1983 Code and the Tridentine Mass

Extraordinary Form Was Never Revoked

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Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: In 1983 when the new Code of Canon Law was promulgated, the Tridentine Mass of Pius V was thought to be abrogated. I happened to be studying canon law at that time and was advised, in fact, that the Latin Mass had been abrogated by Paul VI. I consulted an expert in Rome who advised me that if Paul VI had intended to abrogate the Mass, he would have used a different Latin verb. But that does not detract from the fact that people believed that it had been. When the new code was promulgated, therefore, I maintain that any reference to the liturgy in the new code refers only to the ordinary form. Rubrics for the Latin Mass were set by Pius V. The validity of an action depends on the intention of the legislator or the one carrying out the act. Comment please. — M.F., Ottawa, Ontario

A: There are really several questions involved.

The first question is whether the extraordinary form was ever formally abrogated. Pope Benedict XVI declared in his 2007 apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum:

“It is therefore permitted to celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass following the typical edition of the Roman Missal, which was promulgated by Blessed John XXIII in 1962 and never abrogated, as an extraordinary form of the Church’s Liturgy.”

Therefore, if the Pope has said it was never abrogated, then that is the case.

While Paul VI never made a formal declaration abrogating the earlier missal, and in some specific cases allowed for its continued celebration, some people believed that it had been abrogated in virtue of a canonical principle as articulated in canons 20-21 of the Code of Canon Law:

“Canon 20. A later law abrogates, or derogates from, an earlier law if it states so expressly, is directly contrary to it, or completely reorders the entire matter of the earlier law. A universal law, however, in no way derogates from a particular or special law unless the law expressly provides otherwise.

“Canon 21. In a case of doubt, the revocation of a pre-existing law is not presumed, but later laws must be related to the earlier ones and, insofar as possible, must be harmonized with them.”

Since the rites of the ordinary form completely reordered the matter of liturgical worship, some people might have presumed that the new rites abrogated the earlier. As Canon 21 points out, however, this cannot be presumed in cases of doubt.

It must also be pointed out that the bulk of liturgical law is not found in the Code of Canon Law and is expressly excluded from its province, thus Canon 2:

“For the most part the Code does not define the rites which must be observed in celebrating liturgical actions. Therefore, liturgical laws in force until now retain their force unless one of them is contrary to the canons of the Code.”

A similar provision was also in the earlier code, so most of liturgical questions are not covered by the code.

This principle, however, might assist us in answering our reader’s other question: Does the code refer exclusively to the ordinary form?

The answer is given in the 2011 instruction “Universae Ecclesiae, on the Application of the Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum of His Holiness Benedict XVI,” issued by the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei. To wit:

“27. With regard to the disciplinary norms connected to celebration, the ecclesiastical discipline contained in the Code of Canon Law of 1983 applies.

“28. Furthermore, by virtue of its character of special law, within its own area, the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum derogates from those provisions of law, connected with the sacred Rites, promulgated from 1962 onwards and incompatible with the rubrics of the liturgical books in effect in 1962.”

The answer to the question therefore is both yes and no. The 1983 canonical discipline, and all other liturgical law since 1962, applies except when it is incompatible with the 1962 rubrics.

Thus, for example, the norms regarding the use of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, authorized in earlier documents but incorporated into the 1983 code, would be incompatible with the 1962 rubrics and so they would not be applicable to the extraordinary form.

On the other hand, disciplinary norms in the code that touch upon the sacraments would generally be applicable no matter what form of the Roman rite was used. Examples here would include the requirements for being a godparent; the higher minimum age for ordination to the priesthood; the norms for marriage impediments; the broadening of the possibilities for exposing the Blessed Sacrament; and the extension of faculties for hearing confession beyond the diocese. These are not ceremonial norms and thus do not generally affect the rubrics in one way or the other.

A similar criterion could also be applied to norms issued after the promulgation of the code. For example, the decisions made by the Holy See regarding the validity of the use of mustum for celebrating Mass by priests afflicted by alcoholism or of the use of low-gluten bread for sufferers of celiac disease would also be applicable to those who habitually celebrate or attend the extraordinary form.

There might be some cases that are not clear. For example, some ask if a small second chalice might be used in the extraordinary form to benefit those celiac sufferers who are incapable of ingesting even low-gluten bread. Certainly this is a tiny minority, but it would probably not totally contradict the rubrics of the extraordinary form even though these rubrics do not contemplate this possibility.

In cases of doubt the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei would normally be the competent organ to resolve them. As the instruction says:

“9. The Sovereign Pontiff has conferred upon the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei ordinary vicarious power for the matters within its competence, in a particular way for monitoring the observance and application of the provisions of the Motu ProprioSummorum Pontificum.

“10. §1. The Pontifical Commission exercises this power, beyond the faculties previously granted by Pope John Paul II and confirmed by Pope Benedict XVI (cf. Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, art. 11-12), also by means of the power to decide upon recourses legitimately sent to it, as hierarchical Superior, against any possible singular administrative provision of an Ordinary which appears to be contrary to the Motu Proprio.

“§2. The decrees by which the Pontifical Commission decides recourses may be challenged ad normam iuris before the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura.

“11. After having received the approval from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei will have the task of looking after future editions of liturgical texts pertaining to the forma extraordinaria of the Roman Rite.”

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Readers may send questions to [email protected]. Please put the word “Liturgy” in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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