The Cruel and Incoherent Further Restrictions on the Traditional Latin Mass

The document Responsa ad dubia (“Responses to doubts”) of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW) on certain provisions of Pope Francis’ Motu Proprio Traditionis Custodes (TC) just published Saturday, is, plain and simple, a brutal exercise of raw ecclesiastical power in pursuit of the elimination of the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) and the other sacramental rites that, with it, constitute a liturgical unity. It expands the clampdown on the TLM initiated by Pope Francis in TC. (Available by clicking here.)

The faithful who find spiritual nourishment in these liturgical rites are shown no pastoral charity or generosity of spirit in this new order of things. They are unjustly accused of fomenting disunity in the Church by virtue of their attachment to the older rites. In his prefatory letter, CDW prefect Archbishop Arthur Roche states: “As pastors we must not lend ourselves to sterile polemics, capable only of creating division, in which the ritual itself is often exploited by ideological viewpoints.” This claim about the TLM is never illustrated in his letter. It is asserted as if it were a fact plainly evident to all. It is not.

Who are the nefarious people promoting ideological viewpoints that exploit the older ritual? Where and how is this being done, and to what purpose? By what definition is a viewpoint an “ideology,” as distinct from a set of principles? When are polemics sterile and not fruitful? Polemics are regularly used these days by many in the Church to denounce all sorts of things such as man-made global warming and anti-immigrant policies in various nations. Do these polemics qualify as sterile, causing division?

Archbishop Roche states:

The first aim is to continue “in the constant search for ecclesial communion” (Traditionis custodes, Preamble) which is expressed by recognising in the liturgical books promulgated by the Popes Saint Paul VI and Saint John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of the Second Vatican Council, the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite (cf. Traditionis custodes, n. 1). This is the direction in which we wish to move, and this is the meaning of the responses we publish here. Every prescribed norm has always the sole purpose of preserving the gift of ecclesial communion by walking together, with conviction of mind and heart, in the direction indicated by the Holy Father. (Emphasis added.)

Question: Is not a Catholic free in his mind and heart to respectfully disagree when he finds the direction the pope wants him to walk in to be the wrong way to go? Isn’t such Gospel frankness what we owe to our chief shepherd when we consider that he has made a mistake? Or does Archbishop Roche want us to believe that popes do not make mistakes? Certainly not, since the Responsa ad dubia are an indictment of the decisions of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI concerning the TLM.

The ecclesial communion of the faithful who up to now have been peacefully worshipping in the Extraordinary Form thanks to the permissions granted by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI is demonstrated by their choice to respond in filial gratitude to that papal generosity of spirit, and not turn to the canonically irregular Society of St. Pius X . It is presumptuous and unfair to place these notably devout Catholics under suspicion for not recognizing in the reformed liturgical books issued by Popes Paul VI and John Paul II a unique expression of the lex orandi when they avail themselves of a permission first granted by the same John Paul II, and then expanded by Benedict XVI, to participate in a papally approved expression of the lex orandi. This simply makes no sense.

The claim that there is a unique – meaning only one – expression of the lex orandi (the Missal of Pope Paul VI) makes no sense given that there are other legitimately approved expressions of the lex orandi. The papally approved Missal for use in the Personal Ordinariates for Anglicans is called “a legitimate adaptation of the Roman Rite” in the 2015 decree approving this Missal co-signed by Archbishop Roche. The Roman Missal of 1962 remains authorized for use in the Latin Rite, albeit in increasingly restricted circumstances, and so is canonically an expression of the lex orandi, unless one were to implausibly claim that the Church authorizes the use of a liturgical rite that is not an expression of the lex orandi of the Church. What would it be then?

The eleven responses to questions about Traditionis Custodes present contradictions of fact and logic, as well as manifestly cruel provisions designed to punish people who are enjoying great spiritual fruitfulness in the TLM through the pastoral charity of the two previous popes. Let’s look at a few of these stunningly unpastoral diktats:

  • In describing the TC’s prohibition of using parish churches for the celebration of the TLM, the Congregations states: “The exclusion of the parish church is intended to affirm that the celebration of the Eucharist according to the previous rite, being a concession limited to these groups, is not part of the ordinary life of the parish community.”

So ordinary parish life does not include ordinary pastoral care given to a group of parishioners who were only doing what Pope Benedict told them they could do? Are they even considered to be parishioners anymore, since their presence at the TLM is a concession to “a group” that does not participate in ordinary parish life? Isn’t this manifestly a form of religious apartheid?

  • The Congregation continues: “Moreover, such a celebration should not be included in the parish Mass schedule, since it is attended only by the faithful who are members of the said group. Finally, it should not be held at the same time as the pastoral activities of the parish community. It is to be understood that when another venue becomes available, this permission will be withdrawn.”

Notice how the TLM “group” is described in contradistinction to the “parish community.” Shouldn’t the parish Mass schedule include all the Masses celebrated regularly at the parish? Is the parish secretary who gets a phone call asking about the TLM prohibited from telling the time of the Mass? Does one have to show some form of registration as being a member of the TLM “group” to be admitted to the TLM? Will pastors have to put up a new listing for the TLM on the parish webpage under the heading: “Masses regularly scheduled at the parish but not on the parish Mass schedule”? Is it forbidden now to host a prayer group in the auditorium, or to give spiritual direction in the parish office, or to pray the rosary at the parish outdoor shrine at the same time as the TLM is being offered in the church?

  • The Congregation (incredibly) claims: “There is no intention in these provisions to marginalise the faithful who are rooted in the previous form of celebration: they are only meant to remind them that this is a concession to provide for their good (in view of the common use of the one lex orandi of the Roman Rite) and not an opportunity to promote the previous rite.”

This statement is laughable. Banishing people from their parish church “when another venue becomes available,” forbidding the publication of the time of the TLM, telling them that their participation at Mass “is not part of the ordinary life of the parish community” are precisely a clear manifestation of an intention to place these faithful at the farthest margins of parish life.

What is wrong with people promoting a “concession to provide for their good”? Why is the TLM being treated as a contagion that needs to be isolated in order to stamp it out? Doesn’t this look like an attempt by the Holy See at a form of de-programming people caught up in a cult? Can you imagine the Holy See issuing the same rules for treating any other group of parishioners, such as refugees or members of racial minorities?

  • The Congregation further commands that newly ordained priests now need “authorization” by the Holy See to celebrate the TLM.

When TC came out in July it said that the local bishop had only to consult the Holy See before authorizing such priests. That local power was clawed back quickly, indicating that the Holy See likely plans to deny such requests as a rule. Priests who celebrate the Mass of St. Paul VI are no longer able to celebrate a second Mass (known as “bination”) that same day in the older form for the spiritual benefit of the faithful. This is plainly designed, given the shortage of priests, to eliminate the TLM from most parish settings.

  • The Congregation says “no” in response to another question about bination: “Can a Priest who is authorised to celebrate using the Missale Romanum of 1962 celebrate on the same day with the same Missal for another group of faithful who have received authorisation?” 

Their justification of this denial again betrays the clear intention to stamp out the TLM, all the while claiming that the needs of the faithful are being met: “It is not possible to grant bination on the grounds that there is no ‘just cause’ or ‘pastoral necessity’ as required by canon 905 §2: the right of the faithful to the celebration of the Eucharist is in no way denied, since they are offered the possibility of participating in the Eucharist in its current ritual form.”

Apparently, the request for the TLM can only be tolerated once a day in one place, no matter how many people seek to attend that Mass. It does not matter if the priest is responsible for a second or even third parish. He is free to celebrate a second Mass, it just cannot be the TLM. Pity the faithful who will be victimized by a provision that contradicts elemental pastoral charity without the slightest justification. If the TLM can be celebrated at two different times or in two locations by two different priests, why can it not be so celebrated when one of those priests falls sick or is away on vacation?

TC mandated that the readings from sacred Scripture at the TLM must be done in the vernacular using translations approved by the individual bishops’ conferences, yet the Congregation strangely rules that “[n]o vernacular lectionaries may be published that reproduce the cycle of readings of the previous rite.” This is completely illogical – to command vernacular readings and at the same time forbid publishing a set of those readings in the vernacular. What is a priest supposed to do? I am sure some enterprising folk will compile and make available such a collection on the Internet if they have not already done so.

The Responsa ad dubia reveal the profound crisis of faith that the Church is undergoing. The good of the faithful is cast aside based on the specious claim that the immemorial form of worship of the Latin Church is being misused by unnamed people to promote unnamed ideologies, i.e., “creating division.” The truth is exactly the opposite: it’s the Holy See that is sowing the seeds of division by stigmatizing and penalizing faithful Catholics who find that their closeness to God is fostered by availing themselves of the form of worship that produced innumerable saints in the history of the Church.

The Holy See needs to hear that message loud and clear from those who have been grievously offended by the unjust provisions of TC and now the Responsa ad dubia.


*Image: The Disputation over the Most Holy Sacrament by Raphael, c. 1509-10 [Raphael Rooms, Apostolic Palace, Vatican]. The dispute depicted is not over Latin but Transubstantiation. Among the many debaters near the altar are the saints Gregory the Great, Ambrose, Augustine, and Jerome, with the popes Julius II and Sixtus IV plus the Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola . . . and Dante Alighieri.

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David Warren’s The Mass & Nothing But

Howard Kainz’ Reflections on the Novis Ordo Mass

The Rev. Gerald E. Murray, J.C.D. is a canon lawyer and the pastor of Holy Family Church in New York City. His new book (with Diane Montagna), Calming the Storm: Navigating the Crises Facing the Catholic Church and Society, is now available.