Universæ Ecclesiæ 19

In a footnote to my post yesterday regarding the goings-on at Fisher-More College, I noted number 19 of the PCED instruction Universæ Ecclesiæ, which reads: “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.” I noted that this text, on its face, “is a threshold requirement; its application to a continuing community is unclear.” I write today because Scott Alt and Diane Korzeniewski have each written posts that assume an “ongoing state” interpretation that is structurally and textually implausible, and at odds with the mens of the legislator, Pope Benedict. 1

As with most of the canonical issues involved, the waters are murkier than the categorical tone adopted by each side would suggest. 2 Alt and Korzeniewski seem to assume that UE19 requires that its condition must be met throughout—at every moment during—the lifespan of a “Summorum Pontificum celebrating community,” so to speak; if at any time that requirement is no longer met, the group loses its authorization and either ceases to exist ex vi facti or places its “certification” in jeopardy, subject to revocation by the granting authority. Alt says: “Last year, when … Francis curtailed the usus antiquior for the Franciscan Fri­rs of the Immaculate, it was because the[y] … had been plagued by a faction … who were suppress­ing the Novus Ordo. To do that is against the norms of [UE19]. [Pope Benedict] … allowed broader celebration of the Latin Mass [and] also forbade [usus antiquior-]Only­ism among those who say it and attend it. If you are an Only­ist, you have no right to the Latin Mass.” And Korzeniewski wonders “if that is what Bishop Olson of the Diocese of Fort Worth is acting on, in light of what is coming out on Fisher-More College. The instruction doesn’t tell the bishop how to respond, so it’s open to interpretation. ¶ What consequences does PCED foresee if such a conflict arises? Does it preclude withdrawing permission for the TLM?”

I doubt that that interpretation is tenable. Some traditionalists misread Summorum Pontificum by wrenching from their proper context the words “the priest has no need for permission from the Apostolic See or from his Ordinary,” omitting the important fact that they are describing what used to be termed “private” Masses. The “ongoing requirement” interpretation makes the same mistake. It has textual difficulties, and it forgets that Universæ Ecclesiæ is not a freestanding document but an authoritative commentary on Summorum Pontificum. This context matters.

Part III of Universæ Ecclesiæ, in which numbers 15-19 are located, sets out “specific norms” that clarify “the proper interpretation and the correct application” of Summorum Pontificum. Article V section 1 of the latter (hereinafter “SPv§1″) explains the circumstances in which members of the faithful who do not presently have, and who want, the celebration of the usus antiquior in their parish may petition for it: “In parishes, where a group of faithful adhering to the earlier liturgical tradition exists stably, let the pastor gladly receive its petitions to celebrate Holy Mass according to the rite of the 1962 Roman Missal.” 3 The stated purpose of the subsection containing UE15-19 is to clarify the meaning of SPv§1. Thus, UE15 explains how we are to interpret the terms “group of faithful” and “exist[ing] stably” not always and everywhere, but in the specific contest of SPv§1.

The meaning of UE19 is tethered to the same context. Because SPv§1 deals with the threshold requirements for a petition by a stable group of the faithful who do not yet have the usus antiquior in their parish and who are seeking to get it, it would be strange to read UE19 as dealing with an entirely different question, stating an ongoing requirement for the valid celebration of the usus antiquior in parishes where it is already celebrated. Thus, the ongoing-state interpretation disconnects the interpretation from the interpreted text.

And if it is structurally implausible given the relationship of UE19 to SPv§1, it is textually implausible because UE19 itself frames its application in the nature of a threshold test: “The faithful who ask for the celebration.” Thus, the ongoing-state interpretation effectively rewrites UE19: “The faithful who ask for attend 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.” 4

There is a third problem, too: Even if we had the authority to untether UE19 from SPv§1 and re-write it by interpretation, the ongoing-state interpretation would not be an attractive use of that authority. It is a niggardly interpretation of the mens of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict, 5 insofar as it pictures Summorum Pontificum as providing only a benevolent allowance that exists at the indulgence—suffrance, really—of the local ecclesiastics, an exceptional situation that exists only insofar as it does not get out of hand, and one over which hangs the sword of damocles, always ready to drop. This can be reconciled with neither the letter nor the spirit of Summorum Pontificum and its accompanything letter.

* * *

It may be appropriate to add a postscript. If there is a thinly-veiled paranoia in the reactions of Bp. Olson’s traditionally-inclined critics, there is a seething undercurrent of contempt for the usus antiquior and its adherents in those who have criticized the critics. “The college brings in wack job like Gruner, shuts down the ordinary form, thoroughly politicizes the EF, attacks their bishop, fails to mention that the EF is available within walking distance of the school,” Mark Shea complained an ill-considered colloquy with me on Facebook. (Shea subsequently removed his side of the conversation; fortunately, some of it has been preserved.) King, Shea insisted, was using the usus antiquior to “poison[ ]” the students. He has deleted his most inflammatory comment, but you can infer what it was from the version preserved in my rhetorical inversion of it in a reply to him: “These people hold clown Masses [read ‘extraordinary form’] and I’m supposed to give a shit that they feel butthurt when the bishop doesn’t let them use the [extra]ordinary form to keep poisoning the hostages they call ‘parishioners’ [read ‘students’] against the Church?”

Why is this significant? Because it reveals an attitude, a cast of mind that I would suggest is shared by Olson and by many of the “critics’ critics.” (A strange locution, I know, but what else can we say?) In Alt’s post, it pokes through in this sentence: “Bishop Olson is not try­ing to keep students from the Latin Mass, but rather to save them from an environment that has been indoctrinating them into [TLM-]Only­ism — a form of ‘Catholicism’ at odds with the teaching of the Church.” In Korzeniewski’s post, it lurks in this sentence: “[Students] at Fisher More College are seemingly being indoctrinated in a brand of Catholicism that is not in harmony with Church teaching.” 6 Latent in comments such as these is the attitude that, well, if those weirdos want it that’s all well and good, but it must be watched carefully and with suspicion, especially when the question is exposing other people to it. There is a strange recusant-era suspicion of the malus illecebrosus Missae Romanae, the “seductive evil of the Roman Mass.” In a spirit of benevolent liberalism, we will tolerate it and its adherents—but only so far, and only on a short leash, a leash that must be yanked good and hard if anyone’s getting too rowdy.

And that’s such a weird attitude. If you made similar accusations about the ordinary form—”it’s all well and good if you like it, but it’s likely to lead people astray, and so must be watched with concern”—you would be accused of precisely the kind of intolerant bigotry that those now making such assumptions about the extraordinary form decry in its adherents. One simply can’t imagine a bishop suspending the ordinary form in an oratory in his diocese because he thinks that it’s poisoning the souls of his flock. Once we invert the rhetoric, its strangeness is unmasked.


  1. See Alt, Why Latin Mass Onlyists are Destroying the Latin Mass, Scott Eric Alt, March 6, 2014, http://scottericalt.com/why-latin-mass-onlyists-are-destroying-the-latin-mass, and Korzeniewski, Did Fisher More College run afoul of Universae Ecclesiea 19?, Te Deum Laudamus, March 4, 2014, http://te-deum.blogspot.com/2014/03/did-fisher-more-college-run-afoul-of_4.html (both last visited March 6, 2014).
  2. How Summorum Pontificum interacts with canon CIC 1225 is complicated. Article 2 of Summorum Pontificum authorizes any priest to celebrate Missæ sine populo (canonically-speaking, although not necessarily literally) according to the usus antiquior. It is in that provision and context that we find the language “the priest has no need for permission from the Apostolic See or from his Ordinary.” We probably read Article V as contemplating Missa cum populo, but since a parish is not usually without a church, see 1983 CIC 1214 et seq., and since a bishop’s authority over a parish Church is distinct from his authority over an oratory (compare canons 1219 and 1225), that isn’t helpful here. And all this assumes that a university chapel is an oratory in the first place—because if it isn’t, then what, canonically-speaking, is it? Precisely to avoid this nettlesome thicket, my previous post assumed without deciding that the bishop acted lawfully.
  3. The latin text reads as follows: “In paroeciis, ubi coetus fidelium traditioni liturgicae antecedenti adhaerentium stabiliter exsistit, parochus eorum petitiones ad celebrandam sanctam Missam iuxta ritum Missalis Romani anno 1962 editi, libenter suscipiat. Ipse videat ut harmonice concordetur bonum horum fidelium cum ordinaria paroeciae pastorali cura, sub Episcopi regimine ad normam canonis 392, discordiam vitando et totius Ecclesiae unitatem fovendo.” The translation is mine. As I mentioned in an earlier footnote, insofar as this provision follows articles that deal with the celebration of Missæ sine populo by the priest, and the admission of the faithful to what are canonically “private” Masses, it makes sense to read it as dealing with the circumstances in which the faithful may petition for regular, scheduled, and public celebration of the usus antiquior in their parishes, rather than extraordinary, private, or ad hoc celebrations.
  4. “[A]mendment may not be substituted for construction.” Yu Cong Eng v. Trinidad, 271 U.S. 500, 518 (1926).
  5. But cf. UE13.
  6. Korzeniewski may rejoin, I suppose, that she did not mean to imply that the usus antiquior was the instrument of indoctrination, but that premise is necessary in order for her post to cohere. Her intention is to defend Olson: “I’m amazed that [the previously-quoted] part of it is being minimized and the bishop’s actions magnified. If these reports are true, then even if the bishop acted imprudently and was overbearing, much greater weight should be placed on things that, if true, are grave. Where is the concern for a students’ rights to learn what the Church teaches at a Catholic institution over what an administrator believes it should teach? Where is the concern over parents rights to know their kids are not being taught strange teachings at a self-described faithful institution?” But what does any of that have to do with the usus antiquior absent the assumption that the usus antiquior is an instrument of those problems?