On Tuesday 21st February the Holy See Press Office published a Rescript confirming, for the Dicastery for Divine Worship, certain legal points in relation to the interpretation of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Letter Traditionis Custodes.
The key point is that from now on permission for the use of a parish church for celebrations of the 1962 Missal may only be granted by the Dicastery. The Rescript makes reference to Canon 87.1 which states that bishops may lift the obligations of universal law for the good of souls in their diocese: this no longer applies, as the matter is ‘reserved to the Holy See’.
The effect of this ruling will depend on the degree to which current provision for the celebration of the 1962 Missal depends on the use of parish churches in a particular locality; the willingness of bishops to seek permission from the Dicastery for celebrations in such churches to continue; and the response of the Dicastery to these requests.
If bishops all over the world seek permission for all the celebrations of the 1962 Mass taking place in parish churches in their dioceses, the Dicastery will be faced with many hundreds of cases to consider, raising the question of the practicability of them discharging their role.
The Latin Mass Society and the FIUV would like to express its dismay that authority over a matter of such pastoral sensitivity has been centralised in this way.
Serious pastoral harm will follow if permission is not granted where alternative places of worship are not readily available for the use of communities attached to the older form of the Mass.
Instead of integrating them into parish life, the restriction on the use of parish churches will marginalise and push to the peripheries faithful Catholics who wish only to worship, in communion with their bishops, with a form of the liturgy permitted by the Church. This desire was described as a ‘rightful aspiration’ by Pope John Paul II, and this liturgy was described as representing ‘riches’ by Pope Benedict XVI.
We call upon all Catholics of good will to offer prayer and penances this Lent for the resolution of this issue and the liberty of the ancient Latin Mass.
The Rescript has no automatic effect: previously arranged celebrations will take place unless priests and faithful are otherwise notified by the bishop of the diocese. The Rescript clarifies or modifies the meaning of Traditionis Custodes, which is addressed to bishops, and it is bishops who have the task of implementing it.
It will be licit for celebrations to continue while requests are prepared and processed.
The Rescript will not affect celebrations in places of worship not formally categorised as ‘parish churches’. See below for a full explanation.
The Rescript contains two other points: the reservation to the Holy See of permission for the erection of new personal parishes, and permission for priests ordained after the publication of Traditionis Custodes (17th July 2021) to celebrate the 1962 Missal. These simply confirm the acknowledged meaning of the original legislation.
By contrast, it has been widely pointed out that bishops have the right under Canon 87.1 to lift the obligations of universal law, including on the celebration of the older Mass in parish churches, unless the matter is explicitly reserved to the Holy See, and this has clearly caused some dissatisfaction at the Dicastery.
Parish churches are the principal church of a geographical parish: many parishes contain more than one place of worship, and many do not. Other places of worship include ‘chapels of ease’ (known by various names in different countries), which are secondary churches in a parish served by the clergy of the parish. They also include churches and chapels attached to religious communities and private houses; churches designated as shrines; and churches dedicated to serving a particular group not identified by reference to the geographical boundaries of a parish, i.e. personal parishes and chaplaincies (including ethnic chaplaincies).
The status of a church as a parish church is a matter for the bishop to determine (in accordance with set procedures) in establishing, abolishing, or merging parishes.
Some dioceses have many non-parish churches; others, very few. In some countries there are no parish churches, because the parish structure has not been established. In some cases Cathedrals are parish churches, and in some cases they are not.
The fact that the existence of non-parish churches is so varied for reasons of history and local circumstances makes the focus on the celebration of the 1962 Missal in parish churches puzzling, and restrictions on these celebrations potentially very arbitrary and unjust. Restrictions on the use of parish churches will be felt much more keenly in the United States of America, for example, than in Italy.
Personal parishes are one possible legal structure through which provision can be made formally for the 1962 Missal. In some countries where there is currently widespread provision for the 1962 Mass, such as England and Wales, this structure has been used very little. Alternatives include establishing a shrine for the celebration of this Missal, or its celebration alongside the reformed Mass in a parish or non-parish church. The legal structure of a personal parish gives the priest in charge many of the duties and privileges of a parish priest, but it does not make the church where it is based a ‘parish church’. A personal parish may be based in a shrine church, a church shared with a geographical parish, or any other place of worship.