“When Pope Francis published his apostolic letter, given motu proprio, Traditionis Custodes, on Friday, July 16, he expected the document’s sweeping restrictions on celebration of the traditional Latin Mass to come into immediate effect. But bishops struggled to implement the motu proprio’s strictures for that very weekend. The most that could be done in many dioceses was to give hasty permissions for whatever already existed, meaning that many Latin Masses, particularly in the English-speaking world, received a lifeline. Since then, a good number of these hasty permissions have turned into less hasty ones—but even this has changed the situation in subtle ways, and some bishops have taken things in a more restrictive direction.
A test case is provided by Abp. Malcolm McMahon of Liverpool in England, who issued a formal decree implementing Traditionis Custodes, listing the churches where the 1962 Missal has been a regular feature in recent years and allowing them to continue to offer the traditional Mass. He notes that some of these locations are parish churches, and while this appears to conflict with Traditionis Custodes Article 3.2 (explicitly forbidding parish churches to celebrate the traditional Mass), he grants them permission to continue in any case, using his prerogative under Canon 87 to derogate from the law of the Church for the good of souls.
The Latin Mass Society’s Canonical Guidance pointed out bishops’ power to do this, but it was no secret, and many bishops in the U.S. and elsewhere have used it in exactly this way. Whereas it might be quite easy to find non-parochial churches in Italy, where in the historic city centers there seem to be churches on every street corner, this is not so elsewhere. Pope Francis himself, asked about this issue by some French bishops on their ad limina visits to Rome, seemed relaxed about it.
On the other hand, Abp. McMahon’s decree suggests that where permission has not been given explicitly, the celebration of the 1962 Mass is forbidden. The Canonical Guidance just noted argues that Traditionis Custodes Article 3 regulates the celebration of Mass specifically for formally constituted “groups,” and Article 4 regulates which priests can celebrate the Latin Mass publicly. This leaves open the private celebration of this Mass by any priest, and even its public celebration by priests who have been given personal permission by their bishop, on an indefinite number of occasions and for any who wish to attend, if these do not constitute a “group.”
Despite this, many bishops, like Abp. McMahon, have taken the opportunity to insist on an extraordinarily tight control of celebrations. Unless the bishop sees some special reason for it, new occasional, let alone regular, celebrations of the 1962 Mass are going to be impossible.
The next level of stringency in regulating the celebration of the ancient Mass is when bishops cut down the number of permitted celebrations. This is not demanded by Traditionis Custodes, but bishops certainly have the power to do it. According to the Traditionis Custodeswebsite, out of 243 dioceses about which the site’s operators have data, 182 have not canceled any Masses, and thirty-six have canceled some but not all. This includes eleven in the United States.
Restricting, but not eliminating the availability of the Usus Antiquior gives bishops the opportunity to determine exactly where and by whom it is celebrated, and at the same time impose any conditions they wish on priests.
In the Diocese of Rome, to an otherwise benign document listing churches where the older Mass is currently said, and will continue to be allowed, Rome’s vicar general, Cdl. De Donatis, adds the surprising and—so far—unique provisions that it not be used for the Easter Triduum and that the old Roman Ritual not be used. This is the book containing the formulas for the other sacraments and blessings, which corresponds to the 1962 Missal.
Finally, there is the nuclear option: banning the old Mass altogether, adopted in thirty-six of the dioceses worldwide listed by the Traditionis Custodes website, only two of them in the U.S., with one in England.
Where restrictions are being imposed, it is hard to know whether the bishop is reacting against the clergy, the laity who attend, or the rite itself. The text of Traditionis Custodes and its accompanying letter are themselves unclear about where the problem lies, and this makes applying the documents to bring about what Pope Francis wants to achieve very difficult. Bishops, like the rest of us, are in the dark as to what exactly that is.
The letter refers to the kind of exaggerated traditionalist rhetoric that can more easily be found on the internet than among the real people who attend the Latin Mass, particularly when it is celebrated under the authority of the bishops. Bishops seeking assurances that congregations don’t “doubt the Council” (as Pope Francis expressed it), and pastors giving these assurances, have taken on a ritual quality. What does it mean for a group of people, often drawn from a wide geographical area, to hold a specific theological position? And what exactly is the anathematized claim?
Again, the clamping down on which priests celebrate where might suggest that the central concern is about priests spreading the Vetus Ordo in an uncontrolled manner—even when, in the words of the survey done last year by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is supposed to be the justification for Traditionis Custodes, there is no “true pastoral need.” This would suggest diocesan clergy, as opposed to priests of the Traditional Institutes, whom bishops bring in precisely to attend to a pastoral need. Indeed, so far, apart from being forbidden to use the Roman Ritual in Rome, the Traditional Institutes have escaped the worst of Traditionis Custodes, though this could change at any time. On the other hand, diocesan priests who like the older Mass can’t be accused of doubting the validity of the reformed rites, since they nearly always celebrate them themselves.
The letter that accompanies Traditionis Custodes suggests that the unity of the Church requires “a single and identical prayer”—a statement that must be difficult to interpret for bishops who preside over parishes where Mass is celebrated in many different languages, innumerable liturgical styles, and perhaps several rites: Roman, Greek, Melkite, and so on.
The degree of liturgical diversity in a diocese is largely a matter of demography, which bishops are unable to influence. The exception is the situation with the 1962 Missal, where, even before Traditionis Custodes, how much it was being celebrated was very much the result of diocesan policy. Abp. McMahon, for example, is in the position of many bishops around the world in having a church in his diocese served by one of the Traditional Institutes, simply because he welcomed it. When a bishop does this, he presumably does it for reasons he regards as good. The unity of the Church, the good of souls, and the preservation of historic church buildings may all be factors. None of these has been obviated by Traditionis Custodes.
It is not surprising, therefore, that we hear of the most hostile reports about the older Mass coming from bishops, notably in Italy, whose dioceses contained no celebrations anyway. They can ban the Usus Antiquior, but they had effectively done so already. Bishops who had allowed it, on the other hand, such as many in the U.S., often had good things to say about it and seem likely to continue to implement Traditionis Custodes in a gentle way.
What has changed is that the Latin Mass is now less likely to spread to new locations, even within a more open-minded diocese. The Vetus Ordo faces a period of consolidation: congregations will be able to grow, but not multiply. It remains to be seen, however, how long this phase of liturgical history will last, and what will succeed it.”
-by Rev Brian Harrison, OS, the Rev. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., M.A., S.T.D., a priest of the Society of the Oblates of Wisdom, is a retired Associate Professor of Theology of the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico in Ponce, P.R. In 1997 he gained his doctorate in Systematic Theology, summa cum laude, from the Pontifical Athenæum of the Holy Cross in Rome. Since 2007 Fr. Harrison has been scholar-in-residence at the Oblates of Wisdom Study Center in St. Louis, Missouri, is well-known as a speaker and writer. He is the author of three books and over 130 articles in Catholic books, magazines and journals in the U.S.A., Australia, Britain, France, Spain and Puerto Rico. He is also parochial vicar of the parish of Saint Joseph the Worker in the city of Ponce, and a ‘Defender of the Bond’ for the island’s marriage tribunals.
He was born in Australia and, after being raised as a Presbyterian, converted to the Catholic faith in 1972. In 1979 he began studies for the priesthood in the major seminary of Sydney, and after completing his Licentiate in Theology at Rome’s Angelicum university was ordained as a priest in Saint Peter’s Basilica in 1985 by His Holiness Pope John Paul II. In 1997 he gained his doctorate in Systematic Theology, summa cum laude, from the Pontifical Athenæum of the Holy Cross in Rome.
Fr. Harrison, who has lived in Puerto Rico since 1989, is well-known as a speaker and writer. He is the author of two books and over 120 articles in Catholic magazines and journals in the U.S.A., Australia, Britain, France, Spain and Puerto Rico. His special interest in theological and liturgical matters, in keeping with the charism of the Oblates of Wisdom, is upholding a ‘hermeneutic of continuity’ between the teachings of Vatican Council II and the bi-millennial heritage of Catholic Tradition.
It is now fifty years since Pope St. Paul VI, in the apostolic constitution Missale Romanum (April 3, 1969), promulgated the revised Roman-rite Missal in response to Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy). And although the Holy Eucharist is meant to be our central sacramental bond of unity and love, it has in this half-century become—tragically—the occasion of serious confusion and dissension.
I respect and, in fact, share, the concern of tradition-conscious Catholics about certain features of the liturgical reform, but in this article I’d like to issue a call for fairness and moderation in the expression of such concerns. The unity of the Church surely requires this.
Fair to call them “dissident”
Some traditionalists, while celebrating and attending the classical Latin Roman-rite Mass (dubbed the “Extraordinary Form” by Pope Benedict XVI) whenever possible, refrain from attacking the post-conciliar Novus Ordo rite (the “Ordinary Form”) as bad and unacceptable in itself. Others, however, do precisely that. I think it fair to call them “dissident” traditionalists, because they openly dissent from certain official positions of the post-Vatican II Church on liturgy and doctrine.
Their flagship organization is undoubtedly the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), but they find a strident voice in many publications and websites, and some of these hold views that are outright sedevacantist (the belief that there have been no true popes since Vatican II). Their central claim is that the Novus Ordo Mass, even if valid in itself, reeks so strongly of Protestantism and modernism as to be downright illegitimate—simply unacceptable for Catholic worship.
In their utter loathing for what the Church now prescribes as the normative way of celebrating our most sacred act of worship, dissidents claim it expresses a different, non-Catholic religion so that it’s objectively immoral—forbidden by God!—to celebrate or attend Ordinary Form Masses.
And, yes, they really do go that far. The OnePeterFive.com website recently ran an article including this peremptory summons: “Laity: If you still belong to a Novus Ordo parish, it’s time to leave. . . . Nothing supersedes man’s duty to render God that worship proper to His Majesty, and the Novus Ordo just ain’t it.” And in the FAQ (frequently asked questions) section of the official SSPX website, we read (accessed Jan. 1, 2019):
“The Novus Ordo Missae assumes. . . heterodox elements alongside the Catholic ones to form a liturgy for a modernist religion which would marry the Church and the world, Catholicism and Protestantism, light and darkness. . . . [This] render[s] it a danger to our faith, and, as such, evil. . . . Even when said with piety and respect for the liturgical rules, . . . [the Novus Ordo] is impregnated with the spirit of Protestantism. It bears within it a poison harmful to the faith.”
Then, to the question, “Are we obliged in conscience to attend the Novus Ordo Missae?”, the website not only answers no but asserts that Catholics have no objective right to attend it for Sunday worship:
“If the Novus Ordo Missae is not truly Catholic, then it cannot oblige for one’s Sunday obligation. Many Catholics who do assist at it are unaware of its all-pervasive degree of serious innovation and are exempt from guilt. However, any Catholic who is aware of its harm does not have the right to participate. He could only then assist at it by a mere physical presence without positively taking part in it, and then only for major family reasons (weddings, funerals, etc.).”
Since the last sentence here expresses the stringent conditions laid down by pre-conciliar church legislation for attendance at non-Catholic services, the message the SSPX is sending is all too clear: the Novus Ordo Mass, as such, is to be regarded as a non-Catholic form of worship. That would leave hundreds of millions of the faithful without access to any legitimate Mass, because in most of Latin America, Asia, and Africa, traditional Latin Masses are very few and far between. Has Christ, then, abandoned all these brethren, leaving them with nothing more than an impious simulacrum of genuine Catholic worship?
So why do these dissidents reject the new rite so totally and implacably? They insist it’s quintessentially a matter of doctrine, not merely of aesthetic preference for the old rites. Fr. Anthony Cekada sums up their common position at the beginning of his book, Work of Human Hands: A Theological Critique of the Mass of Paul VI. The book’s “principal thesis,” he tells us, is that the new rite
“(a) destroys Catholic doctrine in the minds of the faithful, and in particular, Catholic doctrine concerning the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the priesthood, and the Real Presence; and (b) permits or prescribes grave irreverence (p. 7, italics in original).”
The space available in this article will allow me to consider only (and far from exhaustively) the first and more fundamental of these objections. As regards (b), I will simply register my view that a couple of newly permitted (i.e., optional) liturgical practices—Communion in the hand and the sign of peace just before Communion—are indeed open to abuse and can become the occasion of irreverence. However, they are not in themselves irreverent. Much less can I find anything gravely irreverent “prescribed” (i.e., obligatory) in the text of the new Roman Missal or its accompanying General Instruction.
Let’s turn to dissidents’ doctrinal objections to the Novus Ordo. First and foremost is the charge that it undermines faith in the sacrificial character of the Mass. According to the SSPX website, the new missal is marked by “the almost complete deletion of references to sacrifice.” And the OnePeterFive article cited above even makes the incredible assertion that in the Novus Ordo “the Catholic Mass has been stripped of prayers expressing Catholic doctrine.”
It’s true that some sacrifice-expressing prayers added during medieval times have been dropped from the Offertory; but far from “almost complete[ly] deleti[ng]” such prayers, every Novus Ordo Mass expresses the doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice at least five times:
The priest’s secret offertory prayer, praying that our sacrifice will be pleasing to God.
His invitation to the people, “Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the Almighty Father.”
The people’s response, “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory . . .”
In the Roman Canon and each of the new eucharistic prayers, the sacrificial character of the Mass is clearly expressed in the texts following the consecration.
The very words of consecration of the bread in the Novus Ordo actually restore an explicit expression of the sacrificial purpose of what is being done: “This is my body, which will be given up for you.” The words italicized here (or equivalent expressions) were found in a number of ancient liturgies but are absent from the Tridentine formula.
On top of all that, there is a sixth expression of this doctrine in many Masses, found in the offertory prayer over the gifts.
It should also be noted that all the above texts except the first are pronounced out loud in the language of the people. Indeed, in the case of the third text, the people pronounce it themselves. So, it seems likely that the doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice, far from being “destroy[ed] . . . in the minds of the people,” is actually impressed in their minds more clearly by the Novus Ordo prayers than was the case in pre-conciliar days, when every single one of the prayers expressing this doctrine was pronounced silently, in Latin, by the priest alone.
Why the erosion of belief?
How about worshippers’ belief in the priesthood and Real Presence, which Fr. Cekada also claims the Novus Ordo “destroys”? It’s true that the role of the priest celebrant in some secondary rubrics is no longer distinguished so sharply from that of the laity as it was in the traditional rite, but it seems to me obvious that his unique and irreplaceable prominence in the celebration of Mass remains clear and unmistakable to all participants in the Pauline liturgy (see sidebar, below).
Yes, surveys do consistently show a marked decline in Catholic belief in this doctrine since Vatican II, and to a limited extent this may have been a side effect of official changes such as the elimination, in the interests of “noble simplicity,” of some liturgical signs of reverence that “reform-of-the-reformers” such as myself would like to see restored. But the lion’s share of blame for this deplorable weakening of faith surely rests with more direct and obvious causes: heterodox theology taught in seminaries, the resulting bad (or nonexistent) preaching and catechesis about eucharistic doctrine, the sharp decline in Mass attendance, widespread liturgical disobedience (often called “creativity”), and sloppy, irreverent celebrations.
Also, the preposterous claim that the Pauline Mass is “stripped of prayers expressing Catholic doctrine” ignores all the changing (“proper”) feasts and prayers in the new missal. In fact, all Catholic doctrines distinguishing Catholic from Protestant belief that were in the old Missal are also in the new one (see sidebar, far below).
A number of other talking-points continue to do the rounds of hardline traditionalist media outlets as supposed evidence of the Novus Ordo’s heterodox and illegitimate character. Most of them are not as telling as their purveyors suppose them to be. Let’s look at a few.
Exhibit 1: The “Ottaviani Intervention”
In September 1969, Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, retired prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, signed a letter to Pope Paul VI presenting a short critical study of Paul’s recently promulgated rite of Mass. This could be considered the Bible of dissident traditionalism. The main author of the study was the Dominican theologian M. L. Guérard des Lauriers, who shortly afterward lapsed into schism as a founding father of sedevacantism.
Soon Ottaviani’s intervention, another French priest, Fr. Gerard Lafond, published a facsimile of a signed letter dated February 17, 1970, that he’d received from Ottaviani, in which the cardinal said his previous hesitations about the new Mass had now been “put to rest” by explanations coming from Fr. Lafond and Paul VI himself. More often than not, dissidents don’t mention this retraction, which undermines their appeal to the authority and prestige of the longtime head of the Holy Office. Some of them suggest that Ottaviani’s trusted secretary, Msgr. Gilberto Agustoni, fabricated this letter and deceived the near-blind cardinal into signing it.
This of course implausibly assumes not only that Agustoni was corrupt but that he would have risked his career by publishing an outright lie. Ottaviani lived on for years, receiving visitors and retaining all his faculties other than vision. He would quickly have learned that his letter retracting his intervention was published in the widely read Documentation Catholique and would surely have publicly denounced it as a forgery, if indeed it was. His permanent silence, therefore, is eloquent.
Exhibit 2: Pope Paul VI’s ‘heretical’ instruction
Well, this Protestant-friendly, ecumenically flavored text was heretical (if that’s the right word for error by omission) only in what it left out of its description of the Mass, not by what it actually affirmed or denied. And not all traditionalists who point accusing fingers at this defective instruction are candid enough to acknowledge that at least it was very short-lived.
Pope Paul, on scrutinizing this introduction more attentively, quickly withdrew it and replaced it in the 1970 Missal by a new “premium” that not only unambiguously reaffirms the Tridentine doctrines of eucharistic sacrifice, the Real Presence, and the ordained priesthood but emphasizes that these doctrines are consistently shown forth in the actual texts and rubrics of the new Missal. (See especially articles 2, 3, and 4 in the “Introduction to the General Instruction” at the beginning of the current Roman Missal)
Exhibit 3: Jean Guitton’s testimony
This French philosopher stated in a 1993 radio interview with a Lutheran pastor, “I can only repeat that Paul VI did all that he could to bring the Catholic Mass away from the tradition of the Council of Trent towards the Protestant Lord’s Supper.” But Guitton’s off-the-cuff, anecdotal, secondhand testimony scarcely counts as an authoritative and adequate guide to the mind of Paul VI, especially when we take into account the pontiff’s emphatic reassertion of the doctrinal “tradition of the Council Trent” (see previous paragraph) as well as his many formal teachings on these matters, especially his splendid 1965 eucharistic encyclical, Mysterium Fidei.
A more balanced appraisal of St. Paul VI’s intentions would, I think, conclude that while he indeed wanted a liturgical reform that would help smooth the way back to Catholic unity for Protestants by adopting some of their doctrinally unobjectionable liturgical practices—e.g., using the vernacular and adding more Scripture readings—he insisted on retaining strict fidelity to the Church’s dogmatic teaching in both texts and rubrics of the revised Missal.
The extent to which these ecumenically oriented reforms have succeeded or failed in promoting genuine unity among Christians is of course a very different question.
Exhibit 4: The six Protestant advisers
In view of what has just been said, the ecumenical input of some non-Catholic liturgists to the reform in the 1960s is not too surprising; but even though the prudence of having them there seems debatable, these gentlemen had no voting rights on the Vatican liturgical Consilium that was revising the Roman Missal, and nobody can point to any feature of the resulting Novus Ordo that was not already promoted independently by its Catholic authors.
Exhibit 5: Max Thurian
Traditionalist hardliners love to cite this Protestant theologian (one of the six just mentioned) who was prominent in the ecumenical Taizé community. OnePeterFive quotes him as making the following comment soon after Paul VI promulgated the Novus Ordo: “It is now theologically possible for Protestants to use the same Mass as Catholics” (bold type in original). Such traditionalists take this to vindicate “out of the horse’s mouth” their own claim that the Novus Ordo expresses Protestant rather than integrally Catholic doctrine.
But they never point out that Thurian was by no means a typical Protestant and certainly didn’t speak for Protestants in general. Just as not all professing Catholics adhere faithfully to Catholic doctrine, not all Protestants adhere to the doctrines of Luther and Calvin.
Thurian and quite a few ecumenically minded Protestants these days entertain ideas that approximate the Catholic doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice (and for this they are roundly denounced as traitors to the Reformation by traditional Protestants).
The relevant takeaway here is that no Protestant who takes seriously the thoroughly Catholic texts of the post-Vatican II Missal and who adheres to the classic Reformation rejection of the doctrines they express could possibly feel comfortable in “us[ing] the same Mass as Catholics.”
Harmful to Catholic unity
Let’s sum up. I’m pleading here that Catholics who prefer the ancient Latin rite (I myself celebrate it on weekdays) respect the wise provision of popes St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
In their documents restoring its use in the Church, these popes insist, in the interests of Church unity, that those celebrating and attending the Extraordinary Form must also acknowledge the doctrinal correctness and legitimacy of the Ordinary Form.
Unfortunately, the SSPX does not comply with that condition; nor does the OnePeterFive article cited, which even endorses the calumny that our post-conciliar rite of Holy Mass is “barely recognizable as a Catholic rite” and says, “It’s debatable whether this form of worship can even be called ‘Catholic’ in any meaningful sense.”
Dr. Peter Kwasniewski’s rhetoric, in another OnePeterFive post, is similarly disdainful. After scornfully branding the new rite “a shell, a simulacrum, a substitute,” he says, “[E]ven at its best, the Novus Ordo . . . is still a starvation diet compared with the riches in the preconciliar liturgical tradition. God can sanctify prisoners in jail fed on stale crusts and standing water, but this is not the manner in which He would sanctify most of us.”
It’s sad to see this skilled writer using his eloquence in a passionate effort to arouse contempt for our approved ordinary form of worship in Catholic hearts and minds.
Please, dear brethren! These intemperate excoriations of the Novus Ordo are manifestly harmful to Catholic unity and can even lead in a schismatic direction. Please God, the next half-century will see our inevitable disagreements carried out more in the tranquil spirit of the Holy Thursday liturgy: Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Sidebar 1: What of the Eucharist?
What of the Real Presence? Consider:
The priest’s required bow to the bread and chalice prior to their consecration, which is then marked by his genuflections and elevations of the host and chalice
The recommended bell-ringing and incensation for each consecration; the priest’s dramatic presentation of the host and chalice to the people proclaiming the Baptist’s immortal words, “Behold the Lamb of God . . . ”
The required kneeling of ministers and congregation for the consecration
The solemn eucharistic processions on Holy Thursday evening and Corpus Christi (a holy day of obligation that specifically honors the reality of Lord’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist)
The highly recommended services of eucharistic adoration and benediction outside of Mass
All these features of the Pauline liturgy demonstrate the falsity of the charge that it “destroys” the faith of Catholics in transubstantiation and the Real Presence.
Sidebar 2: Doctrines in the New Mass
In the current Missal we find clearly expressed not only the sacrificial character of the Mass but also:
The primacy of Peter and his successors (praying for the pope in every Mass, feasts of the Chair of Peter on Feb. 22 and Sts. Peter and Paul on June 29)
All the privileges of Our Blessed Lady (Immaculate Conception, Assumption, divine maternity, and her perpetual virginity proclaimed at the beginning of most Masses)
Our devotion to the other saints (with scores of their feast days celebrated throughout the year)
Transubstantiation (see above)
Prayers for the dead implying purgatory (briefly in every Eucharistic Prayer and more abundantly in funeral Masses and the Masses for All Souls Day (Nov. 2nd).
On July 16, 2021, Pope Francis released a new document regulating the celebration of the pre-Vatican II liturgy.
The document is titled Traditionis Custodes (Latin, “Guardians of the Tradition”), and it narrows the situations in which the traditional Latin liturgy is permitted.
There is much more to say about the document than can be covered here, but this will be an overview of some of the key points that have the most immediate impact.
Under the provisions of Benedict XVI’s 2007 document Summorum Pontificum, the individual priest was the primary decision-maker concerning when Mass would be celebrated according to the older form. Under the new document, the bishop has this responsibility.
Although rumors had been circulating that Pope Francis was likely to release a new document narrowing the situations in which the older liturgy could be celebrated, the document came more quickly than many suspected and took a large number by surprise. Reactions were quick in coming, with many on the internet expressing shock and outrage.
To correctly understand the document, it is important to get the facts and to try to understand why the pope made the decisions he did. A good starting point is reading the motu proprio itself.
To start with, although there are not as many opportunities to celebrate the traditional liturgy as when every individual priest could decide to perform it, there is no sudden end to its celebration. Instead, bishops whose dioceses have groups of faithful for whom the 1962 liturgy is celebrated are “to designate one or more locations where the faithful adherents of these groups may gather for the eucharistic celebration” according to the older form. In these “celebrations,” the document prescribes, “the readings”—presumably the single epistle reading, often but not always taken from the apostles’ New Testament letters, and the Gospel reading—“are proclaimed in the vernacular language, using translations of the Sacred Scripture approved for liturgical use by the respective Episcopal Conferences.”
The new locations specified in Traditionis Custodes aren’t to be in ordinary parish churches, but they may be in “personal parishes” already erected for this purpose. Although no new personal parishes are to be erected, the existing ones have not been suppressed (though it is up to the bishop whether to continue them).
Bishops in dioceses with the traditional liturgy also are directed “to appoint a priest who, as delegate of the bishop, is entrusted with these celebrations and with the pastoral care of these groups of the faithful. . . . This priest should have at heart not only the correct celebration of the liturgy, but also the pastoral and spiritual care of the faithful.”
The pope is thus not stopping the celebration of the traditional liturgy, but mandating a space for it separate from the parish churches and addressing the pastoral care of the faithful who prefer it.
There are other details to the current regulations, but these are the ones that have the most immediate impact on the ordinary faithful who prefer the traditional liturgy.
When it comes to understanding the pope’s reasoning behind these decisions, the best source of information is a letter that Pope Francis wrote to the world’s bishops explaining them. When reading the letter, we should remember the Catechism’s exhortation: “To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way” (2478).
In the letter, the pope seeks to enter the minds of his two predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, as well as the minds of those who are disappointed with poorly celebrated liturgies.
He writes: “I am saddened by abuses in the celebration of the liturgy on all sides. In common with Benedict XVI, I deplore the fact that ‘in many places the prescriptions of the new missal are not observed in celebration, but indeed come to be interpreted as an authorization for or even a requirement of creativity, which leads to almost unbearable distortions.’”
Francis notes that the bishops must “provide for the good of those who are rooted in the previous form of celebration and need to return in due time to the Roman Rite promulgated by Saints Paul VI and John Paul II.” In prescribing how to go about this, he concludes by asking the bishops “to be vigilant in ensuring that every liturgy be celebrated with decorum and fidelity to the liturgical books promulgated after Vatican Council II, without the eccentricities that can easily degenerate into abuses. Seminarians and new priests should be formed in the faithful observance of the prescriptions of the Missal and liturgical books.”
The pontiff traces the origin of Traditionis Custodes to a survey the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith conducted of the world’s bishops to ask how successfully Summorum Pontificum was being implemented in their dioceses.
He writes, “The responses reveal a situation that preoccupies and saddens me, and persuades me of the need to intervene. Regrettably, the pastoral objective of my predecessors, who had intended ‘to do everything possible to ensure that all those who truly possessed the desire for unity would find it possible to remain in this unity or to rediscover it anew,’ has often been seriously disregarded. An opportunity offered by St. John Paul II and, with even greater magnanimity, by Benedict XVI . . . was exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce the divergences, and encourage disagreements that injure the Church, block her path, and expose her to the peril of division.”
Specifically, the pope claims in his letter, attitudes had developed that were “often characterized by a rejection not only of the liturgical reform, but of the Vatican Council II itself, claiming, with unfounded and unsustainable assertions, that it betrayed the Tradition and the ‘true Church.’”
The extent to which these attitudes are present among attendees of the traditional liturgy can be debated. Nevertheless, the pope says he felt it necessary to intervene with the new regulations, lest these attitudes continue to grow and divisions in the body of Christ become even worse. The motu proprio thus directs local bishops with groups that celebrate the traditional liturgy “to determine that these groups do not deny the validity and the legitimacy of the liturgical reform, dictated by Vatican Council II and the magisterium of the supreme pontiffs.”
It should be borne in mind that each of the recent pontificates has seen significant shifts on the role of the traditional liturgy in the life of the Church. This is likely to continue in the future, and future popes may again choose to broaden the circumstances under which the traditional liturgy is permitted.
Love & unity, praise Him!
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "The harm that comes to souls from the lack of reading holy books makes me shudder . . . What power spiritual reading has to lead to a change of course, and to make even worldly people enter into the way of perfection." –St. Padre Pio, "Screens may grab our attention, but books change our lives!" – Word on Fire, "Reading has made many saints!" -St Josemaría Escrivá, "Do you pray? You speak to the Bridegroom. Do you read? He speaks to you." —St. Jerome, from his Letter 22 to Eustochium, "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori, "God here speaks to souls through…good books“ – St Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, "You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori "Never read books you aren't sure about. . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?" -St. John Bosco " To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer." —St. Thomas Aquinas, OP. "Prayer purifies us, reading instructs us. Both are good when both are possible. Otherwise, prayer is better than reading." –St. Isidore of Seville “The aid of spiritual books is for you a necessity.… You, who are in the midst of battle, must protect yourself with the buckler of holy thoughts drawn from good books.” -St. John Chrysostom