Traditionis Custodes Comes to England and Wales

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Above: Triduum liturgy organised by the Latin Mass Society at St Mary Moorfields in London in 2023. Photo by Joseph Shaw.

At the time of the promulgation of Traditionis Custodes in the Summer of 2021, I wrote that the bishops of England and Wales had seemingly decided to “slow walk” the implementation of the motu proprio—if not neglect it entirely. It seemed as if they wanted to wait and see how firmly Rome would insist on the suppression of the Apostolic Roman Rite and, implicitly, how long Pope Francis would continue to live and occupy the Chair of St. Peter. Such a stance was well-suited to the managerialist instincts of the majority of the English bishops, who are given to a certain Anglophone ‘cultural liberalism’ which accommodates non-exclusive pluralism and pragmatic neighbourliness.

Nevertheless, the Vatican project to “choke off” the Faithful’s adherence to the Vetus Ordo (outside of the SSPX) has not gone away, and—with the release of the apostolic letter Desiderio desideravi confirming Pope Francis’s rationale for the restrictions in June 2022—has, in fact, intensified. Now, nearly three years since the formal shift from ‘Benedict’s Peace to Francis’s War,’ England and Wales’s bishops (no doubt mindful of their clerical careers) have begun to clamp down on canonically regular celebrations of the Apostolic Roman Rite.

This was strikingly apparent most recently when, on the 27th of February, Cardinal Vincent Nichols declined to give permission to the Traditional Triduum in Westminster. Thus, Nichols suppressed the celebration in the ancient Roman Rite of the most important liturgy of the Church’s year, which has taken place in the heart of the capital, with growing attendance, for over twenty-five years. The organiser of the Roman Rite Triduum, the Latin Mass Society, was told that since it is not a “stable group” it was not the right organisation to make the request, which can only be conceded to a “stable group.” This is an odd characterisation of the LMS which is one of the oldest traditionalist bodies in the world (founded in 1965, before the Novus Ordo was even promulgated), and which organises dozens of events throughout the country each year, has a permanent London office and full-time staff.

The Cardinal’s actions seem to be a pre-emptive concession to the Vatican programme of gradual suppression of the Apostolic Roman Rite and should be seen in continuity with growing restrictions such as his cancellation of the traditional Sacrament of Confirmation in Westminster in 2022 and the suppression of the LMS’s annual requiem Mass in Westminster Cathedral last November. It is likely that Cardinal Nichols wants to maintain autonomy about where the knife goes in rather than be subject to edicts from the Dicastery for Divine Worship under Cardinal Roche (from whom he is known to be distant).

Cardinal Nichols himself is well-past the customary episcopal retirement age of 75 (he is now 78) but it seems that he is keen to consolidate his policy of managed decline long enough for it to transition to another shepherd of the same mould. There is some speculation that Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham, and sponsor of ‘rainbow Masses,’ could be appointed as a caretaker successor before the centrist Archbishop of Cardiff, Mark O’Toole is installed as the future long-term Primate of England and Wales. Previously Bishop of Plymouth and Auxiliary in Westminster, O’Toole is seen as a more energetic figure who is supportive of almost any Catholic group that shows signs of growth amidst the rapidly ageing landscape of English Catholicism. As Bishop of Plymouth, he gave support to the establishment of an Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest parish and several LMS-organised Masses.

Meanwhile in Clifton (the only English diocese to immediately implement Traditionis Custodes and persecute a group of Benedictine monks located in Glastonbury, the most ancient of English Catholic shrines, as well as a flourishing traditional university chaplaincy), the ailing Bishop Declan Lang has finally retired and been replaced by Bishop-elect Bosco MacDonald who apparently was opposed to Bishop Lang’s persecution of the Old Rite and is regarded as more ‘conservative.’ Time will tell whether he quietly reverses his predecessor’s persecution or prefers to follow the new trend.

This Easter there are plenty of other celebrations of the Triduum taking place in London in other dioceses (some according to the pre-55 liturgy) but, understandably, they do not want too much of a spotlight shone on them at present. Sadly, the LMS website no longer publicly advertises diocesan Traditional Masses on its website amidst the increasingly hostile atmosphere created by the hierarchy. Where once the Society could publicly broadcast the multiplying numbers of traditional Masses as evidence of the growing need for provision amongst the faithful, now there is discretion and caution.

The overall picture for the implementation of Traditionis Custodes both here and in other countries is still very uneven. There is differing treatment of diocesan clergy and the traditional Institutes, not to mention the differing attitudes of the bishops. The overall Vatican strategy seems to be one of eliminating the Apostolic Roman Rite from diocesan parishes while ‘herding’ traditional Catholics towards the Ecclesia Dei Institutes and the SSPX. Whether this is part of a long-term Machiavellian plan whereby some or all of these groups are then attacked once the chickens are gathered in the same hen coops will remain to be seen.

I struck a note of optimism for the future of the traditional Roman Rite in England and Wales in my previous article, from which I will not depart now. Despite the newly intensified pressure against the Traditional Mass in England and Wales, it continues to be a counter-productive battle for the enemies of Tradition, waged with the weapons of a previous age. WhatsApp and Telegram groups keep traditional laity informed about the continued semi-clandestine celebrations of the Apostolic Roman Rite and the schwerpunkt media space remains focused on, or at least adjacent to, traditionalist talking points. More publicity means more interest in the Roman Church’s liturgical tradition, especially for the disinherited young. My own view is that traditional Catholics should probably be more vigilant in the long term about the seductive co-option, infiltration, and “kosherising” of Traditional Catholicism by the anti-Christian secular regime, rather than outright persecution.

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