Is It True That Pope Francis Is Restricting The Traditional Latin Mass?

by Catholic Church, Controversial Subjects, Mass, Pope Francis

Traditionis Custodes

Early on July 16, 2021, Pope Francis issued a Motu Proprio entitled Traditionis Custodes which sent shockwaves through the Catholic world, especially in more traditionalist circles. For a brief first look at what the document says, please click here.

The internet was certainly abuzz with the reactions of various prelates and commentators on July 16, 2021. Notably, his Excellency Archbishop Cordileone of San Francisco wasted no time in assuring his flock that the Latin Mass would continue to be offered as it had been. His Eminence Cardinal Burke offered his take as a canonist on some of his perceived flaws in the argumentation and thrust of the document. Cardinal Burke’s comments, as well as some excellent reporting from Edward Pentin can be found here.

A Second Glance At Pope Francis’ Words

In this article, now that we have broken the document open to examine what it says, at face value, let us take a second glance. It is one thing to speak of what a document says and quite another to surmise how it might actually be put into practice in a diocese.

Restrictive of Groups, Not the Mass Itself

Without doubt, the Motu Proprio is restrictive of groups who exclusively offer the Extraordinary Form of Mass of the Roman Rite. Groups such as FSSP, ICKSP, and others which only offer the Extraordinary Form of the Sacred Liturgy. However, is the Extraordinary Form of the Sacred Liturgy the target of this Motu Proprio primarily, or is it the groups themselves?

The best way to investigate this is to offer commentary, section by section. This could serve as another possible interpretation and perhaps a way forward for some bishops who are not sure how best to proceed. I would recommend having the Moto Proprio open for reference as we proceed.

Traditionis Custodes | Introduction

Who did Pope Francis write this document to primarily? Of course, it is a Motu Proprio issued to the entire Latin Rite Church. There is a giant clue to what Pope Francis is trying to do in how he situates himself as following in the line of the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, and, in particular, St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Quoting the 1988 Ecclesia Dei Motu Proprio of St. John Paul II, he says that the faculty to use the 1962 Roman Missal was extended by the Pontiffs with the intention “to facilitate the ecclesial communion of those Catholics who feel attached to some earlier liturgical forms’ and not to others (TC, Intro.).”

This shows clearly that Pope Francis is addressing this Motu Proprio to those groups of the faithful, and an issue he perceives with the ecclesial spirit of these groups. Notice that when he quotes Ecclesia Dei he makes the addition of “and not to others” in regards to attachment to liturgical reforms. This document is aimed at those groups which only celebrate the Usus Antiquor of the Holy Mass, such as FSSP and ICKSP.

In order to promote the concord and unity of the Church, with paternal solicitude towards those who in any region adhere to liturgical forms antecedent to the reform willed by the Vatican Council II, my Venerable Predecessors, Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI, granted and regulated the faculty to use the Roman Missal edited by John XXIII in 1962. [3] In this way they intended “to facilitate the ecclesial communion of those Catholics who feel attached to some earlier liturgical forms” and not to others. [4]

– Pope Francis | Traditionis Custodes

Traditionis Custodes | Article 1

The lex orandi comes from an ancient maxim: lex orandi, lex credendi. In other words, the way we pray, informs what we believe, and, in turn, shapes how we live. Pope Francis has remarked often of the rigidity which he sees in groups that only offer the Traditional Latin Mass. In my own experience, this broad generalization is not without some merit, but is largely exaggerated.

To the credit of the overwhelming majority of those who attend such liturgies with regularity, there is a terrific sense of the sacred, the importance of good doctrine and right morals, and a desire to share the goodness, truth, and beauty of Christ and His Church. There is, however, a vocal sentiment in these groups, even if they are a small minority, of absolute disdain for the Ordinary Form. One need only visit the depths of Hell on Earth – Catholic Twitter – for a few minutes to hear any number of negative statements against the “Modernist Church,” including traditionalist clergy.

To clear up any other notions: it is possible and necessary to celebrate the Ordinary Form of the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with reverence, dignity, and care. Liturgical abuses must end. However, this is completely within possibility. It is also within possibility for a Latin Rite priest to offer both forms of the Roman Rite with due gravitas and beauty (Fr. Richard Heilman comes to mind).  

Traditionis Custodes | Article 2

Nowhere in the document does Pope Francis restrict the use of the liturgical books prior to 1970. He gives the bishop the “exclusive competence to authorize the use of the 1962 Roman Missal in his diocese, according to the guidelines of the Apostolic See (TC, 2).” In line with the principle of subsidiarity, it is the duty of the local ordinary to pastorally care for the spiritual good of the people under his care.

It belongs to the diocesan bishop, as moderator, promoter, and guardian of the whole liturgical life of the particular Church entrusted to him, [5] to regulate the liturgical celebrations of his diocese. [6] Therefore, it is his exclusive competence to authorize the use of the 1962 Roman Missal in his diocese, according to the guidelines of the Apostolic See.

Pope Francis | Traditionis Custodes

Traditionis CustodesArticle 3

Article 3 is where the rubber meets the road. It states what “the bishop of the diocese in which until now there exist one or more groups that celebrate according to the Missal antecedent to the reform of 1970 (TC, 3)” must do. He does not, however, say anything about groups that celebrate according to both forms. The very first clarification that he asks of the bishops is to ensure that these groups confirm the validity of the Second Vatican Council and the 1970 Roman Missal. For those priests who already regularly celebrate the 1970 Roman Missal as well, why would he ask this question?

This article is clearly referring to groups of clergy and laity who celebrate only the Extraordinary Form. He does not seem to want a Traditional Latin Mass only approach. This section implies that the spiritual growth of the faithful requires a balance and a firm acceptance of the authentic liturgical reforms of the past decades.

This article also begs the question: could the bishops not determine when and where a group or even an individual priest could use the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite? Even Summorum Pontificum qualified certain requirements that needed to be met before the regular scheduling of such liturgies.

The status quo can easily be maintained for diocesan parishes which offer both forms of the Sacred Liturgy. The bishops would be on firm footing to extend faculties to those priests who already celebrate the Extraordinary Form regularly. Unless there is a manifest schismatic spirit, this is the pastoral thing to do, at this point.

Again, it must be stated: this document is not a restriction on the Extraordinary Form itself so much as it is a restriction on groups that refuse to offer the Ordinary Form as well.

Traditionis Custodes | Articles 4 and 5

Any priest who is ordained after July 16, 2021, needs to officially request from his bishop to use the Roman Missal of 1962. This need not be an inquisition. The bishop can forward the request to the Apostolic See. Priests who already celebrate the 1962 Roman Missal need only request faculties from their bishop to “continue to enjoy this faculty.” It seems here that the Vatican desires to have the bishops in conversation with their priests.

Traditionis Custodes | Articles 6 and 7

When reading this document, this article seems to show most clearly that the Motu Proprio is directed towards groups rather than individual priests, on the whole. The groups which celebrate only the Extraordinary Form were established under the 1988 Ecclesia Dei and were under the competency of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. With this current Motu Proprio, the Pope is situating these groups under the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies for Apostolic Life.

In other words, the Pope seems to be drawing these groups more fully into the “ordinary” life of the Church. Rather than a minority group founded for those who feel attached to the previous liturgical practices, as Ecclesia Dei put it, FSSP, ICKSP, and others will need to move with the Apostolic See and the ordinary life of the Church. This will be uncomfortable and, if I was Pope, I would have gone a different direction, but the Roman Pontiff has authority in these matters.

Traditionis Custodes | Article 8

This final statement reads: “Previous norms, instructions, permissions, and customs that do not conform to the provisions of the present Motu Proprio are abrogated.” This is a catch-all statement which means that the provisions and actually enumerated restrictions have binding force. There are no loopholes or “this is the way it’s always been done” arguments that the Apostolic See will entertain.

Traditionis Custodes | Conclusion

This Motu Proprio is a restriction on the groups established under Ecclesia Dei, without doubt. A bishop need not see the Motu Proprio as restrictive of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, as such. In fact, the Motu Proprio says nothing of Baptism, Penance, Extreme Unction, or any sacrament celebrated outside of Mass. Additionally, it does not make any changes regarding the Breviary or any blessings from before 1970.

One Altar, One Lord, One Faith

July 16 is the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Our Blessed Mother always gives us pause to recollect, to pray, and to offer our submission of mind and heart to God. He alone is good. He alone is the source of our salvation. Our Lord Jesus Christ suffered, died, and rose, and established for us an everlasting memorial of the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass where the graces of the Cross flow to us, outside of space and time.

On the one altar of the Cross, Jesus Christ showed His love for us. It is fitting to call to mind Mount Carmel today and always. It is the mountain where Elijah went to spiritual battle with the prophets of Baal. Each of the prophets wailed, spilled their own blood on their altars, hoping that Baal would show them to be victorious. Yet, only one altar was consumed by holy fire: the altar of the one true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Today, there is but one altar. Whether we are at the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Rites or the Ordinary Form or Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, we are taking part in the Paschal Mystery of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is one altar, one Lord, one faith: let us act like it.

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