The Application of Summorum Pontificum

Interest in the Traditional Latin Mass builds amid some opposition.

This month, as the Catholic Church celebrates the third Easter since the promulgation of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum in July 2007, interest in the Traditional Latin Mass continues to grow, even in some unexpected places.

On April 24, 2010, Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, former president of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, will celebrate a Pontifical Solemn High Mass in the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, to observe the fifth anniversary of the election of Pope Benedict XVI.

A Jesuit priest from nearby Georgetown University, Father Stephen M. Fields, SJ, celebrated Mass according to the 1962 Missal on February 28, at Fordham University Church in New York City, while the Fordham University Concert Choir sang a Mass setting by Palestrina.

From April 12 to April 16, Ushaw College, a prestigious seminary in Durham, England, will host a residential training conference, conducted by the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales, for priests wishing to learn the rubrics of the Traditional Mass.

A priest of the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey, who is studying canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University, reports that more than half of the priest students residing at the Casa Santa Maria regularly say Mass in the extraordinary form.

In St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Mass in the extraordinary form is celebrated occasionally at side altars. Last December, Cardinal Angelo Comastri, the cardinal archpriest of St. Peter’s, ordered that four copies of the 1962 Missal be kept in the basilica sacristy and made available to visiting priests who request it.

Is it any easier today for average Catholics in the pews to attend Mass each week in the extraordinary form (EF) than it was before the motu proprio? In some locations, yes. Since July of 2007, both the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the neighboring Diocese of Camden doubled the number of locations where Sunday Mass is offered by their clergy according to the 1962 Missal (from two to four and from one to two, respectively).

Several blogs in France recently posted statistics from countries that have more than 20 sites where the Traditional Latin Mass is celebrated every Sunday. (The total number includes Masses under diocesan auspices and also those celebrated by the Society of St. Pius X and similar priestly associations in “independent” chapels.)

The United States has far and away the most weekly Traditional Mass sites: 289 diocesan-approved and an additional 70 unauthorized. France comes next, with 156 in each category. Italy has 73 approved Latin Masses (13 unauthorized); Germany, 49 (39 unauthorized); the United Kingdom, 37 (16 unauthorized); Canada, 23 (16 unauthorized); Australia, 17 (11 unauthorized); and Poland, 15 (11 unauthorized).


Restrictive attitudes persist. The cardinal- archbishop of Paris has received approximately 30 requests for Sunday Masses in the EF but has granted permission for only two: a weekly Mass at Sainte Jeanne de Chantal parish and another at Notre Dame du Travail at 6:00 pm, but only three Sundays a month. In his approach to implementing the motu proprio, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, who is also president of the French Bishops Conference, is representative of his brother bishops.

Ordinaries and chancery officials who personally dislike the 1962 Missal have employed considerable ingenuity to devise ways of excluding it from their dioceses, or otherwise minimize the impact of Summorum Pontificum. The German Bishops Conference issued “guidelines” for the application of the motu proprio, stating, “On Sundays a Mass in the extraordinary form can be added, but it cannot replace the Mass in the ordinary form.” The language of Guideline #3 ostensibly and reasonably applies to a parish with one priest and only one scheduled Sunday Mass, but it has been widely interpreted to mean that a Traditional Latin Mass may never be scheduled at a time previously allotted to one of several Sunday Masses in the ordinary form. This guideline effectively prevents many a willing and qualified priest from responding to the request of parishioners for a Traditional Latin Mass on Sunday by imposing on him the burden of adding another Mass to his busy weekend schedule.

Writing at the German website, Michael Gurtner has identified another “misunderstanding” by those who “have tried at all costs to find a ‘loophole’ with which they could change the intention of the papal document” to suit their own preferences. Article 2 of the motu proprio prohibits the celebration of a private Mass (missa sine populo) in the EF between Holy Thursday and the Easter Vigil, but they interpret it to mean that “during the Triduum, at least, the 1962 Missal has not been permitted.”

CWR readers may recall an interview (January 2006) with the pastor of Mater Ecclesiae Mission in Berlin, New Jersey, where all public Masses on Sundays and holy days—in fact, on every day of the year—have been celebrated according to the 1962 Missal since its founding in October 2000 by Bishop Nicholas A. Di- Marzio, then ordinary of the Diocese of Camden. Starting in 2001—years before the motu proprio—all of the customary Triduum liturgies have been celebrated at Mater Ecclesiae in Latin with the traditional books and Gregorian chant. Fr. Robert Pasley, a Knight of the Holy Sepulcher, will accompany a busload of his parishioners from Mater Ecclesiae Mission on a pilgrimage to the National Shrine on April 24.


The universal permission granted by Summorum Pontificum for any priest to celebrate a private Mass in the EF is in no way restricted by Article 2. Instead, the motu proprio acknowledges the pre-existing prohibition of private Masses during the Triduum: aside from the Chrism Mass at the cathedral, liturgical law allows only one Mass per day from Holy Thursday to the Easter Vigil, and it must be a “Mass with the people,” a public Mass.

There is now authoritative confirmation for this simple interpretation of Article 2 of the motu proprio. In a letter dated January 20, 2010, the secretary of the Ecclesia Dei Commission replied in Italian to five questions submitted in German by Father Krzysztof Tyburowski of the Diocese of Rzeszów (Poland). The first question read: “Is it possible to celebrate the Holy Week liturgy in the extraordinary form also (additionally) in a parish church where the Sacred Triduum is customarily celebrated, … if there is no church available specifically for the extraordinary form?” Msgr. Pozzo answered: “It is possible to celebrate in the extraordinary form also, according to the judgment of the local ordinary.” Thus celebrating the Triduum liturgies a second time in the same church according to the 1962 books is permissible in principle. The bishop’s decision concerns the feasibility and advisability of it, given the local circumstances (suitable church, qualified clergy, well-disposed faithful). Canon law authorizes him to make that decision. (“The bishop…is to ensure that abuses do not creep into ecclesiastical discipline, especially concerning… the celebration of the sacraments, [etc.]”, canon 392 §2.)

The news about the Ecclesia Dei Commission’s response to Father Tyburowski’s inquiries was duly reported online in Polish and English by the New Liturgical Movement. The article by Gregor Kollmorgen summarized the answer to the second question as follows: “A Mass in the usus antiquior [EF] may replace a regularly scheduled Mass in the ordinary form.”

Question 3 in Father Tyburowski’s letters is whether a priest may on his own initiative celebrate an additional Mass in the EF “so that all the faithful— young and old—can become familiar with the old rites and benefit from their beauty and transcendence.”

In the original response, Questions 2 and 3 are answered together: “Each question is left to the prudent judgment of the priest,” while emphasizing the right of the “stable group” of Catholics who request it to attend Mass in the EF. The key word here is “prudent,” which in the Catholic ascetical and moral tradition includes the idea of consultation. A prudent pastor consults with mature parishioners before introducing a Sunday Mass in the EF, so as to determine a suitable time, or before planning a “demonstration” Mass, to ensure adequate attendance. In other words, a prudent pastor makes sure, by instruction and personal invitation, that therewill be a good chance of having a “stable group” to fulfill the requirements of the motu proprio.

Question 4 regards whether the celebrant may use the calendar, the readings, or a preface from the ordinary form of the Roman Rite when celebrating Mass in the EF. The answer: No. In the letter accompanying Summorum Pontificum, the Holy Father spoke about the possibility in the future of a “mutual enrichment” of the two forms, but such modifications of a liturgical rite are reserved by law to the Holy See.

Question 5 is whether a layman may proclaim the readings in the vernacular. The answer is yes, but only if the celebrant or deacon proclaims them liturgically in Latin first; a layman may then read the translation by way of explanation. An unsigned but welldocumented article at the website Rorate Coeli noted that this “merely reiterates what De Musica Sacra (September 3, 1958) had already permitted (14.c). However the same cannot be said for sung or Solemn Masses.”

Father Gero P. Weishaupt, a canon lawyer and seminary professor of the Diocese of ‘s-Hertogenbosch (Netherlands), has written a German-language commentary on Summorum Pontificum that was published online in January 2010. In a recent article he discussed the legal force of the letter by Msgr. Pozzo dated January 20, 2010. While it is authoritative, it is not an answer from the Ecclesia Dei Commission per se, which would require the president’s signature. Therefore it is not an “executory decree” in the canonical sense, which “define[s] more precisely the manner of applying a law” (canon 31 §1). Nor is it a formal instruction on how to implement an ecclesiastical law (see canon 34 §1), nor an “authentic interpretation,” which only the Pontifical Commission for the Authentic Interpretation of the Code of Canon Law can issue. “Rather, we have here a personal interpretation of a high-ranking official of the Papal Commission, which surpasses the interpretation of a canon lawyer and is directive.”

In the accompanying letter that Pope Benedict XVI published when he promulgated Summorum Pontificum, he wrote that the norms “on the use of the Roman liturgy prior to the reform of 1970” should “free bishops from constantly having to evaluate anew how they are to respond to various situations.” He went on to describe “the positive reason which motivated my decision to issue this motu proprio…. It is a matter of coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church…. Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows…. What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too.”


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About Michael J. Miller 127 Articles
Michael J. Miller Michael J. Miller translated Priesthood and Diaconate by Gerhard Ludwig Müller for Ignatius Press and Eucharist and Divorce: A Change in Doctrine? for the Pontifical John Paul II Institute.