The liberation of the classical liturgy comes into effect today. Akuin Reid explains that the key decisions will be taken by priests, and calls for the older Missal to be taught in seminaries 0 n July 7 Pope Benedict told the bishops of the world that "What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful."
He was speaking, of course, about the usus antiquior, the more ancient form of the whole Liturgy (and not just the Mass), of the Roman Rite which from today, the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, is to be freely available to all priests and the faithful who desire it.
This is not merely a pastoral concession or "indult" aimed at facilitating reconciliation with those who have broken with Rome. No, the Pope has stated that the Liturgy developed throughout the centuries' in unbroken continuity from antiquity has something to offer the Church of today and of tomorrow, whether we are old enough to remember the "old Mass" or whether we are younger and find in it something that draws us to God.
Let us make no mistake about it: this is a defining moment in the history of Western Catholic Liturgy. The unprecedented rigid imposition of the fabricated modem rites that has held sway for the past four decades has been ended by a decree from the Sovereign Pontiff who knows well that, while the modern rites will continue to be used in most places, they are not the be all and end all of the Liturgy of the Roman rite.
Pope Benedict XVI has not said so explicitly in his recent documents, but the implied criticism is clear enough: something has gone wrong in the Liturgy in the last 40 years. Summorurn Pontificum is an attempt partially to correct this, as is Sacramentum Caritatis and other liturgical reforms.
Reactions since July 7 have ranged from the sane, moderate and welcome responses to the Pope's legislation typified by the statements from the Bishops' Conferences of England and Wales and of Scotland to rather odd "requirements," "suggestions" and "norms" sent by some bishops to their clergy.
The purpose of these seems to be to get around the fact that the bishops largely because of their hitherto lack of wide and generous provision of the usus antiquior no longer have the faculty to decide whether such celebrations take place in their dioceses. Bishops remain the moderators, promoters and guardians of the liturgical life of the Church, but the Pope's legislation underlines the fact that they are not the arbiters of what legitimate choices may be made within the provisions of Church law by individual priests.
Priests. not bishops, may now judge which form of Mass is celebrated. For bishops to say that they "requireto be consulted before priests exercise their legitimate judgment seems to be contrary to the spirit of the new legislation and could be construed as a form of intimidation.
The Pope has devolved authority in this matter and the diocesan bishop's role is now as with the modern use of the Roman Rite to see that everything is done in accordance with Church law, not to impose nonns of his own making that frustrate it.
The faithful and indeed priests ought to note that Pope Benedict has conferred certain rights in law upon them in Summorum Pontificum, rights which, if unjustly denied, can be appealed by due process to the Holy See. Such delation ought to be a last resort, or course, but if a priest or a bishop chooses to ignore or subvert the Holy Father's legislation in this matter, it does remain a legitimate option. Hitherto the more ancient use of the Roman Rite has been celebrated in various churches where the good-will of individual priests and of the local bishop have converged to allow it. Often such celebrations have been held only on weekdays, or the third Sunday of each month at three in the afternoon or at some similarly inconvenient time or location, suggesting that their celebration was not simply extraordinary, but rather odd. From September 14 we have a new situation. Yes, the usus antiquior may well be an extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, but it is no longer "fringe". There never was anything disloyal or suspect about preferring the extraordinary form. The Pope has specifically told us that it was "never abrogated". Indeed, in at least two seminaries and in a number of cathedrals in America the traditional Mass is to be celebrated solemnly on September 14 and thereafter in the seminaries at least once a month.
One hopes that the seminaries in these islands will be similarly inclusive in their liturgical formation. It is now time for each diocese to provide convenient Mass times in suitable churches for the celebration, most especially the solemn celebration, on Sundays and Holy Days of the usus antiquior. Cathedrals and other churches with a strong choral tradition could do this easily, and while clergy may require some tuition in order to offer this pastoral provision, such help is readily available. The liturgical landscape of the future will be different. Its exact shape we cannot foresee.
For it now we simply need to take seriously the principle, spelt out by the Pope, that "it behoves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church's faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place-.
Peter Stanford: Page 10