Rorate Caeli

40 years of Missale Romanum and the new Roman Rite - II
The new Ordo created a new liturgical rite

Does the Pope have the authority to change a liturgical rite founded on apostolic tradition and developed over many centuries? ... [I]n the past, the Church hierarchy did not exercise a strong influence on the development of liturgical forms. It simply sanctioned the rite that grew out of local custom, and even the Church practice of officially sanctioning a rite emerged relatively late, only after printed liturgical books became popular.

In the West, this practice began after the Council of Trent; and it is defined in Article 22 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy [Sacrosanctum Concilium]. Referring to Canon 1257 of the Codex Iuris Canonici [1917], it says, "The supervision of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, which resides in the Apostolic See and, in accord with the law, with the diocesan bishop (...Therefore, no other person, not even a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority)."

The Council did not elaborate on what the term "supervision of the sacred liturgy" (Sacra Liturgiae moderatio) means. If we consider past practices and customs, however, the term cannot mean the type of sweeping revisions of the Mass ritual and the alteration of liturgical texts that we are now experiencing. Rather, we must understand the real meaning in a larger context: Above all, the Council Fathers were intent on preventing every priest from "devising" the liturgical rite "on his own authority"—which, of course, is exactly what is happening today.

Nor can the liturgical reformers derive their authority from Article 25 of the Liturgy Constitution, which says, "The liturgical books are to be revised (recognoscantur) as soon as possible." ... 

[T]he type of revision of the liturgy of the Mass envisioned by the Council was the Ordo Missae published in 1965. At the very beginning, the decree [of 1965] points out that the revision (nova recensio) of the Order of the Mass is being issued because of the mutationes made to the Council's Instructions on the Proper Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy [Inter oecumenici].

As recently as May 28,1966, in an official letter written on behalf of the Pope and addressed to the Abbot of Beuron, who had sent to the Pope a copy of the new (post-Council) edition of the Schott-Missal, then Cardinal Secretary of State Cicognani stated, "The singular characteristic and primary importance of this new edition is that it reflects completely the intent of the Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy." The letter made no mention of the fact that a comprehensive revision of this very Missal was already under way.

Only four years had passed since the publication of the new Missal when Pope Paul VI surprised the Catholic world with a new Ordo Missae, dated April 6, 1969 [and promulgated by the Apostolic Constitution "Missale Romanum"]. The revision made in 1965 did not touch the traditional liturgical rite. In accordance with the mandate of Article 50 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, it had been primarily concerned with removing some later additions to the Order of the Mass. 

The publication of the Ordo Missae of 1969, however, created a new liturgical rite. In other words, the traditional liturgical rite had not simply been revised as the Council had intended. Rather, it had been completely abolished, and a couple of years later, the traditional liturgical rite was, in fact, forbidden.

All this leads to the question: Does such a radical reform follow the tradition of the Church? Given the evidence we have presented, one cannot invoke the Council's decisions to support such an argument. As we have already shown, the assertion, which continues to be made, that the inclusion of some parts of the traditional Missal into the new one means a continuation of the Roman rite, is baseless.

The argument could be made that the pope's authority to introduce a new liturgical rite, that is, to do so without a decision by a council, can be derived from the "full and highest power" (plena et suprema potestas) he has in the Church, as cited by the First Vatican Council, i.e., power over matters quae ad disciplinam et regimen ecclesiae per totum orbem diffusae pertinent ("that pertain to the discipline and rule of the Church spread out over all the world").

However, the term disciplina in no way applies to the liturgical rite of the Mass, particularly in light of the fact that the popes have repeatedly observed that the rite is founded on apostolic tradition. For this reason alone, the rite cannot fall into the category of "discipline and rule of the Church." To this we can add that there is not a single document, including the Codex Iuris Canonici, in which there is a specific statement that the pope, in his function as the supreme pastor of the Church, has the authority to abolish the traditional liturgical rite. In fact, nowhere is it mentioned that the pope has the authority to change even a single local liturgical tradition. The fact that there is no mention of such authority strengthens our case considerably.

There are clearly defined limits to the plena et suprema potestas (full and highest powers) of the pope. For example, there is no question that, even in matters of dogma, he still has to follow the tradition of the universal Church—that is, as Vincent of Lerins says, what has been believed (quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus). ... 

As we examine the issue of unlimited papal authority and how it relates to the authority to change the established liturgical rite, ... this argument just may be the already established fact that, until Pope Paul VI, there has not been a single pope who introduced the type of fundamental changes in liturgical forms which we are now witnessing. ...

Not only is the Ordo Missae of 1969 a change of the liturgical rite, but that change also involved a rearrangement of the liturgical year, including changes in the assignment of feast days for the saints. To add or drop one or the other of these feast days, as had been done before, certainly does not constitute a change of the rite, per se. But the countless innovations introduced as part of liturgical reform have left hardly any of the traditional liturgical forms intact.

Since there is no document that specifically assigns to the Apostolic See the authority to change, let alone to abolish the traditional liturgical rite; and since, furthermore, it can be shown that not a single predecessor of Pope Paul VI has ever introduced major changes to the Roman liturgy, the assertion that the Holy See has the authority to change the liturgical rite would appear to be debatable, to say the least.
Klaus Gamber
The Reform of the Roman Liturgy
(Die Reform der römischen Liturgie: Vorgeschichte und Problematik) 
(Regensburg, 1981)