A Step Forward

Instruction Universae Ecclesiae clarifies Latin Mass legislation.

On May 13, 2011, the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei (PCED) published an instruction on the application of the 2007 motu proprio designed to facilitate the celebration of the Latin Mass according to the 1962 Missal. The instruction, signed by the president and secretary of the PCED, had been approved by Pope Benedict XVI on April 8 and is dated April 30, the feast of Pope St. Pius V, who in 1570 promulgated the Roman Missal that was used for 400 years throughout the Latin-rite Church. Entitled Universae Ecclesiae after the first words of its official Latin text, the instruction was sent to Catholic bishops worldwide several weeks before its contents were made public. 

A note from the Vatican Press Office explained that the instruction was issued “to ensure the correct interpretation and proper application” of Summorum Pontificum. In a letter accompanying the motu proprio, the Holy Father had invited bishops to write to the Holy See in three years about their experiences with the new liturgical law. Therefore “this instruction also contains within it the fruits of the triennial examination of the application of the law, which had been planned from the outset.” According to the Vatican Press Office, Universae Ecclesiae is “written in a simple language…, easy to read…, a very balanced text,” which seeks to promote both the spiritual good of those who are devoted to “the liturgy that predates the reform” and also “the spirit of ecclesial communion.” 

On May 14, the secretary of the PCED, Msgr. Guido Pozzo, gave a prepared speech explaining the instruction to participants in a conference on Summorum Pontificum that was then being held in Rome. Although some ordinaries and interested groups of laymen have reported positive results of the motu proprio, he said, they are unevenly distributed among the local churches, and it would be naïve to deny the resistance and hostility among many bishops and clergy. This reluctance must be overcome by punctiliously following the papal legislation, which recognizes both the reformed liturgy and the greatness of the Church’s living Tradition. 

Msgr. Pozzo highlighted several features of Universae Ecclesiae. The instruction clarifies that the motu proprio is a special addition to the liturgical law for the entire Latin Church; therefore it is not an indult or a concession. Its intent is to make the treasure of the ancient liturgy available to all Catholics, not only to nostalgic seniors or groups that existed before July 2007. “The motu proprio is not a step backward but rather looks to the future.” 

In recent months, as devotees of the Traditional Latin Mass awaited the instruction, many worried that this administrative document might restrict or water-down the generous provisions of the papal legislation. A summary of Universae Ecclesiae shows that such fears were unfounded. 

The first three articles of the instruction review what the 2007 motu proprio is and does. Summorum Pontificum “has made the richness of the Roman liturgy more accessible to the Universal Church” by promulgating “a universal law for the Church” with new regulations for the use of the 1962 Missal, in keeping with the traditional principle that “each particular Church must be in accord with the universal Church not only regarding the doctrine of the faith” but also with respect to liturgical practices “universally handed down by apostolic and unbroken tradition.” The instruction reiterates the maxim, lex orandi, lex credendi—“the Church’s rule of prayer corresponds to her rule of belief” (UE 3). 

Article 4 sketches the history of the Roman liturgy down to the new Missal approved by Paul VI in 1970 after the post-conciliar liturgical reform. Article 5 describes the Indult “issued in 1984 by the Congregation for Divine Worship, grant[ing] the faculty under certain conditions to restore the use of the [1962] Missal promulgated by Blessed Pope John XXIII.” Article 6 emphasizes that these two Missals are “two forms of the Roman liturgy,” to be called Ordinary and Extraordinary, “one alongside the other…. On account of its venerable and ancient use, the forma extraordinaria is to be maintained with appropriate honor.” Article 7 concludes this retrospective by recalling the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum.

Article 8 restates the aims of the motu proprio: a) to offer the older form of the Roman liturgy to all the faithful as “a precious treasure to be preserved”; b) to ensure that the use of the Extraordinary Form is “generously granted for the good of the faithful”—hence the new liturgical law “is to be interpreted in a sense favorable to the faithful”; and c) to promote “reconciliation at the heart of the Church.” These noble, pastorally sensitive aims are backed by papal authority—Article 8 defines Summorum Pontificum as “an important expression of the Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff,” and recalls his duty of “regulating and ordering the Church’s Sacred Liturgy.” (A footnote cites canon 331 concerning the pope’s “supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power” as “Pastor of the universal Church here on earth.”) 

Part II of the instruction reviews the responsibilities of the PCED, which has “ordinary vicarious power…for monitoring the observance and application of the provisions of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum.” The faculties previously granted to the Commission—for example, to supervise communities like the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter—have now been extended to include “the power to decide upon recourses legitimately sent to it, as hierarchical Superior, against any possible singular administrative provision of an Ordinary which appears to be contrary to the motu proprio” (UE 10 §1). In other words, if a group of lay people who have duly requested Mass in the Extraordinary Form appeal a negative decision by their bishop, the PCED, by the delegated papal authority invested in it, can overrule the bishop.

Such a decree by the Pontifical Commission “may be challenged…before the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura” (UE 10 §2). (Catholic blogger Christopher Gillibrand dryly comments, “Given Cardinal Burke is the prefect, probably a waste of time and trouble for bishops to appeal.”)  The Commission is responsible for preparing future editions of liturgical texts pertaining to the Extraordinary Form (UE 11). 

Part III enumerates “Specific Norms” with which the PCED interprets the provisions of the motu proprio and determines how they are to be applied. According to canon 34, instructions “are given for the benefit of those whose duty it is to execute the law, and they bind them in executing the law.” 

Articles 13-14 delimit “The Competence of Diocesan Bishops.” “It is the task of the diocesan bishop to undertake all necessary measures to ensure respect for the forma extraordinaria of the Roman Rite, according to the motu proprio….” 

Articles 15-19 describe the coetus fidelium, the “group of the faithful” who request a public Mass in the EF. No minimum number is required; such a group “can also be composed of persons coming from different parishes or dioceses, who gather together in a specific parish church or in an oratory or chapel for this purpose.” The only proviso is that they “must not in any way support or belong to groups which show themselves to be against the validity or legitimacy” of the New Mass or of the Pope (UE 19). 

For the purposes of Summorum Pontificum, a “qualified” priest is any “Catholic priest who is not impeded by canon law” who has “a basic knowledge” of Latin, “allowing [him] to pronounce the words correctly and understand their meaning.” As for the rubrics, “priests are presumed to be qualified who present themselves spontaneously to celebrate the forma extraordinaria, and have celebrated it previously” (UE 20.a-c). 

The ordinary’s duty is not so much to screen as to train celebrants of the traditional Mass (art. 21). “In dioceses without qualified priests, diocesan bishops can request assistance from priests of the institutes” affiliated with the Ecclesia Dei Commission “either to celebrate the EF or to teach others…” (22). Any secular or religious priest may celebrate a private Mass in the EF without asking permission from his bishop or superior (23). 

The norms concerning “Liturgical and Ecclesiastical Discipline” guard against indiscriminate blending of the two forms of the Roman Liturgy. “Liturgical books…are to be used as they are” (24). Later liturgical provisions that are incompatible with the 1962 rubrics are not applicable: in other words, no altar girls, no Communion in the hand or under both species in the EF (28). The sacrament of confirmation may be administered according to the 1962 liturgical books (29), but minor and major orders can be conferred in that form only on candidates from priestly communities that are under the Ecclesia Dei Commission (30-31). 

The last-mentioned norm is the only restriction on the provisions of Summorum Pontificum. It may seem paradoxical that those bishops who are most supportive of traditional liturgical forms cannot ordain their candidates in them, but this is to ensure consistency in diocesan seminary formation. 

The Latin Mass Society of England and Wales “welcomed unequivocally” the publication of Universae Ecclesiae and observed that “the authoritative Latin text of the instruction is, in crucial areas, more strongly worded than the unofficial English translation,” especially in the article about seminarians. In a statement, Leo Darroch, president of Una Voce, an international group committed to preserving traditional liturgical practices, commented: “What is perfectly clear is that…Latin and the Usus Antiquior [older usage] must be taught in seminaries where there is a pastoral need. And this pastoral need must be determined by those who wish to benefit” from the recent liturgical law. 

A document issued by the General House of the Society of St. Pius X noted, “Certain rash commentaries [on the instruction] led some to believe that the Society of St. Pius X was also excluded [by art. 19, but that] is not correct, since the ‘excommunications’ of its bishops were lifted precisely because Rome considered them not to be in opposition to the primacy of the pope.” 

Fr. John Zuhlsdorf offered a balanced overview of Universae Ecclesiae on his blog, What Does the Prayer Really Say?: “The most important point to carry away is that UE reveals something more of the mind, the mens, of the lawgiver, Pope Benedict XVI. Questions will remain, but…the more pressing questions are addressed in this instruction…. [Canonically] this Instruction requires no promulgation, or vacatio legis—it binds immediately, from the moment of its notification…. This document isn’t as strong as many of the traditional view would like it to be. But it is very good.”

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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.