Last Sunday I mentioned the rumored general indult on the Tridentine Mass to my parish’s Family Life coordinator. She said that if Pope Benedict XVI signed such an indult, he would be in violation of the Second Vatican Council and would be going against the will of the Church. She then said that the priest is NEVER to have his back to the people, except when granted permission to celebrate a Tridentine by the local bishop, which should only be on very rare occasion. Is any of this true?
To put it as gently as possible, your parish’s staff member appears to be very confused on these matters.
1. Granting a general indult for the Tridentine Mass is within a pope’s disciplinary authority. Canon law states that the pope “has supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church, and he can always freely exercise this power” (canon 331). This means that the pope is not hamstrung in his disciplinary authority by a Church council. Even if Vatican II did proscribe the Tridentine Mass and the priest facing ad orientem (“to the east”), which it did not, a pope could legislate otherwise.
2. The current discipline of the Church regarding the celebration of the Tridentine Mass is that John Paul II asked in his apostolic letter Ecclesia Dei, given motu proprio (which means it has the force of canon law), that bishops offer “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” (ED 6c, emphasis added). This contradicts with your parish staff member’s assertion that the Tridentine only be offered “on very rare occasion[s].”
3. I recommend that any time someone makes assertions that sound problematic that you politely ask that person to substantiate those assertions from the relevant documents. In this case, you might ask this person to show you where in the documents of Vatican II that the council prevented the celebration of the Tridentine Mass and forbid a pope to allow it.
Spirit of the Liturgy by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)