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Traditionis Custodes: Why?
By Sam Ng, University of Texas at Austin
On 16 July 2021, His Holiness Pope Francis issued a motu proprio titled “Traditionis Custodes.” This apostolic letter effectively reverses the 2007 motu proprio “Summorum Pontificum” issued by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI that greatly liberalized and generally allowed the celebration of the Roman Missal edited by Pope St. John XXIII in 1962, the form of the Mass celebrated prior to the Second Vatican Council and more commonly known as the “Traditional Latin Mass”, by any capable Roman Catholic priest. Pope Francis’ apostolic letter identifies the diocesan bishop “as moderator, promoter, and guardian of the whole liturgical life”. Article 3 of the letter asks that the bishop of a diocese where there is at least one group of the faithful that celebrate the Latin Mass to “designate” locations for the faithful where the Latin Mass can be celebrated (but this place may not be in a “parochial churches” and new personal parishes may not be erected). Articles 4 and 5 state that priests should obtain permission from the dicoesan bishop to celebrate the Latin Mass, reversing Benedict XVI’s permission allowing any Catholic priest of the Latin rite to do so without obtaining permission. 3 days later, Clarifying Catholicism Executive Producer Christopher Centrella wrote a piece defending and appreciating the motu proprio, arguing for its concordance with the Second Vatican Council and the divine mercy of God. While he certainly identifies particular issues in the Church with the attitudes of some who are attached to the Latin Mass, there is an implicit suggestion that these problematic attitudes correspond to the average Latin Mass devotee and are implicitly conflated with the Latin Mass itself.
Just as Mr. Centrella began with some acknowledgments, I would like to begin with some of my own caveats. I affirm the validity and licity of the Missal of Pope St. Paul VI (the rite of Mass promulgated in 1970, commonly known as the Novus Ordo, or the rite of Mass after the Second Vatican Council). I affirm that Pope Francis is the vicar of Christ, successor of St. Peter, and supreme leader of the Church. He deserves the reverence and obedience that this office demands.
Mr. Centrella outlines a connection between the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and God’s divine mercy. He senses a rejection of both as connected with the ancient heresy of jansenism and he identifies these aspects with Catholics who attend the Latin Mass. Anecdotes of such Catholics “[insisting] on corruption because of Vatican II, Pope Francis being the anti-Christ, Marxism infiltrating the Church and the liturgy, heresies in the Council, etc.” are also mentioned. While I don’t deny the existence of such views (although I wonder how common they are), there is no intrinsic connection between these views and the Latin Mass, so it is puzzling to me why the Holy Father would restrict the Latin Mass as a response to such views.
Perhaps the greatest criticism of the motu proprio is that it does not seem like it will achieve what it purports to achieve. Pope Francis, in his own words, desires “with this Apostolic Letter, to press on ever more in the constant search for ecclesial communion.” Assuming that a significant proportion of the body of Christ are practicing or are significantly tempted to schmistatic or generally disobedient tendencies towards today’s Church hierarchy, it would seem that restrictions would create a reactionary effect rather than a moderating effect. Unless the aim is to exclude those with these tendencies, it does not seem the restrictions have moderated such tendencies. In fact, much discourse surrounding the Pope’s letter has been highly critical and emotionally charged which does not bode well for unity. Furthermore, the motu proprio hurts those who are attached to the Latin Mass but do not have tendencies against ecclesial communion. Professor Anthony Gill of the University of Washington, an economist of religion, quips that “If the current pontiff’s goal is to unify the Church, this policy is quixotic at best.” Gill explains in an article on Law & Liberty that just like in a marketplace, preferences vary with expansion. Diversity within the limits of dogmatic truth and revelation is beneficial because in the words of Professor Gill, “it allows the faith to reach a broad swathe of individuals without those people having to break from Rome and set out on their own”.
Lastly, a great irony of Mr. Centrella’s article is its lack of mercy towards traditional Catholics. The article lacks any mercy towards those who are attached to the Latin Mass apart from some acknowledgements at the beginning. For many of these Catholics, the Latin Mass is the only rite of Mass they have experienced. This motu proprio for them can be a great source of anxiety due to the uncertainty of access to the Latin Mass that previously existed. Imagine a seminarian or recently ordained priest who entered formation for the priesthood with the arguably reasonable assumption that Summorum Pontificum would be in legal effect indefinitely. Or the parishes which seek unity and concordance with the Second Vatican Council through celebrating both the older and newer rite of the Mass beautifully and faithful to its rubrics such as St. John Cantius Church in Chicago, Illinois and Sacred Heart of Jesus parish in Grand Rapids, Michigan. My thoughts and prayers are with these and countless others who have been so deeply hurt by this motu proprio.
In Defense of the Tridentine Mass
Matthew Holze, Hillsdale College
On July 7th, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI issued the Summorum Pontificum, greatly increasing the accessibility of the Tridentine Mass (Traditional Latin Mass or TLM). This was not so old a liturgy that it could be argued it was out of date, but the 1962 Missal — the same year as the start of Vatican II. Benedict made it expressly clear that this was not to be a reversal of Vatican II, highlighting the fact that the TLM was never officially abolished. Pope Benedict made the TLM even more available with the Universae Ecclesiae on April 20th, 2011. Benedict clarified that any group of the faithful may gather to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass and would be fully welcomed by the pastors. Just 10 years later, on July 16th, Pope Francis reimposed restrictions on the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass, effectively reversing the Summorum Pontificum.
Never in the Church’s history has any Pope so blatantly reversed his predecessor’s legacy.
In his accompanying letter, Pope Benedict provided his reasoning in making this decree. The point which stands out the most is his argument that having two Masses causes division. “The distorted use that has been made of this faculty is contrary to the intentions that led to granting the freedom to celebrate the Mass with the Missale Romanum of 1962. Because ‘liturgical celebrations are not private actions, but celebrations of the Church, which is the sacrament of unity’,  they must be carried out in communion with the Church.” While he addresses Pope Benedict’s intentions of preventing schism, he seems to completely miss the point. Benedict saw the growing schism between the parts of the Church in support of Vatican II and the numerous conservative Catholic groups, most notably SSPX. Pope Benedict understood that it is far less important that every Catholic used the exact same liturgy than it is to find “reconciliation in the heart of the Church.” Having two choices for the Mass in no way separated the faithful from Rome. Rather, it offered a place for traditionalists and Vatican II supporters alike. Furthermore, as Benedict stated in his letter, the TLM and Ordinary Mass are not two separate rites, but “a twofold use of one and the same rite.” To suggest that the Church would face a split between two different rites would be a fundamental misunderstanding. Furthermore, wouldn’t a single, ecclesiastical language used by Catholics across the globe promote more unity than varying vernacular Masses specific to only those who speak that language? If I, an english speaker, were to go to a Latin Mass in Italy, Mexico, Germany, Poland, or any other county, I would be able to follow along just as well. In many ways, the opportunity for all Catholics to celebrate the exact same Mass— in the same language, following the same liturgy for hundreds of years— creates more unity within the Church.
Not only should we as Catholics worry about the issues of schism regarding two forms of the Mass, but we should also look to the virtues of the Traditional Latin Mass. The age and tradition of the Catholic Church are among its most defining traits— evidence of this can be found all throughout Western society. The Tridentine Mass is synonymous with ancient Catholic tradition. To renounce the Traditional Latin Mass entirely would be to reject the thousands of years of tradition the Church is so firmly built on. If we abandon these traditions altogether, could we even call ourselves the same Church? True, it is the theology that defines the Church. However, by rejecting the Traditional Latin Mass which is so intertwined with Catholic theology, would we not reject our most core beliefs as Catholics?
It’s also worth noting that the Latin Mass is very attractive to younger Catholics. All across the country, I hear about Latin Masses filled with young families, while the Ordinary Form Masses are usually the older, sparser congregations. In my own experience, I can say that the Masses I have attended that follow the Vatican II style lack the enthusiasm and attention one should expect from the congregation. They don’t appear to be engaged at all; rather, the few dozen who are actually there seem to be dozing off. In contrast, the more Traditional Masses I have gone to are always packed full of passionate worshippers. While it may seem ridiculous that someone arguing for the older form of mass is concerned with which mass has the younger population, in reality it is a very important point for the long-term preservation of the Church. If we want to see a future of pious Catholics who actually fulfil their duties such as attending Mass, then we should make sure not to alienate those who are called to the traditions and beauty of the TLM. So many young Catholics find or rediscover their faith in the ancient liturgy. In fact, the first Mass I ever attended was a Traditional Latin Mass, which cemented my path to conversion. And, that is yet another key reason why the TLM is so important to Catholicism’s future. We must not only preserve the faith of the Catholics already in communion with Rome, but attract others to bring them to the Church. For those looking to the traditions of the Catholic Church (as I was during my protestant days), the Ordinary Mass feels almost like a let-down.
Finally, I think it would be foolish to not consider the beauty of the Traditional Latin Mass. In my opinion, nothing can match the emotional power of the ancient Latin prayers. It is our duty to worship God the most we can. The beautiful liturgy of the Latin Mass glorifies Him in the same way a grand cathedral or any other religious work of art would. We are using the greatest extent of our earthly beauty to celebrate the indescribable beauty of His love and power. While a less traditional, more informal Mass is by no means an offense to God, the “higher” form of worship certainly glorifies Him even more. By this understanding, shouldn’t the more beautiful Mass be equally permitted? After all, the TLM and post-Vatican II Masses were often distinguished as the Extraordinary and Ordinary form respectively. Ordinary, by definition, does not imply that it is improper, rather that it simply fails to rise above normality as the Extraordinary does. Undoubtedly, it is best to worship God in the highest way possible, so why limit the beauty and grandeur with which we can worship Him?
To significantly hinder the celebration of the Tridentine Mass would be no different than telling Catholics they cannot pray a certain prayer because it’s too outdated and not everyone prays it. No, Catholicism is not a “theology buffet” where you can pick and choose which doctrines to believe and which actions to partake in. But, that doesn’t mean we must do everything the exact same. For some Catholics, the Vatican II Mass may be perfectly sufficient, but for many Catholics, especially the young and more engaged, the Traditional Latin Mass speaks to them. This is not simply a question of whether or not a way of celebrating the Mass is outdated, nor is it a question of how divided the Church is between the two Masses. Rather, this is a question of whether or not we as Catholics are willing to abandon our millennia of traditions and our Church’s future for the sake of homogeneity.
Divine Worship after Traditionis Custodes; Is the Ordinariate next?
Mark Florig, M.A.R., University of Yale ‘21
Devotees of both the Missal of 1962 (the rite formerly known as the Extraordinary Form) and the Missal of Paul VI (called Ordinary Form or “Novus Ordo” by some) have been engaging in furious controversy over Pope Francis July 16 motu proprio. While both of these factions have valid points to make for their side, I want to highlight a question that inadvertently arises from Traditionis Custodes. What about ritual books that are neither of the above, but could broadly be considered part of the Roman Rite up until this latest document, namely Divine Worship: The Missal? How the Vatican decides to treat the liturgical life of my own Ordinariate tradition subsequent to Traditionis Custodes poses significant questions for the role of the Papacy authentic liturgical development in this and future generations.
Over the years I’ve heard it called the “Anglican Use of the Roman Rite,” the “Ordinariate Form of the Roman Rite,” or the “Divine Worship Form of the Roman Rite.” Some are more eager to maintain its distinctiveness as its own Rite, even if it falls within a broader Roman family. Morning and Evening Prayer are, after all, almost entirely structured on the traditions of the Book of Common Prayer. The rite of the mass is definitely Roman in structure, to the point of even having the General Instruction of the Roman Missal fronting it, with adaptations to suit the texts and rubrics of Divine Worship. However, the rite has sufficient differences from both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite that it would not truly make sense to be considered as intrinsically one or the other, except through a sort of canonical legal fiction. It is, under the umbrella of Summorum Pontificum, really its own Form. Nevertheless, all of these missals maintain the substantial unity of the Roman Rite in their shape, pursuant to the instructions of Sacrosanctum Concilium §38.
Dr. Hans-Jürgen Feulner writes, “The “Anglican Use” is a particular way or form to celebrate the Roman Rite, based on those liturgical books proper to the Anglican tradition.” The document on liturgical inculturation, Varietates Legitimae, as quoted by Feulner, declares that the creation of “The work of inculturation does not foresee the creation of new families of rites; inculturation responds to the needs of a particular culture and leads to adaptations which still remain part of the Roman rite.”  The business of the Ordinariates is not to create a new rite, but to adapt the Roman Rite (in certain sacramental rites) to the experience of Anglican heritage.
It is to be noted, however, that Feulner’s 2013 article deals primarily with the order of the mass. Few liturgiologists would attempt to argue that the Ordinariate’s Divine Office is a form of the Roman Rite, even if heavily influenced thereby. The order and structure of the daily offices, while sharing some overall patterns with the Roman Rite, is radically enough different, due to Cranmer’s influences and radical restructuring of the concept of the Daily Office in the Anglican tradition, that to call it an “Anglican Use of the Roman Rite” Divine Office is, from my perspective as a liturgical scholar, absurdist. A canon lawyer might find a way, but it would be akin to declaring ketchup a vegetable.
It must nevertheless be acknowledged that because many of the rites pertaining to the Ordinariates, such as the format of the Divine Office, owe far more to the Book of Common Prayer tradition than to the Roman Rite, it would make far more liturgical sense to view these under a label such as, to borrow a title from F. E. Brightman, the “English Rite.” So is this the Catholic Church creating new rites against its own previously stated intention? Feulner argues that the Catholic Church has previously been open to the possibility of developing and creating new rites, particularly through the concept of acknowledgement. Sacrosanctum Concilium §4 states
“Lastly, in faithful obedience to tradition, the sacred Council declares that holy Mother Church holds all lawfully acknowledged rites to be of equal right and dignity; that she wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way. The Council also desires that, where necessary, the rites be revised carefully in the light of sound tradition, and that they be given new vigor to meet the circumstances and needs of modern times.”
Perhaps instead of stating that the Catholic Church is creating a new “Anglo-Catholic Rite,” it would be better to say that aspects of the English Rite, out of communion with Rome previously, are being added to the ritus legitime agnitos of the Catholic Church, not unlike, as Feulner explains, the Malankara Rite of India was before the 1930s when those faithful of that tradition entered communion with Rome while keeping their rites.
This partial acknowledgement and development of Anglican experience into a harmonization with a Roman core for its Eucharistic rites could be at least partially understood under the old language of “Form” from Summorum Pontificum. However, Pope Francis’ Traditionis Custodes seems to reject this concept. Pope Francis writes “Art. 1. 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.”  What does the Pope mean by “unique?” The (presumably original, as there is no Latin to outrank it on the Vatican website at this time) Italian uses the term “l’unica espressione,” which, as far as I can tell, means essentially the same thing. More than an “Ordinary Form,” the Pope holds up the Missal of Paul VI (and the minor revisions under John Paul II) as the archetype which is the foundational expression of the mass of the Roman Rite. Does this mean that other expressions, such as those envisioned under Varietates Legitimae, might not be a full expression of the Roman Rite?
Perhaps the so-called “Zaire Use,” a form of the mass used in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa, and heavily divergent from the both the 1962 and 1970 Missals can be covered for on the grounds that it was promulgated under John Paul II. However, the Ordinariate’s Divine Worship series of liturgical books, ranging from the Missal in 2015 to Daily Office: Commonwealth Edition this coming September have their authorization not under one of the Popes named in the motu proprio, but Francis himself. Could the ambiguities of the motu proprio call into question whether Divine Worship: The Missal counts as a use of the Roman Rite? As a liturgical scholar, I believe the answer should really be no, but for the sake of its preservation, I would be gladder for the Ordinariate’s Divine Worship constitute its own Rite within the Latin Church, alongside the Mozarabic or Ambrosian, than to see it abolished in an attempt to impose uniformity. Perhaps my fear is unjustified, but as someone who values unity in legitimate diversity of rites as appropriate to cultures and charisms, certain sentences in Pope Francis’ letter to the bishops concern me.
For example, he writes,
“I take the firm decision to abrogate all the norms, instructions, permissions and customs that precede the present Motu proprio, and declare that the liturgical books promulgated by the saintly Pontiffs Paul VI and John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of Vatican Council II, constitute the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite. I take comfort in this decision from the fact that, after the Council of Trent, St. Pius V also abrogated all the rites that could not claim a proven antiquity, establishing for the whole Latin Church a single Missale Romanum. For four centuries this Missale Romanum, promulgated by St. Pius V was thus the principal expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite, and functioned to maintain the unity of the Church.”
The Apostolic Constitution of Pius V, Quo Primum, here referenced by Francis, ordered that in places where there was not a local use of 200 or more years, the diocese or order was to adopt the Roman Missal of 1570, which was simply the missal of the Roman Curia. As the vast majority of locations and orders already had a previously ancient form of the mass, this decree hypothetically could have had very little effect outside of perhaps newly Christianized locations or certain religious order such as the Jesuits. Many places retained their own books until a late 19th century spat of Ultramontanism. And many places never legally adopted the new books according to the decree’s mechanism of the unanimous consent of the cathedral chapter. While at the eve of the Second Vatican Council, the Tridentine books were in use in the vast majority of locations, that does not mean that any other ritual books in use throughout history or at that time could be considered deviant or erroneous simply for not representing the majority custom. Hence why I find the Pope later speaking of a “need to return” to the Missal of Paul VI questionable as I believe he is applying the result of greater liturgical homogeneity in the Roman Ritual family as a positive good in and of itself, as though there is a formula of the mass that one can confidently universalize. This ideology of an ideal ceremonial book, of which my studies have made me somewhat cynical, seems to be what the Pope is ultimately promoting. For example, he writes also,
“St. Paul VI, recalling that the work of adaptation of the Roman Missal had already been initiated by Pius XII, declared that the revision of the Roman Missal, carried out in the light of ancient liturgical sources, had the goal of permitting the Church to raise up, in the variety of languages, “a single and identical prayer,” that expressed her unity. This unity I intend to re-establish throughout the Church of the Roman Rite.”
Is this a unity of common confession of faith in Jesus Christ, the end of divisions in spirit, the end of accusations of heresy on the one hand and schism on the other? In this case, I fully support the Pope’s call to love, charity, and not letting liturgical variations be a source of hatred and strife in the Church. However, if it is a reversal of the previous pattern of granted greater local freedom to enculturation, pleasant and godly variations in rites, and unity of faith in diversity of practice, I am concerned. Although the Ordinariate is founded on the principle of unity in the Catholic faith, we have our own charisms, customs, and spirituality. If the Extraordinary Form is to be discouraged, might those of us in the Ordinariate, and supportive of its distinct traditions be seen next as a threat to the unity of the Roman Rite?
I doubt the Pope would ever accuse of us of stoking disloyalty and dissension over the Second Vatican Council after the manner of certain Traditionalists who accuse the Pope of being the Anti-Christ on a regular basis or the Missal of Paul VI of invalidity. Nevertheless, my concern is that a well-intentioned attempt to crack down on the scandal of using Pre-Vatican II rites as a totem for wicked behavior and erroneous opinions might lead to our charisms, ritual practices, and patrimony being squashed by overzealous and misapplied ritual Ultramontanism. If the Missal of Paul VI is now the “unique expression,” of the Mass of the Roman Rite, does this mean the Divine Worship should now be treated as though it were a non-Roman Rite within the Latin Church a la the Ambrosian Rite? After all, based on the various differences from the “unique expression” that our mass contains, not to speak of the other rites and ceremonies, would it not make sense to declare that the Ordinariate holds as its practice its own legitimately acknowledged rites, and guarantee their liberty and preservation as an inheritance from those who strived to be “united, but not absorbed” and to be handed down to our children?
Or do the Ordinariate’s ritual books retain their status as broadly canonically Roman, but in their comprehensive liturgical reality in all the Divine Worship collection, more an English-Roman hybrid Form of the Roman Rite? Plenty of us within the Ordinariate want some sort of assurance that we will not be gone after next, and Pope Emeritus Benedict’s great work of Anglicanorum Coetibus undone as well. If Pope Francis wants to shore up uniformity of practice within the Roman Rite, he could always go down the road of a canonical novelty and make the Ordinariates into a sui iuris Church. On the other hand, he can guarantee that as a post-conciliar rite, we will be guaranteed protections and preservation within the broader umbrella of what is really more a Roman family of rites at this point.
From our own Patrimony, the Ordinariate remembers how Thomas Cranmer, in issuing the Book of Common Prayer, declared that “now from henceforth all the whole realm shall have but one Use.” In this act, I believe that overcentralized imposition of ritual uniformity trumped catholicity, and ultimately bred further dissent over worship. Unity in faith is the heart of catholicity, not uniformity of rites. If the main body of the Roman Rite must be unified, I pray that the Vatican is discerning enough with regards to Divine Worship that it does not fall prey to the same restrictions as the Extraordinary Form.
©2021 Mark Florig
 Provisions shall also be made, when revising the liturgical books, for legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions, and peoples, especially in mission lands, provided that the substantial unity of the Roman rite is preserved; and this should be borne in mind when drawing up the rites and devising rubrics. (Feulner’s emphases).
 Hans-Jürgen Feulner, ““Anglican Use of the Roman Rite”?: The Unity of the Liturgy in the Diversity of Its Rites and Forms,” Antiphon: A Journal for Liturgical Renewal, Volume 17, Number 1, 2013, pp. 31-72, p.68.
 Varietates Legitimae §36 (Feulner’s emphases).
 At the same time, I would make a note that while the creation of new families of rites is not foreseen, it is not ruled out as a theological impossibility. In theory, I think it could be done, but creating new rites out of thin air and incorporating longstanding rites from non-Catholic Christianities are two different concepts.
 Quoted in Feulner, “Anglican Use of the Roman Rite?” pp. 41-42.
 Feulner, “Anglican Use of the Roman Rite?” p. 43.
 Pope Francis, Traditionis Custodes, July 16, 2021,Art. 1
 Pope Francis, “Letter to the Bishops on the Occasion of the publication of the motu proprio “Traditionis Custodes” on the use of the Roman Liturgy before the Reform of 1970, July 16, 2021.
 Pope Francis, “Letter to the Bishops on the Occasion of the publication of the motu proprio “Traditionis Custodes” on the use of the Roman Liturgy before the Reform of 1970, July 16, 2021.
 An expression attributed to Cardinal Mercier during the Malines Conversations, a series of dialogues between Anglicans and Roman Catholics in Belgium during the 1920s.
 Thomas Cranmer, “Preface” The Book of Common Prayer, 1549. Accessed July 21, 2021. http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bcp/Historical_Docs.pdf.