New Rite of Mass “Legitimately” Promulgated
May 1988 Protocol signed by Archbishop Lefebvre:
“We declare that we recognize the validity of the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Sacraments celebrated with the intention of doing what the Church does, and according to the rites indicated in the typical editions of the Roman Missal and the Rituals of the Sacraments promulgated by Popes Paul VI and John Paul II.”
April 2012 Doctrinal Declaration of Bishop Fellay:
“We declare that we recognize the validity of the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Sacraments celebrated with the intention of doing what the Church does, and according to the rites indicated in the typical editions of the Roman Missal and the Rituals of the Sacraments legitimately promulgated by Popes Paul VI and John Paul II.”
“Legitimately” is the one word that differentiates the clause in the Protocol formulated by Rome in 1988 in regards to the New Rite of Mass (i.e., Novus Ordo Missae) from the respective clause of the Doctrinal Declaration formulated by Bishop Fellay in 2012. At first glance, it may not seem like a big deal, but further analysis will show that the addition of this one word actually presents a world of difference.
Archbishop Lefebvre admitted that the New Rite of Mass, when celebrated by a priest with the intention to do what the Church does while adhering strictly to its rubrics, was valid. In other words, the host and wine truly became the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord at the Words of Consecration. On the other hand, however, Archbishop Lefebvre rejected the idea that the Novus Ordo Missae was legitimate. After the Archbishop’s death in 1991, his acceptance of the validity and rejection of the legitimacy of the New Rite of Mass lived on within his Society of St. Pius X (SSPX). It was one of the things that clearly distinguished the SSPX from pseudo-traditional communities like the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter.
Before we go on, however, it is important to understand what is meant by the term “legitimate”. We are not so much interested here in the term “legitimate” as meaning that the New Rite of Mass was promulgated according to all the necessary canonical procedures and formulas. This is a very legalistic meaning of the term and is not the meaning that has been at the very essence of the disagreement between the SSPX and Rome over the New Rite of Mass. Furthermore, it is safe to assume that canonists unanimously agree that the New Rite of Mass was at least permitted by Pope Paul VI in his Apostolic Constitution “Missale Romanum”, which was promulgated in 1969. Instead, the use of the term “legitimate” in this article is to be understand as meaning “morally lawful”. During a sermon on August 29, 1976 Archbishop Lefebvre called the New Rite of Mass a “bastard” rite, thus indicating that it is not a morally lawful rite of Holy Mother Church. It is in this sense that the SSPX and Rome have essentially disagreed in regards to the New Rite of Mass. Rome understood this well when in April 2011 the Instruction called “Universae Ecclesiae” on the application of Pope Benedict XVI`s “Summorum Pontificum” stated in Article 19 that:
“The faithful who ask for the celebration of the forma extraordinaria must not in any way support or belong to groups which show themselves to be against the validity or legitimacy of the Holy Mass or the Sacraments celebrated in the forma ordinaria or against the Roman Pontiff as Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church.”
This was clearly an affront towards the faithful who assisted at Masses of the priests of the SSPX. The New Rite had to be accepted as both valid and legitimate.
In the second half of 2011 and the first half of 2012, Rome and the SSPX’s leadership were trying to iron out a doctrinal preamble or declaration on which both parties could agree. Inevitably, the position of the SSPX on the legitimacy of the New Rite of Mass could not be overlooked as this was a key point in almost two years of doctrinal discussions between Rome and the SSPX. So how then was Bishop Fellay, who eagerly wanted a canonical regularization for the SSPX, going to address this point? The answer is given in his Doctrinal Declaration of April 15, 2012, which is quoted above. By adding the word “legitimately” in front of the word “promulgated”, Bishop Fellay seems to have found a way to satisfy Rome and at the same time give himself wiggle room with his priests and faithful. For Rome, the impression would be given that the SSPX accepts the New Rite of Mass as legitimate (i.e., morally lawful); for the priests and faithful, he could defend himself by proclaiming that he never explicitly said that the New Rite of Mass is legitimate (again, morally lawful). One would need to read “more into it” in order to accuse him of accepting the New Rite of Mass as legitimate. Let us then indeed read “more into it” in order to see that Bishop Fellay’s formulation is actually quite dangerous.
St. Thomas Aquinas teaches us in his Summa Theologica (First Part of the Second Part, Question 90) that a law is:
“An ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community, and promulgated.”
There are four essential elements in this definition:
1) An ordinance of reason
2) for the common good
3) made by him who has care of the community
Two of these elements are of most interest for the purposes of this article. The first is that a law is directed to the common good. The Society of St. Pius X published a formal study called “The Problem of the Liturgical Reform” in 2001 that included a letter from Bishop Fellay to Pope John Paul II as an introduction to the study. In the chapter entitled “The Canonical Status of the Tridentine Mass”, Point #5 states that “Paul VI’s Missal does not have the character of a true law” and then goes on to state the following:
“Even if the canonical forms abrogating or obrogating the missal revised by St. Pius V had been perfectly respected; even if it were possible to abrogate an immemorial liturgical custom, protected as well by a specific, perpetual indult, the obligatory character of Pope Paul VI’s missal would still not be established. ‘For an ordinance promulgated by a legislator to be a true law, obligatory for the community concerned, it is necessary by the nature of things that it be in itself and in relation to its object, right and just, possible to observe and truly useful to the commonweal. These qualities constitute the intrinsic reason for the existence of laws.’ And yet, Paul VI’s Missal, by reason of it serious theological defects, contributes directly to the lessening of faith, of piety, and of religious practice, as experience shows daily. For this reason, it is neither right, nor just, nor helpful to the common good. Thus it does not have the character of a true law, and cannot be obligatory.”
We see here that the SSPX claims that grave defects in the New Rite of Mass render it against the common good, thereby making it illegitimate (morally unlawful). Therefore, it cannot compose the substance of a true law.
The second element of the definition of most interest is that a law needs to be promulgated, that is, publicized or announced so that the subjects of the law are aware of its existence and can consequently observe it. This promulgation is the final step necessary in the establishment of a law. St. Thomas Aquinas, in the same Question 90 mentioned above, states that “promulgation is necessary for the law to obtain its force”.
Applying what was said above to the case of the New Rite of Mass, we had Pope Paul VI promulgating the New Rite via his Apostolic Constitution “Missale Romanum” in 1969. At the very least, this Apostolic Constitution permitted priests to use the New Rite. Several years later, Archbishop Lefebvre condemned this New Rite as a “bastard” rite, thereby declaring it illegitimate (i.e., morally unlawful). In 1988, the Archbishop signed a protocol that simply said that the New Rite was promulgated (i.e., published or announced). In 2001, in the footsteps of the Archbishop, the SSPX composed a formal study in which the New Rite was declared illegitimate by reason of it not being directed towards the common good. In 2012, Bishop Fellay revives the statement of the 1988 Protocol regarding the New Rite, but adds the word “legitimately” in front of the word “promulgated”. So the question must be asked, “How can the New Rite of Mass, which was earlier condemned as illegitimate, be later declared legitimately promulgated (i.e., via the Apostolic Constitution ‘Missale Romanum’)?” Since promulgation is the last step necessary for a law to obtain its force and if that law was indeed legitimately promulgated, it would mean that the substance of the law is also legitimate. In other words, the law is truly an ordinance of reason for the common good made by the lawful authority. Consequently, its promulgation is legitimate. To make the point more clear, one cannot say that a child born out of an adulterous union was “legitimately” conceived. In an analogous manner, one cannot say that a rite of Mass born out of the union of churchmen and the modern world was “legitimately” promulgated. I hope the reader follows the line of reasoning.
In conclusion, what we have deduced from Bishop Fellay’s statement concerning the New Rite of Mass in his April 2012 Doctrinal Declaration is that it is legitimate. Whether Bishop Fellay truly believes it is legitimate, however, is open to question. Nonetheless, his even toying with the idea is unacceptable and a scandal to Traditional Catholics. Therefore, I would most welcome a public repudiation by His Excellency of this infamous statement. And if His Excellency believes that I have in any way misunderstood him, I would most welcome any clarifications.