Rorate Caeli

Paix Liturgique presents a case to Cardinal Bertone

This text was presented to Cardinal Bertone, Secretary of State at the Roman Curia, on 10 March 2011. It is intended to draw his attention to the fact that the Ecclesia Dei Pontifical Commission lacks the power to bring about the implementation of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum.

Your Eminence,

We would like to draw your attention to the fact that the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum of 7 July 2007 seems to lack any binding force.

The faithful who are now turning to you are particularly sensitive to the present and future beneficial effects of the Holy Father's Apostolic Letter on the forms of divine worship. It officially recognized freedom of celebration for the Mass and sacraments according to the usus antiquior. Furthermore, and even more importantly, it introduced the seed of a powerfully restorative emulation in dignity and beauty on the part of the liturgy that was reformed after the last council. It has become a source of great hope for many young priests and seminarians whose vocation is, by definition, Eucharistic and liturgical. This is the case far beyond the circles that are conventionally called traditionalist.

Yet for this text to manifest all of its ecclesial potentialities it needs to be truly implemented. The private celebration of the older liturgy presents no problem precisely because it is private. But when it comes to the public celebration of the liturgy, which would necessitate an executive force, the Motu Proprio seems only to be an exhortation. To be sure this is quite a lot when the exhortation comes from the Pope, but it is also unfortunately notoriously insufficient in a great number of cases, as experience has shown.

For a few weeks now, as you know, there have been public expressions of concern regarding a possible more restrictive interpretation of Summorum Pontificum. As for us, our principal concern is the executive force of the text itself. If its central clause (the celebration of the pre-1970 liturgy at the parish level) is not accompanied by a mechanism to ensure that it is respected, at the end of the day it seems only to represent a fervent wish on the Holy Father's part.

In light of all that can be known regarding the will of the lawmaker, a close reading shows that its central clause is to be found in article 5 §1, which is an invitation to establish a harmonious coexistence between the two forms of the rite at the parish level: "In parishes, where there is a stable group of faithful who adhere to the earlier liturgical tradition, the pastor should willingly accept their requests to celebrate the Mass according to the rite of the Roman Missal published in 1962." In a certain number of places, in conformity with the Pope's desire, this coexistence has been established. This has produced quite remarkable fruit for the faithful who practice either of the forms, who in fact often are the same people. Many resistances, however, have impeded the successful propagation of these benefits because of the weight of acquired habits and because of the restriction imposed by ongoing misunderstandings.

Yet Article 1 ("It is, therefore, permissible to celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass following the typical edition of the Roman Missal promulgated by Bl. John XXIII in 1962"), and its complement, Article 5 §1 quoted above, recognize a specific right to the lay faithful of Christ. A clarification of the executive force that this right calls for of itself would be highly appropriate.

The competencies of the Ecclesia Dei Pontifical Commission, in its present state as instituted on 2 July 1988 and 2 July 2009, fall within the framework of three texts:

1°/ With regard to persons and groups with past links to the Society of Saint Pius X, the 18 October 1988 rescript granted special faculties to the Cardinal President of the Pontifical Commission to regularize the situation of persons (dispensations from irregularities, sanationes in radice of marriages) and of groups (erecting them as Institutes, Societies, Associations, and exerting the Holy See's authority on them)

2°/ With regard to solving the doctrinal questions that remain with the Society of Saint Pius X, the Motu Proprio Ecclesiae Unitatem of 2 July 2009 specifies that the Commission is to submit the questions that pose some difficulty to the ordinary instances of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, there to be studied and discerned.

3°/ Lastly, with regard to the "the use of the Roman liturgy prior to the reform of 1970," the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum of 7 July 2007 entrusted its responsibility to the aforementioned Commission (article 12: " This Commission, apart from the powers it enjoys, will exercise the authority of the Holy See, supervising the observance and application of these dispositions.").

Yet, although the 18 November 1988 rescript grants to the Commission, in the person of its president, specific powers over persons and communities, and although the 2 July 2009 Motu Proprio specifies that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (to which the Commission is henceforth attached) will treat of the doctrinal questions submitted to it by the Commission according to its ordinary (and therefore jurisdictional) procedures, nevertheless the 2007 Motu Proprio specifies no modality of exercising the Commission's or its President's powers to ensure its application. As a result its principal clause (article 5 § 1), to wit, the request for the parish priest to provide a celebration of the Mass at the parish (not to mention requests for sacraments or occasional ceremonies, article 5 § 3 and article 9), is generally considered as merely an incentive.

To be sure, recourse is provided for in the case where a pastor denies the celebration of Mass at the parish level to the group of faithful who request it: that group may inform the bishop, and if the bishop does not satisfy the group's request, it may refer it to the Ecclesia Dei Pontifical Commission (article 7). The difficulty we are bringing to your attention, which is amply supported by three years of Summorum Pontificum that have been characterized by a large number of refusals followed by informing the bishop and then by ineffectual recourse to the Pontifical Commission, bears upon this lack of juridical precision:

  • A right of the lay faithful of Christ, which is liturgical in nature, is affirmed (the use of a never-abrogated Missal--article 1--whose public use in a parish a group of faithful may request--article 5 §1);
  • A Pontifical Commission attached to a Dicastery of the Roman Curia, which is today presided by the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation, is declared competent to ensure that this right is respected (article 12);
  • A recourse to this Commission is provided for to ensure that this right is respected when it is not satisfied (article 7);
  • But the jurisdictional means to ensure the application of the faithful's right is not given to the competent organism that receives the recourse in the Holy See's name. To be precise, these means are not clarified--for in good legal logic they cannot not exist--unless perhaps the laymen whose request is not satisfied by the pastor and the bishop are invited to petition ecclesiastical tribunals.
Our petition therefore concerns only an apparently necessary clarification regarding article 7 of the Motu Proprio: when the group of faithful whose right is not satisfied has introduced a recourse with the Ecclesia Dei Pontifical Commission, which is presided by the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, there ought to be some indication that the Commission has the power to compel the pastor to make arrangements to satisfy this right.
This is our respectful request. It focuses on a limited yet essential clause in this text. We ask Your Eminence to consider it with all the attention that this technical point calls for, and we beg You to receive the homage of our profound and religious respect.
Christian Marquant and the board of Paix Liturgique