Now is the time for the bishops to come into their own. The Pope, in his motu proprio – Traditionis Custodes – on restricting the celebration of Mass in the extraordinary form, the Tridentine rite, has said that any would-be celebrant must first obtain the permission of the local bishop. Hearteningly the signs are that there has been no pressure from within the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales to discriminate against the Old Mass. However, there are now reports that there will be further pressure from Rome to enforce the restrictions on the celebration of the rite, and the bishops have an opportunity to demonstrate that they really do have what Francis called the “smell of the sheep” by protecting their priests and the faithful.
The Pope has repeatedly spoken up for the “marginalised”. The greater danger is that in vilifying and isolating a minority in the Church he risks being himself seen as totalitarian. Does he really want to create a new “marginalised” minority, driving good Catholics from their parishes and dioceses to “the peripheries”?
In his most recent interview, with Slovakian Jesuits, he identifies as a particular problem young priests who wish to celebrate the old rite in Latin, something which he describes as “going backwards”. Of all the challenges facing the Church today, he sees the benign Latin Mass community as worthy of denunciation. It is a strange priority.
We should applaud those bishops who have taken a pastoral approach to the “implementation” of Traditionis Custodes. They are doing their best to help save Pope Francis’ legacy of mercy, tolerance, “listening” and “accompaniment”. They have obviously realised the possibility of divisions identified in Traditionis Custodes doesn’t reflect the lived experience of parish and liturgical life in this part of the world. Good on them.
One of Pope Benedict’s greatest achievements was to end the liturgy wars with Summorum Pontificum, which allowed for the celebration of the Tridentine rite. And the adherents of the traditional Latin Mass have shown themselves to be a flourishing community, with lots of well-catechised children, a good number of vocations to the priesthood and full participation in parish activities.
They are delighted to be able to worship in a way which they find spiritually enriching, while living and worshipping in peaceful communion with the Pope and their local bishop. And having been promised by Benedict XVI that the “Old Mass” had never been abrogated, they are not willing to give it all up and deprive their children of this heritage in blind obedience to the pope (in itself, a curiously dated model of the Church). Many of those who regularly or infrequently attend the Tridentine Mass are genuinely flummoxed that this is suddenly an issue now.
In Traditionis Custodes, Pope Francis says the Traditional Latin Mass fosters a negative view of Vatican II. The truth is that most Catholics who bother to go to Mass regularly (Old rite or New) are not really exercised about the matter, being rightly focused on the gospel. The Pope warns of the Latin Mass fostering “ideology”. The young families who have now been told that they don’t belong in the Church are the real victims of ideology – an authoritarian approach to Church discipline quite at odds with the principle of consulting the laity. If anything is likely to give a negative view of Vatican II, it’s this attack on good peaceable Catholics.
In a recent interview, the Pope claims that Traditionis Custodes is intended to “support and consolidate” Summorum Pontificum. It isn’t. A stumbling block to the Church’s mission of evangelisation in our time has been the abuse of authority. Traditionis Custodes is an example of this. As Benedict XVI made clear, no pope has power to abrogate the Latin Mass. “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.” Benedict XVI promised us we could be devoted to the traditional Latin Liturgy and be fully integrated members of the Catholic Church. The motu proprio particularly hits the vocation of many priests, including those that gave up everything to join flourishing religious communities with the assurance that they could have both forms of Mass.
Bishops in their loyalty to Pope Francis have a duty to save him from himself. We must pray that, in line with his own preaching on mercy, accompaniment and “walking together”, the Pope will be inspired to reconsider the subject of Traditionis Custodes.
This article first appeared in the October 2021 issue of the Catholic Herald. Subscribe today.
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