Explanatory Note on "Universae Ecclesiae"
It "Insists Very Strongly on the Spirit of Ecclesial Communion"
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The Instruction on the application of the Motu proprio "Summorum Pontificum (July 7, 2007, entered into force September 14, 2007) was approved by Pope Benedict XVI on April 8 last and is dated April 30, the Memorial feast of St. Pius V, Pope
The Instruction, based on the first words of the Latin text, has been called "Universae Ecclesiae" and is by the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei", to whom the Pope had entrusted - among other things - the task of supervising the observance and application of the Motu proprio. So it bears the signature of its President, Cardinal William Levada, and Secretary, Msgr. Guido Pozzo.
The document was sent to all bishops in recent weeks. We must remember that "Instructions... clarify the prescripts of laws and elaborate and determine the methods to be observed in fulfilling them" (CIC, can. 34). As indicated in n.12, the instruction is issued "to ensure the correct interpretation and proper application" of the Motu proprio "Summorum Pontificum".
It is only natural that the law contained in the in the Motu proprio be followed by an Instruction on its application. The fact that this should happen now, three years on, is easily explained by recalling that in the letter accompanying the motu proprio the Pope explicitly said to the Bishops: "I invite you to write to the Holy See, three years after the entry into force of this motu proprio. If truly serious difficulties come to light, ways to remedy them can be sought".
Therefore this instruction also contains within it the fruits of the triennial examination of the application of the law, which had been planned from the outset.
The document is written in a simple language and is easy to read. The introduction (nn. 1-8) briefly recalls the history of the Roman Missal until the last edition of John XXIII in 1962, and the new Missal approved by Pope Paul VI in 1970, following the liturgical reform of Vatican II, and reaffirms the fundamental principle that these are "two forms of the Roman Liturgy, defined respectively ordinary and extraordinary: they are two usages of the Roman Rite, one alongside the other. Both are the expression of the same lex orandi of the Church. On account of its venerable and ancient usage, the extraordinary form is to be maintained with appropriate honor". (No. 6).
It also reaffirms the purpose of the motu proprio, divided into the following three points: a) To offer all faithful, the Roman Liturgy in its most ancient usage, considered a precious treasure to be preserved; b) to achieve and really ensure the use of the forma extraordinaria to those who request it c) to favour reconciliation within the Church. (ref. n. 8).
A brief Section of the document (nn. 9-11) recalls the duties and powers of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, upon whom the Pope has "conferred ordinary vicarious power" in the matter. This implies two very important consequences, among others. First, the Commission may decide on appeals that are filed against any action by bishops or other ordinary, which seem contrary to the provisions of the Motu proprio (subject to the possibility of further appeal against the Commission's decisions at the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura ). In addition, the Commission must, with the approval of the Congregation for Divine Worship, edit any eventual edition of liturgical texts for the forma extraordinaria of the Roman Rite (in the document hope is expressed for the inclusion of new saints and new prefaces, for example).
The normative part of the document (nn. 12-35) contains 23 brief points on various arguments.
It reaffirms the competence of the diocesan bishops in implementing the Motu proprio, recalling that in the event of a dispute about the celebration in forma extraordinaria judgement falls to the "Ecclesia Dei" Commission.
It clarifies the concept of coetus fidelium (in short "group of faithful") stabiliter existens ("stable") who desire to participate in the celebration of the forma extraordinaria. While leaving the assessment of the number of people required for its establishment to the wise judgement of pastors, it states that the group does not necessarily have to be composed of persons belonging to a single parish, but may result from people who come together from different parishes or even from other dioceses. While always taking into account compliance with wider pastoral needs, the Instruction proposes a spirit of "generous welcome" towards groups of faithful who request the forma extraordinaria or priests who request to occasionally celebrate in such a form with some of the faithful.
The clarification (n. 19) according to which the faithful who request the celebration in forma extraordinaria "must not in any way support or belong to groups that show themselves to be against the validity or legitimacy of the Holy Mass or the Sacraments celebrated in the forma ordinaria " or against the authority of the Pope as Supreme Pastor of the universal Church, is most important. This would be in flagrant contradiction to the the motu proprio's very aim of "reconciliation".
Important indications are also given with regards "qualified priests" to celebrating in forma extraordinaria. Of course he should have no impediments in canonical terms, he must have a sufficient knowledge of Latin and know the rite to be celebrated. Bishops are therefore encouraged to make proper formation for this purpose available in seminaries, and the possibility of recourse, if there are no other qualified priests, to the collaboration of priests from the Institutes set up by the "Ecclesia Dei" Commission (which normally use the forma extraordinaria) is also indicated.
The Instruction stresses how each priest whether secular or religious has license to celebrate the Mass "without the assembly" in the forma extraordinaria if desired. So if it is not a celebration with the assembly, the individual religious do not need permission from their superiors.
This is followed - again, with regards the forma extraordinaria - liturgical rules and regulations relating to the use of liturgical books (such as Roman Ritual, the Roman Pontifical and the Ceremonial of Bishops), the possibility of using the vernacular for the readings (in addition to Latin, or alternatively in the "read Masses"), the possibility of clergy using the Breviary from before the liturgical reform, the possibility of celebrating the Easter Triduum in Holy Week for the groups of faithful who request the ancient rite. With regard to sacred orders, the use of older liturgical books is permitted only in Institutions that depend from the Ecclesia Dei Commission.
Once read the impression remain of a very balanced text, which seeks to promote - as the has Popes intended - the peaceful use of the liturgy that predates the reform by those priests and faithful who feel a sincere desire for their own spiritual good, indeed, which aims to ensure the legitimacy and effectiveness of such use as much as reasonably possible. At the same time the text is animated by faith in the bishops' pastoral wisdom, and insists very strongly on the spirit of ecclesial communion which must be present in everyone - faithful, priests, bishops - so that the purpose of reconciliation, as it is present in the Holy Father's decision, is not impeded or frustrated, but encouraged and achieved.
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