RELEASED: Instruction “Universae Ecclesiae” – the text and my initial observations | Fr. Zs Blog – What Does The Prayer Really Say?
May 17, 2011

Today the Instruction Universae Ecclesiae (UE) has been released.  I reformatted the documents I received and make them available in English HERE, or Latin HERE.

Here are some rapid points to help you read the document on your own.   The document is not so hard that it needs a great deal of interpretation.  But some points will need some extra light.

The structure is:

I. Introduction
II. The Responsibilities of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei
III. Specific Norms

  • The Competence of Diocesan Bishops
  • The coetus fidelium (cf. Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, art. 5 § 1)
  • Sacerdos idoneus (“Qualified Priest”) (cf. Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, art 5 § 4)
  • Liturgical and Ecclesiastical Discipline
  • Confirmation and Holy Orders
  • Breviarium Romanum
  • The Sacred Triduum
  • The Rites of Religious Orders
  • Pontificale Romanum and the Rituale Romanum

The most important point to carry away is that UE reveals something more of the mind, the mens, of the lawgiver, Pope Benedict XVI.

Questions will remain, but after the 3 year period following Summorum Pontificum (and the subsequent months which followed) the more pressing questions are addressed in this Instruction.  Some of us could have wished for a bit more strength, but this is a document from an office of the Roman Curia, not from the Pope himself.  It is not a Motu Proprio of the Pope.

I was initially worried that there would be some gassy rambling in the introduction upon which liberals could latch.  The introduction is rather more helpful than harmful.

The Instruction clarifies that the provisions of Summorum Pontificum were for all the faithful, not just followers of the SSPX, or old people who are nostalgic, etc.

The Instruction could have said that the Extraordinary Form is not to be used as often as the Ordinary Form.  It doesn’t.  It says that the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms are “one alongside the other” and that the Extraordinary Form is to be maintained with “appropriate honor”.

The fact that the older form was never abrogated is found in some subtle language which says that, after the Novus Ordo of Paul VI was released, legislation about the use of the older books didn’t seem necessary.  That left a hole or “lacuna” that the provisions of Summorum Pontificum resolved.

It restates with a direct quote what Pope Benedict wrote in 2007: “What was sacred for prior generations, remains sacred and great for us as well, and cannot be suddenly prohibited altogether or even judged harmful.”

Summorum Pontificum is an “important expression of the Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff”.  It is not merely disciplinary.  It is doctrinal.  That is probably because liturgy and doctrine cannot be separated.

About bishops.  The Instruction says:

14. It is the task of the Diocesan Bishop to undertake all necessary measures to ensure respect for the forma extraordinaria of the Roman Rite, according to the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum.

Furthermore… bishops are to do everything “always in agreement with the mens of the Holy Father clearly expressed by the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum.”.  par. 13.  Moreover, local ordinaries cannot issue administrative provisions which contradict the Motu Proprio. par. 10. § 2.

A “group” or coetus of the faithful identified in art. 5 § 1 of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum is given no minimum number. Also, the members of that group don’t have to belong to the parish, chapel or oratory.  They can even be from another diocese.  They don’t have to have been interested in the older forms before Summorum Pontificum.  Basically, this means any collection of people who frequently attend a church as part of an identifiable group who ask for the old Mass are a coetus.

The priest is considered idoneus or “qualified” when he can pronounce the Latin and understand what it means. What level of understanding isn’t specified.  He must know how to say the Mass, but he is assumed to be qualified if  he “present(s himself) spontaneously to celebrate … and [has] celebrated it previously”.  In other words, if he has been to a workshop or has learned to say it on his own and has actually done it, he is idoneus.  Also, priests in charge of churches must allow priests to say the old Mass within the bounds of the schedule.  No more of this, “We don’t do that here!” rubbish.

Training and Seminaries.  This is a weak point.

21. Ordinaries are asked to offer their clergy the possibility of acquiring adequate preparation for celebrations in the forma extraordinaria. This applies also to Seminaries, where future priests should be given proper formation, including study of Latin  and, where pastoral needs suggest it, the opportunity to learn the forma extraordinaria of the Roman Rite.

There are weasel words here.  First, ordinaries are “asked”, not required.  Seminarians “should be” is stronger, but not iron clad.  “Where pastoral needs suggest” has been an obstacle used by those who don’t like the mens of the Roman Pontiff for decades.  And “opportunity” falls short of “it must be part of the curriculum.

The mention of Latin, above, has a footnote referencing can. 249, SC 36 and OT 13.  Can. 249 says that seminarians are to be be “very well-trained” (bene calleant) in Latin.  That has not be obeyed even slightly in most seminaries, and yet during ordinations someone stands in front of the ordaining bishop and attests that the men were well-trained.  Also, given the mens of the Supreme Pontiff, and the statement that the Ordinary Form and Extraordinary are side by side, can they really attest that the ordinands are well-trained if they don’t know half their Rite?  The older half?  The one with the actual history and track record?

New saints and new prefaces can be integrated and provisions will be issued about that.

A great paragraph says that, YES, groups can have the observance of the Triduum in a parish church or chapel or oratory, as long as there is a priest who can do it, even if there is also an observance of the Triduum in the Ordinary Form.

33. If there is a qualified priest, a coetus fidelium (“group of faithful”), which follows the older liturgical tradition, can also celebrate the Sacred Triduum in the forma extraordinaria. When there is no church or oratory designated exclusively for such celebrations, the parish priest or Ordinary, in agreement with the qualified priest, should find some arrangement favourable to the good of souls, not excluding the possibility of a repetition of the celebration of the Sacred Triduum in the same church.

The only thing about this that gives me pause is that statement about “When there is no church or oratory designated exclusively for such celebrations…”.  Does that mean that, if in the diocese there is – for example – a church entrusted to the FSSP – there can’t be the Triduum over in, say, Black Duck where a diocesan priest has gotten the older form going?  I doubt it.  The parishes could be each self-sustaining, etc.

Religious who have their own Rites can use their own Rites (e.g., Dominicans) but the Instruction is silent about the Ambrosian Rite (of Milan).  I assume that another instruction will come eventually.

Another important point is that the Instruction calls the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” the “hierarchical Superior” in these matters.  In other words, the PCED says what goes, not local bishops in cases of dispute that the Commission judges.  If bishops don’t like the decision of the Commission, they can have recourse to the Apostolic Signatura, which is the Church’s high court.  That didn’t need to be stated, but it is now clear what the line of authority is in this sphere.  Pope and then PCED.  Priests make determinations in parishes.  If there is a problem bishops are to help, not hinder.  If something goes wrong, the PCED judges the matter.

The use of the Pontificale Romanum, the Rituale Romanum, the Breviarium Romanum, the Caeremoniale Episcoporum are all confirmed.  However, bishops cannot ordain with the older books except for members of special groups who have use of the older books and only men in those special groups can receive minor orders.

It is reaffirmed that the clerical state begins with ordination to the diaconate, not before, with tonsure.

Par. 28 is very important:

28 – Praeterea, cum sane de lege speciali agitur, quoad materiam propriam, Litterae Apostolicae Summorum Pontificum derogant omnibus legibus liturgicis, sacrorum rituum propriis, exinde ab anno 1962 promulgatis, et cum rubricis librorum liturgicorum anni 1962 non congruentibus.  … 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.

Derogate means that things are partially replaced, set aside.  So, insofar as the use of the 1962 books is concerned, if there is something that came into law after 1962, and that thing or practice conflicts with what is in the 1962 books, then those later, post-1962 things don’t apply to the use of the 1962 books.

Communion in the hand is after 1962, as are Extraordinary Ministers of Communion, altar girls….  As I read this, and I checked this with canonists, since the employment of females substituting for Instituted Acolytes came with an interpretation of the 1983 Code, you cannot have altar girls for the Extraordinary Form which was, in 1962, carried out by all male ministers and servers.  This would probably apply to other issues, such as the substitution of music, the use of proper vestments and choir dress, who gives which blessings, etc.

The Instruction was signed on 30 April, identified as the memorial of Pope St. Pius V.  That is his feast in the new calendar.  But the choice was certainly significant.  That suggests that the choice of releasing the document on 13 May was always significant.  What it means, I don’t know.

The Instruction was not issued in forma specifica, as was Redemptionis Sacramentum.  I am guessing that this is for two reasons.  First, since it is not given additional weight, we see it as a normal part of the Church’s business.  The fact is, Summorum Pontificum is part of the normal life of the Church now and, in the normal course of things, clarifications are made.  This work doesn’t need forma specifica.  However, Redemptionis Sacramentum actually had to deal with abuses, some of which were graviora delicta and some of which were reprobated, a very forceful way to correct something.  Universae Ecclesiae didn’t need to do that.  Instead, it aims to pry open hearts… and brains… and read Summorum Pontificum as it was intended: according to the mens of the lawgiver.

As far as the juridical force of the Instruction is concerned: I had thought originally that, since there is no precise date indicated for it going it force (Summorum Pontificum explicitly stated 14 September) it had to be in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis and it would go into effect in 3 months, the usual vacatio, after promulgation.  However, since this is an Instruction, it falls under the norms of canon 34.  As such, this Instruction requires no promulgation, or vacatio legis – it binds immediately, from the moment of its notification, according to the norms of canons 54-56, and specifically, canon 54, 2: “for a singular decree to be enforceable, it must be made known by a lawful document in accordance with the law” – this Instruction has already been sent, in written form, to the Bishops of the Latin Church, this it is in force NOW.

Notable too, is the notion that the audience for this instruction is the Bishops, whose task it is to carry out the provisions of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum. This Instruction is intended to inform them how they should be carrying out those provisions.

Ut brevis, I’ll start to wind this up.

As I have written elsewhere, this document isn’t as strong as many of the traditional view would like it to be.  But it is very good.  It is not nearly as weak as those of the liberal, progressivist, discontinuity camp wanted. For them, it is not good at all.

Given the inexorable fact of the “biological solution” and the fact that younger men coming up in the ranks can more readily accept the mens of the Roman Pontiff, Universae Ecclesiae strengthens Summorum Pontificum and confirms it as part of the increasingly normal part of the Church’s life.

Yes,  had wished for more concerning seminarians.

But consider this.  The average length of major seminary is four years.  In September 2011, around the time a new seminary year begins, four years will have passed since the provisions of Summorum Pontificum went into effect.  The men in seminary won’t have known – in seminary – a time Summorum Pontificum wasn’t in effect.  If seminary faculties are smart, they will get ahead of the wave and train them in the older rite.

One thing about seminarians: tell them they can’t have the old rite, the more they will want to learn it on their own and the more important it will become in their minds.

Besides, it is the right thing to do according to the mind of the Pope in Summorum Pontificum as clarified now by Universae Ecclesiae.

Another thing.  Pope Benedict has continued to support the identity of priests and laypeople in the work of the PCED.  Summorum Pontificum was a great gift to priests, who – according to the principle of subsidiarity (acting at the lowest level reasonable) can do among God’s people what they see needs to be done.

As I read UE, since the older forms are identified as “treasures” intended for all the faithful, priests can of their own according and even without previous requests, introduce their flocks to the older forms specified in Summorum Pontificum.  They don’t have to twiddle their thumbs waiting for a request from some large group made up only of parishioners.  There is great flexibility in the who and when and where.  After all, the Ordinary Form and Extraordinary Form are “alongside” each other.

If Universae Eccleisae doesn’t cover everything, or perhaps isn’t super-forceful on every point, which would not be the style or mens of a man such as Benedict XVI, it is nevertheless very good and quite clear.

Finally, now that this long-expected document is out, now that the situation has been brought to greater clarity, now that it is hardly to be doubted that the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” and the provisions of Summorum Pontificum really are part of the Church’s life, the same Commission is going to have to act decisively when they are called upon.

The PCED must act decisively when put to the test.   Many out in the world will think they know how the Commission ought to act, but, over time it will become clear whether the provisions of Summorum Pontificum are being implemented or defended or not.

So, be thankful for this new Instruction, which isn’t nearly as weak and watery as some feared, and as it truly could have been.  Say also a prayer for the Holy Father and the members of the PCED and the workers in the offices.