Throughout the unprecedented crisis of Faith caused by post-Vatican II progressivist novelties, countless Catholics worldwide have rightly clung to the Traditional Latin Liturgy. They have always based the right to adhere to the Old Mass not only on the liturgy's sacred status of immemorial custom, but also on the Papal Bull Quo Primum of St. Pius V which solemnly proclaimed that the Latin Tridentine Mass could never be forbidden, and that all priests and faithful will always have the right to avail themselves of this liturgy.
In October of 1997, Msgr. Perl from the Ecclesia Dei Commission challenged this truth. In a letter to a Catholic in America, Perl wrote that "the legal basis for the celebration of the traditional Latin Mass today does not derive from the Bull Quo Primum, but from the documents Quattuor abhinc annos (1984) and Ecclesia Dei (1988) which were issued under the initiative of Pope John Paul II..."
In truth, Pope Paul VI never officially and unambiguously revoked Quo Primum. Also, as will be demonstrated, the Tridentine Mass has never been suppressed.
In light of all this, it seems opportune to reprint the following article from the August, 1995 issue of Catholic Family News.
In the spring of 1989, a report appeared in the June/July issue of The Fatima Crusader stating that a Papal Commission of nine Cardinals determined that the Traditional Mass has never been suppressed.
The report declared that in 1986, the Holy Father appointed a commission of nine Cardinals to examine the legal status of the traditional rite of Mass, commonly known as the "Tridentine Mass". The commission of Cardinals included Cardinals Ratzinger, Mayer, Oddi, Stickler, Casaroli, Gantin, Innocenti, Palaz-zini, and Tomko was instructed to examine two questions:
1) Did Pope Paul VI authorize the bishops to forbid the celebration of the traditional Mass?
2) Does the priest have the right to celebrate the traditional Mass in public and in private without restriction, even against the will of his bishop?
The Commission, the account stated, unanimously determined that Pope Paul VI never gave the bishops the authority to forbid priests from celebrating the traditional rite of Mass.
Regarding the second question: The Commission stated that priests cannot be obligated to celebrate the new rite of Mass; the bishops cannot forbid or place restrictions on the celebration of the traditional rite of Mass whether in public or in private.
The Commission also recommended that the Pope issue a Papal decree based on the Commission's findings and it was the Pope's intention to issue this decree in November of 1988, but the decree was never issued, due to pressure placed on the Pope from opposing Cardinals.
Not long after this, another reputable Catholic journal published a letter from Monsignor Perl from the Ecclesia Dei Commission in Rome. The letter was worded in such a way that it cast doubt on the legitimacy of the report regarding the Nine Cardinal commission. In response, the Winter 1989, issue of The Fatima Crusader published a competent rebuttle to Msgr. Perl's letter. Despite this, for some, a lingering uncertainty remained.
On May 20, 1995 at the Christi Fidelis conference in Fort Lee, New Jersey, Alfons Cardinal Stickler gave an address entitled "The Theological Attractiveness of the Tridentine Mass". During the question and answer session after his speech, His Eminence was asked about the Nine Cardinal Commission of 1986 regarding the Tridentine Mass.
It is worth noting that the questions and answers were written down. The Cardinal was free to choose the questions he wanted to answer and he chose to reply to this one.
His Eminence began his remarks by recounting an incident where Eric de Saventhem (former head of Una Voce in Europe) asked explicitly if the Tridentine Mass had ever been forbidden. Cardinal Benelli never answered ... not yes, not no. Cardinal Stickler explained that Benelli "... couldn't say 'yes he (the Pope) forbade it'. He can't forbid a Mass that has been used not only for centuries, but has been the Mass of thousands and thousands of Saints and Faithful." The Cardinal continued, "the difficulty was that he (the Pope) could not forbid it, but at the same time, he wanted that the new Mass be said ... be accepted. And so, he could only say 'I want that the new Mass be said'."
Cardinal Stickler then addressed the issue of the Commission. He related, "Pope John Paul II asked a commission of nine Cardinals in 1986 two questions:
First, "Did Pope Paul VI or any other competent authority legally forbid the widespread celebration of the Tridentine Mass in the present day?"
The Cardinal explained, "I can answer because I was one of the Cardinals."
He continued, "the answers given by the nine Cardinals in 1986 was 'No, the Mass of Saint Pius V (Tridentine Mass) has never been suppressed'."
The Cardinal also confirmed the incident regarding the Papal decree.
He related that of this commission of nine Cardinals, eight Cardinals were in favor, and one was against, a general permission to be drawn up making it clear that everyone could choose the old Mass as well as the new.
The Cardinal explained that the Pope seemed willing to promulgate this sort of announcement, but a few National Episcopal conferences who found out about the "danger" of this permission, came to the Pope and said "this should not be absolutely allowed because it would be the occasion or the cause of controversy in the people of God -- in the faithful themselves ... one against the other, and so on." Cardinal Stickler explained that in the face of this argument, the Pope abstained from signing this decree.
In answer to the second question, "Can any bishop forbid any priest in good standing from celebrating the Tridentine Mass?", Cardinal Stickler replied, "the nine Cardinals unanimously agreed that no bishop may forbid a Catholic priest from saying the Tridentine Mass."
After stating this, it would seem that His Eminence wished to make a few qualifying remarks about the authority and jurisdiction of bishops in the diocese, perhaps so as not to be accused of inciting widespread disregard of diocesan ordinaries. However, the fact remains that Cardinal Stickler confirmed that the nine Cardinals concluded that the Latin Tridentine Mass had never been officially forbidden, and that no priest can be forbidden by his bishop to celebrate the Traditional Rite of Mass.
1. We hope to have more on this in upcoming issues of CFN.
2. For a complete transcript of this lecture, see the July 1995 issue of the Catholic Family News, or the Catholic Family News Reprint entitled "The Theological Attractiveness of the Tridentine Mass" by Cardinal Stickler; order reprint #12, price $1.75 US.
3. The entire question and answer session regarding this and other topics from the Cardinals conference are available on two cassettes from Oltyn Library Services, 2316 Delaware Ave, PMB 325, Buffalo, NY 14216 for $10.00 post paid.