Thursday, September 22, 2011

FAQs: How to apply Summorum Pontificum in Malta & Gozo


In the fifth and final part of this series about the Extraordinary Form of the Mass in the Maltese islands, I will attempt to explain how Mass can be celebrated in the two dioceses, based on the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum and the Instruction Universae Ecclesiae. I advise Maltese Catholics to familiarise themselves with these two important documents.

FAQ 1. May individual religious communities celebrate the Extraordinary Form of the Mass without permission of their superiors major?

Yes, Article 3 of Summorum Pontificum states,

"Communities of Institutes of consecrated life and of Societies of apostolic life, of either pontifical or diocesan right, wishing to celebrate Mass in accordance with the edition of the Roman Missal promulgated in 1962, for conventual or "community" celebration in their oratories, may do so. If an individual community or an entire Institute or Society wishes to undertake such celebrations often, habitually or permanently, the decision must be taken by the Superiors Major, in accordance with the law and following their own specific decrees and statues."

So a religious house could offer the Extraordinary Form of the Mass on special occasions even without the permission of their superior major. They would only need this permission if they wished to celebrate it very often, probably, for example, if there was a desire for daily or weekly Masses. Clearly superiors are encouraged to offer generous access to the Tridentine Mass in the pastoral spirit of the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI. This is more or less what is already happening in St. Theresa's Church, Cospicua.

FAQ. 2 May a bishop prohibit people from attending the private Masses of priests offering the Extraordinary Form of the Mass?

Absolutely not. Article 4 of Summorum Pontificum is clear,

"Celebrations of Mass as mentioned above in art. 2 may - observing all the norms of law - also be attended by faithful who, of their own free will, ask to be admitted."

FAQ. 3 Can a parish or other place request more than just private Masses?

Yes, if there is a "stable group of faithful who adhere to the earlier liturgical tradition," which would mean that there is a sufficient number in the parish - or "different parishes or dioceses," - who are committed to the ancient Mass and desire it on a regular basis, then the Holy Father states, "the pastor should willingly accept their requests to celebrate the Mass according to the rite of the Roman Missal published in 1962 . . ."

"Different parishes or dioceses" was inserted in Universae Ecclesiae following pressure from traditional Catholics particularly from Malta. I can say this with authority, so to speak, having been involved in informal discussions with the Roman Curia for the previous 18 months. Persuasion was the keyword here as the motu proprio did not cater so much for realities such as the local one. Now it needs to be concretely applied in Malta and Gozo to bear the desired fruit.

So the parish priest by all means should grant the request of the faithful unless there is some real reason that he absolutely cannot. If there is some temporary reason why this cannot be granted, Article 7 of the motu proprio provides that,

"If a group of lay faithful, as mentioned in art. 5, has not obtained satisfaction to their requests from the pastor, they should inform the diocesan bishop. The bishop is strongly requested to satisfy their wishes. If he cannot arrange for such celebration to take place, the matter should be referred to the Pontifical Commission 'Ecclesia Dei.' "

So Rome has pledged assistance through the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei to making sure that assistance is offered to the faithful in this situation. It is here that, in my view, Maltese have encountered a stumbling block at a local level which hopefully should be solved without further delays.

FAQ. 4 In cases where there is to be a publicly scheduled Mass in the Extraordinary Form, is the bishop's permission required?

No. This is not at all implied in the letter. The letter specifically leaves this up to the pastor or rector of the Church, who is to be guided by the Bishop. The motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, under Article 5 states,

"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, and ensure that the welfare of these faithful harmonises with the ordinary pastoral care of the parish, under the guidance of the bishop in accordance with canon 392, avoiding discord and favouring the unity of the whole Church."

So the Bishop, as always, must guarantee the unity of the faithful. The pastor is the one who grants the permission, but he does so under the watchful eye of the bishop, who makes sure that all is done in charity and respect for the Faith of the Church. This guidance, however, does not imply that the pastor needs permission of the Bishop. As the Holy Father himself has stated, the Missal of Pope John XXIII was not abrogated, nor could it be abrogated. He has also stated that the excuse that the Extraordinary Form of the Mass is divisive is unfounded; in the motu proprio, he stated very clearly,

"In the second place, the fear was expressed in discussions about the awaited Motu Proprio, that the possibility of a wider use of the 1962 Missal would lead to disarray or even divisions within parish communities. This fear also strikes me as quite unfounded. "

Unfortunately, locally there have been many misinterpretations of Article 5 that have led to a considerable number of Tridentine Masses either being cancelled or granted permission in extremis.

FAQ. 5 Does the motu proprio allow for daily Masses in the Extraordinary Form?

Yes it does. Article 5 of Summorum Pontificum is clear,

"Celebration in accordance with the Missal of Blessed John XXIII may take place on working days ..."

FAQ. 6 Is there any resource that Bishops can use to help satisfy requests for the Extraordinary Form in their dioceses?

Yes. They have the ability according to section 8 of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum to, "refer the problem to the Commission 'Ecclesia Dei' to obtain counsel and assistance."

If I am allowed to add my two Euro cents' worth, the best thing our Bishops could do for a wider dissemination of the Extraordinary Form is to ensure that more traditional teaching methods in seminaries, in particular in the areas of liturgy and the Latin language, take place. Especially because there is a demand both from laity, seminarians and priests. More than might be expected. Hopefully this will be done soon, according to feedback I have received from Rome.

FAQ. 7 What if particular parishes wish only the celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass?

Admittedly, this might be unrealistic in Malta, at least for the short to mid-term. However, this is allowed for under the motu proprio. As the Holy Father states in Article 10 of the Summorum Pontificum,

"The ordinary of a particular place, if he feels it appropriate, may erect a personal parish in accordance with can. 518 for celebrations following the ancient form of the Roman rite, or appoint a chaplain, while observing all the norms of law."

Pope Benedict XVI himself has set the example when, as Bishop of Rome, he erected a personal parish.

FAQ. 8 Can specifically Novus Ordo Missae practices, such as Communion in the hand or altar girls, be done at Extraordinary Form Masses?

No, they only apply to the Novus Ordo Missae.

Concluding, let us hope that our Bishops would accede to the wishes of many Catholic faithful and in this way enhance the unity of the Church under Pope Benedict XVI.