Agatha Christie indult

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The Agatha Christie indult is a nickname applied to the permission granted in 1971 by Pope Paul VI for the use of the Tridentine Mass in England and Wales. Indult is a term from Catholic canon law referring to a permission to do something that would otherwise be forbidden.


Following the introduction of the Mass of Paul VI to replace the former rite in 1969–1970, a petition was sent to the Pope asking that the Tridentine rite be permitted to continue for those who wished in England and Wales. The petition noted the exceptional artistic and cultural heritage of the Tridentine liturgy, and was signed by many prominent non-Catholic figures in British society, including Agatha Christie, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Kenneth Clark, Robert Graves, F. R. Leavis, Cecil Day-Lewis, Nancy Mitford, Iris Murdoch, Yehudi Menuhin, Joan Sutherland and two Anglican bishops, those of Exeter and of Ripon.[1]

John Cardinal Heenan approached Pope Paul VI and asked that use of the Tridentine Mass be permitted. On 5 November 1971, the Pope granted the request. Between then and the granting of the worldwide "universal indult" in 1984, the bishops of England and Wales were authorized to grant permission for the occasional celebration of Mass in the old form, with the modifications introduced in 1965 and 1967.[2]

English Roman Catholics had a particular attachment[citation needed] to the Tridentine Mass, as the Mass which had been celebrated by the English Martyrs of the Reformation and by priests in the years in which Catholicism had been subjected to sometimes severe persecution. The indult acquired its nickname by virtue of a story told about the Pope's acceptance of the petition:

The story is that Pope Paul read through the letter in silence then suddenly exclaimed, "Ah, Agatha Christie!" and then signed it. Though not a Catholic at the time, Christie rejected the 20th century rite as the desecration of the historic church that it was. The indult was granted in 1971. Ever since it has been known informally as "the Agatha Christie indult".[3]

Often misunderstood is the fact that the indult itself did not refer to the 1962 Liturgy, but the revisions of 1965, with the incorporation of the revisions of Tres abhinc annos in 1967.

The text of the indult itself reads as follows:

Sacra Congregatio pro Cultu Divino

E Civitate Vaticana, die 5 Novembre 1971 Prot. N. 1897/71

Your Eminence,

His Holiness Pope Paul VI, by letter of 30 October 1971, has given special faculties to the undersigned Secretary of this Sacred Congregation to convey to Your Eminence, as Chairman of the Episcopal Conference of England and Wales, the following points regarding the Order of the Mass:

1. Considering the pastoral needs referred to by Your Eminence, it is permitted to the local Ordinaries of England and Wales to grant that certain groups of the faithful may on special occasions be allowed to participate in the Mass celebrated according to the Rites and texts of the former Roman Missal. The edition of the Missal to be used on these occasions should be that published again by the Decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites (27 January 1965), and with the modifications indicated in the Instructio altera (4 May 1967).

This faculty may be granted provided that groups make the request for reasons of genuine devotion, and provided that the permission does not disturb or damage the general communion of the faithful. For this reason the permission is limited to certain groups on special occasions; at all regular parish and other community Masses, the Order of the Mass given in the new Roman Missal should be used. Since the Eucharist is the sacrament of unity, it is necessary that the use of the Order of Mass given in the former Missal should not become a sign or cause of disunity in the Catholic community. For this reason agreement among the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference as to how this faculty is to be exercised will be a further guarantee of unity of praxis in this area.

2. Priests who on occasion wish to celebrate Mass according to the above-mentioned edition of the Roman Missal may do so by consent of their Ordinary and in accordance with the norms given by the same. When these priests celebrate Mass with the people and wish to use the rites and texts of the former Missal, the conditions and limits mentioned above for celebration by certain groups on special occasions are to be applied.

With my highest respects, I am

Yours sincerely in Christ,

(Signed:) A. Bugnini Secretary

Sacra Congregatio pro Cultu Divino

Signatories of the original appeal[edit]

The signatories of the original appeal to Pope Paul VI were:

See also[edit]


External links[edit]