Today, a new motu proprio letter was issued by Pope Francis imposing new (and in some respects brutal) suppressions on the usus antiquior of the Roman Rite. The truth is, we saw this coming. Rumors have been circulating for a while, and though the fact that we’ve heard similar things throughout this pontificate dulled our expectations some, as I wrote last month, “this has the feeling of something more substantive.”
And so it was.
For those who are most concerned with reading the documents for themselves, you can find the motu proprio “Traditionis Custodes” (ironically, “Guardians of Tradition,” making specific reference to the bishops) right here, with the accompanying explanatory letter here.
Let’s look for the most significant changes before we get to the color commentary. The document does the following:
- Changes the authorization for the decision of who can offer the TLM from the individual priest and gives it back to his diocesan bishop, just like the bad old days of John Paul II’s indult, when bishops would frequently deny such requests.
- Priests who already offer the TLM now have to have permission to continue offering it.
- Men in formation for the priesthood but not ordained prior to the motu proprio must obtain, via their bishop, permission from Rome (specifically the CDW, which is headed by Archbishop Roche) to offer the TLM. Not even the bishop can authorize it for them (this is yet another example of Francis delegating with one hand while centralizing authority with the other.)
To give an idea of what such priests are up against, it should be noted here what Roche was reported to have said in the rumor-fueled run-up to today’s event: “Abp. Roche, new Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, explained, while laughing, to those responsible for [some] seminaries in Rome and members of the Curia, all English-speaking: “Summorum Pontificum is practically dead! We will give back to the bishops power on this matter, but particularly not to conservative bishops.””
- Rather than allowing the TLM in parishes where the faithful request it, bishops must now select “one or more locations where the faithful adherents of these groups may gather for the eucharistic celebration,” and these locations are not to be “parochial churches.” Bishops are also forbidden to create new personal parishes for the purpose. One is left to wonder whether broom closets and mountain caves are acceptable locales for the vetus ordo, but the motu proprio never bothers to specify where the TLM is allowed, just where it isn’t.
- Bishops are supposed to “appoint a priest who, as delegate of the bishop, is entrusted with these celebrations and with the pastoral care of these groups of the faithful. The priest is suitable for this office, is competent in order to use the Missale Romanum prior to the 1970 reform, has a knowledge of the Latin language that allows him to fully understand the rubrics and liturgical texts, is animated by a lively pastoral charity , and a sense of ecclesial communion. It is in fact necessary that the priest in charge has at heart not only the dignified celebration of the liturgy, but the pastoral and spiritual care of the faithful.”
- This priest delegate is also to identify, in those “personal parishes canonically erected for the benefit of these faithful,” whether there is “actual usefulness for spiritual growth, and evaluate whether to maintain them or not.”
- It is the priest delegates job to “take care not to authorize the establishment of new groups.”
- Readings at those TLMs that are allowed in as-yet-unspecified locales “are to be proclaimed in the vernacular, using the translations of the sacred Scripture for liturgical use, approved by the respective Episcopal Conferences.”
- The fate of Ecclesia Dei communities is unclear. The letter says only that “The Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, erected at the time by the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei come under the competence of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.”
The motu proprio and accompanying letter identify clearly some of its motivating concerns, and they are exactly what one might expect:
- “The reasons that moved Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI to grant the possibility of using the Roman Missal promulgated by Saint Pius V … was above all motivated by the desire to favor the recomposition of the schism with the movement led by Archbishop Lefebvre.”
- Summorum Pontificum was meant to “regulate this situation” with a “clearer legal regulation” to “facilitate access to those – including young people – ‘who discover this liturgical form, feel attracted by it and find there a particularly appropriate form for them, of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist‘” “Benedict XVI declared ‘the Missal promulgated by St. Pius V and re-edited by Blessed John XXIII as an extraordinary expression of the same lex orandi“, granting a ‘wider possibility of using the 1962 Missal.'”
- “The liturgical books promulgated by the Holy Pontiffs Paul VI and John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of the Second Vatican Council, are the only expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.“
- Supporting Benedict’s decision to issue SP “was the conviction that this provision would not cast doubt on one of the essential decisions of the Second Vatican Council, thus undermining its authority…”
- Bishops are to “ensure that such [TLM] groups do not exclude the validity and legitimacy of the liturgical reform, of the dictates of the Second Vatican Council and of the Magisterium of the Supreme Pontiffs.”
- “A possibility offered by Saint John Paul II and with even greater magnanimity by Benedict XVI in order to recompose the unity of the ecclesial body in respect of the various liturgical sensitivities was used to increase distances, harden differences, build contrasts that hurt the Church. and they hinder its progress, exposing it to the risk of divisions.”
- The pope believes that “Anyone wishing to celebrate with devotion according to the antecedent liturgical form will have no difficulty in finding in the Roman Missal reformed according to the mind of the Second Vatican Council all the elements of the Roman Rite, in particular the Roman canon, which constitutes one of the most characterizing elements.”
- The pope says that he is “saddened by an instrumental use of the Missale Romanum of 1962, increasingly characterized by a growing rejection not only of the liturgical reform, but of the Second Vatican Council, with the unfounded and unsustainable assertion that it has betrayed Tradition and “true Church”. If it is true that the path of the Church must be understood in the dynamism of Tradition, “which originates from the Apostles and which progresses in the Church under the assistance of the Holy Spirit” (DV 8), the Second Vatican Council constitutes the most important stage of this dynamism. recently, in which the Catholic episcopate listened to discern the path that the Spirit indicated to the Church. Doubting the Council means doubting the very intentions of the Fathers, and, ultimately, doubting the same Holy Spirit who guides the Church.”
- The pope asserts that the bishops wanted this change, and that in response to their requests, he has taken “the firm decision to abrogate all the norms, instructions, concessions and customs prior to this Motu Proprio, and to retain the liturgical books promulgated by the Holy Pontiffs Paul VI and John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of the Second Vatican Council, as the only expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.” For bonus salt-in-the wound points, he compares his own decision to do so to the action taken by Pope St. Pius V in Quo Primum, who “also abrogated all rites that could not boast a proven antiquity, establishing a single Missale Romanum for the whole Latin Church.”
That’s enough excerpts. You get the gist. It’s a canonization of Vatican II and a paean to the new Mass, while characterizing those who love the TLM as dissidents or dissident-adjacent to the program of reform.
I’ve written a number of times about my own journey from growing up exclusively with the Novus Ordo to seeking out reverence and orthodoxy in the liturgy to finally coming to find a home in the Traditional Latin Mass, which I, along with my wife and children, have exclusively attended since 2004. It was a process of reading, uncovering, and understanding. Early in the process, as is the case with many who read their way into tradition, I got very angry about what was stolen from us. (It probably didn’t help that I was in my late 20s and still full of the fire that young men bring to such things.)
When Summorum Pontificum came out in 2007, it felt as though the exile I had recently wandered into might be at an end. There was a certain flourishing of traditional thought and liturgy, and the sense of a certain kind of freedom.
But I was always troubled that even Pope Benedict, who offered that freedom, never offered the traditional Mass so much as once. He never set the example so that all priests could truly be free. And many priests knew that despite the on-paper permission from Rome, offering the TLM meant sticking a finger in their bishop’s eye, and that it would not go well for them.
There is a saying that goes around in some traditionalist circles, which I believe was coined by my friend and colleague, Hilary White: “Novusordoism is not Catholicism.” It’s very much a different, and largely incompatible version of the same religion. And though people like to argue the point, Rome just proved it. (Roma locuta est; causa finita est?) If the Catholicism of our grandparents and the Catholicism of our generation were really sympatico, they’d have no trouble co-existing.
But they can’t.
It has long been my contention, incidentally, that this is the reason Rome has taken pains to negotiate unjustly with the Society of St. Pius X for all these years. To allow them to reconcile with Rome without retracting their theological positions, which are rooted explicitly in pre-conciliar teaching, would be to admit that their seemingly contradictory views are equally (or even more) valid than those set forth by the Second Vatican Council, even where they appear to be in conflict. It would be a tacit admission that Rome strayed. But Rome could also not condemn those earlier views explicitly and still make recourse to the fantastical idea of the “hermeneutic of continuity,” which is often asserted but rarely demonstrated as a real thing.
What Rome has done by this move, therefore, is shove a whole lot of Catholics attached to tradition into the arms of the SSPX. Their ranks will swell this Sunday, and even many of the most cautious traditionalist (or traditionally-sympathetic) theologians will shrug and say, “I think it’s justified.”
Others will go to the East, either to Catholic rites or even Orthodoxy.
Some will say it’s the last straw, and leave the Church entirely.
The pope, who claims in his letter to be motivated in his decision by a desire for “unity” within the Church — the word is mentioned 32 times in his accompanying letter — has struck an even deeper division into the heart of the Church.
This will foment schisms of various sorts, something Francis has admitted he’s comfortable with. After all, as he was reported to have said in 2016: “I might go down in history for having split the Catholic Church.”
People will rebel. Priests who have had enough will continue to offer the TLM, damn the rules, and I can’t say I blame them. I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on how traditionalists are, by necessity and with justification, the most rebellious segment of the Church today, but also how that kind of rebellion against authority from Rome is arguably the most anti-traditional thing going. The popes traditionalists love best would be aghast at their recalcitrance against the pope and their bishops, and we know this by statements they made about dissident thought in their own day.
I simultaneously think “recognize and resist” is both necessary and completely un-traditional. It’s a paradox.
When I wrote my piece back in May about the problem of “Crippled Religion,” I focused a good deal on clericalism — specifically the hubris that affects some as a consequence of their overinflated sense of power that comes with being clergy; it’s a phenomenon that is intensified the further up the hierarchy one goes. Whether it’s a pastor making a parishioner jump through needless hoops to get sacraments for his children or a pope who, when ordering the firing of good priests investigating sexual abuse declares, “I am the pope, I do not need to give reasons for any of my decisions,” — this kind of clericalism is a form of spiritual abuse. It’s an abuse of authority given by God over people who have no recourse. As I described the voice of the abuser in that previous essay:
“You don’t like how I treat you? Well tough s***. You have nowhere else to go. You think you can find salvation somewhere else? Ha! You’ll go to hell without me. You have no choice but to stay here and do whatever I tell you. You’ll put up with whatever I do to you, and if you complain it will only make you look like a fool. A deserter. An ingrate. You’re stuck with me whether you like it or not. You can never leave!”
What was done today by this pope was an act of abuse — not just by him, but by all the wheedling bishops around the world who have been clamoring for this for the past 14 years. Francis isn’t a liturgy guy, but he is very much concerned about things that affect the balance of his power and the spread of his ideology. Nobody has opposed him more fiercely than traditionalists who are seeking to stay within the Church and under his legitimate authority while fighting his agenda where it goes astray. He made sure to send a signal, issuing this instruction on the very month of the anniversary of Summorum Pontificum. He is grinding their faces in it.
I don’t know what things will look like going forward from here. I only know that they will be an even bigger mess. Chaos in the Church has become the norm.
But for the pope who uses “Hagan Lio!” as battle cry — “make a mess!” — this should come as no surprise. This is in perfect conformity with the entirety of his malignant pontificate. And as the faithful repeat, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” the abusive shepherd God has allowed to be placed over them — a man who sees himself as the harbinger of a more merciful Church — will continue the merciless beatings.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have eight children. You can find more of his writing at his Substack, The Skojec File.