Traditionis Custodes. New Oxford Review.

Traditionis Custodes: Taking a Bulldozer to an Anthill. Traditionalists and Pope Francis by Pieter Vree, editor |New Oxford Review, October 2021

“Nobody comes out clean…”

In January 1985 President Ronald Reagan, a Republican, signed the Mexico City Policy, which prohibits federally funded nongovernmental organizations from performing or promoting abortions in foreign countries. The next Democrat elected to the office, Bill Clinton, in his first presidential act in January 1993, revoked the Mexico City Policy. The next Republican president, George W. Bush, reinstated it in January 2001. And on it went, back and forth: Obama revoked it; Trump reinstated it; and, naturally, Biden revoked it.

There’s a dreary predictability to all this. Depending on whether a Democrat or a Republican holds the high office, you know whether the Mexico City Policy is in effect. It’s a policy subject to the political pendulum.

It is fair to wonder, with Pope Francis’s promulgation this July of Traditionis Custodes, his motu proprio restricting the celebration of the Traditional or Tridentine Latin Mass (TLM), whether we’ve reached a similar stage in ecclesial politics.

Back in July 2007, Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, promulgated Summorum Pontificum, his own motu proprio granting free access to the TLM to the “no small numbers of faithful” who favor the “extraordinary form” of the Roman rite. Summorum Pontificum empowered the laity and established official grievance procedures. Benedict decreed that in parishes “where there is a stable group of faithful who adhere to the earlier liturgical tradition,” pastors should “willingly accede to their requests” for the celebration of the TLM. If this group does not receive “satisfaction from the pastor,” they are to inform their diocesan bishop, who “is strongly requested” to satisfy them. If the bishop “cannot arrange for such a celebration,” they are to refer the matter to the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei.

With Traditionis Custodes, Pope Francis has undone all that. He has proscribed the power of the people and placed it in the palms of prelates. “It belongs to the diocesan bishop, as moderator, promoter, and guardian of the whole liturgical life of the particular Church entrusted to him, to regulate the liturgical celebrations of his diocese,” Francis writes. “Therefore, it is his exclusive competence to authorize the use of the [TLM] in his diocese, according to the guidelines of the Apostolic See.” It should be noted that the Pope pre-emptively cut off the faithful’s recourse to an office higher than that of their local ordinary: He suppressed the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei in 2019, merging it with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Benedict, early in his papacy, was often characterized as a dogmatic authoritarian. Yet, with Summorum Pontificum, he wrested control of the Mass from the bishops to allow the grassroots development of liturgical traditionalism. In so doing, Benedict proved himself to be less dictatorial, and more democratic, than his common caricature. Indications are that the numbers of those attending the TLM grew by modest amounts in many places where it was offered, though a significant groundswell of demand didn’t materialize.

With Traditionis Custodes, Francis, too, has shown his true colors. He isn’t the great liberalizer many hoped he would be. Rather, Francis is a big believer in authority — his own and that of his brother bishops. “I take the firm decision to abrogate all the norms, instructions, permissions and customs that precede the present Motu proprio,” he writes in his letter accompanying Traditionis Custodes. Bishops, he says, are “to designate one or more locations where the faithful adherents of these [stable] groups may gather for the eucharistic celebration (not however in the parochial churches and without the erection of new personal parishes),” and they are “to take care not to authorize the establishment of new groups.”

Traditionalism may go this far, Francis is saying, but no further. And he has deputized bishops as traditionis custodes — “guardians of tradition” — guarding against the further growth of traditionalism.

Vatican watchers have speculated for years that something like this has been in the works, at least since 2016, three years into Francis’s papacy. Heck, the NOR published an article over three years ago by W. Patrick Cunningham on this very topic (“What If Pope Francis Were to Rescind Summorum Pontificum?” March 2018). It seems to have been one of Francis’s long-term goals.

Many, however, figured Francis would have the courtesy to wait until Benedict had died to undo one of the landmark acts of his predecessor’s papacy. But no. Benedict keeps hanging on. Perhaps Francis’s recent hospitalization — he was discharged ten days after having surgery for colon diverticulitis this July — instilled a sense of urgency in him. Francis is, after all, 84 years old. Benedict might outlive him!

Even Francis’s strongest supporters know the clock is ticking. “Age is catching up to Francis. Barring a miracle, he will only be expected to continue as pope for five or six years,” wrote Thomas Reese, S.J. (Religion News Service, July 13). “We may look back at his hospitalization as the moment that marked the beginning of the end of his papacy.” Perhaps the Pope’s thinking is: Why put off to an uncertain tomorrow what can be done today?

Fr. Reese, a Francis acolyte, makes the risible claims that the Pope “has encouraged dialogue and a more consultative style of governance…. Francis has rebranded the papacy for the 21st century with a pastoral, prophetic and inclusive voice.”

Dialogue? Inclusion? Only with certain types. Those outside his sheepfold — homosexuals, atheists, Protestants, Muslims, Chinese communists — the Holy Father handles with velvet gloves. Those under his care — traditionalists, in particular — he rules with an iron fist. Francis’s most famous quip, “If a person seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” doesn’t apply to them.

Francis has made big talk about pastors having “the smell of the sheep.” But he, as Universal Pastor, finds the odor of his traditionalist flock repugnant.

But, really, who can blame him? Especially given traditionalists’ proclivity to disrespect the postconciliar papacy and set themselves up as superior to average Catholics who are content to worship according to the “ordinary form” of the Mass in their local parishes. Disdain for everyday Catholicism is palpable in many traditionalist milieus. It is “plain in the words and attitudes of many” traditionalists, Francis observes. There is a “close connection,” he writes, “between the choice of celebrations according to the [TLM] and the rejection of the Church and her institutions in the name of what is called the ‘true Church.’ One is dealing here with comportment that contradicts communion and nurtures the divisive tendency.”

Read any traditionalist publication or visit any traditionalist website and you’ll see this is true. Many actively seek to widen the wedge between their followers — whom they obsequiously flatter as the “true church” or “faithful remnant” — and the Church at large, including the present Magisterium and the past six pontiffs. The Remnant, for example, recently called Francis an “idolater” who “continually betrays the Body of Christ” (May 15).

For such as these, “tradition” and the TLM have themselves become objects of worship. They are, for some, symbols of defiance, badges of belonging to a select group that has exclusive access to the sole path to salvation.

These attitudes and tendencies contravene the spirit and letter of Summorum Pontificum, which Benedict XVI expected would “enable…all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew.” He even held out hope that “the two Forms of the usage of the Roman Rite” — ordinary (Novus Ordo) and extraordinary (TLM) — would “be mutually enriching.” (**)

Save for isolated exceptions, it wasn’t to be.

“Regrettably, the pastoral objective of my Predecessors,” Francis notes in his letter accompanying Traditionis Custodes, “has often been seriously disregarded. An opportunity…intended to recover the unity of an ecclesial body with diverse liturgical sensibilities 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.”

These attitudes and tendencies aren’t limited to the most vociferous of public radical-traditionalist mouthpieces. It can be found in various traditionalist communities as well (though, of course, not in all of them).

Just ask Rachel Dobbs, a former traditionalist who spent decades in such communities before becoming disillusioned by the tired triumphalism of what she terms “quasi-schismatic groups.” She and her trad cohort saw themselves as “the true Catholics preserving tradition. I saw myself that way. I remembered how I looked down on all those ‘other’ Catholics,” she writes (, Aug. 17). “I took part in many conversations that were nothing but complaints. There wasn’t a Sunday that went by that we didn’t discuss how awful the regular ‘Novus Ordo’ Mass was…. I believed that the Tridentine aesthetics were more Catholic and more authentic…. I was sure that the future of the Church laid in returning to the Tridentine Mass and tradition.”

Even after Summorum Pontificum, Dobbs writes, “The emphasis on the ‘superiority’ of the Tridentine Mass over the ‘Novus Ordo’ remained,” and traditionalist groups were still “isolated from much of parish life.” So much for mutual enrichment…

And so, Francis concludes, “In defense of the unity of the Body of Christ, I am constrained to revoke the faculty granted by my Predecessors. The distorted use that has been made of this faculty is contrary to the intentions that led to granting the freedom to celebrate the [Traditional Latin] Mass.”

There are no clear-cut protagonists in this latest episode in the drama over the Church’s liturgical rites, only antagonists. Nobody comes out clean…

Read it all…

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(**) N.B. / SH: Benedict XVI writes, “It seems to me essential, the basic step, to recognize that both Missals are Missals of the Church, and belong to the Church which remains the same as ever” (Looking Again at the Question of the Liturgy, pp. 148-9, emphasis added)

Summorum Pontificum Not Motivated by Lefebvre Schism

Benedict XVI said, “The reauthorization of the Tridentine Mass is often interpreted primarily as a concession to the Society of Saint Pius X. This is just absolutely false. It was important for me that the Church is one with herself inwardly, with her own past; that what was previously holy to her is not somehow wrong now” [Last Testament in His Own Words, Ignatius Press, 2017, pp. 201-202.

Catholic News Agency. November 8, 2021. Vatican Liturgy Chief: Traditional Latin Mass “abrogated by Paul VI”

Blase Cupich Says Traditional Latin Mass is Done

The Gift of Traditionis Custodes
November 1, 2021 Other Voices 5_ Vatican II
by Blase Cupich

During a recent meeting with our priests in Chicago, I was asked about the motu proprio, Traditionis custodes (TC), recently issued by Pope Francis. They were curious about how the archdiocese would respond to it and what insights this document can offer all of us about the liturgy.

I think it is important to point out from the outset that a careful reading of  the motu proprio  reveals the Holy Father’s intention in issuing this document. Simply put, it is to re-establish throughout the Church of the Roman Rite a single and identical prayer that expresses its unity, according to the liturgical books promulgated by the saintly Popes Paul VI and John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of the Second Vatican Council. In other words, there are not two forms of the Roman Rite, because the word “reform” means something, namely that we leave behind  a former way of celebrating the sacraments and adopt a new form.

To put that word “reform” in perspective, just recall some of the other reforms following the Second Vatican Council, which we have witnessed in our days.  In 1983, Pope John Paul II reformed  the Code of Canon Law of 1917, in order to insure that Church Law conformed to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. Likewise, the saintly pope in 1993 reformed  the Catechism of the Catholic Church, again for the purpose of bringing it up-to-date in view of the theological insights of the Council. The way we worship was also reformed in view of the new self-understanding of the Church found in the dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium and the theological and liturgical developments expressed in the Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium. With the reforms of the Code and the Catechism, the Church left behind their earlier forms. No one would think of arguing that the earlier forms of the Code or the Catechism could still be used, simply because the word reform means something. And, so it has to mean something with regard to the liturgical reform.

With that starting point, Pope Francis offers three important guiding principles for receiving and implementing TC. The first is the unity of the Church. Archbishop Augustine DiNoia, Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith made the observation in an interview with Cindy Wooden of Catholic News Service  that “when St. John Paul and Pope Benedict expanded the possibility of using the pre-Vatican II Mass, they were hoping to promote unity in the church and to counter abuses that were widespread in the celebration of the post-Vatican II Mass.” This aspiration in granting the concession to use the earlier form of the liturgy was to heal the rift with members of the Society of St. Pius X, established by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Sadly, however, that was not achieved. Instead the archbishop observed, “what we have got now is a movement within the church herself, seemingly endorsed by her leaders, that sows division by undermining the reforms of the Second Vatican Council through the rejection of the most important of them: the reform of the Roman Rite.”

A second guiding principle the pope addresses in TC is that there has to be a solid unequivocal recognition on the part of all Catholics  that the Second Vatican Council and its reforms are not only an authentic action of the Holy Spirit but also are in continuity with the Tradition of the Church. In particular, this recognition means the full acceptance that “the liturgical books promulgated by Saint Paul VI and Saint John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of Vatican Council II, are the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.” [1]

A third principle is the role of the bishop as the sole moderator, promoter and guardian of all liturgical life in his diocese. Pope Francis, by issuing TC,  has returned competency to the local bishop for the regulation of the use as an exceptional concession of the former liturgy. Consequently, each bishop is to decide if and when it may be opportune to grant by way of exception the use of rituals prior  to the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council liturgy (Missale Romanum of 1962 and Rituale Romanum  of 1952). In his letter to bishops around the world to accompany the text of TC  Pope Francis makes clear that the local bishop is duty bound to take his decision in a way that promotes in his diocese a return to a unitary celebratory form.

Pastorally fulfilling the aims of TC will require that we as pastors accompany people in coming to an understanding of the link between the way we worship and what we believe,[2] keeping in mind the Holy Father’s desire that pastors are to lead the faithful to the sole use of the reformed liturgical books.

Accompaniment may take the form of visiting with the faithful who have regularly attended Mass and celebrated sacraments with the earlier rituals to help them understand the essential principles of renewal called for in the Second Vatican Council. It must also involve helping people appreciate how the reformed Mass introduces them to a greater use of scripture and prayers from the Roman tradition, as well as an updated liturgical calendar of feasts that includes recently canonized saints. Accompaniment may also mean creatively including in the Mass reformed by the Council elements which people have found nourishing in celebrating the earlier form of the Mass, which has already been an option, e.g., reverent movement and gestures,  use of Gregorian chant, Latin and incense and extended periods of silence within the liturgy.

I believe that we can use this opportunity to help all of our people come to a fuller understanding of the great gift that the Council has given us in reforming the way we worship. I take seriously my obligation to move forward in a way that promotes a return to a unitary celebratory form in accord with the directives of TC, but in the meantime,  we all need to pray, as Jesus did the night before he died, that all may be one.

Cardinal Blase Cupich is the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Illinois.

[1] Traditionis Custodes, art. 1.
[2] See Prosper of Aquitaine, Patrologia Latina, 51, pp. 209–10: “Let us consider  sacraments of priestly prayers, which having been handed down by the apostles are celebrated uniformly throughout the whole world and in every Catholic Church so that the law of praying might establish the law of believing [ut legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi].”

Mass Confusion:

— Catholic News Agency. November 8, 2021. Vatican Liturgy Chief: Traditional Latin Mass “abrogated by Paul VI”

— Traditionis custodes: Rome diocese bans Traditional Latin Mass for Easter Triduum

Pope Benedict XVI: “As for the use of the 1962 Missal as a Forma extraordinaria of the liturgy of the Mass, I would like to draw attention to the fact that this Missal was never juridically abrogated and, consequently, in principle, was always permitted. ” — Pope Benedict XVI, Summorum Pontificum

— Archbishop Gänswein: Progressivist forces waging a “vile attack on Benedict XVI”

Fr. Gerald Murray: Can you criticize a pope?

— See also Raymond Arroyo and The World Over on these and other confusions

—- Dec. 2021. Traditionis custodes: Vatican further tightens restrictions on Traditional Latin Mass

The New Criterion Making the Case for Studying Latin

Larry Chapp: It’s not [only] about the liturgy

Karl Keating is a Catholic apologist and author who founded and presided over Catholic Answers, the largest well-known lay apostolate of Catholic apologetics and evangelism.

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