Several people, commenting on the pope’s Jul 7th letter accompanying the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, asked me how it is possible that the Mass celebrated according to the 1962 missal and the Mass celebrated in accord with the 1970 missal represent “a twofold use of one and the same rite".
This question is not trivial and turns on a proper understanding of what the Church means by the word “rite"; it does not mean what the Cambridge University Dictionary tells us it means, namely “(a usually religious ceremony with) a set of fixed words and actions". If this were the meaning, then the fact that the two missals use different words and actions would imply different rites. The meaning of rite in the Church is deeper.
The Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium, often abbreviated as CCEO is the code of canons for the (Catholic) Eastern Churches. The CCEO contains a succinct definition of the word “rite". CCEO canon 28 §1 states: “Ritus est patrimonium liturgicum, theologicum, spirituale et disciplinare cultura ac rerum adiunctis historiae populorum distinctum, quod modo fidei vivendae uniuscuiusque Ecclesiae sui iuris proprio exprimitur” which in English I would render as: “(A) rite is (made up of) the liturgical, theological, spiritual patrimony and the cultural circumstances of a distinct people whose unique way of living the faith expresses the reality of a juridically autonomous Church". This definition is based on Ecclesiarum Orientalium 3, the Vatican II decree on (Catholic) Eastern Churches.
There are more than 20 (I think 23, but the number keeps changing – look it up in Annuario Pontificio if you need the exact number) juridically autonomous Churches in the Catholic Church. Each belongs to one of the six great Apostolic traditions: Alexandrian, Antiochene, Armenian, Chaldean, Constantinopolitan and Latin. Each of these Churches, therefore, has its own rite which is the whole of its liturgical, theological, spiritual, and cultural patrimony; none is greater or more esteemed than any other.
The Latin Church is one (and the biggest) of these juridically autonomous Churches and the pope’s recent documents were addressed to Her. The Latin Church expresses, based on the definition above, its own rite which includes the whole of Her liturgical patrimony. This includes the 1962 missal, the 1970 missal, the Ambrosian liturgical books, the Mosarabic liturgical books, and other approved liturgies. They need not be identical, but they all fit into the tradition and build up the treasures of the Latin Church.
It is no surprise, then, that the treasure, the patrimony of the Latin Church can be composed of many liturgies that all fit into the greater context. But this realization makes the pope’s actions all the more understandable. If we have a treasure of liturgy in the Church, why would we willingly relinquish even a part of it? That would be a tragedy which, it seems, will not befall us.
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Insights, analysis, answers, and reviews by Federico, attorney and canon lawyer (JCL, Catholic University of America). You can send me an email at this address.
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