In order to understand what the Extraordinary Form of the Mass is and why Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI allowed all members of the Church to have greater access to its celebration, one must understand the words he spoke in the homily he gave on the very first day after his election. To his brother Cardinals gathered in the Sistine Chapel, Pope Benedict said, “As I prepare myself for the service that is proper to the Successor of Peter, I also wish to confirm my determination to continue to implement the Second Vatican Council, following in the footsteps of my Predecessors and in faithful continuity with the 2,000-year tradition of the Church.”
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI more clearly shared his vision of shepherding the Church on a path of greater unity, continuity, reform and renewal in his Christmas address to the members of the Roman Curia on December 22, 2005, where he spoke of two different ways of interpreting the Second Vatican Council and its call to reform: one of discontinuity and rupture, and the other in reform and continuity with the past. The latter is the way in which he would determine to continue the implementation of the Second Vatican Council in our times.
A central part of Pope Benedict’s vision of reform and renewal in continuity and not rupture was made concrete on July 7, 2007, when he released his Apostolic Letter, Summorum Pontificum. In this document, he clarified the status and usage of the Missal of Blessed Pope John XXIII, published in 1962, prior to the liturgical reforms of 1970 as well as the other ritual books in use prior to the reforms of Vatican II. The Holy Father also wrote an explanatory letter to all the Bishops of the world in regard to his Apostolic Letter, providing the context in which the faithful should understand the objectives of the document. Pope Benedict explained that the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council found in the 1970 Missal, remain as the Forma ordinaria or ordinary form of celebration of the Mass. The use of the 1962 Missal of Blessed Pope John XXIII is now to be used as the Forma extraordinaria or extraordinary form of celebration of the Mass. Most notably, the Holy Father stated that these two forms are not to be seen as two separate Rites of the Mass, but rather two forms of celebration within the one Roman Rite. He clarified this two-fold reality when he stated, “There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal. In the history of the liturgy, there is growth and progress, but no rupture. What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us, too….”
The richness of the Sacred Liturgy is the heart of our Catholic faith. Both the ordinary from and the extraordinary from of the Mass have been the source of holiness for so many Saints throughout the course of the Church’s history. May the Sacred Liturgy of our Catholic Faith, now made more available to the entire Church, continue to lead us all to strive for that same goal of sanctity. Pope Benedict XVI exhorted us, “Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith, itself, allows.”