Sunday, September 23, 2007

Is Quo Primum Infallible?

Dear Mr. Romero,

I read Pope St. Pius V's bull Quo Primum and would like to know how it should be understood. Is the pope speaking ex cathedra or not? A Traditionalist, who doesn't appear to be exactly in line with the Church, says this:

Quo Primum is no 'merely ecclesiastical law' (can. 11) that can be revoked, but has been enacted into law and declared ex cathedra to be irreformable, and is therefore a solemnly defined moral doctrine which is also of itself infallible and irreformable (DB 1819). Quo Primum has been infallibly declared to be irreformable because the rite of Mass codified (canonized) in the Tridentine Missal is the 'received and approved rite' (the rite of Sacred Tradition) [iniunctum nobis] of the Roman Church that has been 'handed down by the Holy Roman Church' (a sacrosancta Romana Ecclesia ... tradita) [Quo Primum]. The statutes of Quo Primum,therefore, pertain to Divine Law insofar as they constitute a particular application of the divine law that hasbeen expressed in its general formulation in the Tridentine Profession of Faith [Iniunctum nobis]." Fr. Paul L.Kramer, B.Ph., S.T.B., M.Div., A Theological Vindication of Roman Catholic Traditionalism (Nazareth, India:Apostle Publications, [1997]).

What should one believe in this case?

-Dear JM,

Quo primum is not "infallible," in the sense in which a doctrinal statement is infallible, but Pope Pius V did intend it to be legally binding. Pope Benedict, in his recent Motu proprio "Summorum Pontificum" acted in conformity with it, as if it had never been abrogated. That's all I know.

I am not a canon lawyer but a theologian (an aspiring theologian, in fact). Not being a canonist I am incompetent to speak about what Quo primum IS (its canonical weight; whether it is still in force; whether it does ensure the perpetuity of the Traditional Mass), but I can certainly speak about what it is NOT (I know it is definitely not a dogmatic decree, for instance).

The pope speaks ex cathedra only when making a defining statement on faith or morals. The defined statements have to be clearly presented and enumerated in propositional form (cf., The Decrees and Canons of the Council of Trent) and the Pope must clearly intend to bind all the faithful to give their assent. Even if Quo primum posseses a very high level of authority (i.e., even if it is legally binding), it clearly does not attempt to make any definitions on faith or morals. Rather, it decrees laws governing the rite of Mass in the Roman Rite. In other words, it does not define a doctrine as true, or condemn an error as false, or even declare the moral law to be this or that; it intends to regulate the liturgical discipline of the Roman Rite. It would be a misunderstanding of the nature of papal infallibility to claim that such a document is "infallible" in the doctrinal sense. Law is not binding in the same sense in which doctrine is binding. Doctrine is true or false, and it cannot change; law is good or bad, and at least conceivably it can change. Maybe Quo primum can't be revoked, maybe it can; but doctrinal infallibility does not apply to it as when the pope speaks ex cathedra.

There is a sense in which the universal discipline of the Church is "infallible"; the Church will never impose on its faithful a universal discipline which is inherently evil. But this is something very different from what we mean when we say that a certain dogma was proclaimed ex cathedra and infallibly.

If you are interested in a layman-level explanation of the canonical details of Quo primum, see Michael Davies' Pope Paul's New Mass, pp. 571-580. Although Davies, like Fr. Kramer, wanted more than anything else in the world the full triumph of the Traditional Mass, he nonetheless acknowledged that Pope St. Pius V did not intend Quo primum as a limitation to the authority of any of his successors on liturgical matters. He also argues that Pope Paul VI never even intended to abrogate or invalidate Quo primum or the Traditional Mass. This view was proven correct by the recent Motu proprio "Summorum Pontificum," which openly admits that the Traditional Mass was never abrogated and echoes Quo primum by saying:

" these presents [this law], 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."

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