From the time it became known that an instruction on Summorum pontificum was coming, devotees of the Extraordinary Form feared -- not without reason -- that liberals in the Church would seize the opportunity to choke off the Pope's initiative to restore traditional worship and effectively shelve the pre-conciliar liturgy once again. Now that Universae ecclesiae is out, it appears to be viewed as a defeat by some in the traditionalist camp. Universae ecclesiae certainly must be regarded as a defeat by anyone unrealistic enough to demand the complete and universal suppression of the Mass of Paul VI, effective immediately. The instruction certainly has its flaws, and as a lawyer, I cannot help spotting its loopholes. But overall, I find myself bouyed and encouraged by Universae ecclesiae, which vindicates the legitimate rights of Catholics -- all Catholics, whether they like it or not -- in matters of liturgy and worship. Some observations:
-- The hermeneutic of rupture -- the idea that we created a "new Church" after Vatican II, and that the traditional liturgy and all its accoutrements, including chant and Latin, must be abandoned -- is once again clearly condemned as error. The notion that we are well rid of those things that we had "gotten away from" after the Council is not in line with the mind of the Church. The instruction reminds us once again of what the Holy Father said in his letter to the bishops at the time the motu proprio was issued: "There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal. In the history of the Liturgy growth and progress are found, but not a rupture. What was sacred for prior generations, remains sacred and great for us as well, and cannot be suddenly prohibited altogether or even judged harmful."
-- It is clearly the intent of the Holy Father that the Mass of tradition once again enter the mainstream of Catholic life. It is not just for the trads; it is for all Catholics. It is a part of our patrimony and our heritage as Catholics, and we have a right to it. Those of us who are devoted to traditional worship are not to be considered as denizens of the fever swamps:
8. The Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum constitutes an important expression of the Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff and of his munus of regulating and ordering the Church’s Sacred Liturgy. The Motu Proprio manifests his solicitude as Vicar of Christ and Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church, and has the aim of:
a. offering to all the faithful the Roman Liturgy in the Usus Antiquior, considered as a precious treasure to be preserved;
b. effectively guaranteeing and ensuring the use of the forma extraordinaria for all who ask for it, given that the use of the 1962 Roman Liturgy is a faculty generously granted for the good of the faithful and therefore is to be interpreted in a sense favourable to the faithful who are its principal addressees;
c. promoting reconciliation at the heart of the Church.
-- Innovations that have cropped up in the liturgy since 1962, such as altar girls and Communion on the hand, will not take place in the Extraordinary Form. The ethos of the form shall thus be preserved. Those who would seek to sabotage the regular celebration of the Extraordinary Form by introducing these things into it will not be permitted to do so. Does this instruction stop them from trying? It may very well do so in some cases, despite the fact that we generally cannot know about abuses that do not take place because they have been prevented. But even if it be the case that no abuses are in fact prevented, we are still better off for having the instruction than otherwise, just as we are better off for having laws against stealing, even though the law fails to deter all thieves.
-- Even though liturgical practices introduced since 1962 do not apply to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, the instruction gives the lie to the contemporary notion that that the Extraordinary Form is a dead thing, a museum piece or a fly stuck in amber. The instruction contemplates, in Paragraph 11, the creation of new liturgical books and texts pertaining to the Extraordinary Form. For example, feast days for saints canonized since 1962 will find a place in the Extraordinary Form. No doubt the Feast of Divine Mercy will also be incorporated into the older rite.
-- The question of what constitutes a "group of the faithful existing in a stable manner" who requests the Extraordinary Form is to be liberally construed, as is the question of what qualifies a priest to celebrate the Extraordinary Form. Groups of the faithful need not have been devoted to the Extraordinary Form prior to Summorum pontificum, and they need not belong to the same parish or even the same diocese. Priests cannot be required to be expert Latinists in order to celebrate the Extraordinary Form -- a prerequisite, by the way, that would have disqualified the Cure of Ars himself, who flunked his Latin exams in seminary.
-- Bishops are to assist their priests and seminarians in training in the Extraordinary Form. The instruction does not affirmatively require them to do so, though I am given to understand that the authoritative Latin text is actually much more strongly worded than the English translation. If the bishops are exhorted to provide opportunities for their priests to train up in the older rite, even though they are not being ordered to do so, then it must be the case that they may not legitimately forbid or hinder such training.
Will there still be bishops, chanceries, priests and laity hostile to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass? Yep. Are there still dioceses where we who desire the Mass of Tradition are asking our priests, in effect, to be pioneers and take the arrows? You bet. But a priest is chosen and trained and fortified by the Sacraments, especially of Confirmation and Holy Orders, precisely to take arrows. How can he be faithful and not expect arrows? And can a faithful priest of the Roman Rite bear to remain for long ignorant of half of his rite, and to forgo unlocking the treasure that has enriched centuries of saints? And how can we in the pews, who expect our priests to put themselves on the line for us, not support them and take the arrows with them? The state of affairs that has persisted for almost the last half-century need not continue -- ought not continue -- now that it is plainer than ever that the hostile forces have neither the law nor the mind of the Church on their side. This is a huge victory, if only we grab hold of it and use it.
It's funny how, in an age when we are so big on claiming and asserting our "rights," so many of us Catholics gladly jettison our legitimate rights to the treasures of our heritage and to the liturgy and sacraments properly celebrated. Indeed, we bristle with indignation whenever anyone seeks to vindicate or even remind us gently of our legitimate rights. We prefer to wear ourselves out chasing after the "right" of women to be ordained; the "right" of girls to serve on the altar; the "right" of laymen to march into the sanctuary and handle the Sacred Species; the "right" to receive Holy Communion on the hand; the "right" of middle-aged adolescent garage bands to play at Mass; the "right" to have the Church witness gay "marriage"; the "right" to contracept; and all sorts of other imaginary "rights" to which we have no legitimate claim and that we simply have no business pursuing. Our thinking on the whole question of rights is now so warped as no longer to remotely resemble anything Catholic.
Thank God Pope Benedict still thinks like a Catholic, still shines a light on our true priorities, and still looks out for the legitimate rights that we throw away like yesterday's garbage.