Pope clarifies rules limiting celebration of pre-Vatican II Mass
Since Pope Francis issued his apostolic letter limiting the celebration of Mass according to the pre-Vatican II Roman Missal in 2021, there have been questions about the possibilities local bishops have for making exceptions to those rules based on local circumstances. The Vatican published a "rescript" Feb. 21 clarifying when a bishop must inform or receive the approval of the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
Cardinal Arthur Roche, prefect of the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, is pictured during an interview with Catholic News Service at the Vatican in this file photo from Jan. 21, 2022. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Diocesan bishops must have Vatican authorization to allow the celebration of the pre-Vatican II Mass in a parish church, to establish a new "personal parish" for devotees of the old Mass or to allow its celebration by a priest ordained after July 2021 when Pope Francis issued rules restricting the celebration, he said.
Any bishop who has granted a dispensation from those rules must inform the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, "which will assess the individual cases," said a rescript approved by Pope Francis during a meeting Feb. 20 with Cardinal Arthur Roche, prefect of the dicastery.
The rescript, signed by Cardinal Roche, was released by the Vatican Feb. 21.
In July 2021 Pope Francis promulgated his apostolic letter "Traditionis Custodes" (Guardians of the Tradition), declaring the liturgical books promulgated after the Second Vatican Council to be "the unique expression of the 'lex orandi' (law of worship) of the Roman Rite," restoring the obligation of priests to have their bishops' permission to celebrate according to the "extraordinary" or pre-Vatican II Mass and ordering bishops not to establish any new groups or parishes in their dioceses devoted to the old liturgy.
At the time, Pope Francis said his decision was meant "to promote the concord and unity of the church."
Many bishops granted temporary permission in the summer of 2021 for the liturgies to continue while they studied the papal document and consulted their priests and faithful.
Some bishops then granted dispensations to the rules, citing a paragraph of "Traditionis Custodes" that affirmed "it belongs to the diocesan bishop, as moderator, promoter and guardian of the whole liturgical life of the particular church entrusted to him, to regulate the liturgical celebrations of his diocese."
In December 2021, then-Archbishop Roche published a formal "responsa ad dubia" -- response to questions -- asserting that it is up to his dicastery, "exercising the authority of the Holy See in matters within its competence," to grant requests from bishops wanting to give dispensations from the specific norms set forth in "Traditionis Custodes" regarding the use of parish churches for the celebration of the pre-Vatican II liturgy.
And he used the same language about the authority of the dicastery to require a bishop to seek the authorization of the dicastery before allowing a newly-ordained priest to celebrate the old rite.
In the new rescript, Pope Francis affirmed that "these dispensations are reserved in a special way to the Apostolic See: the use of a parish church or the erection of a personal parish for the celebration of the Eucharist using the 'Missale Romanum' of 1962; and the granting of permission to priests ordained after the publication of the motu proprio 'Traditionis Custodes' to celebrate with the 'Missale Romanum' of 1962."
"The Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments exercises the authority of the Holy See in the above-mentioned cases, supervising the observance of the provisions," it said.
The rescript added that "should a diocesan bishop have granted dispensations in the two cases mentioned above, he is obliged to inform the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, which will assess the individual cases."