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Widening Hearts, Restoring Unity

7/9/2007 - 5:55 AM PST

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Father John Zuhlsdorf Analyzes "Summorum Pontificum"


ROME, JULY 9, 2007 (Zenit) - Benedict XVI's letter on the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope John XXIII is an opportunity for Church members to widen their hearts, according to liturgy expert Father John Zuhlsdorf.

On Saturday, the Vatican released the apostolic letter issued "motu proprio," on one's own initiative," titled "Summorum Pontificum," along with an accompanying letter to bishops.

For an analysis of the documents, we turned to Father John Zuhlsdorf, Administrator of the Catholic Online Forum and the author of the column on liturgical translation titled "What Does the Prayer Really Say," published in the national Catholic weekly journal The Wanderer.

The column turned into a popular blog of the same name.


Q: What is a "motu proprio?"

Father Zuhlsdorf: A "motu proprio" is a document issued by a Pope "by his own motion," that is, on his own initiative and signed by him. It very often is a rescript, or a written response sent back about a question put to him, or on some burning issue.

Famous "motu proprio" letters are "Tra le Sollecitudini" of Pope St. Pius X in 1903 on Sacred Music and, of course, John Paul II's "Ecclesia Dei Adflicta" in 1988 after Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre consecrated bishops without pontifical mandate.

Q: Can you summarize the main points of the document?

Father Zuhlsdorf: There are not many new things in "Summorum Pontificum." Many of its provisions were already in place after "Ecclesia Dei Adflicta," which broadened, but in a vague way, the restrictive legislation in the 1986 document "Quattuor Abhinc Annos." This 2007 "motu proprio" removes ambiguities and resolves disputes. It levels the playing field in a way the previous documents did not.

For example, it makes clear that use of older liturgical books was never totally forbidden. The old form wasn't "abrogated." Some thought it was. All priests will be able to say Mass with the older "use" in private. That had been a disputed point.

In the matter of public Masses, where there are stable groups of people who desire them, pastors can schedule a regular Mass in parishes. There are some reasonable restrictions for Good Friday, Holy Thursday and the Easter Vigil.

Parishes or oratories can be erected where only the older liturgical books are used. Bishops could do that before, of course.

As the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei" clarified years ago, it is possible, not obligatory, to use the lectionary of the Roman Missal promulgated by Paul VI, the new readings, in the Missal of John XXIII. It was never spelled how that would be done. "Summorum Pontificum" doesn't either. The Pontifical Commission will have to figure that out.

The older books may be used for other sacraments as well: baptism, penance, extreme unction. Only bishops will be able to confer confirmation and holy orders, of course. Priests will be able to use the pre-conciliar Roman Breviary instead of the usual Liturgy of the Hours.

A new point is that the older form of Mass is regarded by the Pope as an extraordinary "use" of the one Latin Rite, while the Missal of Paul VI, or "Novus Ordo," remains the ordinary "use." Benedict stresses there are not two rites, but one rite in two expressions or "uses." This has been a matter of deep debate.

Many say the "Novus Ordo" is so different from the Missal of John XXIII, or Tridentine form, that it constitutes a different rite -- the rupture with tradition was supposedly that profound. There are good arguments for that claim, but the Holy Father is leading us in the other direction on this question.

Another new point, though we will see how this works, is that the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei" will have to be reinvigorated, and given its due role.

The document aims to promote unity and people's rights. Critics of the Pope's move, not a few bishops included, have warned that this derestriction will cause disunity in parishes and dioceses, chaos will reign, the council will be undermined, and the clock will start whirling backward.

Frankly, I think most of the opposition from bishops was really motivated by concern that this document would restrict the bishops' own authority. Benedict XVI built in safeguards for the bishops to exercise oversight in their dioceses. That is good and prudent. It must be so.

But he makes it clear that there is a new model to be followed by everyone, bishops included. This cannot be emphasized too much. By this "motu proprio," Benedict XVI asserts that traditionally minded Catholics are not to be seen as the nutty aunt to be ...

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