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Some Questions on Traditionis Custodes

As the initial reactions to Pope Francis’ Traditionis Custodes continue to pour in, I wish to join my voice with others in analyzing and responding to this document. But I cannot, at least not yet. It is not that the document is free from any legitimate criticism, but that it is of such a disturbing nature that I am not sure where the criticism could even begin. To approach this motu proprio, one has to traverse through the many twists and turns of this pontificate. Since 2013, it seems that there has been an endless assault on the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Catholic Faith, and those of a more traditional spirit face opposition not just from outside the Church, but also within. A pontificate as controversial as Francis’s quite possibly reached its climax in its (attempted) abrogation of the traditional Roman Rite, and it is this action that requires serious reflection regarding not only Traditionis Custodes, but wider questions about the papacy, the Church, and the nature of the liturgy.

In what follows, I pose several of those questions, but do not (yet) attempt answers. As anyone who has done serious research can tell you, it is better to ask the right questions than force pithy responses. Like the Scholastics, honest inquiry allows for a true pursuit of truth. It is worth taking the time to sit with these questions, no matter how certain we think our answers are, or how uncomfortable our uncertainty makes us feel. While these mainly concern the latest motu proprio, one can also easily join them to questions posed in 2016 by the dubia Cardinals regarding Amoris Laetitia. Consider this to be, in an abridged manner, a layman’s dubia.

In the section below, I will provide citations from Traditionis Custodes in italics, and below them, my numbered question in response to the points cited.

In order to promote the concord and unity of the Church, with paternal solicitude towards those who in any region adhere to liturgical forms antecedent to the reform willed by the Vatican Council II, my Venerable Predecessors, Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI, granted and regulated the faculty to use the Roman Missal edited by John XXIII in 1962.  In this way they intended “to facilitate the ecclesial communion of those Catholics who feel attached to some earlier liturgical forms” and not to others. 

  1. Was the 1970 liturgical reform “willed” by the Second Vatican Council? Were those council fathers who voted approvingly on Sacrosactum Concilium consulted regarding the Novus Ordo Missae? In what ways does the Novus Ordo reflect or depart from the liturgical guidelines offered by SC? If the Novus Ordo was not approved at the council and by the council, can we truly say that the liturgical reform of Pope Paul VI was “willed” by the Second Vatican Council?
  2. What does it mean to “feel attached”  to an earlier liturgical form? Is this attachment an ordered and virtuous one, or disordered and vicious? Is such attachment solely a subjective one of experience? Or does the Church, rather, attach us to liturgical forms?

In line with the initiative of my Venerable Predecessor Benedict XVI to invite the bishops to assess the application of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum three years after its publication, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith carried out a detailed consultation of the bishops in 2020. The results have been carefully considered in the light of experience that has matured during these years. At this time, having considered the wishes expressed by the episcopate and having heard the opinion of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, I now desire, with this Apostolic Letter, to press on ever more in the constant search for ecclesial communion. Therefore, I have considered it appropriate to establish the following… 

  1. What was the methodology of the CDF’s consultation? How many bishops were consulted? What did the consultation consist of?
  2. What were the results?
  3. What were the “wishes expressed by the episcopate,” as well as the CDF’s opinion?
  4. What does it mean for ecclesial communion to be a “constant search”? Is such communion frustrated in a substantial sense, or an accidental sense?
  5. What is the relationship between two “forms” of the Roman Rite and ecclesial communion?


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.

  1. If the liturgical books of the Novus Ordo Missae as promulgated by Paul VI and John Paul II are the “unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite,” where does that place what was formerly known as the Extraordinary Form?
  2. If the traditional Latin Mass is not the Novus Ordo, then is there any lex orandi in it? Was there? If so, when did it cease?
  3. What about the “Anglican use”? As it is not part of the Novus Ordo Missae (yet still part of the Roman Rite), does the Anglican Ordinariate currently lack a lex orandi?


Art. 3. The bishop of the diocese in which until now there exist one or more groups that celebrate according to the Missal antecedent to the reform of 1970:

  • 1. is to determine that these groups do not deny the validity and the legitimacy of the liturgical reform, dictated by Vatican Council II and the Magisterium of the Supreme Pontiffs;
  1. What does it mean to “deny the validity and legitimacy of the liturgical reform”? Does this refer to those who claim the liturgical reform affected the validity of the sacraments?
  2. What does it mean to affirm the legitimacy of the liturgical reform? Does this refer to an overwhelming approval of it, with no prudential reservations? Or does this refer to those who claim the liturgical reform was illicit by its nature?
  • 2. is to designate one or more locations where the faithful adherents of these groups may gather for the eucharistic celebration (not however in the parochial churches and without the erection of new personal parishes)
  1. If not in parochial churches or new personal parishes, where may the usus antiquor be celebrated? Oratories? Monasteries? Chapels? Hotel lobbies?
  • 3. to establish at the designated locations the days on which eucharistic celebrations are permitted using the Roman Missal promulgated by Saint John XXIII in 1962. In these celebrations the readings are proclaimed in the vernacular language, using translations of the Sacred Scripture approved for liturgical use by the respective Episcopal Conferences;
  1. What are the designated locations where the 1962 missal may be used?
  2. Does the vernacular proclamation of the readings replace their Latin proclamation? Does it follow the Latin proclamation?
  • 5. to proceed suitably to verify that the parishes canonically erected for the benefit of these faithful are effective for their spiritual growth, and to determine whether or not to retain them;
  1. What determines the effectiveness of the parish for the parishioners spiritual growth? How is this measured, judged, or analyzed?
  • 6. to take care not to authorize the establishment of new groups.
  1. Do these refer to new groups of priests who use the 1962 missal? Does it refer to lay associations, confraternities, or advocacy groups which promote the traditional Latin Mass?

Art. 4. Priests ordained after the publication of the present Motu Proprio, who wish to celebrate using the Missale Romanum of 1962, should submit a formal request to the diocesan Bishop who shall consult the Apostolic See before granting this authorization.

  1. If, as stated above, “[It] belongs to the diocesan bishop, as moderator, promoter, and guardian of the whole liturgical life of the particular Church entrusted to him, to regulate the liturgical celebrations of his diocese,” then what purpose does consulting the Apostolic See have for approving the newly-ordained priests’ requests?


Other Questions

  1. Does the pope have the power to suppress the Roman Rite, as well as any or every other rite in the Eastern Churches, and then construct new rites for all Churches to use? Why or why not?
  2. According to Canon 841, “Since the sacraments are the same for the whole Church and belong to the divine deposit, it is only for the supreme authority of the Church to approve or define the requirements for their validity; it is for the same or another competent authority according to the norm of can. 838 §§3 and 4 to decide what pertains to their licit celebration, administration, and reception and to the order to be observed in their celebration.”
    1. Can the pope, in theory, mandate that, instead of bread and wine, the elements used for Eucharistic consecration are beer and cheese? Rice and tea?
    2. Does the pope have the power to change the words of institution?
    3. Of absolution?
    4. Of baptism? Why or why not?

Traditionis Custodes offers us an opportunity to ask important questions about the papacy, Magisterium, and the liturgy. While what I offer above are by no means the sole questions arising from this document, they attempt to pinpoint the various issues associated with the Francis papacy. As the 2016 dubia cardinals showed, honest questions over doctrine & Church law will remain unanswered under this pontificate. But, posing these inquiries will show that at least some in the Church care about the truth.

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