Proprio, ‘Ecclesia Dei Adflicta’ in which he expressed his will to guarantee respect for the rightful aspirations of those attached to the Latin liturgical tradition, and in order to achieve this aim he established the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei.

In a letter to the Ecclesia Dei Society of Australia dated 11 May 1990 Cardinal Mayer gives an authoritative interpretation of the Motu Proprio. The President of the Ecclesia Dei Commission criticises the Congregation for Divine Worship for sabotaging the Pope’s intentions, and then proceeds to explain the privilege granted by ‘Ecclesia Dei’ while at the same time suggesting that the Old Mass was never really abolished: “It should be noted that the somewhat pejorative language of ‘Quattuor Abhinc Annos’ with regard to ‘the problem of priests and faithful holding to the so-called Tridentine Mass’ was completely avoided in the Apostolic Letter, ‘Ecclesia Dei’. In the latter document issued by the Supreme Pontiff himself reference is simply made to ‘those Catholic faithful who feel attached to some previous liturgical and disciplinary forms of the Latin tradition’ (5, c) and ‘those who are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition’ (6, c). It would seem unduly prejudicial to continue referring to allusions in the earlier document of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments which have been superseded by a Papal Motu Proprio.”

Third Editio Typica of the Missal of Paul VI (2002)

Cardinal Medina Estevez, Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship, writes in a letter of 21 May 2004: “I reaffirm my personal opinion that the abrogation of the Missal of St Pius V is not proven and I can add that the decree that I signed promulgating the third typical edition of the Roman Missal does not contain any clause that abrogates the ancient form of the Roman Rite...And I can also add that the absence of any abrogation clause whatsoever did not happen by chance, nor as if caused by inadvertence, but was intentional.”

An English version of this letter was published in Mass of Ages, November 2005, p. 28.

The present Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, was himself involved in the Commission. We should like to end with a quotation from his book, God and the World (published originally in German in the year 2000):

For fostering a true consciousness in liturgical matters, it is also important that the proscription against the form of liturgy in valid use up to 1970 should be lifted. Anyone who nowadays advocates the continuing existence of this liturgy or takes part in it is treated like a leper; all tolerance ends here. There has never been anything like this in history; in doing this we are despising and proscribing the Church’s whole past. How can one trust her present if things are that way? I must say, quite openly, that I don’t understand why so many of my episcopal brethren have to a great extent submitted to this rule of intolerance, which for no apparent reason is opposed to making the necessary inner reconciliations within the Church. (Joseph Ratzinger, God and the World: A Conversation with Peter Seewald, Ignatius Press, 2002, p. 416).

Acknowledgement: Agenzia Fides

[Taken from "Mass of Ages" February 2008, The Latin Mass Society's quarterly magazine]