|Agatha Christi in her 80s, in the early 1970s, around when the so-called indult was nicknamed after her|
At some point in my browsing around about Roman Catholic liturgy and sacred music, I came across a surprising exception to the almost-total ban on the traditional Latin Mass--which had been in force almost everywhere after a new Mass was introduced in 1969. Even more to my surprise, I found that exception is called the "Agatha Christie indult."
I think the name of this particular exception is amusing, because Agatha Christie wasn't even a Catholic. If we can trust Wikipedia in this, Christie was "the best-selling novelist of all time. Her novels have sold roughly two billion copies, and her estate claims that her works come third in the rankings of the world's most-widely published books, behind only Shakespeare's works and the Bible." Her writings were translated into at least one hundred and three languages, and they are so popular that even Pope Paul VI knew about her writings, and he may have actually read some, as we shall see.
And I found out that calling the exception an indult is inaccurate. An indult is a permission given to allow something that is otherwise forbidden by the Church. Because of how the ban on the traditional Mass was presented and because of the punitive measures that were taken to ensure that priests did not say the traditional Latin Mass after the new Mass was introduced, almost everyone was led to believe the Mass was legally suppressed. But it never actually had been, as you shall also see (if you don't already know) if you keep on reading this.
First Some Terminology
Pope Benedict XVI first introduced the terms "ordinary form" and "extraordinary form" in his 2007 document on the liturgy, Summorum Pontificum, to differentiate between:
- The Mass of Pope Paul VI according the Missal of 1969 (which Pope Benedict XVI called the ordinary form, but which is also often called the Novus Ordo Mass or just the New Mass) and
- The Mass of Pope Saint John XXIII according to the Missal of 1962 (which Pope Benedict XVI called the extraordinary form, but which is often called the Latin Mass, the Traditional Latin Mass, the TLM, the Tridentine Mass, the usus antiquor, or the old Mass).
Note that the term Latin Mass is often applied to the extraordinary form of the Mass, but that's not quite accurate. For example, Latin Mass Magazine and The Latin Mass Society of England and Wales use "Latin Mass" in their titles when they mean the traditional Latin Mass, but that usage is not strictly correct. The ordinary form of the Mass can also be and often is celebrated in Latin. So an ordinary form Mass celebrated in Latin may also be referred to as a Latin Mass. For example, at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Palo Alto, California, a Latin Mass in the ordinary form is celebrated on every Sunday and feast day, with Gregorian chant and polyphony sung by the St. Ann choir. The Mass follows the Missal of 1969, but it is truly a Latin Mass.
Also note that, strictly speaking, the Mass of 1962 is not the "Tridentine Mass." Tridentine is derived from the Latin Tridentinus, "related to the city of Tridentum" (Trent, Italy), and the Tridentine Mass was based on a new missal that Pope Pius V promulgated in 1570 after a decision made at the Council of Trent. New missals were issued in 1604 , 1634, 1884, 1920, before the Missal of John XXIII was issued in 1962. Still another Missal was issued in 1965 and amended in 1967.
Following is some background before we go on to more details about how the indult came to be nicknamed after Agatha Christi, and to what makes it obvious that the word indult is inaccurately applied.
Why Permission Was Requested to Allow the Old Mass to be Celebrated
After the revised Mass of Pope Paul VI was introduced and became the ordinary form of the Mass on the first Sunday of Advent in 1969 (in most countries), the revised liturgy was the only form of the Mass that was allowed to be celebrated by priests of the Roman Catholic Church. Old or retired priests could apply to their own bishop for permission to use the previous form of the Mass, but for private use only.
Okay Now, Here is How the Agatha Indult Came About
As documented in "The 1971 'English' Indult - a Recollection, by Alfred Marnau, The Latin Mass Society of England and Wales had been formed in 1964, even before the council had ended. They saw that "the form of the Mass seemed to be changing by the month, and no sooner had one novelty been introduced then it was replaced very quickly by something else. A number of priests took the opportunity to introduce their own whims and fancies, which only exacerbated the problem."
In response to how Latin was being removed from the Mass by individual priests as far back as November 1965, The Latin Mass Society then sent an appeal to Pope Paul VI that stated "the discontinuance of the use of the Latin tongue in parts of the Mass has proved a grave spiritual privation and a source of great anguish of soul." The petition also requested "that, side by side with the continued employment of the mother-tongue, the Mass may frequently and regularly be celebrated wholly in Latin." They received no reply.
The change from Latin that The Latin Mass Society wrote about was far from the only change that was about to be universally mandated. The Mass was about to be transformed.
In 1971, The Latin Mass Society of England and Wales circulated another petition among musicians, artists, writers, and intellectuals. Agatha Christi, who was then 80 years old, was only one of several non-Catholics who signed it. Other signers whose names I recognize out of the total of fifty-seven prominent figures who signed are: Kenneth Clark, Robert Graves, Graham Greene, Nancy Mitford, Malcolm Muggeridge, Iris Murdoch, Sean O'Faolain, and Joan Sutherland.
Note: I do not know why the appeal was sent in 1971, because I understand that the changeover to the new Mass occurred in most places in 1970.
The appeal compared the planned obliteration of the centuries-old Mass to a senseless decree that would destroy equally venerable basilicas or cathedrals. The appeal deplored the intolerance of modern man for traditions and the modern anxiety to suppress those traditions. It appealed to the pope to allow the Mass' survival in its traditional form, even if side by side with the new form.
The text of the appeal letter read as follows:
"If some senseless decree were to order the total or partial destruction of basilicas or cathedrals, then obviously it would be the educated - whatever their personal beliefs - who would rise up in horror to oppose such a possibility. Now the fact is that basilicas and cathedrals were built so as to celebrate a rite which, until a few months ago, constituted a living tradition. We are referring to the Roman Catholic Mass. Yet, according to the latest information in Rome, there is a plan to obliterate that Mass by the end of the current year. One of the axioms of contemporary publicity, religious as well as secular, is that modern man in general, and intellectuals in particular, have become intolerant of all forms of tradition and are anxious to suppress them and put something else in their place. But, like many other affirmations of our publicity machines, this axiom is false. Today, as in times gone by, educated people are in the vanguard where recognition of the value of tradition in concerned, and are the first to raise the alarm when it is threatened. We are not at this moment considering the religious or spiritual experience of millions of individuals. The rite in question, in its magnificent Latin text, has also inspired a host of priceless achievements in the arts - not only mystical works, but works by poets, philosophers, musicians, architects, painters and sculptors in all countries and epochs. Thus, it belongs to universal culture as well as to churchmen and formal Christians. In the materialistic and technocratic civilisation that is increasingly threatening the life of mind and spirit in its original creative expression - the word - it seems particularly inhuman to deprive man of word-forms in one of their most grandiose manifestations. The signatories of this appeal, which is entirely ecumenical and non-political, have been drawn from every branch of modern culture in Europe and elsewhere. They wish to call to the attention of the Holy See, the appalling responsibility it would incur in the history of the human spirit were it to refuse to allow the Traditional Mass to survive, even though this survival took place side by side with other liturgical reforms."
So why is the permission granted by Pope Paul VI popularly called the Agatha Christi indult? As the story goes, Pope Paul VI was reading through the list of signatories and then suddenly said, "Ah, Agatha Christie!" and signed his approval. With that signature, Paul VI gave permission for the traditional form of the Latin Mass to be used on special occasions with the consent of the local Roman Catholic bishop, but only in England and Wales. And only according to the revised Missal of 1965 as amended in 1967.
Well, that solves one mystery, doesn't it?
But Why Was It Called an Indult?
But there is another mystery someone asked me about today. Why was the exception that Pope Pius VI granted England and Wales popularly called an indult? My impressions is that the term was used because it seemed to everyone that the traditional Mass had been forbidden. It had certainly been suppressed. With rare exceptions, any priest who went on saying it was censured. If the traditional Mass was illegal, it would naturally follow that obtaining permission to celebrate a forbidden form of the Mass would require an indult.
But it really hadn't actually been forbidden. And some people knew it hadn't.
Most Catholics didn't find out that the traditional Latin was never legally "abrogated" until Pope Benedict wrote Summorum Pontificumin 2007, in which the pope stated that "the 1962 Missal ... was never juridically abrogated."
But some did know all along. For example, we know that Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, who was the main architect of the changes to the Mass knew, because the archbishop wrote in his biography that in 1974, he tried to get a ruling that would ensure the traditional Mass would be legally abrogated.
This account quotes Archbishop Bugnini from his 1990 book The Reform of the Liturgy, in which the archbishop described how he requested an explicit ruling on this matter from the Pontifical Commission charged with interpreting documents from the council.
“Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, whom Paul VI put in charge of the post-conciliar liturgical reform, wanted to obtain an explicit ruling to the effect that the Novus Ordo Missae of 1970 abrogates the Old Mass, so that the latter would be suppressed de jure. To apply for such a ruling to the Pontifical Commission for the Interpretation of Conciliar Documents, he needed permission from the Cardinal Secretary of State [Jean-Marie Villot]. On 10 June 1974 the Secretary of State refused to give the requested permission on the grounds that such an attempt would be seen as “casting odium on the liturgical tradition” (A. Bugnini, The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-1975, The Liturgical Press, 1990, pp 300-301).--FromWas the Old Rite Abrogated?
1984: The Ban Was Relaxed SomewhatIn 1984, during Pope John Paul II's papacy, the Holy See sent a letter known as Quattuor abhinc annos to the bishops. For the first time since 1969, the ban on the traditional Latin Mass was relaxed somewhat. The document "empowered diocesan bishops to authorize, on certain conditions, celebrations of the Mass according to the Missal of 1962." Note that none of the other versions of the Roman Missal were allowed except the Missal of 1962.
The traditional Latin Mass was treated as if it had been abrogated in that document, because it used the word "indult." Apparently, the commission didn't know that the old Mass had never been legally suppressed.
In the aftermath, few bishops granted the "indult," because many disapproved of the traditional Latin Mass. The idea was still current among many that to allow the old Mass was divisive.
And in 1986, Pope John Paul II Found Out the Truth
In 1986, Pope John Paul II appointed a commission to examine the legal status of the traditional Latin Mass. Eight of nine cardinals on the commission agreed that the Mass of 1969 did not abrogate the traditional Mass. In addition, “The nine cardinals agreed that Pope Paul VI never gave the bishops the authority to forbid priests from celebrating Mass according to the Missal of St Pius V. The commission judged the conditions for the 1984 indult too restrictive and proposed their relaxation. These conclusions served as functional guidelines for the Commission Ecclesia Dei, but they were never promulgated."--From "Was the Old Rite Abrogated?"
1988: Bishops Were Urged to More Widely
Apply the Letter of 1984
The article "Was the Old Rite Abrogated?"also describes what happened in 1988:
"In 1988, the Pope issued another letter known as Ecclesia Dei, which stated that 'respect must everywhere be shown for the feelings of all those who are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition.' The Pope urged bishops to give "a wide and generous application" to the provisions of Quattuor abhinc annos, and established the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei to oversee relations between Rome and Traditionalist Catholics. "The Holy See itself granted authorisation to use the Tridentine Mass to a significant number of priests and priestly societies, such as the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, and the Personal Apostolic Administration of Saint John Mary Vianney. Some diocesan bishops, however, declined to authorise celebrations within their dioceses, or did so only to a limited extent. In some cases, the difficulty was that those seeking the permission were hostile to the church authorities. Other refusals of permission were alleged to have stemmed from certain bishops' disapproval in principle of celebrations of the Tridentine liturgy."
It's notable that in 1988 Ecclesia Dei did not use the word indult that was used in 1985, probably because the pope's commission had agreed that the traditional Latin Mass was still legal.
Even after Ecclesia Dei was released, few permissions were granted to diocesan priests, but at least in a few dioceses, priests were allowed to celebrate the traditional Latin Mass. For one example, in Oakland, CA, Father Vladimir Kozina received the single permission for that diocese. On September 10, 1989, Father Kozina was able to begin to celebrate the Mass according to the Missal of 1962 at St. Margaret Mary Church.
So, What Have We Learned?
To summarize all this, the permission known as the "Agatha Christi Indult" was only humorously named after Agatha Christi, because Pope Paul VI recognized her name on the petition, and the use of the word "Indult" for the permission that Pope Paul VI granted was incorrectly applied. An indult can only be given when something is legally suppressed, and since the traditional Mass was never legally suppressed, indult had actually been the wrong word to use.