Protocol n° 947/99/L
Unofficial English Translation of the original Italian text
Letter of the Congregation for Divine Worship to the Most Rev. Gaetano Bonicelli, Archbishop of Siena, June 11, 1999
On the Celebration of the Traditional Liturgy
Protocol n° 947/99/L
Most Reverend Excellency,
there has arrived at this Dicastery Your letter of April 12th, in which You posit a question on the liberty to use the "Missale Romanum" promulgated by St. Pius V after the Council of Trent on the part of each priest who desires it, basing such action on the "perpetual" liberty of the Motu Proprio which promulgated the Missal, on July 13, 1560.
Since such a question has begun to be solved with the publication of the present "Missale Romanum", and since this Congregation is not without the competence to shed some light on this rising problem, our response will limit itself to recalling the essential facts.
Although in the Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanum of Pope Paul VI, one does not find an explicit formula abrogating the Missale Romanum of St. Pius V, it is however clear that the will of the supreme Legislator is to promulgate a renewed text of the "Missale Romanum" which would take the place of the one which was up until that time in use. If the will of the Pontiff would have been to leave in force the preceding liturgical form as an alternative to be freely chosen, it would have to say so expressly. Things being as they are and in the light of the documentation which followed, such as regards praxis, one ought to assert that the "Missale Romanum" prior to the Second Vatican Council is no longer in force as an alternative to be freely chosen by those same members of the Church who appertain to the Roman Rite.
After the liturgical renewal undertaken by the Second Vatican Council, there appeared groups of Catholics strongly attacking the liturgical books, above all the Missal, now in use. These groups, and we speak of those in full communion with the Catholic Church and with Her Magisterium, have expressed the desire to be able to continue to utilize the preconciliar liturgical books. The Holy Father John Paul II, moved by paternal desire of meeting the liturgical and religious sensibilities of these groups, has conceded to them the ability to utilize the "Missale Romanum" published in 1962, with the authorization of the Bishop of the locale; and He has likewise asked the Bishops to welcome with benevolence and generosity these persons who feel profoundly bound to the preconciliar rite and, at the same time, who profess a sincere adhesion to the Magisterium of the Church and obedience to the legitimate Pastors. The desire of the Pope was expressed by means by the Motu Proprio "Ecclesia Dei adflicta" (July 2, 1988: AAS 80  pp. 1495-1498). On the tenth anniversary of the publication of the Motu Proprio, the Holy Father has reinforced the general orientations of this document in the Discourse he pronounced on October 26, 1998 (L'Osservatore Romano, October 26-27, 1998, p.8).
And so, these are the answers to the questions of Your Excellency:
Q. "Can every priest use the Tridentine Missal without any permission, given that St. Pius V assured them a faculty in this regard in perpetuo."
A. No, since the "Missale Romanum" given by St. Pius V is to be held to be no longer in force. As regards the obligation of the "Missale Romanum" in use today, the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship published a notification, which appeared in Notitiae 10 (1974) p.353. For comparison one can refer to canon 6, §1, 4°, of the Code of Canon Law (1983) in harmony with can. 19.
Q. "Can the Pope publish [bloccare] a rite in perpetuo?"
A. No. In "The Power of the Church regarding the dispensation of the Sacrament of the Eucharist", the Council of Trent expressly declared: "this power has perpetually been in the Church, so that in the dispensation of the Sacraments, apart from their substance, She might judge to establish or change those things, which for the utility of those undertaking them or for the veneration of the Sacraments themselves, according to the variety of things, times, and places, would be more expedient." (DS 1728)
From a canonical viewpoint, one must say that, when an Pope writes " ...We perpetually concede ", one must always understand "until otherwise it be provided." It belongs to the sovereign authority of the Roman Pontiff to no be constrained by merely ecclesiastical laws, still less by the disposition of His own Predecessors. Besides being bound by the very constitution of the Church, He is bound only by the immutability of the Divine and Natural Law. Moreover, if in addition to the Motu Proprio of St. Pius V, which has been cited, one looks at the Apostolic Constitution (April 3, 1969) with which Paul VI has promulgated the "Missale Romanum" which is now actually in force, we find the following words: "These things by our ... prescription now and after, firm and efficacious, We wish to be and to remain [fore], not withstanding ... the Constitutions and Apostolic Ordinations published by Our Predecessors, and all other prescriptions even those worthy of particular mention and derogation."
It is clear that the authority of the Council or of the Roman Pontiff has not come to be excised in an arbitrary manner, rather it has always present the good of the Church.
Q. "What answer can I give on the point of law?"
A. To the above expounded facts, one can add, the benevolent concession of the Indult to utilize the preceding "Missale Romanum" in the terms and according to the manner indicated in the mentioned Motu Proprio "Ecclesia Dei adflicta". If, in Your Diocese, there were a group of persons who desired to celebrate with the rite in force up until the post-conciliar liturgical renewal, Your Excellency can give authorization according the faculty conceded by the Indult of this Congregation on October 3, 1984 (Notitiae 1985, pp. 9-10).
These can assume diverse possibilities:
a) To appoint a Mass in a church or oratory, at a fixed time, on Sunday or on a weekday, without prejudice to the faithful who follow the present Missale Romanum. b) To assign to the faithful attached to the preceding arrangement a church or chapel, either in an exclusive manner, or a partial one. c) On the condition that the group would be numerous, there is also the possibility to establish for them a chaplain (see Code of Canon Law, cann. 564-567, 571-572), or even also a personal parish ( see canon 515 , §1), as has been the case in some diocese of the United States of America or in Canada.
This is what I am able, after a due consultation, to respond to Your Most Reverend Excellency.
I take the occasion to offer You cordial greetings and to profess the same, with a sense of distinct obsequium, as Your Most Reverend Eminence
Jorge A. Card. Medina Estévez, Prefect
Sac. Mario Marini, Secretary