A group of Catholics have taken to praying the Rosary outside of the Papal Nunciature in Washington, D.C. for the preservation of the Traditional Latin Mass each Saturday at 10 AM. I began organizing these rallies on July 29, 2022, after decrees cancelling the vast majority of Traditional Latin Masses were issued by the Diocese of Arlington and the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. We have grown in a few weeks from 4 to 25 persons. Already, I have made close friendships through the rallies. In addition to praying the Rosary, we sing beautiful Marian antiphons and enjoy brunch afterwards. The rallies have strengthened our Catholic community immeasurably in four short weeks.
This is not a step I could have imagined taking two years ago, when I first converted to Catholicism. It is not a step I could have imagined taking even a year ago, when Pope Francis’s Traditionis Custodes, announcing restrictions on the Traditional Latin Mass, was first issued. But it is a step that I believe is absolutely necessary for the Church and its future.
I came into the Church in 2020, a time when the Church was facing extreme negative publicity from sex abuse and financial abuse scandals. I was strengthened immeasurably in my commitment to the Catholic faith when I experienced the Traditional Latin Mass. It is a transformative liturgy that, with incense, Latin prayers, and extreme reverence, connects participants with the timeless faith of the saints. The Traditional Latin Mass was a crucial part of the courtship of my wife and I, and the highlight of our lives was being married in a Traditional Latin Mass wedding in October 2021.
The Traditional Latin Mass is the Mass that most Latin rite Catholics celebrated before 1970, when the liturgical reform was implemented. Tightly restricted for years, it was finally liberated by Pope Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum in 2007, which declared that any parish priest had the right to say the Traditional Latin Mass and that the older rite could not be lawfully suppressed. And then, just when my wife and I had found the fullness of the Catholic faith through the Traditional Latin Mass, it was being taken away by Traditionis Custodes and its heavy-handed implementation.
The Saga of the Latin Mass in DC
How did we get to this point? Blame cannot be laid entirely upon Cardinal Gregory of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. and Michael Burbidge of the Diocese of Arlington. Indeed, two of the great success stories of Summorum Pontificum were found in these dioceses, across the Potomac from each other, where the Traditional Latin Mass flourished at nearly thirty parishes. For its part, the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. offered regular Latin Mass in seven parishes, each growing rapidly and full of large families, young people and converts. As Monsignor Charles Pope, a Washington, D.C. pastor, wrote last year,
Here in Washington, D.C., the extraordinary form has existed peacefully alongside the ordinary form in approximately 10 of our parishes . . . Whatever tensions do exist, they are minor and not so different than the tensions that emerge from the diverse mosaic of ethnic communities.
Now, Msgr. Pope noted, Traditionis Custodes threatened this “vibrant and growing section of the flock.” Noting that Traditional Latin Mass attendees “have often been treated harshly and have been marginalized for their love for the form of the liturgy that most of the saints knew,” Msgr. Pope implored, “Dear bishops, as a pastor of souls, I ask you for a gentle and kind interpretation of [Traditionis Custodes]. Traditional Catholics are among the sheep of your flock, and they need a shepherd’s care.”
In the months after Traditionis Custodes was promulgated in July 2021, many priests and families personally pleaded with Cardinal Gregory not to cancel Traditional Latin Masses in D.C. parishes at a synodal listening session in May. Parishoners warned of dire spiritual and financial consequences and destruction of parish communities. At the listening session, “delegates strongly favored keeping traditional Catholics and their liturgy within parishes in the archdiocese rather than exiling [traditional Catholics] into some ‘Mass Center’ bereft of pastors.” Priests proposed solutions to continue the Traditional Latin Mass within parish locations consistent with Traditionis Custodes.
Notwithstanding these pleas, Cardinal Gregory issued an exceptionally harsh decree on July 22 ordering that Traditional Latin Mass must end entirely at all but one parish location, and all Latin Mass attendees herded to three regional “Mass Centers.” There could be no weekday Latin Masses, no Latin Masses on Christmas, no Latin Mass during Easter or Holy Week, not even any private Latin Masses without permission of Cardinal Gregory. The decree throws the future of at least four parishes that relied on the Traditional Latin Mass into grave doubt. As one Washington, D.C. parishioner wrote,
Friends and neighbors of mine will have their parish communities effectively strangled and likely shuttered—even though there were ready, obvious alternatives. Pastors who have suffered under scandalous leadership in recent decades will find their years of patient, thankless, even courageous labor undone in the space of two months.
The Saga Across the Potomac
A similar story unfolded in the Diocese of Arlington. After Traditionis Custodes was promulgated, parishioners flooded the chancery with letters imploring Bishop Burbidge not to cancel the 21 regular diocesan Latin Masses. I, for one, authored an open letter that received over 2500 signatures from Catholics in the diocese. Priests in the diocese also pleaded with Bishop Burbidge not to cancel the TLM. We were cautiously optimistic that things would not be so bad in the Diocese of Arlington.
Instead, Bishop Burbidge’s decree on July 29, 2022 was harsher than even the deepest pessimists could have imagined. Only three parishes would be allowed to continue the Traditional Latin Mass. Five other communities could have Traditional Latin Mass in offsite locations such as school gyms and social halls—but not in the parish church. Thirteen Latin Mass communities could have no Latin Mass at all. And, there could be no more Traditional Latin Mass weddings, baptisms, confessions, or confirmations, and Traditional Latin Masses could not be printed in the parish bulletin or website. Worse, three remaining parish-church Latin Masses might be cancelled altogether in two years.
Mercy, Accompaniment and Dialogue?
Our attempts at dialogue with our Bishops, in short, amounted to virtually nothing. In a podcast, Bishop Burbidge made it sound as though he was always going to opt for harsh, by-the-book implementation of Traditionis Custodes. Similarly, Cardinal Gregory did not modify the restrictions from what he planned before Easter—despite the synodal listening session in May. What made these otherwise sympathetic Bishops so inflexible?
It appears that the pressure on these Bishops came directly from the Papal Nunciature in Washington, D.C., which appears to have played an integral role in forcing their hand. This extreme papal pressure belies both Traditionis Custodes, which stated that it is within the competence of the local bishop to authorize the Traditional Latin Mass, and Vatican II, which similarly affirmed the primacy of bishops to regulate the liturgy in their dioceses (Lumen Gentium, 26-27).
That is why we pray in front of the Nunciature each week. We wish to make a public show of sorrow over what we have lost over the restrictions, and to pray for an end to arbitrary rules that threaten the future of the Church. While it may seem like a longshot, we are confident that with the intercession of the saints who so loved the Traditional Latin Mass, we will prevail in restoring the fullness of Summorum Pontificum and reclaiming the beautiful liturgical tradition of the Church. We invite you to join us next Saturday at 10 AM.
The DC Pilgrimage
Finally, in addition to the weekly rosary rallies, we are also organizing the National Summorum Pontificum Walking Pilgrimage for September 17, 2022. At 9 AM, we will process from St. Thomas More Cathedral, the main cathedral for the Diocese of Arlington, to St. Matthew the Apostle, the main cathedral of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. The occasion is to mark the 15th anniversary of the effective date of Summorum Pontificum, and to pray for an end to restrictions on the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass. We will offer spiritual bouquets for Bishop Burbidge and Cardinal Gregory, memorializing our prayers for both leaders. We will have a beautiful Marian procession, with crosses, banners, and statues of Our Lady, and will sing Marian antiphons and pray the Rosary on the way over. The walk is five miles and takes two hours. We hope to see as many people as possible in attendance, and highlight the vibrancy and beauty of the movement for the Traditional Latin Mass in the Church. We hope you can join us there—if not for the walk, perhaps at St. Matthew the Apostle afterward, or simply by praying along with us.
Editor’s note: with our brethren in DC as well as with the monthly Chicago rally, we encourage all readers to form similar spiritual commitments in their own diocese. This spiritual foundation will purify our efforts in our response to Traditionis Custodes in general and the Crusade of Eucharistic Reparation in particular.
Noah Peters is an attorney in Washington, D.C.