VATICAN CITY, JULY 8, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI made a move to reinforce unity within the Church with new norms that allow for wider celebration of the Roman Missal promulgated by John XXIII in 1962.
The Vatican published Saturday the Pope’s apostolic letter “Summorum Pontificum,” issued “motu proprio” (on one’s own initiative).
In an explanatory letter that accompanied the document, addressed to the bishops of the world, the Holy Father says that his decision was motivated by a desire to bring about “an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church.”
Looking back at the history of division in the Church resulting from the restrictions of the Latin-language 1962 Roman Missal, the Pontiff says: “One has the impression that omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were able to harden.
“This glance at the past imposes an obligation on us today: to make every effort to enable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew.”
Quoting the second Letter to the Corinthians, the Pontiff urges the bishops to “widen your hearts. … Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows.”
“There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal,” he adds. “In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture.”
Addressing fears of opponents of the document, the Holy Father points out that the norms do not detract from the authority of Vatican II, nor do they question the liturgical reform that the council called for.
In fact, he says, the 1962 missal “was never juridically abrogated and, consequently, in principle, was always permitted.”
The Pontiff explains: “At the time of the introduction of the new missal, it did not seem necessary to issue specific norms for the possible use of the earlier missal. Probably it was thought that it would be a matter of a few individual cases which would be resolved, case by case, on the local level.”
Benedict XVI adds that “it soon became apparent that a good number of people remained strongly attached to this usage of the Roman Rite, which had been familiar to them from childhood.”
Referring to the Society of St. Pius X, founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, the Pope says “fidelity to the old missal became an external mark of identity; the reasons for the break which arose over this, however, were at a deeper level.”
In the apostolic letter “Ecclesia Dei,” Pope John Paul II deemed the “unlawful” ordination of four bishops within the society by Archbishop Lefebvre, on June 30, 1988, a schismatic act.
Benedict XVI, however, acknowledges in his explanatory letter on “Summorum Pontificum” that others “who clearly accepted the binding character of the Second Vatican Council, and were faithful to the Pope and the bishops, nonetheless also desired to recover the form of the sacred liturgy that was dear to them.”
He adds: “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.”
On a personal note, Benedict XVI writes to the bishops: “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.”
Addressing a second fear that wider use of the 1962 missal “would lead to disarray or even divisions within parish communities,” the Pope says that “this fear also strikes me as quite unfounded.”
He says that the “two forms of the usage of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching,” and asked that the bishops exercise “charity and pastoral prudence” in efforts to unite the faithful.
Before concluding, Benedict XVI assured the bishops 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.”
He assures the prelates, “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."
“Should some problem arise which the parish priest cannot resolve,” the Pope adds, “the local ordinary will always be able to intervene, in full harmony, however, with all that has been laid down by the new norms.”
The Holy Father invites the bishops to review the norms in three years: “If truly serious difficulties come to light, ways to remedy them can be sought.”