Monday, March 2, 2009

The Extraordinary Form of Mass and Immunity from the Church's Supreme Authority

First, a disclaimer. I really have no bias against the Extraordinary Form of Mass, otherwise known as the "Traditional Latin Mass" or the "Mass of Blessed John XXIII." Once, a number of years ago, I attended one such Mass at an indult parish under the pastoral care of the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter in eastern Pennsylvania. And, of course, there are plenty of opportunities to experience them on YouTube.

I do, however, have a bias against the attitudes that many of the faithful carry with themselves when participating in such Masses. It is no secret that many members of indult parishes emit an odour of being "more Catholic" than the rest of the Church, particularly more than those who attend the Mass of Paul VI or the "Ordinary Form".

With this in mind, I would like to call attention to the question of "Catholic identity" and membership in the so-called "Traditionalist movement." It is not my intention to address members of schismatic groups of various strains of sedevacanism; I am interested in those Catholics who are in communion with the Successor of Peter and, incidentally, are bound by the 1983 Code of Canon Law.

Under the heading of "The Supreme Authority of the Church," the Code of Canon Law lists the authority of an ecumenical council (can. 336, 337.1).

However, according to the Dogmatic Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum concilium, specific measures of liturgical reform were issued, among which (to name but a few) are:

  • a simplification of the Roman Liturgy to reflect the principle of "noble simplicity" (no. 34);

  • "a more ample, more varied, and more suitable selection of readings from sacred scripture should be restored" (no. 35, 1);

  • recognition of the sermon which "is part of the liturgical action" (no. 35, 2);

  • proclamation of the Scriptures in the vernacular (no. 36, 2);

In what way can the celebrants of the Extraordinary Form of Mass, even since the establishment of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, be said to have implemented the reforms of the Council? Can it be honestly said that the Extraordinary Form exhibits a "noble simplicity"--with cluttered altars, servers kissing the cruets and censers, meticulus attention to the ductus of the incensation, and gestures that have lost their practicality?

What about the Lectionary? The proclamation of the Scriptures according to the Extraordinary Form still retains a limited repertoire of readings, with an extremely limited selection for the Commons. The Lectionary for Mass according to the Ordinary Form fill four bound volumes according to the Latin typical edition, spread across a three-year cycle; no-one who attends daily Mass according to the Ordinary Form can pretend ignorance of the Scriptures.

An oddity of the Extraordinary Form is the custom of repeating the proclamation of the Scriptures, first in Latin, and again in the vernacular. Not only does this appear to contradict the norm of "noble simplicity", but shows forth the Roman liturgical faux-pas of duplication and thus disrupts the unity of the Liturgy of the Word, not to mention a strong resistance towards the Second Vatican Council's express wish of having the Scriptures proclaimed in the langauge of the assembly.

Worse, there remains the custom of removing certain vestments for the homily or the sermon, and enclosing the same with a sign of the cross. This gives the impression that the Church's munera docendi is truncated from the munera sanctificandi, and that those who assist at a Traditional Latin Mass "step out" of the liturgy to hear the sermon, and then "resume" Mass at the Creed. The Council expressly teaches that the homily is a liturgical function; it seems only appropriate to retain the dignity of liturgical vesture during the exercise of the Church's ministry of preaching. "The homily is strongly recommended since it forms part of the liturgy itself..." (Sacrosanctum concilium, no. 52). The 1983 Code of Canon Law legislates that "Among the forms of preaching, the homily, which is part of the liturgy itself and is reserved to a priest or deacon, is preeminent..." (can. 767.1).

Another problem is to be found in the readings for the Sundays of Lent according to the Extraordinary Form. The Missal of Paul VI restored the older reading of the Lenten gospels; Sacrosanctum concilium 64 ordered the restoration of the catechumenate, which the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent celebrates in a special way in the "Period of Purification and Enlightenment." However, with the cycle of readings still retained by the Extraordinary Form, there is no way of making use of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, since it was designed to synchronize with the readings and propers of the Lenten cycle as celebrated by Rome long before the Missal of 1570 was issued. Not only do we have a dissynchronicity between the Extraordinary Form of Mass and the restored catechumenate, but also a persistent resistance to the Church's mandate that a thorough and liturgically-oriented catechesis for those seeking the Sacraments of Initiation. This, of course, is not the fault of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. But where is the effort to celebrate the same Extraordinary Form in compliance with the Council's order to restore the catechumenate? Here I wish to call attention to the words of then-Cardinal Ratzinger:

The Council did not itself reform the liturgical books, but it ordered their revision, and to this end, it established certain fundamental rules. Before anything else, the Council gave a definition of what liturgy is, and this definition gives a valuable yardstick for every liturgical celebration. Were one to shun these essential rules and put to one side the normae generales which one finds in numbers 34-36 of the Constitution De Sacra Liturgia (SL), in that case one would indeed be guilty of disobedience to the Council! ("Ten Years of the Motu Proprio," 24 October 1998).

"Disobedience to the Council." No-one is at liberty to reform the 1962 Missale Romanum on his own initiative without a mandate from the Holy See. The issue here is, rather, that the conversation being carried regarding the usus antiquior strongly indicates that the Council's order for the reform of the liturgy is being ignored. Where, among the Indult communities such as the FSSP and the Institute of Christ the King have we any discussion among professional liturgists about bringing the 1962 Missale Romanum to the supreme authority of the Church?

It has not been my intention to criticize the Extraordinary Form of Mass. Rather, my intention is to challenge those who insist on retaining the Extraordinary Form and to ask: In what sense is submission given to the Church's supreme authority? An ecumenical council, convoked by Pope +John XXIII and adjourned by Pope +Paul VI, has issued specific teachings on the sacred liturgy and mandated specific reforms. Are we to expect that people who retain the Extraordinary Form of Mass are immune from the Church's supreme authority, ignoring those stipulations outlined in Sacrosanctum concilium? I would hope not.


  1. SUMMORUM PONTIFICUM was issued with the authority of the supreme Pontiff. The TLM is not liberated for those who wish to attend it.
    It is now a matter of priests and bishops carrying out SUMMORUM PONTIFICUM in practice.

    in regards S.C.
    Can you please point out where:
    communion in the hand,
    liturgical dancing,
    altar serviettes,
    destruction of the church's gregorian repetoire is in the documents of Vat II.
    Does this mean most current bishops are being dis obedient to Vat II?


  2. Brian,

    You have not read my posting carefully enough (or at all). It answers your questions. See also "The Divine Right of Bishops" above as it applies specifically to your remarks.

    I fully support Summorum Pontificum. What I reject, rather, is the halfhearted and externalist way in which priests choose to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass--in obedience to one document issued motu proprio, but neglecting a dogmatic constitution issued by an oecumenical council. H.H. +Benedict XVI is even demanding that the SSPX submit to the entire body of teachings issued by the Second Vatican Council.

    You seem to be operating on the assumption that Sacrosanctum concilium is the only extant liturgical law. The issues you raise have been addressed elsewhere in the Church's body of laws pertaining to the sacred liturgy. For example: Documents on the Liturgy 1963-1979: Conciliar, Papal, and Curial Texts; Ceremonial of Bishops, and various praenotandae of the different celebrations such as the Institutio Generalis Missale Romanum, canons 834-1253 of the Code of Canon Law, and at least a dozen others. Since the questions you raise have been discussed ad nauseam in reply to Traditionalist misinterpretations, I leave the burden of proof to you to demonstrate a position contrary to universal practise.

    Next time you post comments, please observe rules of English grammar.

    Pax et bonum,
    Matthew Hysell

  3. Unfortunately, it seems that the Extraordinary Form is in a holding pattern until a more permanent means of recourse than the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei is found. I agree that there are a few points in which the traditional Missal ought to be updated, but until more people agree on what are our ideals in liturgy, changes would create terrible confusion. Until the more intransigent members of the traditionalist community become a minority, an attitude of reform cannot be fully built upon the attitude of community. I assure you, this problem is generation. I am twenty years old, and dozens of my friends prefer the traditional Missal, but none of them is opposed to reform. Vernacular readings are an excellent thing for which we have permission, but we must use approved translations, and that is more complicated. However, none of these changes can be made in the first place if the older forms are none done first. It is a little bit of re-inventing the wheel, but it is not change for the sake of change either.

    As regards actions that are no longer practical, I must argue that the making of actions into symbols which lose their practical meaning is a good practice. It certainly must not be done to excess, but in working deep meaning into words and actions, we imitate our Creator who gives much more meaning to the things he creates than we can imagine.

    Thomas Herge

  4. Well observed. I am deeply grateful for your feedback. I also agree that the Extraordinary Form has become a "holding form" until a better solution is found. And your comment regarding the more "intransigent members of the traditionalist community" is well taken.

    Pax et bonum,
    Matthew Hysell

  5. Hi Matthew - your points are interesting. But let me pose this question: Are councils above the authority of the Pope? Because 2 popes have now allowed, on several occasions for the broadening of the Extraordinary Form. Are THEY being disobedient, or rather allowing specifically by law in a bold and obvious way disobedience to the Council?

    Also, are we or are we not still bound by say, the old Usury Laws of the Church, which were also part of Church Law and prohibited in councils.

    Another example is the use of the Vulgate. Did Pius XII legitimately buck the Council of Trent in Divino Afflante Spiritu?

    It seems to me the Popes can legitimately relax or even remove from the law those things in ecumenical councils which are not dogmatic, as Pope Benedict XVI and John Paul II have done with their indults.

  6. Good questions.

    In the case of Benedict XVI and Vatican II, I do not think that we have an issue of two contrary laws. So your question does not really apply.

    But in general, your question does have merit. I'm not sure it's a matter of "popes vs. councils." But I do think that one pope or council can suppress a law of a previous pope or council insofar as we are not dealing with a divine law or dogma but rather a merely ecclesiastical law.

    I agree with your comment that "the Popes can legitimately relax or even remove from the law those things in ecumenical councils that are not dogmatic..."

    But with respect to our current discussion, Ratzinger was a peritus at Vatican II, so I don't think we're dealing with two contraries. What is contrary, I think, is Benedict XVI and Paul VI's decision to suppress the 1962 Missal, which the current pope thought was a pastorally disastrous decision.

    Pax et bonum!


Please ensure that comments are concise, to the point, and substantiated. All laws of English grammar remain in force. Thanks!