from Mass of Ages Autumn 2021
by Latin Mass Society
Traditionis Custodes and the accompanying Letter to Bishops
By Joseph Shaw
On Friday 16 July Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Letter ‘motu propio’ entitled Traditionis Custodes, accompanied by a lengthy Letter to Bishops giving his reasons for it. These document have potentially grave implications for the celebration of the ancient Latin Mass all over the world.
Key points from Traditionis Custodes
The terminology of ‘Ordinary’ and ‘Extraordinary’ ‘Forms’ of the Roman Rite is replaced by the ‘1962 Missal’ or ‘former Missal’, and the ‘reformed Mass’.
Bishops are to regulate the celebration of the 1962 Missal, determining where, when, and by whom, it is to be celebrated. They are prevented from setting up new ‘personal parishes’ for the celebration of the EF, or (perhaps equivalently) to establish new ‘groups’ attached to it. They are also directed to move celebrations for existing ‘groups’ away from parish churches, something which would be quite easy in Italian dioceses, but impractical in this country and many others. Groups attached to it should be respectful of the ‘legitimacy of the liturgical reform.’ The Epistle and Gospel are to be read in the vernacular (presumably, as well as in Latin). (Articles 3 and 4.)
We have been advised that the provisions of Article 3 pertain to ‘groups’, such as those granted rights under Summorum Pontificum. The Apostolic Letter does not, therefore, prevent priests simply celebrating the ancient Mass in their parish churches, and people attending it.
In general, the faithful are not impeded from attending celebrations of the 1962 Missal, and no mention is made of pilgrimages, funerals, the other sacraments, blessings, the Office, and so on. Since restrictive regulations must be interpreted narrowly (Canon 18), this implies that these remain permitted. Similarly, the right of priests to celebrate privately is not removed.
Priests ordained after the promulgation of Traditionis Custodes are to be permitted to celebrate the Traditional Mass with the approval of the bishop ‘who shall consult the Apostolic See before granting this authorisation’ (Article 4).
The role of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in regulating matters in relation to the Old Mass is transferred to the Congregations for Religious and for Divine Worship (Article 7).
Key points from the Letter to Bishops
The Letter argues that the unity of the Church is expressed by liturgical uniformity: ‘a single and identical prayer’, and it is towards a situation of uniformity that Pope Francis wishes to move. This contrasts with the view of Vatican II’s Unitatis Redintegratio (4): Let all, according to the gifts they have received enjoy a proper freedom, in their various forms of spiritual life and discipline, in their different liturgical rites, and even in their theological elaborations of revealed truth. In all things let charity prevail. If they are true to this course of action, they will be giving ever better expression to the authentic catholicity and apostolicity of the Church.
Added to this, the Letter claims that the results of the Survey of Bishops on the implementation of Summorum Pontificum indicated a clear desire among the episcopate that the Traditional Mass be entirely suppressed. This is very surprising, since those who have had sight of the reports have consistently told enquirers that the results were broadly positive. The bishops of France produced a summary report, which found its way into the public domain, and while it contains some quite hostile assessments it stops far short of demanding a complete end to the ancient Mass, and indeed they have responded to the Apostolic Letter with a statement which reassures Catholics attached to the 1962 Mass of the bishops’ continuing ‘esteem’. We can be sure that many bishops in North America, England and Wales, Poland, and other countries where Summorum Pontificum has been more warmly received, will have been positive about its results.
The final plank of the Letter’s justification for suppressing the Traditional Mass is the claim that those attached to it are characterised by ‘the rejection of the Church and her institutions in the name of what is called the “true Church.”’ While troubled and extreme individuals can be found in every area of life, the claim that such an attitude is somehow representative of the typical Traditional Mass congregation is puzzling, to say the least, since people with attitudes of this kind generally shun celebrations organised under the bishops.
Interpretation and Statement from the Latin Mass Society
The Latin Mass Society would like to underline three things about the Apostolic Letter Traditionis Custodes.
First, it does not forbid the celebration of the ‘1962 Missal’, or attendance at it. On the contrary, where there are ‘groups’ attached to it, it instructs bishops to find locations for it, times for its celebration, and celebrants (Articles 2.2, 2.3, 2.4). As noted above, outside the context of these ‘groups’, it remains permissible for priests to celebrate it freely, if they personally have permission to do so.
Secondly, it does not abrogate the 1962 Missal. In Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict observes that its nonabrogation itself establishes a right of priests of the Roman Rite to celebrate it, notwithstanding the role of bishops as moderators of the liturgy in their dioceses. It is with the latter point that Traditionis Custodesis concerned (Art 2).
Thirdly, as Pope Francis’ accompanying Letter emphasises, Traditionis Custodes, like all the Church’s legislation, aims at the good of souls, and it must be interpreted in that context. When ecclesial legislation has serious implications for the good of souls contrary to the expectations of the legislator, this is not merely a practical consideration to be taken into account when applying the law: within the Church’s tradition it is a legal consideration in understanding what the law itself demands.
Thus, for example, Canon 87.1 of the current Code of Canon Law states: A diocesan bishop, whenever he judges that it contributes to their spiritual good, is able to dispense the faithful from universal and particular disciplinary laws issued for his territory or his subjects by the supreme authority of the Church.
Traditionis Custodes is a disciplinary law, making this canon applicable.
To priests who celebrate the Traditional Mass
The Latin Mass Society would like to underline its support for priests who celebrate the Traditional Mass in England and Wales and beyond. Certain expressions in Traditionis Custodes and the accompanying Letter appear to attribute to such priests a frivolous attitude in initiating regular celebrations, and a lack of fidelity to the unity of the Church. For the vast majority of priests attached to the older Missal this is a gross injustice, which we entirely reject.
We recognise that priests may have very difficult decisions to make in the coming months and years. They must make these decisions according to their conscience and the dictates of the virtue of prudence. The Society calls on all its members and supporters to give our priests all possible moral and spiritual support at this time, and as a Society we will support in practical ways the continued celebration of the ancient Mass with all the resources at our disposal.
To lay Catholics attached to the Traditional Mass
The Latin Mass Society, like Una Voce groups around the world, is a lay-led organisation by design, since the laity have the freedom to speak and act in ways which are difficult or impossible for the clergy.
Pope Francis makes explicit, in his Letter to Bishops, his aspiration to end the celebration of the Traditional Mass entirely, though he acknowledges we ‘need time’ to make the transition.
This takes us back to the situation faced by the founders of the Latin Mass Society in 1969, when the venerable Mass was to be permitted only to aged priests unable to learn the new one, and for occasional use in old people’s homes and the like, until entirely phased out.
Our predecessors did not accede to Pope Paul VI’s famous ‘wish’ that all Catholics attend the reformed Mass exclusively. Similarly, and with the greatest respect to the Papal Office, the Society will not be facilitating the fulfilment of Pope Francis’ aspiration. This does not make us bad Catholics, because wishes and aspirations are not binding on the consciences of the Faithful. Given that Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI expressed diametrically opposed wishes and aspirations, it would clearly be absurd to imagine that they did.
In this situation, however, how are we to argue for the continued availability of the Old Mass? Pope Francis recognises that the immediate worldwide banning of the Traditional Mass would be contrary to the good of souls, and for this reason he allows it to continue, though under more stringent control than before. It is for us to explain to our pastors that the good of souls is best served by its continued celebration, in as many places and as frequently as possible.
At the same time, we must recognise that a certain characterisation of the lay faithful attached to the ancient Mass, quoted above, as of the clergy who serve them, is cited by Pope Francis as one reason for the new restrictions. This amounts to the claim that those who have for fifty years and more been seeking an explicit legal provision for the celebration of the ancient Mass, under our bishops and with the approval of the Holy Father, actually reject the Church’s unity, her legal order, and the authority of her lawful pastors. I leave to readers to judge the coherence of this allegation. It remains important, however, that what we do now serves to underline the injustice of this claim, and not make it true after all.
As already indicated, this does not imply that we submit to what is not binding. It does mean that we continue, as we always have, to exercise our rights with due respect for persons, with patience and charity, and to accept the suffering which the Lord permits in a spirit of reparation.
Let us pray for our priests, our bishops, and for the Holy Father.
'The Society calls on all its members and supporters to give our priests all possible moral and spiritual support...'