Rorate Caeli

Summorum Pontificum: Axes of Interpretation

It seemed improper - on a day when many visited this blog simply to find documentary information - to present comments on the Apostolic Letter given Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum [Summorum]. In this first full day after the promulgation of the text, a Day of the Lord, the moment seems appropriate to discuss the three main axes of the text, to which our future comments will often refer.

1. The text must be read from "bottom to top".

Summorum contains 12 articles of law*, in its very end, the heart of the text. They recognize facts and rights, establish rights which are new or were unclear under previous law, and create new obligations.

This is extremely important: those 12 articles are the law. Naturally, other points of law apply (general principles, concepts explicitly mentioned in the articles themselves, as well as other applicable canonical aspects), but neither the introduction to the articles (the first part of Summorum), much less the cover letter sent by the Pope to the Bishops, nor any other text may be invoked to suppress or curtail the rights recognized or created by the Supreme Legislator in the 12 articles.
*There is a 13th article of law, which is the determination of a "vacatio legis" from July 7, 2007 to September 13, 2007.

2. Whose interpretation?

Thankfully, the articles of law of Summorum are mostly quite clear. And where they may not be clear, there is a Roman Dicastery ready to provide the appropriate interpretation and probably unwilling to renounce to its recent increment in power (cf. Art. 12), to be specified by the Roman Pontiff in the future, according to his will (cf. Art. 11).

The text of reference is and will be only the Latin original. (Currently, there are no "official" Vatican translations, and our own version fixes just a few problems of the Vatican Information Service unofficial translation. One might only hope that the "official" Vatican translation will be adequate.)

3. Summorum is a new "Constitution" of the Roman Rite.

The Supreme Legislator wished to create a liturgical framework for priests and faithful - particularly for priests. It is a "Constitution", not as a theological document, but in the legal sense that it is a foundational law, a law above other laws: that is very clear, for instance, in the extremely important articles 2 and 4 (Masses without the people or "private Masses", with or without attending faithful), and 9, § 3 (free use of the Roman Breviary), which are the very embodiment of the liberation.

Summorum is, then, "above" the mere liturgical dispositions of the Latin Church. It is a legal revolution in the mutual cohabitation of what are now called the two forms of the Roman Rite: that is, the Missal of Paul VI may still be the "ordinary form", but it is not the standard compulsory form, from which some priests (due to particular deference or the charism of their order or society of apostolic life) are exempted due to special favor ("indult"). The age of the "indult" is over; the age of mere "episcopal generosity" is over: Summorum is a true liturgical Bill of Rights for all the priests of the Latin Church.

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.


  1. Good points, all three. Thanks, NC.

  2. As a young priest, your last comment hits home. This is our patrimony, not something to be forgotten about or neglected. I look forward to learning and offering the holy Mass in the "extraordinary form of the Roman rite!"

  3. What do yo make of article six by which the pope authorizes to use the vernacular language in the masses with people?

    This is a change in the rubrics of the Missal of 1962, point that even the Holy See Press Office touched, when it declared that the missal of 1962 is "a 'complete' or 'integral' Missal in latin language, that is it also contains the readings for the celebrations (it is not distinct from the 'Lectionary' sa the later 1970 Missal is).

    I am puzzled by this. What do yo make of this?

  4. Praised be Jeusus Christ!

    God bless Pope Benedict! This act of the Holy Father is the most significant act since the Second Vatican Council - even more so than Pope Pauls' Credo and Humanae vitae. For as these two documents only reiterated previous teaching, this new document re-established the outpouring of Go'd Graces upon His Church.

    Let us keep praying, this must only be the beginning.

  5. Re the use of vernacular for the Epistle and Gospel. In Canada, Pope Pious gave permission for the use of approved English and French texts.

  6. With regard to Article 6, it does not in any manner authorise the new Lectionary readings within the context of the Traditional Roman Rite Mass in Latin. Such a false interpretation was tendentiously rendered both by the USCCB and by Rocco Palma.

    The Pope merely permits the readings of the Mass to be given in the vernacular, according to approved translations. There are a number of editions in existence from before the Second Vatican Council, which are available for use.

    Article 6 does not even state explicitly that the readings may be proclaimed in the vernacular, to the exclusion of the Latin text. However, omission of the Latin, in favour of the vernacular, would be well within the "mind of the Lawgiver", since then-Cardinal Ratzinger often stated this personal preference.

    In the English-speaking lands, this direct proclamation in English was never permitted prior to the Council. But in the Germanic countries, and in some other places, it had been permitted by indult already under Pope Pius XII.

    Given the ambiguity of the passage, a dubium could rightly be submitted to the Commission "Ecclesia Dei". However, it must be borne in mind that any attempt to intrude the Novus Ordo readings into the Traditional Mass is unsupported in the Latin text of "Summorum Pontificum", and any such attempt to water down the Traditional Roman Rite could rightly be resisted by the Faithful.

  7. Note that the Motu Propio does not directly mention Quo Primum. Quo Primum, therefore, is still valid. It does, however, replace the two indults decree of Pope John Paul II.

  8. Anonymous7:28 PM

    Three questions remain however:

    1. What about the status of the Religious Order and other Latin Rites? Are previous editions of these, e.g. in case of the Ambrosians and the Dominicans, liberated too? There should be a separate note on this question from the Ecclesia Dei commission too. The Roman Pontiff cán in fact override in some cases the autonomy of Religious Orders and Societies, including those using different Uses and Rites.

    2. Why is the Triduum sacrum excluded from the general permission and universal indult? Is it really because of the Oremus pro Judaeis and the prayer for the conversion of the non-Christian Jews, or is it - in your opinion - just because the celebrations of the liturgy in those three important days are too intensive and continuous as to combine within a Novus Ordo parish life another "Tridentine" ritual parish too?

    3. When will a lifting or annulment of the decree of "excommunications" of archbishop Dr. Dr. Marcel Lefebvre CSSP, FSSPX and bishop De Castro Mayer come?

    Questions, questions. I think the Motu Proprio should have addressed at least the two first questions more clearly. It did not. Maybe notifications will come after September 14?

  9. Thank you for this, New Catholic,and heartfelt thanks for your most edifying witness throughout the past couple of years. You are a true Christian gentleman. Ad multos annos!

  10. Anonymous8:21 PM

    Now we will begin to see which priests are committed to the salvation of souls and which are career men, more attune to the pleasure of their episcopal bosses than the spiritual needs of their people.

  11. Anonymous8:37 PM

    Get ready for a long, hard
    fight. From the USCCB's newly
    released official interpretation
    of the MP:

    "8. As a rule, is it possible for
    a priest to abandon the ordinary
    form entirely?

    No. The Holy Father states
    unequivocally that 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

    There you have it. So not only
    can you not ignore the NO on
    *principle*, but you are also
    not allowed "the total exclusion"
    of the Novus Ordo.

    So watch out, folks -- things are
    moving fast. In addition to the
    TLM being allowed only "once" on
    Sundays, a traditional priest
    must now also, by order of the
    USCCB, be ready to celebrate the
    Novus Ordo at any time.

    Talk about cutting the oxygen off
    from a fire. . . .

  12. It is just a Q&A. The USCCB has no authority whatsoever to oversee the application of Summorum, and its "official interpretation" is irrelevant.

  13. Anonymous9:17 PM

    "So not only
    can you not ignore the NO on
    *principle*, but you are also
    not allowed 'the total exclusion'
    of the Novus Ordo."

    None of the Articles of Summorum Pontificum mandate that. It is only in his cover letter that the Pope says:

    "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."

    Whether that means priests must celebrate from time to time using the Pauline Missal, or rather that they must at least allow others priests to celebrate in their parish using the Pauline Missal, remains to be clarified by Ecclesia Dei. Still, I think it only stands to reason that all Latin Rite priests should be willing and able to celebrate Mass using either form of the Roman Rite. Priests who don't know how to celebrate using the Missal of Blessed John XXIII ought to start practicing right away.

  14. To that most prolific of mediaeval authors, Anonymous:

    It is a good question about the Usages of the Religious Orders, Dioceses (such as Lyon), etc. Some permissions for these are already in existence in a limited form, but a clear, general permission would be better. The Supreme Pontiff, however, does seem to open the way by stating that superiors of congregations and institutes may establish norms for such things.

    The Sacred Triduum is NOT excluded from the permission for the Traditional Roman Rite in Latin! If one reads the Latin text carefully, it merely says that the Traditional Roman Rite may not be used in *private* celebrations during those days. "Summorum Pontificum" does NOT prohibit the Traditional ceremonies for public celebrations. Quod non prohibitur, permittitur. "That which is not forbidden, is permitted."

  15. Anonymous10:33 PM

    new catholic wrote:

    "It is just a Q&A. The USCCB has no authority whatsoever to oversee the application of Summorum, and its "official interpretation" is irrelevant."

    Wrong. No seminarian ever becomes
    a priest without signing a formal
    statement of obediance to the
    College of Bishops in his country.

    You couldn't be more mistaken
    in a belief that this statement
    by the USCCB is irrelevant. It is
    meant to be enforced, both in the
    seminary and in the diocese.

    Funny how this isn't being picked
    up yet in any other blog.

  16. No. Not wrong. The Holy See may, by an act of the Holy Father himself or by an act of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, eventually delegate some or much of its competence in liturgical matters related to the application of Summorum to episcopal conferences (as is the case with many liturgical regulations of the "ordinary form of the Roman Rite"), but that simply has to be stated explicitly as a matter of law, irrespective of how many oaths to how many organizations anyone has taken - OK, Anonymous?

  17. Authority is one thing.

    Perceived authority is another.

    These USCCB guidelines are likely to become authoritative interpretations in the US unless they are quickly contradicted.

    My experiences with the Tridentine Mass in New Orleans and Memphis have proved to me that it is very much subject to wilful abuse, despite what Bishop Rifan says.

  18. Both Anonymous and Petrus Radii are missing the point about the Sacred Tridium as mentioned in Article 2.

    This article deals explicitly and only with "Private" Masses (Masses without the people). It has ALWAYS be prohibited for ANY Priest to say a 'Private" Mass on these days, whaever Missal was being used. Only Public celebration has ever been permitted on these days.

    The mention in Art 2 may actually be unnecessary but it reinforces the fact that nothing has changed in respect of "Private" Masses in the Tridium.

    There is no mention of the Tridium elsewhere in the MP and hence it may indeed be celebrated in the Traditional Rite as a public celebration.

  19. Anonymous12:49 AM

    Here’s the real issue from what I can gather in terms of implementing the Older Rite in parishes – priests will not disobey their bishops without serious consequences.

    Instead of going to my regular “Indult” Mass this morning – I opted to go to my parish Mass as I wanted the opportunity to talk to my parish priest about this and see if there would be any announcements, etc. I go there for Daily Mass often and have volunteered as a “Youth Minister.” Therefore, the Priest and I know each other quite well. I am scheduled to have lunch tomorrow with him to discuss this matter more fully.

    The priest explained in his announcement as Mass ended this morning that “it is still up to the bishops not the priests regarding whether to expect to see the Tridentine Mass at this parish.” He repeated this 3 times in slightly different ways.

    When I asked him about this after Mass, he acknowledged that priests in “theory” have the right to celebrate the older form of Mass – but in practice, where the bishop does not wish for the older rite to be celebrated, that he and his fellow priests cannot and will not celebrate it. He said he must be obedient to the bishop; otherwise he will be “punished”.

    My fear is that this is true. The priest has no real rights in these matters – they cannot appeal to the “union” if you will. If they appeal to Rome, the bishop is informed and the priest is further punished. This particular priest has written to Rome and the Archbishop had a copy of his letter when he confronted him about it. He told me the bishops have too much power. He said even the laymen have more power than they do. I live in a very liberal area in the United States – If it wasn’t for the indult Mass I would have been suffering in a major way. I certainly empathize with those of you who are not blessed to have had Indult Mass in your area. Every time I attend a Novus Ordo Mass I am beside myself.

    Apparently, the bishops gained power sometime in the 80s. Does anyone know about the balance of power change that occurred then. What changed? Is there any way that this power can be swung back to Rome and to priests?

    I would like to help my priest without having the unintended affect of causing any harm to him from the bishop. Any advice?

    Con Fide,


  20. In the ten questions the USCCB issued (after the 20 Q & A), question 5 asks:

    "What other major differences characterize the extraordinary and ordinary forms of the Missale

    The final point viz the 2007 ordinary use / form states:

    "Restores lay liturgical ministries and
    encourages careful differentiation of roles".

    Would someone comment?

    Also, I have a hope that Catholics who stay with the Paul VI Mass will start to ask for the sacraments per 1962, especially baptism, marriage, confirmation. These are the elephants in the corner(room) I think.

    It wasn't obvious to me these would be part of the package: of all the things the Pope has spoken to, it was this that really took my breathe away. The use of these sacraments at unique and pivotal moments may contribute significantly to an opening up and revaluation by those who have no use for the Mass per 1962 &c. and so forth.

  21. Witnessed a 'different experience' today at St. Jude's Chapel of the Cathedral of St. Petersburg, Fl where 1962 Missal is celebrated on Sunday. The priest who may be of Society of St. Peter collapsed before Consecration was completed, and Novus Ordo priest came in to complete Mass, which in effect mixed in the Novus Ordo and the Tridentine rites.

    Post Communion the previously fallen priest somehow got a 'second wind', and returned for last Gospel, final blessing and prayers after Mass.
    EMT's had been witnessing all this because the Tridentine Rite priest refused to leave for hospital.
    In addition, post procession to sacristy the priest of St. Peter refused to go onto ambulance while EMT's were concerned about leaving and then the priest possibly having another episode. [It was obvious to this nurse that this elderly man was having serious problems.]
    In addition I found the behavior of some of the devout women problematic. When the priest was flat on his back in the sanctuary looking like he had a heart attack, a woman kept saying 'Father, we need a priest to finish the Mass, someone get a priest' The condition of the priest on his back seemed to be a trifle to her. Later, outside the sacristy, two other devout women explained to the EMT's why the Sacrifice of the Mass had to be completed before anything else could be done so Father could not go in an ambulance.
    I believe I was the only person who thanked the Novus Ordo priest for coming in during the situation and completing the Sacrifice of the Mass while giving out Communion. Many were appalled when they heard the Agnes Dei in English.

    The fixation on rubrics and rules in such a situation did not strike me as sensible mental health.

  22. Of course, bishops who are against the old Mass will pull whatever strings they can and obfuscate, confuse, threaten, etc., to try to discourage it.

    But the tide has already been flowing in the direction of freedom for the old Mass. More and more younger priests are taking an interest. More and more younger people are going to Tridentine Masses.

    It is now at least a bit HARDER for a bishop to completely outlaw the old use. Bit by bit, younger priests will start saying a private mass here and there and a few people will come. And a few more. In the worst case, the priest will suffer. In many other cases, nothing will be done.

    And here and there, this priest or that will put the thing on the schedule and make a private mass a public mass. It will begin to feel silly after a few years even to the most intransigent bishop to fuss over the distinction.

    And in any case, the generation of haters is dying out.

    Things won't change overnight. But they will change faster than they had changed before. The old Mass is on the cutting edge of change--the clowns are weary, the makeup is beginning to itch, red noses keep falling off. The attention of the crowd has wandered: they were never really even very good at being clowns, you know.

    And all those marvellous spiritualties of self-discovery turned out in the end just to mean taking teenage boys to the bushes in a park. "Truth grows; error rots" as a writer in one magazine put it recently.

    AT WORST, this Motu Proprio will widen and strengthen cracks in the ediface of resistance which had already shown themselves. And grace will flow through.

  23. Michael:

    Yes, there are people like that!

    I always figure that a lot of people have been driven mad by the sixties and seventies...I tend to give the nuts a pass. When you are clinging bug-eyed to a plank in the sea in a raging storm, you may not always do the sane thing. That's my charitable explanation.

    At old St. Mary's, we have some people like that. But we also have a very friendly "changeover" between 9 AM Tridentine and 10 AM New Mass, with everyone acting helpfully and charitably. And most of us are grateful and encouraging to the priests who do their best to serve us.

  24. The key to the success of the MP will be if and when the religious communities begin celebrating the Old Mass mainly or exclusively. Nothing the bishops can do there, and many communities have Masses open to the public. Their increase in vocations will give witness in itself, but the graces derived from their renewed religious lives will obtain the change of bishops' hearts, much like adoration by a few in a parish turns the entire parish around. This is, indeed, the leaven in the dough. The incomprehensible cruelty of imposing a New Mass with its approach to the world on contemplative communities that sought to leave the world has been reversed at last. I think the pope had this in mind specially as one of his key bets on how to change the world with the MP.

    Now, I wonder if the two popular movements within the Church, the Opus Dei and the Legionnaires, will begin mandating the celebration of the Tridentine Mass as their, at least, internal liturgical norm? Any bets?

    The Publican

  25. Anonymous8:12 AM

    This use of the word "form" to distinguish the pre-conciliar liturgical books from the post-conciliar editions is strange. To my knowledge, the term is unprecedented in liturgical history.

    Why the pope chose to use this term instead of the more obvious and traditional term 'Use' is unclear to me. There have always been different uses of rites throughout the Church such as the Sarum and those of the various religious orders.

    Does his use of the term "extraordinary form" indicate that he does not see the pre-conciliar liturgy as a genuine use with permanency, but as something transient which is simply being permitted or tolerated extraordinarily for a time?

  26. One's devotion for Episcopal Conferences cannot dim one's view of events... and we will not allow anyone to puzzle our readers at this time. As soon as a directive is laid down by competent authority delegating competence to these organizations, we will be the first to report it.

    Will many American bishops and priests (especially those acting in bad faith) report to this USCCB committee document when they need to? Of course many will do so - out of their own will, not as a matter of law. The USCCB has no competence whatsoever in the matter, as it had no competence whatsoever during the Ecclesia Dei years, because appropriate authority (the Holy See) chose not to delegate it. As many may recall, and as Pope John Paul II made clear in his motu proprio "Apostolos Suos", Episcopal Conferences, because they are not part of the essential nature of the Church, only exercise competence in matters in which the Apostolic See has chosen to delegate its own competence.

    But this delegated competence simply does not exist for the matters covered by Summorum as of this moment: it does not matter how much one would wish it to be there...

  27. Jeff - Thank-you. I needed that good counsel.

  28. Anonymous5:56 PM

    "The key to the success of the MP will be if and when the religious communities begin celebrating the Old Mass mainly or exclusively. Nothing the bishops can do there,.."

    That has been a most fervent desire of mine, i.e. the Tridentine Mass for contemplatives. I know of a contemplative order which would like to celebrate the old Mass, but even with the SP, the community prefers to wait until their bishop retires in a couple of years. The Mother prioress seems to have a fear of upsetting the bishop. Please pray much for our contemplative orders that they have the grace to avail themselves of the SP. For contemplative Orders to have THE Mass---that would be the devil's undoing!!

  29. Thank you very much for your words, Father V. The success of the papal text is in the hands of young priests.


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