Saturday, July 23, 2011

Holy Mass in Malta since 1969: a brief history

Since July 2007, slowly but surely, a number of articles in the Maltese media appeared that showed growing intolerance towards the Tridentine Rite. Alas, a number (if not the majority) were penned by well known priests. These articles are continuing to increase, although in a more subtle form. The time has come to set the record straight as many Maltese are still unaware of the developments that are happening in Malta and elsewhere. This is the first article of a series.

In 1969 Pope Paul VI introduced a new rite of the Mass for the Latin Rite Church that was apparently binding on all Catholics – priests, bishops, religious and laypeople. It was then – and is still the case to a great extent in Malta – widely believed that it has been forbidden for a priest to say the Tridentine Mass – unless he had special permission to do so, with a document called an “Indult.”

The introduction of a new rite caused widespread confusion, discouragement, division, disillusionment and destruction – even the closure (or selling) of churches in many countries. This situation did not reach the Maltese shores except for one major common factor with the rest of the Catholic world: more than half of Catholics in Malta have stopped going to Mass altogether since the new rite of Mass was introduced, albeit the introduction of the vernacular was supposed to encourage more participation by the faithful. Not to mention the destruction, in a number of cases, of a number of church furnishings such as altar rails.

A false impression was created throughout almost all the Catholic world by very high Church officials that by virtue of holy obedience all priests after 1969 had to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass according to the Novus Ordo Missae. In Malta, the first people that approached the Archbishop of the time were asked not to pursue matters further because any concessions might lead to schisms.

At the same time, efforts were made by Catholics around the world and, notwithstanding hurdles, a number of milestones were achieved:

a) the so-called Agatha Christie Indult (the permission granted in 1971 by Pope Paul VI for the use of the Tridentine Mass in England and Wales);

b) an attempt by Pope John Paul I, within days after his election, to summon a commission to restore the Tridentine Mass. Unfortunately, John Paul I died before the commission could meet.

c) Quattuor abhunc annos (1984) - this granted an indult for bishops to authorise celebration of the Tridentine Mass according to the 1962 Missal.

d) The first President of FIUV, Dr. Eric de Saventhem was instrumental in convincing Pope John Paul II in 1986 to convoke a special Commission of Cardinals to investigate the situation concerning the celebration of the Tridentine Mass. This Commission consisted of these nine Cardinals: Ratzinger, Mayer, Oddi, Stickler, Casaroli, Gantin, Innocenti, Palazzini and Tomko. It reached the following conclusions:

1) the Tridentine Mass was never forbidden to be said by a Catholic priest in good standing; and furthermore,

2) no one – not even a religious superior, bishop or Cardinal – could forbid a priest from saying the Tridentine Mass.

e) Pope John Paul II's 1988 Ecclesia Dei adflicta established the PCED to address concerns arising from activities of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and his followers and aimed at facilitating a wider access to the Tridentine Mass.

The developments under Pope Benedict XVI have been well documented in this Blog and elsewhere so there is no need to elaborate further here.

Pro Tridentina (Malta) has been in discussion with the Church for a number of years in the hope that the current Pontiff's wishes are adhered to. We are still not yet there but we are moving in the right direction.

Let us pray so that the spiritual as well as temporal benefits of the Tridentine Mass will be available to these islands again, sooner rather than later.

Godwin Xuereb