Letter of Pope Benedict on Promulgation of Motu Proprio "SUMMORUM PONTIFICUM"
My dear Brother Bishops,
With great trust and hope, I am consigning to you
as Pastors the text of a new Apostolic Letter “Motu Proprio data” on the use of the
Roman liturgy prior to the reform of 1970. The document is the fruit of much reflection,
numerous consultations and prayer.
News reports and judgments made without
sufficient information have created no little confusion. There have been very divergent
reactions ranging from joyful acceptance to harsh opposition, about a plan whose contents
were in reality unknown.
This document was most directly opposed on account
of two fears, which I would like to address somewhat more closely in this letter.
the first place, there is the fear that the document detracts from the authority of
the Second Vatican Council, one of whose essential decisions – the liturgical reform
– is being called into question.
This fear is unfounded. In this regard,
it must first be said that the Missal published by Paul VI and then republished in
two subsequent editions by John Paul II, obviously is and continues to be the normal
Form – the Forma ordinaria – of the Eucharistic Liturgy. The last version of the
Missale Romanum prior to the Council, which was published with the authority of Pope
John XXIII in 1962 and used during the Council, will now be able to be used as a Forma
extraordinaria of the liturgical celebration. It is not appropriate to speak of these
two versions of the Roman Missal as if they were “two Rites”. Rather, it is a matter
of a twofold use of one and the same rite.
As for the use of the 1962 Missal
as a Forma extraordinaria of the liturgy of the Mass, I would like to draw attention
to the fact that this Missal was never juridically abrogated and, consequently, in
principle, was always permitted. 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. This was
especially the case in countries where the liturgical movement had provided many people
with a notable liturgical formation and a deep, personal familiarity with the earlier
Form of the liturgical celebration. We all know that, in the movement led by Archbishop
Lefebvre, 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. Many people
who clearly accepted the binding character of the Second Vatican Council, and were
faithful to the Pope and the Bishops, nonetheless also desired to recover the form
of the sacred liturgy that was dear to them. 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. I am speaking
from experience, since I too lived through that period with all its hopes and its
confusion. And I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep
pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church.
Paul II thus felt obliged to provide, 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 way to the generous response of Bishops
towards the “legitimate aspirations” of those members of the faithful who requested
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. On the other hand, difficulties
remain concerning the use of the 1962 Missal outside of these groups, because of the
lack of precise juridical norms, particularly because Bishops, in such cases, frequently
feared that the authority of the Council would be called into question. Immediately
after the Second Vatican Council it was presumed that requests for the use of the
1962 Missal would be limited to the older generation which had grown up with it, but
in the meantime it has clearly been demonstrated that young persons too have discovered
this liturgical form, felt its attraction and found in it a form of encounter with
the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, particularly suited to them. Thus the need
has arisen for a clearer juridical regulation which had not been foreseen at the time
of the 1988 Motu Proprio. The present Norms are also meant to free Bishops from constantly
having to evaluate anew how they are to respond to various situations.
the second place, the fear was expressed in discussions about the awaited Motu Proprio,
that the possibility of a wider use of the 1962 Missal would lead to disarray or even
divisions within parish communities. This fear also strikes me as quite unfounded.
The use of the old Missal presupposes a certain degree of liturgical formation and
some knowledge of the Latin language; neither of these is found very often. Already
from these concrete presuppositions, it is clearly seen that the new Missal will certainly
remain the ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, not only on account of the juridical norms,
but also because of the actual situation of the communities of the faithful.
is true that there have been exaggerations and at times social aspects unduly linked
to the attitude of the faithful attached to the ancient Latin liturgical tradition.
Your charity and pastoral prudence will be an incentive and guide for improving these.
For that matter, the two Forms of the usage of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching:
new Saints and some of the new Prefaces can and should be inserted in the old Missal.
The “Ecclesia Dei” Commission, in contact with various bodies devoted to the usus
antiquior, will study the practical possibilities in this regard. The celebration
of the Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI will be able to demonstrate, more powerfully
than has been the case hitherto, the sacrality which attracts many people to the former
usage. The most sure guarantee that the Missal of Paul VI can unite parish communities
and be loved by them consists in its being celebrated with great reverence in harmony
with the liturgical directives. This will bring out the spiritual richness and the
theological depth of this Missal.
I now come to the positive reason which
motivated my decision to issue this Motu Proprio updating that of 1988. It is a matter
of coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church. Looking back
over the past, to the divisions which in the course of the centuries have rent the
Body of Christ, one continually has the impression that, at critical moments when
divisions were coming about, not enough was done by the Church’s leaders to maintain
or regain reconciliation and unity. One has the impression that omissions on the
part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions
were able to harden. This glance at the past imposes an obligation on us today: to
make every effort to unable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that
unity or to attain it anew. I think of a sentence in the Second Letter to the Corinthians,
where Paul writes: “Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide. You
are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return
… widen your hearts also!” (2 Cor 6:11-13). Paul was certainly speaking in another
context, but his exhortation can and must touch us too, precisely on this subject.
Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself
There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman
Missal. In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture.
What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and
it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves
all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer,
and to give them their proper place. Needless to say, in order to experience full
communion, the priests of the communities adhering to the former usage cannot, as
a matter of principle, exclude celebrating according to the new books. The total
exclusion of the new rite would not in fact be consistent with the recognition of
its value and holiness.
In conclusion, dear Brothers, I very much wish
to stress that these new norms do not in any way lessen your own authority and responsibility,
either for the liturgy or for the pastoral care of your faithful. Each Bishop, in
fact, is the moderator of the liturgy in his own Diocese (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium,
22: “Sacrae Liturgiae moderatio ab Ecclesiae auctoritate unice pendet quae quidem
est apud Apostolicam Sedem et, ad normam iuris, apud Episcopum”).
is taken away, then, from the authority of the Bishop, whose role remains that of
being watchful that all is done in peace and serenity. Should some problem arise
which the parish priest cannot resolve, the local Ordinary will always be able to
intervene, in full harmony, however, with all that has been laid down by the new norms
of the Motu Proprio.
Furthermore, I invite you, dear Brothers, to send
to the Holy See an account of your experiences, three years after this Motu Proprio
has taken effect. If truly serious difficulties come to light, ways to remedy them
can be sought.
Dear Brothers, with gratitude and trust, I entrust to your
hearts as Pastors these pages and the norms of the Motu Proprio. Let us always be
mindful of the words of the Apostle Paul addressed to the presbyters of Ephesus: “Take
heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers,
to care for the Church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son” (Acts
I entrust these norms to the powerful intercession of Mary, Mother
of the Church, and I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing to you, dear Brothers,
to the parish priests of your dioceses, and to all the priests, your co-workers, as
well as to all your faithful.