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Celebration of old rite: Holy See responds to questions presented by bishops

A letter from the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship to the Episcopal Conferences accompanies the publication of responses to queries received from the local Churches regarding the application of the Motu proprio “Traditionis custodes” that went into effect last July.

by Vatican News

Eleven dubia, have been raised regarding the application of the Motu proprio Traditionis custodes through which in July 2021 Pope Francis promulgated new norms regarding the use of the liturgical books in use prior to the reform enacted by the Second Vatican Council. Published today on the Congregation for Divine Worship’s web site are those dubia received from the Bishops and the Dicastery's responsa to the most recurring questions approved by the Pope that clarify some points of the Motu proprio. Each response is accompanied by explanations. 

The dubia and responsa are themselves accompanied by a letter to the presidents of the Episcopal Conferences from the Prefect of the Congregation, Archbishop Arthur Roche, who explains the direction taken: “Every prescribed norm has always the sole purpose of preserving the gift of ecclesial communion by walking together, with conviction of mind and heart, in the direction indicated by the Holy Father".

Parish churches

The first question concerns the possibility of celebrating the pre-Conciliar rite in a parish church should there be no other possibility of locating a church, oratory or chapel for a group of faithful that celebrate using the 1962 Missal. This possibility is excluded by the Motu proprio to emphasize that the celebration of the Mass with the previously-used rite is a concession limited to these groups and is not part of the ordinary life of the parish community.

The response is affirmative, but only if the impossibility of using another church, oratory or chapel has been ascertained and without inserting the celebration in the parish Mass schedule. In addition, celebrations must not occur simultaneously with other pastoral activities of the parish. These directions, the response explains, are not intended to marginalise the faithful who frequent the old rite, but rather serve as a reminder that it “is a concession to provide for their good”, and not “an opportunity to promote the previous rite” no longer in force.

Use of the old rite for the sacraments

The second dubium concerns the possibility of celebrating not only the Eucharist (with the 1962 Missale Romanum which is the object of the concession), but also the other sacraments provided for by the Rituale Romanum (the last editio typica is dated 1952) and the Pontificale Romanum used prior to the liturgical reform. First of all, the response recalls that the Rituale Romanum contains the sacraments of Baptism, Penance, Matrimony, Anointing of the Sick and rites such as funerals; while the Pontificale Romanum concerns those sacraments presided over by a Bishop – Confirmation and Ordination.

The response is negative. In fact, the authority of the Holy See holds that to progress in the direction indicated by Pope Francis, permission to use abrogated liturgical books should not be granted and that the faithful should be accompanied “towards a full understanding of the value of the celebration in the ritual form” flowing from the liturgical reform.

There are, however, some important distinctions. The responsum specifies that it would be possible to use the former Rituale only in “canonically erected personal parishes”, that is, exclusively in those parishes already designated by the Bishop and dedicated to the faithful who frequent the former rite.

However, even in these parishes it is not permitted to use the Pontificale for Confirmation or Ordination. The reason for the prohibition regarding confirmation is that this sacrament was modified by Pope Saint Paul VI and, therefore, it is not held opportune to resort to the abolished rite, given that it underwent substantial changes.


Another query concerns the possibility of granting permission to use the old Missal to those Priests who do not recognise the validity or legitimacy of concelebrating and who, therefore, refuse to concelebrate the Chrism Mass with the Bishop on Holy Thursday.

The response is negative. However, prior to revoking the concession, the Bishop is asked “to establish a fraternal dialogue with the Priest, to ascertain that this attitude does not exclude the validity and legitimacy of the liturgical reform” of the Second Vatican Council and the magisterium of the Supreme Pontiffs. Prior to revoking the concession, the Bishop should offer the Priest the necessary time for a “sincere discussion”, inviting him to participate in the concelebration.

Readings from authorised translations

To the question if it is possible to choose the Scripture passages indicated in the old Missal from a complete Bible text, the Holy See responded yes.

The old Missal, in addition to containing the rite of the Mass, also contained the text of the Readings. It was after the reform that the Missal (containing the rubrics and prayers) was separated from the Lectionary (containing the texts from Sacred Scripture for the Readings). Since Pope Francis’ Motu proprio prescribed that the Latin Readings contained in the old Missal were always to be proclaimed in the vernacular language of each country, the use of a translation of the Bible approved by the individual Episcopal Conferences for use in the liturgy was approved. What is not authorised, on the other hand, is the publication of a true and proper ‘Lectionary’ in the vernacular language with the cycle of Readings provided for in the old rite.

Holy See’s “yes” needed to authorise Priests

A fifth query concerns the ‘consultation’ of the Holy See required by the Bishop prior to responding affirmatively to a Priest ordained after 16 July 2021 who desires to celebrate the old rite. The response explains that in this case, the concession granted must be authorised by the Holy See.

This clarification was necessary because the Italian and English versions of Pope Francis’ Motu proprio state that prior to granting the authorisation, the Bishops was to “consult the Apostolic See” (Art. 4). In the official version of the document, the Latin text states that prior to any concession granted to a new Priest the Bishop must receive the necessary authorisation from Rome.

The Congregation for Divine Worship encourages all seminary formators to accompany future Deacons and Priests to "understanding and experience of the richness of the liturgical reform".

Period of time and territory

To the query regarding whether a Bishop may grant permission to use the old Missal for a specific period of time, so as to reserve the possibility of an evaluation, the Holy See responds affirmatively. It also responds in the affirmative to the question of whether the concession is restricted to the territory of the Bishop’s diocese.

In the responsum to another dubium, it is specified that in the case of the absence of the authorised Priest, the substituting Priest must also have received a formal authorisation to use the old Missal. Authorisation is also required for the Deacons and other instituted ministers who participate in the celebration of the pre-Conciliar Mass.

Celebrating two Masses on the same day

The tenth and eleventh queries concern the possibility of “bination” (the celebration of two Masses on the same day by the same Priest). In the first case, on weekdays, a parish Priest or chaplain is not authorised to celebrate the new rite with members of the faithful, and then to celebrate the Mass again with the old rite either with an assembly or in private. Celebrating two Masses on weekdays is granted only for pastoral reasons, which do not exist in this case, since the faithful have the possibility of participating in the Eucharist celebrated according to the Missal flowing from the post-Conciliar reform.

Finally, the Congregation responds to the question whether a Priest authorised to use the old Missal can celebrate two Masses for two separate groups on the same day using that Missal. The response is in the negative. This does not constitute a “just cause” or a “pastoral necessity”, since the faithful have the possibility of participating in the Eucharist in the current ritual form.

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18 December 2021, 12:00