The Misleading "Standard Formula" in Quo Primum Tempore

I hope no one minds my starting a new thread based on the question of whether Quo Primum Tempore is binding, but I’d like to focus on a particular point that came up.

Most of you know that Quo Primum Tempore includes the following:

…in virtue of Our Apostolic authority, We grant and concede in perpetuity that, for the chanting or reading of the Mass in any church whatsoever, this Missal is hereafter to be followed absolutely, without any scruple of conscience or fear of incurring any penalty, judgment, or censure, and may freely and lawfully be used. Nor are superiors, administrators, canons, chaplains, and other secular priests, or religious, of whatever title designated, obliged to celebrate the Mass otherwise than as enjoined by Us. We likewise declare and ordain that no one whosoever is forced or coerced to alter this Missal, and that this present document cannot be revoked or modified, but remain always valid and retain its full force …

Suggesting very strongly that Pope Pius V intended to do just what the bull says: establish the mass of the Roman Rite in perpetuity. But, it is claimed that this is a disciplinary law and therefore can be changed.

One poster offered commentary attributed to Rev. Anthony Cekada, which includes the following:

it was a disciplinary Bull (establishing a church law), yes, another pope could change it.
The language was simply a standard formula in church legislation that referred to one of the qualities a law is supposed to have: stability…
No pope who used “perpetuity” in his disciplinary decrees understood the term to mean that no future pope could ever amend or replace his legislation.

I’ve mulled this over for a few days now, and I’m finding it more and more difficult to believe. One of the things I admire about older Church documents that I’m familiar with (Contemporary writings are more infected with political correctness. Feelings must not be hurt, you know.) is how direct and concise they are. Writers say what they mean and mean what they say. If all Pope Pius meant, or had the right to do, was to remind authorities of their obligation to exercise due caution when altering the liturgy, and I would say VII failed to do that, but that’s another problem, why not just say that?

Can people point me to anything that indicates that this sort of wording is merely a “standard formula”, or to some other documents that can’t possibly mean what they say? Is anyone else puzzled by or uncomfortable with this idea of papal bulls being peppered with horribly misleading phrasing? Perhaps it’s just me.

I don’t mean to rehash the question of whether Quo Primum is binding. I think the other thread covers that. I’m just wondering about this notion of misleading standard formulas, and if anyone has more to offer on that.


I offer you the case of Quod a Nobis, the bull that establishes the breviary. (I know I go on repeating it like a tired parrot but it’s the best parallel, sorry :o ).

In the bull, there is a parallel case whereby St. Pius V establishes that the formula of praying the psalms are to be used in perpetuity ( ad dicendum et psallendum posthac in perpetuum Horas ipsas diurnas et nocturnas) as a means of fulfilling the obligation- and no one fulfils it except by that ( nisi hac sola formula satisfacere posse). Yet in 1911, this was annulled, if you will, by Pope St. Pius X.

Another thing is the letter Grande Munus by which Leo XIII established the higher feast of Ss. Cyril and Methodius. I don’t use this as a comparison against other calendar changes because it is a minor and perhaps, beneficial change, but only as an indication of the standing. He wrote:

Therefore, We decree that July 5 be set aside in the calendar of the universal Roman Church, as Pius IX ordained. On this day the feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius shall be celebrated annually with the office and mass proper to a double minor rite, as approved by the holy council…We order this to be established and fixed as written above, notwithstanding the constitutions of Pope St. Pius V and other apostolic documents on the reform of the breviary and the Roman Missal, or other statutes and customs - even very old ones - or anything else to the contrary.

If you go through the Papal documents you’ll see quite a few instances where the word “perpetual” appears, even the exact wording of the Quo Primum “perpetuis futuris temporibus” and “perpetuo valitura constitutione”- briefs (especially one notorious one, later overturned, forbidding the “New Christians” from becoming clergy), constitutions (on the Index, on rules for Canons of cathedrals called Praebenda). Then also for example, Pope Sixtus’ constitution on the Vulgate uses the same words to command that his version be used “provera, legitima, authentica, et indubitata” yet, as you know, it only lasted until Clement VIII.

Another instance (not the same wording) is the Brief of Clement on the suppression of Jesuits. Or Ad Aures Nostras on vernacular missals.

While I wouldn’t doubt for a minute that Popes, including St. Pius V meant what they said, it seems to be rather obvious that future Popes change such things at will. Either they are bad disobedient Popes, or they have the right to do so. Evidently these proclamations do not carry the weight of ir-reformable teachings. They might be likened to Executive orders issued by a president. As long as he is president, they usually don’t change, but then the new guy takes over. Would you call any of the last 10 Popes bad and disobedient? I hardly think so. They have been among some of the holiest Popes in the history of the Church. The Pope is dead. Long live the Pope.

What do you mean “such things”. Does it really follow from the fact that a Pope changes something that he has the right to do so? I don’t think so. Yet I can’t see what other conclusion to draw from your remarks. And you really think that Pius V thought he had the power to establish some rules in perpetuity but was mistaken? If so why couldn’t it be that the later Popes that changed the rules were mistaken? Just because they’re obviously so holy?

Sorry if this part sounds pompous, please don’t take it that way

The thing is that you are approaching it from the viewpoint that St. Pius V meant that his rules were to be established for all time until ages of ages. I don’t think he meant it exactly like that- in that, no future Pope could alter it. The phrase “perpetuo valitura constitutione” was a legal phrase that made it binding on bishops (who had a bit more interfering power back then) and even after his death, since certain decrees do expire after the Pope is dead (e.g. the Leonine prayers- after Leo XIII died, it was undecided whether it was remaining or not)

Now if one interprets “perpetuo valitura constitutione” as being unalterable we’d have to reverse quite a few decrees both pre-and post conciliar. Go back to the breviary before St. Pius V, not have any priests with blood ‘defects’, have an authoritative version of the Bible riddled with errors, reverse the makeup of the college of cardinals, etc., etc.

Nope. Doesn’t sound pompous at all. You correctly describe my initial view about Quo Primum. I took it the way you describe because that’s what it says. Or, at least that’s what the English version I read says. My latin stinks.

My current view, I think, is what you said. If I have it right, and phrasing my own way, Pius V did not mean what he said, in an ordinary language sort of way, but he did mean what he said when the non standard uses of phrases are understood.

I was objecting to the notion that the fact that popes change these things is evidence that they have a right to do so. I don’t think popes are in any better position than I am in terms of satisfying the sentence schema [If S does A, then S has the right to do A]. Although I do take it as evidence that they have a right to make a change when they do it and there is no huge outcry. But that actually wouldn’t apply in the case of the liturgy. There was an outcry. Although I guess the rights of the council to make changes weren’t questioned, just the wisdom of it.

I was convinced by the thread I cited that prompted this question that later popes were not bound by Quo Primum. Whether any pope had a right to change the liturgy is another question.

Anyway. I’ve changed the post a couple of times already, and I’m not getting it right. Probably because I haven’t really decided what I think yet.

For what it’s worth:

Prefect of the Vatican Archives and Library
Peritus (Expert) to Four Vatican II Commissions

    "Pope John Paul II, in 1986, asked a commission of nine
    cardinals two questions.  Firstly, did Pope Paul VI, or any
    other competent authority, legally forbid the widespread
    celebration of the Tridentine [Traditional Latin] Mass in
    the present day?  The answer given by eight of the cardinals
    in 1986 was that, no, the Mass of Saint Pius V has never been
    suppressed.  I can say this; I was one of the cardinals.
    "There was another question, very interesting.  Can any 
    bishop forbid a priest in good standing from celebrating a
    Tridentine Mass again?  The nine cardinals unanimously
    agreed that no bishop may forbid a Catholic priest from
    saying the Tridentine Mass.  **We have no official publication,
    and I think that the Pope would never establish an official
    prohibition ... because of the words of [Pope St.] Pius V, who 
    said this was a Mass forever**."

Makes a lot of sense Bob. Like receiving on the tongue was the sole approved way for so long, and could not be prohibited after approval in some places for receiving in the hand. What was valid cannot be made invalid. Perhaps though it could be suppressed by proper authority which evidently was not the case according to the Cardinal.

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