Memo to Pittsburgh Priests on Motu Proprio

The ink on Summorum Pontificum was barely dry before officials for the diocese of Pittsburgh sent out a memo that “rewrite[s] what the pope actually said in the motu proprio“, making it essentially moot here. Following is the controversial section.

In parishes where a group of faithful attached to the previous liturgical tradition exists stably, pastors are exhorted to willingly allow public Masses for the people using the Roman Missal of Pope Blessed John XXIII but no more that one per Sunday and feast days.The celebration of baptism, penance, anointing of the sick, weddings and funerals in the older rite is permitted in these parishes. In our diocese, the only parish that qualifies under this norm is Holy Wisdom Parish (Saint Boniface Church) located on the Northside of Pittsburgh. Since 1989 the Diocese of Pittsburgh has approved the celebration of the Roman Missal of Pope Blessed John XXIII of 1962. This extraordinary expression of the law of prayer of the Catholic Church is celebrated on Sundays and holydays of obligation at Saint Boniface Church (Holy Wisdom Parish). In addition, the diocese has permitted at Saint Boniface Church the celebration of baptism, penance, weddings and funerals according the rites of 1962 and has granted permission for the celebration of the Roman Missal of Pope Blessed John XXIII on other special occasions. Finally, the celebration of the Triduum using the 1962 Roman Missal has also been permitted at Saint Boniface Church.

There is a subtle misrepresentation of the motu proprio found in “in parishes where a group of faithful attached to the previous liturgical tradition exists stably…the only parish that qualifies under this norm…” As worded, it is actually a catch 22. That is, in order to be allowed public masses according to the old missal, you have to have a stable group already, but masses have to be offered before a stable group can even form. Also, my impression of what’s “between the lines” (feel free to disagree with me) is a sentiment of, “Pittsburgh already offers masses according to the old missal. Don’t be ungrateful.” Anyhow the following is what the motu proprio really says. Note that this is an unofficial translation from Latin to English. When an official translation exists, I’ll amend this post as needed.

Art. 3. Communities of Institutes of consecrated life and of Societies of apostolic life, of either pontifical or diocesan right, wishing to celebrate Mass in accordance with the edition of the Roman Missal promulgated in 1962, for conventual or “community” celebration in their oratories, may do so. If an individual community or an entire Institute or Society wishes to undertake such celebrations often, habitually or permanently, the decision must be taken by the Superiors Major, in accordance with the law and following their own specific decrees and statues.

Examples of such a situation would be the London, Birmingham, Oxford, and Toronto Oratories of St. Philip Neri, which all offer Tridentine masses. If understand correctly, [after SP goes into effect] authority to permit or not permit regular celebration according to the extraordinary use iswill be held at their headquarters in Rome [rather than the ordinaries that originally dispensed the indult]. [Thus, if more oratories wished to offer Tridentine masses, they’d only need to get permission from their major superior.] So-called “Latin mass societies”, such as the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter, already permanently offer Tridentine masses, so this motu proprio only secures their right to continue doing so. If religious communities or societies of apostolic life wished to offer Tridentine masses, either occasionally or regularly, they would be permitted to do so, provided their respective governing bodies also acquiesced.

Art. 5. 1 In parishes, where there is a stable group of faithful who adhere to the earlier liturgical tradition, the pastor should willingly accept their requests to celebrate the Mass according to the rite of the Roman Missal published in 1962, and ensure that the welfare of these faithful harmonises with the ordinary pastoral care of the parish, under the guidance of the bishop in accordance with canon 392, avoiding discord and favouring the unity of the whole Church.

Put another way, if there is a group of faithful within a parish who are likely to stick around and attend Tridentine masses if they’re offered, their pastor – not the bishop – should willingly accept their requests for masses according to the extraordinary use. The second part is snot that simple, though, as Jimmy Akin points out:

Its purpose is to foster the unity of the local church, but that can be read two ways: (1) Allowing the Tridentine use to be celebrated would foster unity by “willingly acceding” to the desire of a group of the faithful or (2) this is a case where acceding to this desire would create discord rather than unity.

Anyhow, it does not say that a group, not currently associated with St. Boniface’s Latin mass community, could not form or even already exist. Nor does it say that such a group’s desires must be sated by attending mass at St. Boniface. given the size of the Pittsburgh diocese, I doubt all of its traditionally-minded faithful are or could be sufficiently ministered to through the efforts of St. Boniface. Besides,if any pastors, or Bishop Paul Bradley, believe that offering Tridentine masses at more parishes would do more harm than good, they should say so and not be afraid to go on record saying so. Simply stating that St. Boniface’s parishioners are the only group this article applies to is incorrect and is contrary to the liberalizing spirit of the motu proprio, as made clear in a later article.

Art. 7. Where some group of lay faithful, mentioned in Art. 5.1 does not obtain what it requests from the pastor, it should inform the diocesan bishop of the fact. The bishop is earnestly requested to grant their desire. If he cannot provide for this kind of celebration, let the matter be referred to the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei.”

If anyone in the Pittsburgh, unwilling or unable to attend masses at St. Boniface, desires to have access to the extraordinary use of the Roman rite of mass should first find like-minded souls with whom to present a united front, second make public written requests of their pastors to have Tridentine masses said in their parishes, third make similar requests of the bishop if denied by their pastors, and lastly notify Ecclesia Dei if denied by the bishop. God-willing, Ecclesia Dei will be helpful in enforcing the pope’s desire that extraordinary use masses be offered willingly. ED’s intercesion shouldn’t be needed, though, if bishops read the pope’s letters accompanying the motu proprio with open minds and open hearts.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that I am not especially attached to the old mass, but I do find it quite beautiful and believe its wider celebration would be good for the Church. If it is someday offered at a parish close to where I live, I’ll probably go occasionally, but I’ll primarily worship where the ordinary use is celebrated with reverence, smells, and bells.

BTW, as an additional heads up of the kinds of conflicts due to arise in response to Summorum Pontificum, check out Jimmy Akin’s analysis.

Update: Man With Black Hat wrote to Very Reverend Lawrence A. DiNardo, Vicar for Canonical Services, and got the following response.

“…This memorandum is only the first glance at understanding the Motu Proprio and is not intended to be the final practice in the diocese…[T]he Mass at Saint Boniface is the only stable community at present. It may be that other stable groups will be established. It does not exclude the possible that there will be others in the future and when they are present the Mass will be celebrated. I think we do not want to take statements out of context or read into them something that is not stated or intended. The Diocese has had a long history of implementing the Latin Mass and granting provisions beyond what has been provided for in the norms. I think that the same will be said of the Motu Proprio.

I think there’s still a misunderstanding or narrow interpretation of “stable group of faithful” implied in Fr. DiNardo’s response. My reading of Article 5 is that if a “stable group of faithful who adhere to the earlier liturgical tradition”, however one defines that, exists in a parish and that group requests Tridentine masses to be said at their parish, every reasonable effort should be made to make those masses available to them. If Holy Wisdom Parish at St. Boniface is considered the only stable group of faithful adherents to the old mass in the diocese of Pittsburgh, the bar has been set rather high. In fact, we’re still caught in the catch 22.

The line of reasoning seems to be that the diocese has generously made Tridentine masses available under the Ecclesia Dei indult and thereby created the only stable group of adherents. By that logic, the diocese would have to exercise its generosity again to establish another indult community in order to establish another “stable group of faithful who adhere to the earlier liturgical tradition”.

This is quite contrary to the letter and spirit of SP. As Benedict says, “The present Norms are…meant to free Bishops from constantly having to evaluate anew how they are to respond to various situations.” That is, more decisions regarding offering the old mass should be made by pastors and fewer by bishops. Consequently, the faithful will be free to form stable groups in parishes and those groups will be free to request masses according to the extraordinary use of the Roman missal, independent of the generosity of diocesan officials. Should their pastors and the bishop be unwilling or unable to grant their requests, such groups would have recourse to the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, which will have juridical authority it may not have had previously.

Comments 1

  1. Chad Kimmel wrote:


    Great post here. To sum all of this up, if any parish has a “stable” group of people who want to celebrate with the 1962 missal, the pastor should “willingly accept their requests”. And if the pastor does not grant this desire, then they should go to the bishop, and the bishop should “earnestly request their desire.”

    Well, there you go. You can already see the loop-hole that pastors will use to get out of this. How do you quantify “stable”? Also, many pastors will say that they are not able to “willingly accept their requests” since they do not even know how to perform mass in the 1962 missal form. Their solution: go to St. Boniface. And there ya go Eric, we are back to square one.

    Posted 12 Jul 2007 at 2:18 am

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