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Pro-TLM Strategies in the Era of “Traditionis Custodes”

People often ask me: “What’s your advice for Catholics living in a diocese where the TLM has been limited or eliminated, or where there is a threat that this might happen? What should we do?” As we round the corner of one year past the infamous Responsa ad Dubia of then-archbishop Roche of the then-Congregation for Divine Worship, and as rumors circulate of still more draconian measures in the new year, it is time to tackle head-on the question of what can be done concretely. There are undoubtedly other points that can be added to mine by fellow soldiers in the trenches.

Here are some steps I would recommend—though obviously many different strategies could work, and certain angles work better with certain episcopal or parochial personalities or situations. Not everyone will be comfortable or enthusiastic about every idea, nor is that surprising; this is meant as a buckshot list, to cover all the bases. The items listed are not meant to be in order of importance or chronological sequence. We have to multiply strategies going forward because we simply don’t know what’s going to work, and some of these strategies involve fairly lengthy timelines.

Before I go any further, it must be understood that everyone is doing three things: praying; fasting; and giving alms. As for prayer, at least the daily Rosary, with the restoration of the Mass as a specific intention; the First Five Saturdays and the Nine First Fridays; TLMs whenever you can get to them. Join our lay sodality, the Crusade of Eucharistic Reparation, which has for its secondary intention the restoration of the Latin Mass. As for fasting, Our Lord says some kinds of demons come out only that way. As for giving alms, support traditional parishes, orders, and organizations. Don’t give up: we were born for these times! God put us here to fight this fight.

1. Start an Una Voce chapter in your diocese. It can be helpful to have an umbrella organization that speaks “with one voice,” on its own letterhead. For this reason it seems good to create an Una Voce chapter in your area, if one does not already exist. If you obtain for it 501(c)3 status, it can receive tax-deductible donations that can be put towards vestments, property, literature, training camps, stipends, and the like. An Una Voce chapter could organize an annual pilgrimage in the diocese (and if it does, the bishop should be informed of it). Seminarians and priests who show signs of interest in tradition should be supported in their TLM training, purchase of supplies, or attendance at TLM-friendly events. The internet is a great tool, but we need local in-person communication, networking, and events, and an Una Voce chapter can supply that.

2. Help the bishop to understand his canonical rights. Try to get a meeting with the bishop and explain to him (delicately, tactfully, and kindly—bishops don’t like to be instructed about their rights and duties by laity!) that canon law permits him to make his own discernment about the local situation and the needs of the faithful, as Fr. Gerald Murray explains here. The Dicastery for Divine Worship (DDW) in Rome serves in an advisory capacity toward him, not in a legislative one. The DDW has no authority to command a bishop to terminate the TLM; they may only tell him he “should,” which is quite a different matter. An abundance of canonical arguments may be found in my article “Newly Ordained Priests and Permission to Offer the Traditional Latin Mass” and, even more, in canon lawyer Fr. Réginald-Marie Rivoire’s Does “Traditionis Custodes” Pass the Juridical Rationality Test? (Os Justi Press, 2022).

Your arguments should be boiled down to the shortest possible number of pages and sent to him in advance of the meeting. Even better if you know a sympathetic priest who is a canon lawyer. The bottom line: a bishop can invoke Canon 87 to dispense from particular or universal disciplinary laws—even those issued by the supreme authority of the Church.[1]

3. Meet in person with your bishop. When you meet with the bishop, have both men and women present, and explain how much the TLM means to all of you in terms of loving God and practicing your faith in your day-to-day life. Leave out the arguments about liturgical form because he likely exclusively offers the NO and is thus not likely to have the patience for any arguments that even remotely suggest the superiority of one form over the other; go instead for the heartstrings.

When the bishop says “I can’t do anything else, this is what Rome said,” remind him of the content of the letter you sent showing him that he does have the freedom; remind him of his rights under canon law and of the behavior of many other bishops who are letting the TLM continue, often in multiple locations and also in parish churches. If the time and atmosphere seem right, you could also propose to him inviting the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter into the diocese, because the pope expressly approved the continuation of their work wherever the bishop welcomes it. Perhaps a church building that is on the chopping block for merger could be taken over by the FSSP. (This “deal with the FSSP” would seem to apply mutatis mutandis also to the Institute of Christ the King and smaller traditional communities; certainly that is the way things are being handled almost everywhere, except in the gravitational field of Chicago.)

One of the great challenges of our time is the distance that has grown between bishops and faithful in general; it can be difficult to build up friendship and trust when the head of the diocese is remote and inaccessible. Nevertheless one must try to do what one can. I was speaking with a lady who said she was inspired one day to call the chancery and invite the bishop over for dinner. To her shock, the bishop agreed, and came over!

4. Organize a letter campaign. Have TLM attendees, families, especially children, send letters to the bishop. Definitely, don’t flood him with letters all at once unless the situation calls for it. Instead, agree among yourselves to spread them out so that he’s always getting some mail. After a time, you may wish to pick certain seasons or dates of the year when everyone in the community will resume sending in mail (Advent, Lent, etc.). This way the mail doesn’t just drop off and never return.

It’s not necessary to write more than a sentence or two: “We are heartbroken at what has happened in our lives / to our parish…” “We feel as if we are being singled out for punishment, and why? Because we love our Faith and its traditions?” “Our boys loved serving the Latin Mass…” “We used to pray the rosary together for the pope’s intentions, and now everyone has scattered…”) Have people send the bishop spiritual bouquets from their families. We are trying to reach his heart and make him feel bad about what he has done or is threatening to do (or being bullied into doing); we want to make him regret it, rethink it, walk it back quietly.

True, such letters may not change his mind. They may not move him to change his policies. But a bishop still has a heart, even if it has hardened toward some of his faithful; he still has a conscience, even if it needs to be awakened. A steady flow of letters may soften that hard heart, may stimulate that dormant conscience. Over time, he might, for example, decide not to enforce his policies, or to enforce them inconsistently and weakly. He might decide to leave untouched a Latin Mass that has sprung up somewhere without approval, even though he has heard about it. He might intercept or sideline a damaging assault started by a more zealous fan of Traditionis Custodes.

There are many things that go on behind the scenes that most of us will never hear about, and we cannot judge simply from appearances only. When we send in letters, it is part of an effort to move things slowly but with hope and confidence. The same is true when we pray: sometimes the results are dramatic and obvious, but at other times, even most of the time, the results are hidden to our eyes. Nevertheless, we still have faith and we still pray.

One might worry: “What if the letters will annoy the bishop?” Truth be told, even that’s not a bad outcome. Remember the parable of the persistent old woman who so bothered the wicked judge that he finally granted her what she asked, so that she would finally leave him alone (see Lk 18:1–8). We very definitely want the hierarchy to get it through their heads that we are not going away and we won’t change our minds.

One cautionary note: Some bishops are actively hostile to or contemptuous of the TLM and all that goes with it. For them, sharing the “fruits” of Summorum Pontificum—the army of altar servers, the numbers of births and baptisms versus funerals, etc.—can backfire. Because of their firm conviction that the TLM represents the past and not the future, a conviction obsessively repeated by Pope Francis, all the evidence that suggests the opposite is not an occasion for reconsideration or encouragement but rather a cause of alarm. The more the tradition grows, the more such bishops will become convinced that the Catholics of their dioceses are being misled into a dangerous dead-end. Attempts to get on the good side of bishops like this may have the unfortunate result of pricking their malformed consciences that tell them to impose further restraints on your activities rather than the opposite. Thus, some discernment will be required in determining what kind of communication may or may not be fruitful with the local Ordinary.

5. Take canonical action. There are sometimes canonical recourse steps that Catholics who are being deprived of goods to which they have a right can take. Here, time is of the essence: the moment a chancery or episcopal decrees goes out restricting the TLM or old-rite baptism, confirmation, marriage, funeral, etc., you need to file with a canon lawyer ASAP. In formation right now is the Vetus Ordo Society, which has as its purpose precisely assisting the laity to file such cases. There is no risk to the individual faithful and there is a chance that the legal intervention will throw a wrench in the works.

Some Catholics say: “Taking canonical action will upset the bishop and he will retaliate by being even meaner to us.” This is the beaten wife syndrome: if I complain about my husband beating me, he will beat me even more. It is because the laity have been so passively “obedient” that the authorities can so easily get away with abusing us and attacking the good of our souls and our families. I regret to say that the villains in the Church are counting on us not to fight back, to be good sheeple whom they can cancel out, as they cancel out good priests. This is part of the whole gaslighting structure. It’s crucial that people see through it. The only thing a bully can be made to understand is fighting back, because then he has to deal with it. Otherwise, he will ride roughshod over everyone.

Now, I’m not saying that your local bishop is a bully; he might very well be a gentleman and even somewhat sympathetic. Yet he is probably a victim of the same false understanding of obedience as that under which many priests operate, where, e.g., if Francis says “give communion to remarried Catholics” or “teach that the death penalty is wrong,” they think they have no choice but to do it. St. Thomas makes it very clear that we are under immediate and exceptionless obedience to no one but God; all His human representatives must follow divine and natural law and reverence ecclesiastical law and custom.[2]

In all your formal or argumentative communications directed to the bishop (as opposed to spiritual bouquets or personal notes), it should always be made clear that you are well aware, from close study of the matter by canonical experts, that a bishop is by no means required to shut down parish TLMs or other sacramental rites. He has room to maneuver.

6. Show up in public places. Gather at the cathedral and/or the chancery and pray the rosary, holding posters with nice messages (see what is being done in Chicago and Arlington for ideas). No personal attacks on the bishop, just messages like “We are faithful Catholics who love the Latin Mass!” and “Don’t take our beloved Latin Mass away from us!” It’s especially important to try to interest local media in covering these peaceful protests, since there is no bishop who enjoys negative publicity. Pray the Rosary and sing lots of Catholic chants and hymns. Prepare a piece of paper or half a piece of paper with a simple explanation on it of who you are and what you stand for and what you are asking for, so that you can hand it to curious bystanders going in and out or passing by. In short: don’t let your existence be forgotten.

Another way of showing up is to take a table at a diocesan event, e.g., if there is an annual Diocesan Catechists Workshop or a Men’s Conference or a Women’s Conference. You can set up books to sell and informational materials.

7. Educate the clergy about the battle. Meanwhile, parallel to all of the foregoing, talk one-on-one or in small groups with the TLM-celebrating and TLM-favorable priests. Be sure to give them copies of the book True Obedience in the Church, which argues that priests may and must keep the Latin Mass and other traditional Sacraments and sacramentals alive regardless of what their bishop may allow or prohibit. There are profound theological issues at stake here; it’s no mere “matter of discipline” over which the pope and bishops have a full authority of determination to which the only response is blind obedience. On the contrary, the ban on traditional sacramental rites goes to the root of the Catholic Faith, to the Church’s consistency and coherence with herself and with Christ’s action over history and in the magisterium. A book that draws out these points in detail is From Benedict’s Peace to Francis’s War, but the aforementioned Fr. Rivoire book is also excellent (and much shorter). Get your priests quality traditional calendars so they can be better aware of its ins and outs.

8. Try to persuade priests to offer underground private Masses if need be. Be ready to support a priest, in friendship and in practical/financial assistance, if he is unjustly stripped of a position in the diocese and is given no assignment (in other words, if he becomes what is called a “canceled priest”). At that point he can become your local underground chaplain. Bishop Athanasius Schneider has supported this course of action in a case of necessity. Remember: the suppression of the TLM will be successful to the degree that priests and bishops allow themselves to be coerced. Those who refuse to be coerced may be visited with unjust penalties, but they will retain a clear conscience and fulfill the pastoral ministry to which Christ the High Priest has called them.

9. Acquire and renovate property. We have to think long-term, because the crisis that has reached fever pitch under Pope Francis is still going to be with us for some time. So, we must be realistic: long gone are the days when we could expect the institutional Church—i.e., the churchmen of the moment—to anticipate our needs and to provide for them. On the contrary, some churchmen seem to specialize in new forms of discrimination and marginalization, and in stomping on the spiritual needs and canonical rights of the faithful.

It is therefore time to meet the fire of hatred with the fire of a love that surmounts every obstacle. If a group of laypeople can find an old church, or a closed Protestant chapel, they should buy it and convert it into a usable chapel. This is a smart step for the difficult times that may be coming (and have already come in certain places).[3] All things being equal, it is better to have a church in which to celebrate the Holy Mass and other Sacraments than to limit oneself to living rooms, basements, or hotel ballrooms, as often occurred in the 1970s. If you have no success locally finding a chaplain, you may be able to get a priest from the Coalition for Canceled Priests to come in and say Mass there. Sadly, if things keep going as they are going, other priests will become available in due course.

10. Drive and carpool. Some people have the option to drive an hour or two into a neighboring diocese for a TLM offered by diocesan clergy, an Ecclesia Dei group, or the SSPX. This is obviously not a long-term solution but it can be a temporary strategy, especially for the sake of children who should not be exposed to liturgical deviations. It is also possible that a drive like this could be done once or twice a month. Van pools to help the elderly or those with no vehicles get to Mass could be considered; it would be an outstanding work of mercy.

If the Sacrament of Baptism or Confirmation is unavailable in your vicinity, see if you can bring your child to a neighboring diocese where the FSSP or ICKSP (or even, in some rare cases, a diocesan church) can take care of it. Policies vary but there have been places that welcome outsiders for the Sacraments of initiation. There is reason to believe that Vatican efforts are intensifying to cut off Catholics from any and all access to traditional-rite Sacraments apart from the Eucharist. If and when this happens in your area and you cannot find another solution, it would then be necessary to reach out to the SSPX.

11. Start a Traditional Catholic Homeschool Co-op. Unlike an Una Voce chapter or other (perhaps clandestine) group, a homeschool co-op can be an effective vehicle for openly educating the traditional Catholic youth and for collaborating to advance traditional Catholic values within the diocese. It would be best if a priest can offer a TLM on, say Friday mornings, in the local church with the co-op students meeting after for religion or other classes. Such a co-op doesn’t have to limit itself to childrens’ offerings; it might also offer fellowship and enrichment for the adults by offering adult nights featuring talks on various topics, from adult spiritual formation to experienced homeschool families teaching those new to homeschooling which curriculum and materials they’ve had the most success with. Keeping the group traditional and Catholic so that it is not overrun by a majority of Novus Ordo and/or Protestant homeschoolers is essential; this could be done with bylaws that call for voting and non-voting members, with the former having to meet certain traditional Catholic criteria.

12. Begin the SSPX conversation. If your bishop has canceled every accessible TLM in your diocese and/or other sacraments in the old rite and nothing else avails—if a bishop will not relent in his cancellations, if he will not be reasonable in providing for the needs of his sheep, if he will not invoke Canon 87, if he refuses to invite in the FSSP, etc.—then it is time to consider the “nuclear option,” namely, contacting and inviting the SSPX into your area. It is your way of saying, unequivocally: “We are playing for keeps and will not back down.” Given the ever-growing demands on their limited personnel at this time, the Society is not likely to be able to respond to your request right away; but if you can assure a chapel and funding, and there is a decent number of faithful in question, they may come.

Here is not the place to go into detailed questions about the status of the SSPX but I will limit myself to saying the following. If the Church is in a state of unprecedented and anomalous institutional crisis, a historical meltdown next to which the Arian controversy and the Protestant revolt are as puff-pastry—and that is the view I have, and, I would think, most of those who are reading this—then it is infinitely more necessary to retain the fullness of Catholic orthodoxy, which means both right teaching and right worship, than it is to check off all the boxes of canonical propriety and to satisfy the desiderata of scholastic manuals written at other times and without even the remotest conception of the situation we are passing through.

Plus, on a pragmatic note, and sad as it is to say it, nothing better motivates certain bishops to provide diocesan-sponsored Latin Masses than the possibility of an SSPX presence! To protect yourself against the counterargument that “you were schismatics all along, because look how you are reaching out to the SSPX!,” make it absolutely clear: “We never thought of seeking the help of the SSPX until we were painted into a corner by your unreasonable and unjust actions. It is not we who are wronging you but you who are wronging us. Since there is absolutely no good case that can be made for withdrawing the traditional sacramental rites from baptized Catholics and flourishing communities, it is clear that, in reality, the local shepherd has decided to stop feeding his sheep; and the sheep therefore turn to where they may be fed.”[4]

In this connection I would urge traditional Catholics to recognize sedevacantism for what it is, namely, a trap set by the Devil to capture those who are too quick to judge, overzealous, and unequipped with the spiritual and theological resources needed to make some sense of our chaotic times (it will never completely make sense, since we are dealing with the mysterium iniquitatis, the mystery of iniquity, which is inherently irrational). Even when we legitimately protest against and refuse to follow the directives of our pope and our bishop, we do so regretfully, under duress, and for the sake of greater goods that must be defended by true Catholics. We do not stop acknowledging and praying for the pope and the clergy in general, nor do we seek to escape from the confines of the visible Church. Our goal is the restoration of tradition within the Church, its natural and supernatural home.

13. Education never stops. Finally, and very importantly, it is crucial to help educate your fellow TLM attendees on why we love this form of the Mass. It’s not just about “smells and bells.” It goes far deeper than that. A key text, if you will permit me to say so, is Reclaiming Our Roman Catholic Birthright. This is perhaps the most immediately useful “apologetics manual” for the TLM. Perhaps you could distribute chapters of it, or start up a number of reading groups run by various people. We have to educate ourselves about what we are fighting for and why. My new book from TAN is a deeper dive: The Once and Future Roman Rite: Returning to the Latin Liturgical Tradition after Seventy Years of Exile. You can find videos of talks at my YouTube channel for those who prefer that format. Another good book club book would be Stuart Chessman’s Faith of Our Fathers, a short but inspiring read about the history of the traditionalist movement in America, what it had to go through, and how by God’s grace it has overcome every obstacle.

14. Last but not least: let us endeavor to carry our cross well. It may well be that God is asking us to carry a heavier cross than before. If he asks us to do so, it means He knows we can handle it with His grace, and that we will be sanctified by it. Maybe he is asking us to bear it on behalf of those who reject and insult the cross.

Bishop Athanasius Schneider in Christus Vincit and other works talks about the suppression and rarity of the Mass during his childhood in the Soviet Union. He used that cross for his personal sanctification, and ultimately it led him to accept his priestly vocation. Look how the Lord is using him today, to preach the truth in season and out of season, around the world. The same will be true for us: God does not allow evil unless He will draw forth good. Let our own growth in virtue and sanctity be the good that He draws forth from the evils unleashed by Traditionis Custodes.


[1] Sometimes chancery officials want to keep bishops in the dark about can. 87; and sometimes threats are made by various people to the bishop (“you know, if you actually invoke this, then…”). Much depends on whether you have a man of principle and courage or not.

[2] On these points, see my work True Obedience.

[3] Don’t blow a ton of cash on a chapel that never gets used, however. Whatever you do, do it under the direction of, or with the advice of, the TLM-offering priest you’re working with.

[4] I have written two articles (1, 2) that may be helpful for those in your community who fear that this is a “Protestant” way of thinking or acting.

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