To accompany his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, which was “the fruit of much reflection, numerous consultations and prayer”, Pope Benedict addressed an explanatory letter to all the bishops of the world.
He says he was aware of widespread concern that that the document might detract from the authority of the Second Vatican Council, one of whose essential decisions – the liturgical reform – is being called into question and might lead to disarray or even divisions within parish communities. He explains why these fears may be discounted.
He emphasizes that “There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal. In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too. For that matter, the two Forms of the usage of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching: new Saints and some of the new Prefaces can and should be inserted in the old Missal. The ‘Ecclesia Dei’ Commission, in contact with various bodies devoted to the ‘usus antiquior,’ will study the practical possibilities in this regard. The celebration of the Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI will be able to demonstrate, more powerfully than has been the case hitherto, the sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage. The most sure guarantee that the Missal of Paul VI can unite parish communities and be loved by them consists in its being celebrated with great reverence in harmony with the liturgical directives. This will bring out the spiritual richness and the theological depth of this Missal.”
Pope Benedict is forthright about one of the reasons why many desired to recover the form of the sacred liturgy that was dear to them. “This occurred above all because in many places celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal, but the latter actually was understood as authorizing or even requiring creativity, which frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear. I am speaking from experience, since I too lived through that period with all its hopes and its confusion. And I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church.” He goes on “I now come to the positive reason which motivated my decision to issue this Motu Proprio updating that of 1988. It is a matter of coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church. Looking back over the past, to the divisions which in the course of the centuries have rent the Body of Christ, one continually has the impression that, at critical moments when divisions were coming about, not enough was done by the Church’s leaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity.”
He is keen to reassure the bishops “I very much wish to stress that these new norms do not in any way lessen your own authority and responsibility, either for the liturgy or for the pastoral care of your faithful. Each bishop, in fact, is the moderator of the liturgy in his own diocese. Nothing is taken away, then, from the authority of the Bishop, whose role remains that of being watchful that all is done in peace and serenity.
The full text of the document is to be found on the Vatican website at Summorum Pontificum (in Latin) as is the Holy Father’s Explanatory Letter (in English). For an unofficial translation of the document, please click here.