Pope Francis released a motu proprio on Friday, July 16, 2021, entitled Traditionis Custodes (“Guardians of Tradition”). This document will almost certainly be interpreted differently depending on the perspective of the reader. Those who currently and regularly attend the “Traditional Latin Mass” will see it as an attack. Those who do not understand the attraction of the older form of the Rite will see it as an unqualified success.
Rather than relying on what people say about the document, what does the document itself say? What is a motu proprio? There will be many who are interested in the topic but do not have the technical knowledge to understand the document on its own. To that end, we have provided here a short question and answer format guide.
What is a Motu Proprio?
First, we need to define “motu proprio” because it is exceptionally important to the conversation. Literally, the phrase means “on one’s own initiative” which is a papal edict that the Pope personally issues to the Roman Catholic Church.
A motu proprio bears a high magisterial authority. In fact, when the motu proprio is issued it can change the current law of the Church and establish new customs or practices, including in the liturgy.
The Pope has this authority. He cannot change key elements of the liturgy, such as the matter and form of consecration of the Eucharist, but he can change the rituals themselves.
Does This Affect the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church?
This motu proprio is only directed to the Latin Rite of the Church. So, it does not affect the various Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church directly.
What is Summorum Pontificum and What Did It Do?
Summorum Pontificum was issued by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007. The Pope shows the long arch of history of the “Traditional Latin Mass” which, at least, extends back to the liturgical reforms of the Council of Trent in the 16th Century and led to the promulgation of the Roman Missal of 1962 under Pope St. John XXIII.
It recalls that, after the institution of the Roman Missal of 1970 (often called the “Novus Ordo” Missae which means New Order of the Missal), Pope St. John Paul II allowed for the offering of the Traditional Latin Mass under certain conditions in 1984 and expanded conditions in 1988.
The Pope went on to say that the Latin Mass will be referred to as the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite and the Novus Ordo Missae will be referred to as the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite (because after 40 years, it was no longer “new”). He also allowed it that any priest in the Latin Rite could offer the 1962 or 1970 Roman Missal.
Summorum Pontificum also allowed for the establishing of permanent communities centered around the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, and it allowed for personal parishes to be erected for these groups of clergy and faithful. This allowed for groups like the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) and the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest (ICKSP) to expand considerably.
All quotations below, unless otherwise cited, are from Traditionis Custodes.
Who Are the “Guardians of the Tradition”?
The bishops in communion with the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) are the “guardians of the tradition.” They are the “visible principle and foundation of the unity of their particular Churches.” A particular Church is a diocese.
What is the Thrust of Traditionis Custodes?
There was a survey conducted around the whole world regarding the celebration of the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite. The consensus, it can be deduced, is that there were problematic things that were reported to the Pope which questioned the unity of the Church. This report was gathered and given to the Pope by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
From the edict, it can be inferred that the two forms are widely being pitted one against the other, and there is a spirit of denying the “validity and the legitimacy of the liturgical reform, dictated by the Vatican Council II and the Magisterium of the Supreme Pontiffs.”
What Does Traditionis Custodes Do?
1) The liturgical books promulgated by Pope St. Paul VI and Pope St. John Paul II are the “unique expression of the lex orandi [law of prayer] of the Roman Rite.” This choice of the word “unique” goes further than Summorum Pontificum which referred to this as the “ordinary” expression of the lex orandi.
2) The bishop, in his diocese, is the “moderator, promoter, and guardian of the whole liturgical life of the particular Church [diocese] entrusted to him, to regulate the liturgical celebrations of his diocese.” The bishop alone has exclusive authority to authorize the use of the 1962 Roman Missal.
3) The bishop must determine in his diocese:
a. That traditionalist groups do not deny the validity of the Second Vatican Council or the other liturgical documents of the past decades.
b. Is to designate where groups may lawfully celebrate the extraordinary form – which cannot be “in the parochial churches [parishes] and without the erection of new personal parishes.”
c. The bishop determines on which days these groups may offer the 1962 Roman Missal. And the readings must be proclaimed in the vernacular, rather than in Latin.
d. There should be a priest appointed, as a delegate of the bishop, who can be a pastoral guide to these groups who has sufficient knowledge of the rubrics and liturgical texts and knowledge of the Latin language.
e. Must assess each of the currently established personal parishes to determine where or not to retain them, based on whether they are “effective for [the] spiritual growth [of the faithful].”
f. Not to establish new groups.
4) Those priests ordained after July 16, 2021, are to formally make a request to the bishop if they wish to celebrate the 1962 Roman Missal, who must then consult the Vatican.
5) Priests who already celebrate the 1962 Roman Missal should request continued use of this faculty from the bishop.
6) Institutes of consecrated life and Societies of apostolic life, established under the document Ecclesia Dei, are to be overseen by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies for Apostolic Life at the Vatican, a change from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
7) The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies for Apostolic Life and the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments will oversee the implementation of this motu proprio.
8) “Previous norms, instructions, permissions, and customs that do not conform to the provisions of the present Motu Proprio are abrogated.”
There will be many voices offering their take on this document. Some will be charitable, and others will not. We must all understand that this is a true change that will constitute a difficulty for many men in the clergy as well as many members of the faithful. Humility, obedience, and patience will be needed in surplus.
We must also understand that this is not a passing occurrence. This motu proprio already carries with it the full weight of the Magisterium, being a canonically binding edict. However, it is also stated in the document that it “be published in the official Commentary of the Holy See, Acta Apostolicae Sedis [AAS; Acts of the Apostolic See].” The AAS is irreformable and binding and is an expression of the constant and universal Magisterium.
If we are to receive this motu proprio in charity, humility, and obedience, I would firmly recommend that we pray for unity in the Church and for the salvation of souls.