Rorate Caeli

Summorum Notes: The priest's unalienable right to the Traditional Mass
The significance of "Private Masses"

Dear Priests of the entire world, cherish and make full and good use of this document: it is not the property of "estranged minorities"; it is not the domain of "nostalgic clerics"; it belongs to all of you, it is your charter of liturgical freedom. (from our Axes of Interpretation)

Under Summorum Pontificum, Masses without the people ("private Masses") will be particularly important, first and foremost for priests, but also particularly for small groups of faithful. The right of all priests in the Latin Church to celebrate their private Masses in the extraordinary form (Missal of Bl. John XXIII) is clear. Not only that: the law, in one of its most important articles, establishes a clear equivalence of rights for both forms in the celebration of private Masses. The priest shall choose that which is more convenient for him, or to which he is more attached, or... it does not matter why, his motivations for choosing either Missal for his private Masses are absolutely immaterial: the law does not establish any condition whatsoever and no permission is ever necessary (Art. 2: Ad talem celebrationem secundum unum alterumve Missale, sacerdos nulla eget licentia, nec Sedis Apostolicae nec Ordinarii sui), and the establishment of any additional condition is illicit (general principles of Canon Law are objectively applicable and cannot hinder the celebration of the Mass in the extraordinary form).

This also means that no authority whosoever may curtail the right of priests to celebrate private Masses in the extraordinary form (for instance, of a priest visiting a shrine). Let us recall that additional conditions and permissions apply only to article 5 provisions (that is, "public Masses"). The rector of a shrine may act upon art. 5, § 5 (which applies to "public Masses"), according to the general rules set in article 5, but he must not discriminate between private Masses of visiting priests: all priests in good standing (Art. 5, § 4: idonei... ac iure non impediti) are allowed to say private Mass according to the form of their choice.

That the lay faithful may attend private Masses has always been the case: and, just to avoid any misinterpretation of the latitude awarded to priests and faithful, art.4 makes clear that these Masses (which all priests may celebrate everywhere, as Summorum comes into effect) may be attended by the faithful who ask to be admitted, with no special authorization (admitti possunt, servatis de iure servandis, etiam christifideles qui sua sponte id petunt).

There is no doubt that the wide, complete, and absolute liberation of private Masses in either form (Summorum considers both of identical legal importance for such Masses), with the full licitness of the attendance of the lay faithful is the most far-reaching measure enacted by the act - if priests wish to enjoy the great liberating right which the Pope has recognized as theirs and if the faithful are wise enough to approach those priests who may be willing to celebrate according to the extraordinary form. Private Masses with the attendance of lay faithful may be particularly appropriate in those areas in which there are not exactly "groups" of lay faithful interested in the Traditional Mass, as well as in the initial steps in the formation of "groups stably constituted".