Since Vatican II, faithful Catholics with some brave clergy fought for the restoration of the Traditional Latin Mass, and its accompanying rites. These heroic efforts led to the Vatican to allowing for a partial restoration of the Traditional Latin Mass, and the faithful’s right to it – a struggle that continues to this day.
As a service to the faithful, the Charlotte Latin Mass Community provides a list of the primary Vatican documents affecting the Traditional Latin Mass since 1969. The list is not exhaustive, and more links can be found at the Latin Mass Society of the United Kingdom’s website. We are also grateful for their resources linked below.
1969 – Cardinal Ottaviani’s Intervention: Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani was the former head of the Holy Office (Now the Congregation of Doctrine and Faith), and in 1969, shortly before the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Mass, offered a critique and warning to Pope Paul VI that the Novus Ordo Mass was a “striking departure” from Catholic theology formed at the Council of Trent, and encouraged Pope Paul VI to allow the Church to have recourse to the Traditional Latin Mass (e.g. the Mass of Pope St. Pius V, the Tridentine Mass):
1971 – The Heenan Indult (e.g. Agatha Christie Indult of the UK): Shortly after the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Mass, a group of 60 notable British citizens, including some non-Catholics such as Agatha Christie and Malcom Muggeridge wrote to Pope Paul VI about the importance of the Traditional Latin Mass, and its impact on Western civilization. The letter asked the Holy Father to allow for the Traditional Latin Mass’s survival. The Letter was delivered to the Holy Father by British Cardinal John Heenan. In response the Vatican permitted an indult (permission), for the dioceses of England and Wales to allow its priests offer the Traditional Latin Mass (technically approval was for the transitional 1965 Missal but it essentially paved the way for the 1962 Missal).
http://www.traditio.com/tradlib/agatha.txt (Agatha Christie Letter)
1984 – Quattuor Abhinc Annos (Worldwide Indult): In the early 1980s, in response to the growing effort of laity and clergy to restore access to the Traditional Latin Mass (and the growing resistance to the Novus Ordo Mass), the Vatican surveyed bishops about the Traditional Latin Mass “problem”. In October 1984, Pope St. John Paul II seeing that the desire for the Traditional Latin Mass remained, the Congregation for Divine Worship issued a worldwide indult to meet the faithful’s desire to worship according to the 1962 Missal. The Latin Mass would be permitted only with a bishop’s permission.
1988 – Ecclesia Dei: In response to the June 1988 unauthorized ordinations of bishops by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre of the Society of Pius X, a group of priests from the Society, who still desired to exclusively offered the Traditional Latin Mass, approached Pope St. John Paul II and expressed their desire to remain in full communion with Rome. In reply, the Holy Father issued the July 1988 Motu Proprio (Papal Initiative), Ecclesia Dei, which called for a commission to facilitate the establishment of priestly and religious institutes devoted to the liturgical books of 1962 so these priests could live out their priesthood and religious life according to the liturgical books of 1962 (Traditional Latin Mass). This commission is known as the Ecclesia Dei Commission.
The document also recognized the spiritual desires of those preferring to worship according to the Traditional Latin Mass and encouraged all bishops to generously permit the Traditional Latin Mass:
Moreover, respect must everywhere by shown for the feelings of all those who are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition by a wide and generous application of the directives already issued some time ago by the Apostolic See for the use of the Roman Missal according to the typical edition of 1962.
Other Vatican Decrees of 1988: Earlier, in May 1988, the Holy See and Society of Pius X signed an agreement arranging the full communion of the Society back into the Church. However, this document was renounced by the Society shortly before its founder, Archbishop Lefebvre, ordained bishops without papal authorization on June 30, 1988. The excommunication of Archbishop Lefebvre and the four bishops he ordained resulted in Pope John Paul II publishing of the Motu Proprio, Ecclesia Dei on July 2, 1988.
Consequently, 12 priests of the Society of Pius X, wishing to maintain full communion, approached Pope John Paul II who approved their establishing the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, a society of apostolic life of priests which exclusively offer the Traditional Latin Mass, in full communion with Rome.
Additionally, as declared in Ecclesia Dei, the Vatican established the Ecclesia Dei Commission to help facilitate other tradionalist priests and religious live their vocations in communion with the Holy See, and to assist bishops in satisfying the needs of the laity who request the Traditional Latin Mass.
- Protocol between the Holy See and the Priestly Society of St. Pius X
- Act of Foundation of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter
- Declaration of the Ecclesia Dei Commission
- Decree of the Ecclesia Dei Commission concerning the liturgical books of 1962
2007 – Summorum Pontifcum: Despite 23 years of growth after the worldwide indult of 1984, access to the Traditional Latin Mass remained restricted in many places – notably from bishops who refused to permit the Traditional Latin Mass in their diocese, or prevented priests who tried to offer it. To remedy this, and to promote greater access and offerings of the Traditional Latin Mass, Pope Benedict XVI, in July 2007, issued a new Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum, which replaced the 1984 indult (requiring a bishop’s permission), with a new structure, which among other things granted that:
- The Traditional Latin Mass was never abrogated (rescinded or banned)
- “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful”
- Religious Orders had authority to choose to worship according to the Traditional Latin Mass
- A stable group of faithful has a right to ask their pastor for a Traditional Latin Mass at their parish.
- If the pastor or bishop does not meet their needs, the laity could ask the Vatican’s assistance, through the Pontifical Commission of Ecclesia Dei
https://lms.org.uk/letter-to-the-bishops-summorum-pontificum (letter to Bishops accompanying Summorum Pontificum)
2008 – Decree Remitting the excommunication “latae sententiae” of the bishops of the Society of St. Pius X: In December 2008, the Pope Benedict removed the 1988 excommunications on the 4 bishops ordained by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre – done to help facilitate bringing the Society into full communion:
- Decree: https://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cbishops/documents/rc_con_cbishops_doc_20090121_remissione-scomunica_en.html
- Letter by Pope Benedict explaining the decree – March 2009: https://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/letters/2009/documents/hf_ben-xvi_let_20090310_remissione-scomunica.html
2011 – Universae Ecclesiae (Instructions on carrying out of Summorum Pontificum): To help provide clarification on many questions that arose after the issuing of Summorum Pontificum in 2007, the Pontifical Commission of Ecclesia Dei issued new instructions and clarity:
2015 – Jubilee of Mercy Letter: Pope Francis, for the Year of Mercy, granted priests of the Society of Pius X faculties to hear confession, without a local bishop’s permission:
2016 – Misericordia et Misera (#12): Pope Francis indefinitely extended his 2015 decree that gave priests of the Society of Pius X, faculties to hear confessions throughout the Church:
2017 – Letter of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei on Celebration of Marriages to the faithful of the Society of St. Pius X: In an effort to help regularize the Society of Pius X into full communion with the Church, Pope Francis, granted bishops the ability to grant faculties to Society priests who wish to confer the sacrament of Matrimony:
Certain that in this way any uneasiness of conscience on the part of the faithful who adhere to the Society of St. Pius X as well as any uncertainty regarding the validity of the sacrament of marriage may be alleviated, and at the same time that the process towards full institutional regularization may be facilitated, this Dicastery relies on Your cooperation.
2019 – Motu Proprio on the Pontifical Commission of Ecclesia Dei: Pope Francis issues decree that since the differences between the Church and Society of Pius X are over doctrinal, and no longer liturgical issues, the Pontifical Commission of Ecclesia Dei (established in 1988), would be decommissioned and its issues would addressed by the Congregation of Doctrine and Faith:
2021 – Traditionis Custodes Motu Proprio on the Use of the Roman Liturgy Prior to the Reform of 1970. Pope Francis issues letter trying to restrict the Traditional Latin Mass under certain conditions:
Letter accompanying Tradionis Custodes: https://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/2021/07/urgent-anti-summorum-motu-proprio.html