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Summorum Pontificum: A New Foundation for Liturgical Law

Summorum Pontificum: A New Foundation for Liturgical Law

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Published by: New Liturgical Movement on Feb 19, 2011
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Summorum Pontificum
A New Foundation for Liturgical Law
 Dr Alcuin Reid 
The Holy Father’s 2007 Motu Proprio
Summorum pontificum
deals principally with three of the older liturgical books, the
Missale Romanum,
 Breviarium Romanum
and the
 Rituale Romanum
. It provides for the celebration of Holy Mass, the Sacraments of Baptism, Marriage, Penance andAnointing of the Sick, and for the celebration of funerals according to the judgement of the pastor “for the good of souls.” It states that the older Divine Office may be celebrated.
Summorum pontificum
doesn’t mention the many other rites in the
 Rituale Romanum
, and only brieflymentions one from the
 Pontificale Romanum
: Ordinaries may celebrate the older rite of Confirmation“if the good of souls would seem to require it.”Does this mean that the older rite of say, the blessing of houses or of holy water,
may not 
be used by priests or deacons without some further permission or indult? May bishops not use the rites of consecration of altars or of ordination without the explicit authorisation of the Holy See?In the case of the rites of the
 Rituale Romanum
, the question is
answered in practice.Where the persons concerned want the older rites, it would be pastorally absurd for a priest to insiston blessing a rosary, crucifix or a statue according to the modern
 De Benedictionibus
on the basis that
Summorum pontificum
does not explicitly provide for such blessings according to the older 
 Rituale Romanum
. The “good of souls” dictates the answer.So too do the principles articulated in
Summorum pontificum,
as does the
mens legislatoris
soeloquently set forth in the Holy Father’s letter to the bishops accompanying
Summorum pontificum
,with which this answer is in perfect harmony.The Motu Proprio’s
fundamental principal is most certainly “the good of souls.” Where there is “greatlove and affection” for “the earlier liturgical forms” these are not to be denied. This is possible because the older liturgy “must be given due honour for its venerable and ancient usage” and becausethe older liturgy was “never abrogated” (
article 1 uses these phrases specifically in relation to the
Missale Romanum
, but the principle is nevertheless applicable to the other older liturgical books, as isdemonstrated by
later reference to their use.) Now, regardless of precisely what canonists makeof “never abrogated,” it certainly does imply that the older rites were never evacuated of their value.The other fundamental principle of 
Summorum pontificum
is that of subsidiarity. It is the relevant pastor or church rector who is to decide upon the suitability of the use of the former rites. It is nolonger the preferences or policies of more distant authorities which are to dictate local liturgical practice.This subsidiarity is eminently more pastoral. It is also more practical: if the older rites retain their value and meaning, a diocesan bishop does not need to be asked for permission by a priest who judgesit pastorally opportune to bless a new car with the older rite. If both older and newer rites are validand valuable, the best one for the local pastoral circumstances may freely be chosen.Pope Benedict’s Letter to the Bishops accompanying
Summorum pontificum
which in the history of ecclesiastical legislation must rank highly as a clear and extensive explanation of the mind of thelegislator, gives us further guidance.
The Pope, who is the Supreme Legislator, states clearly that he wills reconciliation where there has been division over the liturgical rites. “Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows,” he writes. “What earlier generations held as sacred remainssacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even consideredharmful,” he states. “It behoves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’sfaith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.”
Summorum pontificum
applies these motivations in detail in the principles it lays down for thecelebration of Mass and the Sacraments it mentions. Common sense, one would think, dictates itsapplication to the other ceremonies of the
 Rituale Romanum.
But what of the
 Pontificale Romanum
?Apart from Confirmation, may a bishop (in fact, an Ordinary), freely decide to bless, profess, ordainor consecrate according to its rites?There appears to be some controversy over this at present, in particular in respect of the rites of ordination. One can understand the canonical difficulty posed in respect of a diocesan bishop whoconfers the subdiaconate
 precisely what
obligations and status does the ordinand have?
and that question requires clarification.Liturgically speaking, however, if we apply the principles of 
Summorum pontificum
to the questionand if we accord with the
mens legislatoris
, the answer must be affirmative: an Ordinary is free to usethe older 
 Pontificale Romanum
according to his pastoral judgement.That is, where the Ordinary judges that this is for the “good of souls” and where there is “great loveand affection” for “the earlier liturgical forms,” which
Summorum pontificum
recognises as sufficient justification for the use the older rites. Affirmative also because one cannot maintain the “abrogation”of one older liturgical book whilst maintaining the “non-abrogation” of the others. The older use of the Roman rite is an organic whole: the rites of ordination in the
 Pontificale Romanum
are celebrated
those of the
Missale Romanum
, not normally separately.Affirmative, again, if one takes seriously the principle of subsidiarity. Whist the pastor of the parish isto judge the form the presbyteral rites celebrated in his parish take, the diocesan bishop is, surely, theappropriate pastor to judge the forms the pontifical rites are to take in his diocese, of which he is theliturgical moderator, without constraint from authorities who are more distant from the pastoralrealities the bishop encounters.This affirmative response is thoroughly grounded in and supported by the motivations manifested bythe Holy Father in his accompanying letter. It would be pastorally ungenerous to limit bishops (andthe faithful) in this way. It may be the source of further division and cause harm to souls. It would prevent an Ordinary from giving the older pontifical rites their proper place in the liturgical life of hisdiocese or ordinariate.A notable feature of the writings of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger is their contradiction of that liturgical positivism which caused much so harm and suffering through the liturgical reforms of the latter half of the twentieth century. It is perhaps ironic that as Pope, as Supreme Pastor, having judged itopportune to try to repair some of that damage, it was necessary to begin to do so by positing newecclesiastical law.It is less ironic
in fact it is most alarming
that there appear to be some who wish formally tointerpret that new law in ways which seem contrary to its very principles and to the clearly manifestmind of the Supreme Legislator himself. Whether it be in respect of the question of ordinations or 

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