Indult Catholic was a term for a traditionalist Catholic who preferred to attend the older Tridentine form of Mass instead of the ordinary present-day form of the Roman-rite liturgy, the Mass of Paul VI, but who attended only those celebrations that had the explicit approval of the Church authorities. The term was pejorative, typically being used by traditionalists who saw no legal necessity for an indult for the Tridentine rite.
"Indult" is a term in Catholic canon law referring to a permission to do something that would otherwise be unlawful. While more than one indult was issued by the Holy See in respect of the Tridentine Mass, the particular "indult" referred to in this phrase was the general permission granted to the world's bishops by Pope John Paul II in 1984 to authorise celebrations of the Tridentine Mass in their dioceses. In 2007, this permission was superseded with Benedict XVI's promulgation of a papal motu proprio entitled Summorum Pontificum.
When the Mass of Paul VI replaced the Tridentine Mass in 1969-1970, some priests continued to be granted permission by the Holy See to celebrate the old liturgy. For example, elderly priests were not required to adopt the new form when it was introduced, and in 1971 Pope Paul VI granted the "Agatha Christie indult" that allowed occasional celebrations of the older form in England and Wales.
Under Pope John Paul II, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, in 1984, sent the circular letter Quattuor abhinc annos to the presidents of the Episcopal Conferences, granting diocesan bishops an "indult" (permission) to authorize, under certain conditions, celebrations of the Tridentine Mass as contained in the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal by priests and laypeople who requested it.
Following the canonically illegal consecration of four bishops by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, Pope John Paul II issued on 2 July 1988 a motu proprio entitled Ecclesia Dei recommending a "wide and generous application of the directives of the 1984 indult.
Application of the indult
The main condition on which diocesan bishops could grant authorization under the Quattuor abhinc annos indult was: "That it be made publicly clear beyond all ambiguity that such priests and their respective faithful in no way share the positions of those who call in question the legitimacy and doctrinal exactitude of the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970."
Many diocesan bishops decided not to grant certain priests or laypeople permission to use the older form of the Roman Rite. In many cases this was because, in the opinion of the bishops in question, they did not meet this condition. Other refusals of permission were arguably more difficult to explain or justify.
Traditionalist Catholics who, like the supporters of the Society of St. Pius X, questioned the legitimacy and doctrinal exactitude of the revised liturgy, and were thus in a state of separation from the Holy See, claimed that no authorization was required for celebrating Mass in the older form. They decried those who accepted the conditions attached to the Quattuor abhinc annos indult, applying to them the term "Indult Catholics", and frequently did not recognise them as fellow traditionalists.
End of the indult
On 7 July 2007, Pope Benedict XVI issued the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. By this document he replaced the conditions laid down in Quattuor abhinc annos and Ecclesia Dei for use of the 1962 Missal, and decreed that, under conditions indicated in the document, recourse need no longer be had to the bishop of the diocese for permission to use that edition of the Roman Missal, even for public celebrations of Mass.