What’s Old is New Again

The following article is an exclusive service provided by Columbia, the magazine of the Knights of Columbus.
What’s Old Is New Again
Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum seeks reconciliation, not a return to the pastBY GERALD KORSON

    When Pope Benedict XVI published an apostolic letter last July promoting a broader usage of the Missal of 1962, it was only the latest of a long line of papal initiatives addressing the spiritual needs of Catholics who are attracted to the liturgical form used prior to the Second Vatican Council.

    The letter, titled Summorum Pontificum, simplifies the conditions under which the Mass of the 1962 Roman Missal may be celebrated. It also encourages that it be made available wherever groups of faithful Catholics desire it. The new norms took effect last Sept. 14, the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.

    Rather than petition the local bishop as was required under previous norms, “a stable group of faithful who adhere to the earlier liturgical tradition” may go to their own pastor, who “should willingly accept” their request.

    “Basically, what Summorum Pontificum says is that a group of people in a parish can approach their pastor and ask if the older liturgy could be celebrated in that parish,” said Msgr. Anthony Sherman, associate director of the Secretariat on the Liturgy of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

    If the pastor responds in the negative, the apostolic letter says, parishioners may petition the local bishop. If the bishop cannot make such arrangements, the matter should be referred to the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei “to obtain counsel and assistance.”

    The new apostolic letter, which the pope issued motu proprio (on his own initiative), also states that priests may celebrate the 1962 liturgy in their private Masses and within their religious communities. Individual pastors may permit the older rituals for the sacraments of baptism, marriage, penance and the anointing of the sick “if the good of souls would seem to require it.”


    Although liturgical development since Vatican II has often been the subject of division within the Church, Msgr. Sherman said the response to Summorum Pontificum has been “mostly rather calm.”

    Many dioceses, such as Indianapolis, already had parishes that were celebrating the 1962 liturgy, he said, and that “alleviated a lot of pressure.”

    So far, reception of the document suggests that Pope Benedict’s hope for “an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church” might someday be realized.

    The pope emphasized that the Roman Missals of 1970 and 1962 “are, in fact, two usages of the one Roman rite,” with the former as the “ordinary” form and the latter as the “extraordinary” form.

    “The basic structure is the same,” Msgr. Sherman noted. Yet he cautioned against experimenting with a hybrid liturgy that blends the ordinary and extraordinary forms together, resulting in something “that doesn’t resemble either.”

    Pope Benedict also detailed in his apostolic letter how the liturgy had been revised a number of times by various popes throughout the centuries between the Council of Trent, which in 1570 made the Tridentine liturgy normative, and Vatican II, which “expressed a desire that the respectful reverence due to divine worship should be renewed and adapted to the needs of our time.”

    As the pope stated in his cover letter, “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.” The two forms, he said, can be “mutually enriching.” Newer prefaces and some of the saints canonized since 1962 can be added to the earlier Missal. Likewise, the ordinary form will be able to “more powerfully” demonstrate “the sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage.”


    Active papal concern for members of the Catholic faithful who remain attached to the earlier Missal dates to 1980, when Pope John Paul II asked the bishops of the world to report on any difficulties or resistance they had encountered in implementing the 1970 Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI.

    In 1984, Pope John Paul granted an indult by which a bishop could allow in his own diocese the celebration of the Mass according to the 1962 Roman Missal.

    Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre of France, who opposed the reforms of Vatican II and rejected the new form of the Mass, incurred automatic excommunication by consecrating bishops without Vatican approval in 1987. In response, Pope John Paul issued the apostolic letter Ecclesia Dei the following year. Ecclesia Deicalled for a “wide and generous application” of the 1984 indult. It also established a pontifical commission to help bishops restore to full communion with the Catholic Church the followers and clergy of Lefebvre’s schismatic Society of St. Pius X, who wished to remain united with the Holy Father.

    Many bishops heeded the pope’s urging by permitting and even encouraging the celebration of the 1962 liturgy in their dioceses. By the time Summorum Pontificum was written, the extraordinary form of the Mass was celebrated every Sunday in two-thirds of all dioceses and in more than 200 parishes across the United States.

Fr Seguto 


            Summorum Pontificum states that the celebrant must be “qualified” to use the 1962 Missal. “The use of the old Missal presupposes a certain degree of liturgical formation and some knowledge of the Latin language; neither of these is found very often,” the pope said in his cover letter. Msgr. M. Francis Mannion, a priest of the Diocese of Salt Lake City who was ordained in 1973, said he can “barely remember the Tridentine Mass, much less know how to celebrate it. So, I would regard myself as among the incompetent in this area.” Msgr. Mannion is  member of St. Vincent de Paul Council 13297 in Salt Lake City. Workshops to train priests to celebrate the extraordinary form are already being offered in several places, but Msgr. Mannion, who was the founding director of the Liturgical Institute in Chicago, indicated that it would be difficult for such training to be added in seminaries. “Liturgical formation in seminaries already consumes a good deal of time,” he pointed out. “How can an additional curriculum be incorporated?” Formation programs, he said, “will have to ensure that the curriculum to teach the revised liturgy is not in any way compromised.” Learning the Missal of 1962 will not be an issue for Father Gerard Saguto, pastor of Sts. Philomena and Cecilia Parish in Oak Forest, Ind. As a member of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter – a clerical society of Catholic priests dedicated to making available the 1962 liturgy in Latin – his parish has offered only the extraordinary form of the Mass ever since Bishop Daniel Buechlein of Indianapolis invited the fraternity to take over the then-closed church three years ago.    A member of Brookville (Ind.) Council 1010, Father Saguto said he did not experience the earlier liturgy until he was 19 years old. “I had no idea what was going on, I didn’t understand a word of it, but I thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen in my life,” he recalled. “It was the reverence and the mystery that was communicated, a sense of the sacred and an awe that I had never experienced before.”    His testimony of youthful attraction to the older form holds true in his own 60-family parish, which he said is populated mostly by younger adults and families with several children. In some cases, “the parents were raised on the new Mass, but all the children know is the old.”    Pope Benedict’s cover letter acknowledges a certain “youth movement” in favor of the extraordinary form. It was presumed after Vatican II that only older Catholics would ask for the 1962 Missal, the pope said, but “in the meantime it has clearly been demonstrated that young persons too have discovered this liturgical form, felt its attraction and found in it a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, particularly suited to them.”UNIFYING RITES?   Will the implementation of Summorum Pontificum bring about the kind of unity within the Church that the pope envisions?   “Surely there will be some degree of reconciliation, but the project will be difficult among those with entrenched negative attitudes” toward Vatican II, said Msgr. Mannion.    Father Saguto echoed this view, predicting that it will take 10 years or more before we see results. “A lot of heels have been dug in very deep now,” he said.    He remains optimistic, however. “Sometimes I see the old Mass as a bit of leaven,” said Father Saguto. “If we have patience, we’ll see a certain sense of a reawakening.”    Msgr. Sherman said there is potential for greater unity “if everybody respects what the Church is trying to achieve.”Gerald Korson was editor of Our Sunday Visitor from 1998-2007. He writes from Fort Wayne, Ind.


    Although the extraordinary form of the Mass is often called the “Latin Mass,” it should not be distinguished from the ordinary form by its use of the Latin language. The Second Vatican Council allowed for greater use of the vernacular language, but it also said “the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 36). The 1970 Missal can be, and often is, celebrated in Latin, which remains its official translation.

    Likewise, the Missal of 1962 is still popularly called the “Tridentine” liturgy, even though the Missal underwent various revisions since 1570. It is also sometimes called the Mass of John XXIII, because Blessed Pope John XXIII promulgated the 1962 edition of the Missal. Among the most notable revisions at that time included the addition of St. Joseph’s name to the Canon and the removal of a controversial reference to the Jews as “perfidious” (faithless) in the liturgy of Good Friday.


    Woodlawn Council 2161 in Aliquippa, Pa., organized a celebration of the extraordinary form of the Mass last Oct. 8, just weeks after Pope Benedict’s directives took effect on Sept. 14. Grand Knight A. Todd Wilson, 44, said the Mass was the council’s annual memorial Mass for deceased Knights and that it was well-attended and well-received.

    “We publicized it to surrounding parishes and there was a positive response. A member of the council printed the Mass prayers at no cost and another donated flowers for the altar,” said Wilson.

    Council 2161 has for several years supported seminarians studying for the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest and the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, two religious societies that train priests to celebrate the extraordinary form of the Latin Rite. Wilson said when he read that Pope Benedict had issued the apostolic letter encouraging the celebration of the liturgy, the council “took it as a cue.” Father Eugene Dougherty, a member of Chartiers Council 875 in Crafton, Pa., was enlisted to celebrate the Mass.

    Because response among the Knights and the community was so positive Wilson said they have formed the Knights of Columbus Traditional Latin Mass Guild. “Our plan now is to have a monthly Mass followed by our council’s social meeting,” he said.


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