And More on the Divine Praises
ROME, OCT. 31, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
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Q: "Quo Primum" is a papal bull decreed by Pope St. Pius V on July 14, 1570, which set in stone for all time the exactness of the holy sacrifice of the Mass to be said in the mother tongue of the Church. To quote his instruction: "[I]t shall be unlawful henceforth and forever throughout the Christian world to sing or to read Masses according to any formula other than that of this Missal published by Us; ..." Another: "… which shall have the force of law in perpetuity, We order and enjoin under pain of Our displeasure that nothing be added to Our newly published Missal, nothing omitted therefrom, and nothing whatsoever altered therein." Another: "In the case of those resident in other parts of the world it shall be excommunication 'latae sententiae' and all other penalties at Our discretion ..." Finally: "Should any person venture to do so, let him understand that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul." In the light of the foregoing: 1) Can an ancient papal bull be amended, changed, modified, abrogated, etc., by future popes? If yes, then what are the conditions? 2) Is the Mass of Pope Paul VI licit and valid? -- A.D., Carindale, Australia
A: A papal bull (from "bolla," the leaden seal attached to the document) is a solemn instrument that popes use for various questions such as doctrinal decisions, canonizations, disciplinary questions, jubilees and the like. Only occasionally have they been used for the liturgy.
A bull's influence on later popes depends on the nature of its content and not the legal force of the document as such.
Thus a bull such as "Ineffabilis Deus" through which Blessed Pius IX defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854 is a definitive and irreformable act.
Other bulls may contain a mixture of doctrinal and disciplinary matters. An example would be Pius IV's 1564 document "Dominici Gregis Custodiae" containing the rules for forbidding books, among which was the norm that reading a translation of the Old Testament was restricted to learned and pious men with permission from the bishop.
Such norms are evidently tied to the circumstances of time and place and may be adjusted, attenuated or abrogated by future popes as situations change.
St. Pius V's bull "Quo Primum" is above all a legal document although it also contains some doctrinal elements. As such it is not intended to be definitive in the same way as a doctrinal definition would be and would not bind St. Pius V himself or future popes if they decided to further fine-tune the missal.
The saintly Pope's concern was to ensure as much unity as possible for the liturgy in a time when such unity was sorely needed. Even so, the same bull contains a clause exempting any Church which had its own ordo more than 200 years old. Many local Churches could have availed of this concession but most preferred to adopt the new missal for practical reasons.
Some religious orders and some dioceses such as Lyon in France and Milan in Italy did opt to legitimately maintain their own rite. Thus expressions such as "it shall be unlawful henceforth and forever throughout the Christian world to sing or to read Masses according to any formula other than that of this Missal published by Us" cannot be interpreted in an absolutely literal sense.
Likewise, legal expressions such as "which shall have the force of law in perpetuity, We order and enjoin under pain of Our displeasure that nothing be added to Our newly published Missal, nothing omitted therefrom, and nothing whatsoever altered therein" cannot be literally interpreted as binding on possible later actions of Pope St. Pius V or upon his successors. The strictures fall only upon those who act without due authority.
If it were otherwise, then Pope St. Pius V would have excommunicated himself a couple of years after publishing "Quo Primum" when he added the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary to the missal following the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, not to mention Pope Clement XI who canonized Pius V in 1712, thus altering the missal.
Among the many other Popes who would have thus incurred "the wrath of Almighty God and of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul" would have been St. Pius X for reforming the calendar, Pius XI who added the first new preface in centuries for the feast of Christ the King, Pius XII for completely revamping the rites of Holy Week as well as simplifying the rubrics, and Blessed John XXIII for adding St. Joseph's name to the Roman Canon.
Certainly, the reform undertaken under the Servant of God Pope Paul VI ranged more widely than anything done under earlier Popes since St. Pius V. But Paul VI acted with the same papal authority as all of them.
As the Roman proverb goes: "Popes die, the Pope never." Each individual pontiff -- saint or sinner though he be -- holds the same authority, granted by Christ, to bind and loose, forgive or retain, so that the Lord's flock may be fed through the centuries.
It is for this reason that, except in matters of faith and morals, a pope's disciplinary decrees in matters such as the non-essential elements of liturgical rites are never "set in stone" and can be changed by a subsequent Supreme Pontiff whenever he believes that the duty of feeding Christ's flock requires it.
Finally, the answer to the second question should be already clear, the so-called Mass of Paul VI is both valid and licit.