This is meant to be just "a note to my non-Catholic friends." But I've a had a couple of e-mails about this. As it stands, the permission to use the Classical Rite of the Mass (which goes by a variety of names, including "Tridentine"), was given in 1984 and again in 1988 by John Paul II in the Motu proprio (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10602a.htm) which bears the title "Ecclesia Dei adflicta." Application could be made to the local Ordinary (the bishop) to use the liturgical books of 1962, which contained the Mass, with a few modifications, very much like what it was when promulgated by Pope St. Pius V in 1570. This Mass was in turn a return to something very close to the Mass of the time of Pope St. Gregory the Great (590 - 604 A.D., the man who gave us Gregorian Chant), which itself was based on the oldest liturgical elements of the Mass.
Whatever this new document brings, it will be a welcome antidote* to the "Note" issued by the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship, the innocuously titled "Conferentiarium Episcopalium", dated 28 October, 1974. It was the death knell for the ancient liturgy. I have yet to find it online, but it is the last of the liturgy documents in the Flannery edition of Vatican II (run, don't walk, away from the disastrous Abbott edition): "Ordinaries, [both religious and local], should...endeavor to secure the acceptance of the Order of the Mass of the new Roman Missal by priests and laity. They should see to it that priests and laity, by dint of greater effort and with greater reverence comprehend the treasures of divine wisdom and of liturgical and pastoral teaching which it contains. What has been said does not apply to officially recognized non-Roman rites, but it does hold against any pretext of even an immemorial custom." Only elderly and infirm priests were to be able to keep saying the rite familiar to them, but they had to do so alone and without a congregation.
So the previous MP (the "Ecclesia Dei" of 1988) allowed the faithful to ask for the old rite of the Mass from the local bishop, who was supposed to give "wide and generous" permission for it. This rarely happened, since the old rite was seen as "pre-Vatican II" and therefore bad, backwards, maybe dangerous and reactionary, and justly discarded in favor of a whole new spirit in the Church. Plus it might "confuse the people" (I think if I hear a cleric say that one more time I might do something to incur excommunication myself). (Most of you know how I love statistics, so take a look at the "bad" pre-conciliar Church:http://www.seattlecatholic.com/article_20040119.html -- though this is not to deny that a number of Catholic people I know who grew up in the 1940s and '50s in this country had a very negative experience of the Church of that time...).
The new document may "reverse" the issue, that is it may give something close to "blanket" permission for the old rite and it would then be up to the local bishop to forbid it if he really doesn't want it in his diocese.
There are a number of unknowables in all this as to exactly what will happen when the MP is issued -- most priests don't know the old rite, don't know much Latin, can't read Gregorian Chant, perhaps can't sing, don't have the requisite vestments and altar linens or well-trained servers, access to a suitable altar and workable sanctuary, a congregation full of faithful who know the old rite, and the list goes on. Surely there would have to be some kind of requirement in the new document that no priest is to attempt the old rite until he has has sufficient training.**
Before he became Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote a great deal about the liturgy. On the right side of this page are a few links to works of his which state his opinions on the liturgy very clearly (the best one, the "easiest" to read is "Looking Again at the Question of the Liturgy with Cardinal Ratzinger"). Readers who know me know how happy I was when he was elected Pope (coming soon: photo with me in St. Peter's Sq. just after the Urbi et Orbi blessing on April 19th, 2005 -- you can't really see it, but I'm wearing my old "Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club" t-shirt). For me it meant the beginning of the end of a painful era in the history of the Church -- not that I discount it all, since I was baptized, confirmed and received first Holy Communion 25 years ago on Corpus Christi Sunday. The only Church I knew was the post-conciliar. The only Mass I knew was the Novus Ordo, the "new" Mass which can be seen in most parishes today (but which is something, in its present incarnation, that the bishops of Vatican II would have been quite surprised by, and some not pleasantly so...).
I suppose it may be different if one only goes to the new rite Mass on Sundays. One hour a week of polyester vestments and guitars and being forced to sing and hold hands and interact with the celebrant and those sorts of things***, which foster more "feminine" values -- it's face-to-face, rather than side-by-side as most men tend to relate (and may explain why my parish is mostly made up of men...), can be done by some people without too much distress. But early on as a Catholic I realized there had been an immense patrimony lost, in large part thanks to the fact that by some miracle I had acquired my grandfather's 1908 Lasance (a book of prayers, which included the old Mass). And when one must cope -- and for me it did become an exercise of coping -- with these questionable elements on a daily basis, one begins to lose heart. At least I did. Just in time, I got whisked off to Rome, and the decrepit but delightful parish of San Gregorio dei Muratori, staffed by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter. And the rest is history...so far.
* Or to some a great vindication!
** In one of the most charming developments of what some call the "liturgy wars" some communities of priests who offer the old rite are holding CAMPS this summer (!) to train those who want to learn the rite ahead of the promulgation of the MP (and demand has been such that they are sold-out). This has to be one of the cutest things I've ever heard of -- definitely not band camp!
*** ...and sometimes dancing and clapping. If the Mass is what we say it is, the re-presentation of the salvific death of Christ on the Cross, then all I can say is that I have it on good authority that no one danced and clapped at Calvary. Our salvation is a cause for joy, but not for merriment.