Correspondence with and regarding the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, 1988-1992.


1. The following is an unofficial English translation of a rescript from an audience, found originally in AAS 82 (1990): 533-534:

Because the particular work which has been entrusted to the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei requires certain acts which go beyond the usual order of law, the President of the same Pontifical Commission, after listening to the Moderators of the concerned Dicasteries, humbly requested from the Supreme Pontiff certain faculties which need to be employed. These are:

1. The faculty of granting to all those who seek it the use of the Roman Missal according to the typical edition which came into effect in 1962, and also according to the norms which have already been proposed by the cardinals’ commission which was established for the same end in December 1986; the diocesan bishop is to be informed;

2. a) The faculty of dispensing, according to the norm of the apostolic letter Ecclesia Dei given motu proprio, from the irregularities enumerated in c. 1044, §1, 1° and 2°;

b) The faculty of radically sanating marriages which are null because of the form required by c. 1108 and which were celebrated in the presence of those same priests;

3. a) The faculty of erecting “The Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter” to a clerical society of apostolic life of pontifical right, observing those particular notes given motu proprio in the apostolic letter Ecclesia Dei, n. 6a., and the faculty of approving the constitutions of the same society;

b) The faculty of erecting a Seminary of “The Fraternity of Saint Peter” in Wigratzbad in the diocese of Augsburg with the prior consent of the diocesan bishop;

4. The faculty of canonically erecting into institutes of consecrated life or into societies of apostolic life, communities which already in fact exist and which are obligated to the previous liturgical forms and disciplines of the Latin tradition, after the Prefect of the Congregation for Consecrated Life and Secular Institutes has been consulted;

5. The faculty of erecting associations of the faithful of the same mentality which may become institutes of consecrated life or

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societies of apostolic life, after a suitable preparation and the customary experimental period have been completed;

6. The faculty of exercising the authority of the Holy See in these same societies and associations until other provisions are made.

The Supreme Pontiff, in an audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei on October 18, 1988, has deemed it worthy to concede kindly the faculties recounted above and he has ordered that they be communicated to those concerned.

Given at Rome, at St. Peter’s, on October 18, 1988.




2. The next item is a letter from Cardinal Mayer to the bishops about the nature and history of Ecclesia Dei.

Prot. No. 500/90

I write to you as a brother in the episcopal college charged by the Holy Father to carry out the provisions of his apostolic letter Ecclesia Dei of 2 July 1988. My objective in addressing myself to you now is precisely to encourage you in the exercise of your pastoral mission to those who legitimately request the celebration of Holy Mass according to the 1962 typical edition of the Roman Missal.

Perhaps a review of developments which led to the issuance of Ecclesia Dei would be helpful in this regard.

1. On 3 October 1984 the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship issued Quattuor abhinc annos in which the Holy Father granted to diocesan bishops “the possibility of using an indult whereby priests and faithful ... may be able to celebrate Mass by using the Roman Missal according to the 1962 edition.” The following conditions were stipulated:

a) that those requesting the permission do not “call into question the legitimacy and doctrinal exactitude of the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970”;

b) that such celebrations take place only for groups requesting them, not in parish churches (except with the bishop’s permission in extraordinary cases) and under conditions laid down by the bishop;

c) that “these celebrations must be according to the 1962 Missal and in Latin”;

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d) that there “be no interchanging of texts and rites of the two Missals”; and

e) that “each bishop had to inform the Congregation of the concessions granted by him, and, at the end of a year from the granting of this indult, he must report on the result of its application.”

2. A special Commissio Cardinalitia ad hoc ipsum instituta charged with reviewing the use made of the indult met in December of 1986. At that same time the cardinals unanimously agreed that the conditions laid down in Quattuor abhinc annos were too restrictive and should be relaxed.

3. As you well know, in response to the illicit ordination of bishops at Ecône on 30 June 1988 and wishing to uphold the principles which had been established in the previous and unfortunately unfruitful dialogue with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, the Holy Father issued Ecclesia Dei motu proprio on 2 July 1988.

While insisting that the root of the schismatic act of Archbishop Lefebvre lies in an “incomplete and contradictory notion of Tradition ”which fails to “take sufficiently into account the living character of Tradition” (n. 4), he also maintained with equal firmness that “it is necessary that all the Pastors and the other faithful have a new awareness, not only of the lawfulness but also of the richness for the Church of a diversity of charisms, traditions of spirituality and apostolate” (n. 5a).

Consequently addressing himself “to all those Catholic faithful who feel attached to some previous liturgical and disciplinary forms of the Latin tradition,” and not just to the former adherents of Archbishop Lefebvre, he expressed his will “to guarantee respect for their rightful aspirations” (n. 5c). In order to provide for these legitimate desires of the faithful he established this Pontifical Commission and indicated his mind with regard to its primary task by stating: “respect must everywhere be 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 sometime ago by the Apostolic See for the use of the Roman Missal according to the typical edition (n. 6c).”

Consequently, Your Excellency, we wish to encourage you to facilitate the proper and reverent celebration of the liturgical rites according to the Roman Missal of 1962 wherever there is a genuine desire for this on the part of priests and faithful. This should not be construed as a promotion of that Missal in prejudice to the one promulgated eight years later, but

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simply a pastoral provision to meet “the rightful aspirations” of those who wish to worship according to the Latin tradition as celebrated for centuries.

In the light of our Holy Father’s motu proprio, then, we offer the following guidelines and suggestions:

1. There is no reason now why the so-called “Tridentine” Mass cannot be celebrated in a parish church where this would be a genuine pastoral service to the faithful asking for it. Care should be taken, of course, for a harmonious integration into the already existing parish liturgical structure.

2. The regularity and frequency of the celebration of this liturgy, whether to be celebrated on Sundays, Holy Days, and/or weekdays will depend on the needs of the faithful. Our recommendation is that, in places where the faithful have made a request for the regular celebration for the Mass according to the 1962 Roman Missal, a weekly Sunday and Holy Day Mass be scheduled in a central location and at a convenient time on a trial basis for a period of several months. Afterwards further evaluation and adjustment could be made.

3. Of course the celebrants of the “Tridentine” Mass should not fail in their preaching and contacts with the faithful attending such Masses to emphasize their own adherence to the legislation of the universal Church and their acknowledgement of the doctrinal and juridical value of the liturgy as revised after the Second Vatican Council. Under such conditions, it would seem unnecessary, even unduly painful, to impose further restrictions upon those who wish to attend such celebrations.

The very fact that, avoiding the possibilities offered by schismatic groups, they wish to come to celebrations authorized by the bishop of the diocese may be considered to be a sign of good will and desire of full ecclesial communion.

4. Although the Holy Father has given this Pontifical Commission the faculty to grant the use of the 1962 typical edition of the Roman Missal to all those who request it while the Commission informs the appropriate ordinary thereof, we would much prefer that such faculties be granted by the ordinary himself for the sake of strengthening the bond of ecclesial communion between those priests and faithful and their local Pastors.

5. Following the “wide and generous application” of the principles laid down in Quattuor abhinc annos and the directives of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, nn. 51 and 54), the new Lectionary in the vernacular could be used as a way of “providing a richer fare for the faithful

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at the table of God’s Word” in Masses celebrated according to the 1962 Missal. However, we believe that this usage should not be imposed on congregations who decidedly wish to maintain the former liturgical tradition in its integrity according to the provision of the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei. Such an imposition might also be less likely to invite back to full communion with the Church at this time those who have lapsed into schismatic worship.

6. Since a number of older and retired priests who have a deep appreciation of the previous Latin liturgical tradition have approached their individual ordinaries as well as this Pontifical Commission to obtain the celebret for the use of the 1962 Missal, it would seem particularly suitable to utilize the services of such priests where possible for the celebration of this Mass. It may well be discovered that even retired priests who have not requested this faculty would nonetheless be willing to provide this special form of pastoral care for those who request it.

Finally, Your Excellency, it is my sincere desire that this fraternal letter will be for us who are members of the episcopal college an incentive to exercise that munus episcopale described so beautifully in Lumen gentium 23:

Individual bishops, insofar as they are set over particular Churches, exercise their pastoral office over the portion of the people of God assigned to them, not over other Churches nor the Church universal. But insofar as they are members of the episcopal college and legitimate successors of the apostles, by Christ’s arrangement and decree, each is bound to have such care and solicitude for the whole Church which, though it be not exercised by an act of jurisdiction, does for all that redound in an eminent degree to the advantage of the universal Church. For all the bishops have the obligation of fostering and safeguarding the unity of the faith and of upholding the discipline which is common to the whole Church.

I am pleased to avail myself of this opportunity to extend my best wishes to you in your shepherding of the flock entrusted to your care and to assure you of my willing collaboration that in all circumstances God may be glorified in the worship of His Holy Church.

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3. Finally, there is an example of how the Pontifical Commission dealt with an irregular chapel in a Midwestern diocese which had celebrated the Tridentine rite illicitly.

A bishop in the Midwest received the following letters from the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei regarding the celebration of the Tridentine Mass and catechetical instruction at an irregular chapel within his see. This chapel had been founded by a retired diocesan pastor (since deceased) some twenty years ago and serviced by extern priests over the years, none of whom enjoyed the pastoral mandate of the local bishop. A board of lay trustees administers the chapel and hires the extern priest to serve the community which regularly attends and supports the chapel. The following letters represent the latest stage in reconciling the community within the diocese. This stage is the culmination of three years of dialogue between the local bishop and the Pontifical Commission. The dialogue was initiated by the chapel’s board and its present extern priest with this letter of 6 September 1991 [English originals]:




Thank you for your letter of 5 August 1991 addressed to His Eminence Cardinal Mayer. You may have learned in the meantime of Cardinal Mayer’s retirement from the presidency of this Pontifical Commission as of 1 July 1991 at which time I succeeded him.

Subsequent to Cardinal Mayer’s letter to you of 28 June 1991, we received the letter of Father Isidore and the Board of Trustees of Our Lady of the Snows Chapel dated 19 June 1991. We are aware that your Excellency also received a copy of that letter.

Given the declaration contained in that letter that Father Isidore and the Board “see no reason ... to continue the dialogue” which they had begun, we have been left with no alternative but to revoke the celebret for the use of the 1962 Roman Missal issued by this commission on 8 April 1989 as a sign of good will on the part of the Holy See and as an interim measure to facilitate the regularization of Father Isidore and the community which constitutes Our Lady of the Snows Chapel.

While we have done this only with the greatest reluctance, we recognize that it will be necessary for Your Excellency to make this fact known in the Diocese of Urbs Sapientiae so that it will be clear that Father Isidore and Our Lady of the Snows Chapel do not enjoy the “full approval of Rome.”

Enclosed herewith you will find a letter which we are sending to Father Isidore and the Board of Trustees of Our Lady of the Snows Chapel together with a copy for yourself. If you have any difficulties with what is contained therein, please let us know. Otherwise, we ask you to see that it is transmitted to them at the earliest convenience.

Let us pray that this action may not be seen as an ultimate rejection, but rather may help to bring about eventual reconciliation, healing and peace.

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The following is the letter of the Pontifical Commission to Father Isidore and the Board of Trustees of Our Lady of the Snows Chapel, written on 6 September 1991:




Dear Father Isidore and Members of the Board of Trustees:

Thank you for your response of 19 June 1991 to the letter sent to you by His Eminence Cardinal Mayer on 4 May of this year. You may have learned subsequently of Cardinal Mayer’s retirement from the presidency of this Pontifical Commission as of 1 July 1991 at which time I succeeded him.

I appreciate that your response was made “after many prayers, careful thought, and discussion.” I also appreciate your zeal for upholding the fullness of Catholic faith of which the so-called “Tridentine” Mass is a genuine expression. I nonetheless regret that you have chosen to single out aberrations and abuses in liturgy and teaching as if these have become the recognized norm of Catholic life and worship.

I must emphasize, as did Cardinal Mayer, that “this Pontifical Commission does not have competence in the matter of religious education, but that we would be prepared to represent the concerns of the people of Our Lady of the Snows in this regard if they would begin a dialogue in good faith with the Diocese of Urbs Sapientiae.” We are disappointed that you have not thus far seen fit to trust us or the bishop of Urbs Sapientiae in this most important matter.

It seems at this time that the issue of religious education is more at the heart of your concerns than the rites of the Church. While we respect and applaud your congregation’s concern for the integrity of the Catholic faith and its being handed on intact, we believe that it is very hazardous to propose yourselves as the ultimate arbiters of sound doctrine. Among other things you state that “[w]hen the universal catechism, to be issued by Rome, is available, we are willing to consider it as a model for catechesis.” Does this imply that you also reserve the right to ignore it? You also state that “[o]ur good will has been shown by the concessions that have been offered to the Diocese of Urbs Sapientiae, none of which have been considered.” What are these “concessions”? Would it not be wise to remember that it is your community which approached this Pontifical Commission seeking regularization?

We deeply regret that you have declared that “[w]e see no reason, at this time, to continue the dialogue which we initiated.” Unfortunately, by asserting this so unequivocally, you constrain us to take the action mentioned by Cardinal Mayer in his last letter to you. Hence, we hereby revoke the celebret for the use of the 1962 Roman Missal issued by this Commission on 8 April 1989 as a sign of good will on the part of the Holy See and as an interim measure to facilitate the regularization of Father Isidore and the community which constitutes Our Lady of the Snows Chapel.

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From the perspective of sound ecclesiology, this Pontifical Commission cannot allow itself to be perceived as upholding a position of independence from the authority of the local bishop as well as the Apostolic See itself. You cannot maintain that you have an “unswerving loyalty to the Holy See” while at the same time you refuse to cooperate with the organism which our Holy Father has designated as competent to deal with your situation.

We pray that you may humbly and trustfully submit yourselves to the authority of the Church and take up in good faith once again the dialogue which you initiated.




Pont. Comm. Ecclesia Dei, On the Nature, History, and Praxis of the Commission, RRAO (1992): 23-33. See Origins 21 (1991-1992): 144-145.