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Summorum Pontificum

Pope Benedict's Motu Proprio on the Traditional Latin Mass

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Elevation of the Host during Mass at St. Mary's Oratory, Rockford, IL (Photo © Scott P. Richert)

Fr. Brian A.T. Bovee elevates the Host during a Traditional Latin Mass at Saint Mary's Oratory, Rockford, Illinois, May 9, 2010.

(Photo © Scott P. Richert)

Introduction to Summorum Pontificum

On July 7, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI issued the Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum. Rumored for almost two years, the document represents the most significant liturgical development in the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and the promulgation of the Mass of Pope Paul VI in 1969. It restores, as one of the two approved forms of the Mass, the Traditional Latin Mass, celebrated according to the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope John XXIII in 1962. Often called the "Tridentine Mass," this is the Mass as celebrated before Pope Paul VI issued his Novus Ordo.

Quick Facts

  • Latin Title: Summorum Pontificum
  • English Title: "Of the Supreme Pontiffs"
  • Type of Document: Apostolic Letter "Motu Proprio"
  • Date Issued: July 7, 2007
  • Issued By: Pope Benedict XVI
  • Full Text: Summorum Pontificum (at the Vatican website)

"Two Usages of the One Roman Rite"

From September 14, 2007 (the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross), the Novus Ordo has been considered the "ordinary use" of the Mass, while the Traditional Latin Mass has been considered the "extraordinary use." Both can be said in the same parish and by the same priest. A priest can also celebrate the sacraments of Baptism, Marriage, Confession, and the Anointing of the Sick in the extraordinary use, and bishops can celebrate Confirmation.

Summorum Pontificum, however, establishes certain rules that have to be followed.

Rules for the Private Celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass

Regarding private celebration, Summorum Pontificum states that, "In Masses celebrated without the people, each Catholic priest of the Latin rite . . . may use the Roman Missal published by Bl. Pope John XXIII in 1962, or the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970, and may do so on any day with the exception of the Easter Triduum."

Such celebrations of the Traditional Latin Mass may "also be attended by faithful who, of their own free will, ask to be admitted." It is possible for a church to continue to offer the Novus Ordo publicly, while also having private celebrations of the Traditional Latin Mass.

Rules for the Public Celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass

The faithful who desire public celebrations (scheduled Masses) of the Traditional Latin Mass (and other sacraments) should approach their pastor, and "the pastor should willingly accept their requests." Such public celebrations "may take place on working days; while on Sundays and feast days one such celebration may also be held."

The provision for Sundays and feast days ensures that, on days when Catholics are obligated to attend Mass, at least one Mass will be celebrated according to the Novus Ordo, since parishes are supposed to have a minimum of two Masses on Sundays and holy days.

The Role of the Bishop

In the past, the bishop determined whether a priest of his diocese could use the 1962 Missal. Now, the decision is left to the priest, while the faithful are empowered to request it. "If a group of lay faithful . . . 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."

The bishop may also "erect a personal parish . . . for celebrations following the ancient form of the Roman rite." In other words, Summorum Pontificum ensures that bishops will provide for wide celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass.

Other Provisions of Summorum Pontificum

There are two unexpected provisions in the motu proprio. First, priests who are required to pray the Divine Office (the daily liturgical prayers of the Church) may now use the 1962 Breviary, whose calendar and prayers correspond to the 1962 Missal.

Second, in a departure from the traditional practice, "In Masses celebrated in the presence of the people in accordance with the Missal of Bl. John XXIII, the readings may be given in the vernacular" or common language of the people, rather than in Latin. It was common, in the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass, to offer the readings in Latin but then to read them again in the vernacular before the homily; now, they can be read in the vernacular during the celebration itself.

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