On the day Traditionis Custodes was released, I compared it to the detonation of the first atomic bomb in New Mexico on the same date in 1945. With the release on December 18 of the Responsa Ad Dubia—essentially an instruction on the implementation of the motu proprio—a similar comparison suggests itself. There were two atomic bombs dropped on Japan. The motu proprio and its letter was the Little Boy, and this instruction is the Fat Man.
Or, to use another comparison, TC was like chopping off branches and threatening to spray the tree with harmful chemicals, but the Responsa is like trying to dig up the tree from the roots so that it will never grow again.
(By the way, it’s nice, isn’t it, to think that when dubia are submitted to the pope by four cardinals about upholding the Ten Commandments, they receive no response; but when a set of dubia on how to limit liturgical tradition are submitted to a Roman congregation, they receive a rapid and stark response. In some ways, that should tell us all we need to know.)
I would like to begin with the timing of this bomb, because it is significant. Those who are well-versed in theology understand that authority arises from the need to promote and safeguard the common good, and that the common good therefore limits the legitimate exercise of authority. If an authority acts manifestly against the common good, its action or command or ruling has no legal standing; it is an act of violence.
Understandably, people want and need to have a reasonable certainty that a given act is contrary to the common good before they ignore it or oppose it.
It was not difficult to see, even before today, that the Vatican opponents of the traditional liturgical rites of the Church of Rome are animated by an animosity toward tradition that is totally incompatible with the Catholic Faith and an animosity toward the faithful who adhere to tradition that is totally contrary to charity and the much-vaunted desire for “unity” and “communion” (lip service for “diversity” and “peripheries” and “minorities” etc. notwithstanding—that’s the typical modus operandi of hypocrites).
However, releasing a document like this—so full of malice, pettiness, hatred, and cruelty, and so abundant in its lies—exactly one week before the great feast of Christ’s Nativity shows, more eloquently than any other gesture possibly could, that we are dealing with mafia thugs who have set themselves against our spiritual good, our vocations, our families, in such a way that their attack on the Church’s common good could not possibly be more apparent.
Let’s remind ourselves of what our forefathers in the Faith said about such a situation.
Thomas Cardinal Cajetan (1469–1534): “You must resist, to his face, a pope who is openly tearing the Church apart.”
Francisco de Vitoria (1483–1546): “If the Pope by his orders and his acts destroys the Church, one can resist him and impede the execution of his commands.”
St. Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621): “As it is lawful to resist the pope, if he assaulted a man’s person, so it is lawful to resist him, if he assaulted souls, or troubled the state, and much more if he strove to destroy the Church. It is lawful, I say, to resist him, by not doing what he commands, and hindering the execution of his will.”
Sylvester Prierias (1456–1523): “He [the pope] does not have the power to destroy; therefore, if there is evidence that he is doing it, it is licit to resist him. The result of all this is that if the pope destroys the Church by his orders and acts, he can be resisted and the execution of his mandate prevented. The right of open resistance to prelates’ abuse of authority stems also from natural law.”
Francisco Suárez (1548–1617): “If the Pope lays down an order contrary to right customs one does not have to obey him; if he tries to do something manifestly opposed to justice and to the common good, it would be licit to resist him; if he attacks by force, he could be repelled by force, with the moderation characteristic of a good defense.”
God’s Providence is therefore clear, and I consider this instruction to be a Christmas gift. By showing that its authors hate Catholic tradition, hate continuity with the past, hate the faithful, they make it easy for us to see that they are acting against the common good and therefore deserve to be resisted. We are not only permitted to resist; we are obliged to do so, if we would avoid sinning against what we know to be right, holy, true, and good.
The content of the instruction is, in a certain sense, entirely predictable: it follows the ideological script of the Sant’Anselmians, led by their prince Andrea Grillo. Every provision in the document is designed to strangle the life out of traditional clergy and laity, narrowing or eliminating their way of life until it disappears to make way for the supposedly “unique expression” of the Roman Rite, which is falsely attributed to the Second Vatican Council. The document was written in Bergoglian newspeak, with plentiful use of the word “accompany”: everyone must be “accompanied” to the “irreversible” Novus Ordo.
The instruction puts particular emphasis on “unity” understood as uniformity, with (again) no attention to how this is compatible with the Church’s long-existing variety of rites within the Latin West, including the Ambrosian, Mozarabic, and Anglican Ordinariate rites. The following statement is particularly revealing: “It is the duty of the Bishops, cum Petro et sub Petro, to safeguard communion, which, as the Apostle Paul reminds us (cf. 1 Cor 11:17-34), is a necessary condition for being able to participate at the Eucharistic table.” How very interesting! Would this episcopal duty to ensure the necessary conditions for sacramental participation extend to, say, abortion-supporting politicians, public adulterers, proponents of the LGBT lifestyle, and dissenters from basic Catholic doctrine? Or are the only ones in danger of sinning against the conditions for communion those who are traditional in faith, morals, and liturgy?
That is a question that will never be raised or answered by the proponents of Traditionis Custodes, because they are not honest and they have no need or desire to be honest. Eucharistic coherence has never been a serious concern of theirs or they would have taken real steps to end liturgical abuses a long time ago—abuses over which they like to shed crocodile tears, as they sharpen their knives for the trads. Such are the bullies in power. For now.
The document describes the Vatican II liturgical reform and its fruits with the mandatory optimism and boilerplate positivity we have come to expect in curial documents, so reminiscent of Soviet economic reports of endless abundance in the workers’ paradise. The propagandistic language about “full, conscious, active participation” is much on display, in spite of the embarrassing fact that attendance and involvement in the Novus Ordo liturgical rites in Western countries suffered a sharp decline at the time of the first ferment of reform and has been in an apparently irreversible decline ever since, while the only sector showing consistent demographic and pastoral growth is the traditionalist one. The first and most basic form of active participation is just showing up for Mass, and the second most basic form is actually knowing what the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is and striving to be in a state of grace for Holy Communion, but apparently the CDW has a different and more esoteric definition.
Moreover, the documented widespread loss of faith in the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, together with a loss of belief in mortal sin and the use of confession, is not exactly a badge of honor for the success of the great reform, unless its aim was to abolish these superstitions in the spirit of Archbishop Roche’s countryman Thomas Cranmer.
This instruction marks a supreme moment of decision for everyone who has any connection whatsoever with the usus antiquior. (Indeed, it affects every Catholic because of the pope’s boundedness to tradition, which is constitutive of his office and role in the Church—but for now I am concerned with those who will be most immediately affected by this new document.)
Bishops must decide whether or not they are going to accept the program of ideology put before them, based as it is on a mess of lies, fantasies, hypocrisy, gaslighting, and venom. Bishops were slapped hard on one cheek by Traditionis Custodes, which, in the name of restoring to them authority over liturgy, in fact limited it in multiple ways; and they have been slapped hard on the opposite cheek by this CDW document, which further restricts their freedom of discernment, action, and pastoral care. How much will they allow themselves to be slapped and kicked before they wake up and recognize that they are successors of the apostles, bishops placed over their churches to serve and nourish their people—and not middle managers governed by Vatican apparatchiks dancing to the tune of a Peronist dictator whose effective papal motto is Hagan lío?
In practice, bishops who have made a fruitful use of the traditional Pontificale Romanum or who are open to doing so if the good of their flocks would call for it should do the right thing by ignoring this decree from Rome and carrying on with confirmations and ordinations in the old pontifical rites. As the great Bishop Robert Grosseteste once responded to a pope who was out of bounds: Filialiter et obedienter non obedio, contradico et rebello: “In a filial way, obediently [to Christ], I do not obey, I contradict and rebel.” In imitating him they will follow an already well-established pattern of prelates ignoring whatever they dislike from the Vatican—in this case (if not in most others) fully and totally justified.
Priests of the “Ecclesia Dei” institutes must decide whether or not they will comply with an instruction whose obvious purport is to erase their characteristic specificity, to undermine unilaterally their papally-approved constitutions, and to call into question the legitimacy of their vocations as received from God and solemnly recognized by the Church. To comply with provisions that aim, ultimately, to wipe the usus antiquior off the face of the earth is to commit suicide. To comply with rulings that contradict the inner coherence, orthodoxy, and praiseworthiness of the Catholic lex orandi and lex credendi across the ages is to embrace an error that eviscerates Catholicism.
It will be, in short, a “Lefebvre Moment” for the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, the Institute of Christ the King, the Institute of the Good Shepherd, and any other such bodies. The only honorable response they can make is: Non possumus—we cannot, in good conscience, comply with these prescriptions. Throw at us any penalties or punishments you wish; we will ignore them all, because they will have no force. A future pope will vindicate us, as John Paul II and Benedict XVI did with adherents of tradition decades ago.
Diocesan priests face a similar crossroads. If they have discovered the treasure of Tradition, they will not lightly give it up. They should remember that they need absolutely no permission to celebrate the Roman Rite, for which they were ordained priests; and if the traditional Roman Rite does not count as the Roman Rite, then the Catholic Church is not the Catholic Church, and nothing is anything.
If priests are fortunate to live in a diocese with a sympathetic bishop who clear-sightedly recognizes the evil of the Vatican’s moves against the Latin liturgical heritage and the clergy and faithful who love it, they will quietly work around this instruction, as if it had never been born. If they live under a hostile or frightened bishop who limits or cancels tradition, they will consider ways of moving or working elsewhere, in order to live their priestly calling to the full. But if nothing else avails, this may be the moment when they choose the better part of radical fidelity to Christ and His Church and suffer the consequences of that decision. They will not find themselves left out in the cold, with no work to do. On the contrary, the traditional faithful will rally to their support in every way, taking care of their material needs and opening the doors to a fruitful apostolate.
Laity, too, have choices to make, but the best choice would be to take the steps that will ensure that the tradition will continue long after the ageing nostalgics of Vatican II have passed to their eternal reward. They should attend only the traditional liturgy as a matter of principle, even moving nearer to a place of secure access to it. They should joyfully celebrate the riches of the old liturgical calendar in their families and pass on the burning torch of faith to the next generations.
In its abundance of charity, the CDW explains that the liturgies of such Catholics are not part of the ordinary life of the parish; the activities of this group should never coincide with those of the parish; the group should be jettisoned from a parish as soon as may be; their Masses may not be advertised in the schedule; and presumably no new members are to be invited, since the group is hermetically sealed off to prevent cross-contamination. All this, and yet Roche has the gall to say: “There is no intention in these provisions to marginalise the faithful”?
The response of a healthy Catholic to such offensive impertinence and worse-than-racist prejudice is to say: “To hell with you” (for that is where such ideas came from and belong). “We will announce our Masses far and wide. We will keep publishing our books, brochures, missals, and every sort of paraphernalia. We will advertise our activities and invite new attendees. We will promote tradition actively among friends, family, strangers, and potential converts. We will channel our donations to its support. We will, in short, do everything in our power to ensure that your unjust war against tradition meets with the embarrassing and inglorious defeat it richly deserves. Deus vult. You will never, ever win.”
If your diocesan TLM is canceled, go to the SSPX for Sundays and Holy Days. Pray the rosary and the traditional breviary at home. If you don’t have any Latin Mass in your area at all, find an Eastern Catholic rite or, should it be available, an Anglican Ordinariate parish.
We have been preparing for this moment. We are not really surprised, are we? Let us use the resources we have in hand. Here are some especially useful ones:
- From Benedict’s Peace to Francis’s War. This anthology contains ALL the arguments—theological, historical, canonical, pastoral—that can and must be made against Traditionis Custodes and, mutatis mutandis, against the Responsa Ad Dubia. It is a veritable handbook for our cause at this moment. Get it, study it, mark it up. The challenges against us will pour in from the hyperpapalists and opportunists who glory in their shame, suppressing reason and contradicting faith. We should be ready to respond, as St. Peter exhorts us to do (cf. 1 Pet 3:15).
- True Obedience in the Church: A Guide to Discernment in Challenging Times. This book addresses the nature and limits of obedience and its relationship to authority and the common good, using Thomistic theological principles, canonical axioms, and examples from history. In particular, it demonstrates that an attack on the traditional liturgy of the Church cannot but be an attack on her common good, which therefore deserves to be resisted. It also enters into the question of the illicitness of punishments and prohibitions based on false or antagonistic premises. (A relevant excerpt is published here; the book is coming out in February, but I will try to work out an earlier Kindle release.)
- Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright: The Genius and Timeliness of the Traditional Latin Mass. Thoroughly lays out the case for returning en masse to the TLM and all that rightly goes with it. No timidity, no wishy-washy “both/and.” Here’s “the straight dope,” as they used to say. Helps explain more fully “Why I Couldn’t Go Back… to the Novus Ordo,” a sentiment shared by most traditionalists.
- Ministers of Christ: Recovering the Roles of Clergy and Laity in an Age of Confusion. We must retain the traditional theology and practice of the sacred ministry, which includes the minor orders and the subdiaconate. This book explains why. The Pontificale Romanum is one of the great treasures of the Church of Rome, and its replacement after the Second Vatican Council was arguably the most grievous and egregious example of radical departure from unbroken tradition and from the provisions of the Council itself. A related article: Clandestine Ordinations Against Church Law: Lessons from Cardinal Wojtyła and Cardinal Slipyj.
- Bishop Athanasius Schneider’s detailed study of concelebration, demonstrating that the current praxis of the Catholic Church is fundamentally unsound: “Eucharistic Concelebration: Theological, Historical, and Liturgical Aspects.” The Responsa‘s insistence on concelebration contradicts canon law as well as multiple documents of the Magisterium: see my article “The Mounting Threat of Coercive Concelebration.”
I also recommend these five articles on the Responsa (surely only the vanguard of many good ones to come):
- Eric Sammons, “The Spiritual Abuse Continues”
- Fr. Claude Barthe, “Resisting an unjust liturgical law”
- Raymond Kowalski, “An Open Letter to Every Priest: A Reed Shaken by the Wind”
- Gregory DiPippo, “The Last Stand of the Brezhnev Papacy”
- Matthew Hazell, “A ‘Revolution of Tenderness,’ or ‘The Roche Christmas Massacre’: A Farce in Eleven Dubia”
Painting: “Over the Top.” 1st Artists’ Rifles at Marcoing, 30th December 1917 by John Nash.
This article was updated with further links on 19th December 2021.
Dr. Peter Kwasniewski is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and The Catholic University of America who taught at the International Theological Institute in Austria, the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austria Program, and Wyoming Catholic College, which he helped establish in 2006. Today he is a full-time writer and speaker on traditional Catholicism whose work appears online at, among others, OnePeterFive, New Liturgical Movement, LifeSiteNews, The Remnant, and Catholic Family News. He has published eighteen books, including Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright: The Genius and Timeliness of the Traditional Latin Mass (Angelico, 2020), The Ecstasy of Love in the Thought of Thomas Aquinas (Emmaus, 2021), and Are Canonizations Infallible? Revisiting a Disputed Question (Arouca, 2021). His work has been translated into at least eighteen languages. Visit his website at www.peterkwasniewski.com.