The English bishops have cancelled scores of Old Rite confirmations following the latest wave of restrictions from Rome against traditional Latin liturgies.
Preparations for about 20 confirmations in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite were scheduled to take place at the Birmingham Oratory in February and more than 40 were expected to be conferred at St James’ Church, Spanish Place, London, in June.
But all of them have been cancelled after a Responsa ad dubia published in December suggested that all Old Rite liturgies were impermissible with the exception of the Mass, which since July has been restricted.
The sudden cancellations follow Traditionis custodes, a motu proprio of Pope Francis published in the summer, which scaled back the access granted by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, to liturgies which preceded the Second Vatican Council.
The crackdown by the Vatican was intended to halt possible divisions within the Church following the growing popularity of the Old Rite particularly among young people and families, with one senior official claiming devotion to the Latin Mass had become a movement which was “out of control”.
But priests who offer Mass in both the Ordinary (Novus Ordo) and Extraordinary Forms said the move had alienated many of the faithful, leaving them “bewildered and flummoxed” and failing to grasp why they were being punished.
“Everybody is very disappointed,” one priest told the Catholic Herald. “People can’t understand it. It is a monumental failure of not listening and not caring. This seems to be just a slap in the face.”
“Pope Benedict achieved peace in this area,” he continued, “but now war has been declared and nobody quite understands why.”
Another priest, who also did not wish to be named in fear of reprisals, said: “I have never been so sad in my life.”
The motu proprio did not prohibit liturgies celebrated according to the 1962 books but set limitations on the celebration of the traditional Latin Mass by rescinding the universal access granted by Pope Benedict in his 2007 apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum.
Pope Francis stated instead that diocesan bishops possessed the “exclusive competence” to authorise the use of Mass celebrated in accordance with the Roman Missal of 1962.
The Responsa suggests that it is illicit to celebrate other liturgies or sacraments using the Missal including marriages, last rites, confessions and confirmations.
In England and Wales, the Latin Mass is rarely the source of division in parishes and most bishops permitted those priests who celebrated Old Rite liturgies to continue without harassment.
A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Westminster said, however, that the Responsa, issued by Archbishop Arthur Roche, the newly-appointed English prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, meant that the rules have changed.
She said: “This is a matter for the universal Church, and not a decision that has been taken locally in any one diocese.
“The Responsa ad Dubia from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments makes it clear that the celebration of Confirmation according to the pre-Vatican forms is no longer permitted throughout the Church.
“The response to the second question after the introduction indicates that all use of the preconciliar Pontificale Romanum (liturgical books) is not permitted. There isn’t any room for discretion in making local decisions on this matter.”
But Joseph Shaw, the chairman of the Latin Mass Society, said the Responsa, unlike the motu proprio, does not have any canonical force of law.
He called on the bishops to “reconsider their position before real pastoral harm is done and damage to the fabric of unity which will not easily be repaired”.
Dr Shaw said it was inconsistent to offer specialist pastoral care to Polish, Syro-Malabar and Ukrainian rite Catholics but not to those attached to a rite used by popes, saints and doctors of the Church for centuries.
He said: “The arrangement by which the Archdiocese of Westminster provided an auxiliary bishop to confer Old Rite confirmation annually has been in place for nearly 20 years.
“In recent years bishops in several other English dioceses have also organised traditional confirmations in other parts of the country.
“These celebrations have been joyful occasions, attended by many children and young adults, their families, sponsors, and friends. They have been clear expressions of the importance the society’s supporters attach to their link with their bishops, and our bishops’ pastoral concern for us.
“They have enormously strengthened the sense of unity in the Church: both our sense of belonging, and, I believe, the bishops’ own sense that we are indeed sheep of their flock.”
He continued: “The cessation of these celebrations implies the loss of much that the bishops of England and Wales have sought, and achieved, in establishing a serene co-existence between the new and old liturgical forms.
“Confirmation is above all a sacrament for young people and converts,” he added. “We hope that the bishops of England and Wales come to reconsider their decision, and allow once more the ancient Roman liturgy in all its manifestations to be part of the legitimate diversity of liturgical forms we have in this country.”
In Birmingham, Archbishop Bernard Longley, who has performed hundreds of confirmation in the Old Rite since Pope Benedict relaxed previous restrictions, has offered to administer the sacrament in the Ordinary Form to those whose arrangements were cancelled.
Fears are mounting, however, that many people who wished to be confirmed in the Old Rite will now turn with their families to the Society of Pope Pius X, a breakaway traditionalist group yet to be fully reconciled with the Catholic Church.
Others may be attracted to such groups as the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter, a traditionalist group in communion with the Holy See and which operates a small number of canonically-erected parishes in England and which has permission to celebrate all sacraments using preconciliar liturgical books.
Many traditionalists have felt unwelcome since Archbishop Augustine Di Noia, an American Dominican theologian and adjunct secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, gave an interview to the Catholic News Service of Washington DC in the summer in which he said the Old Rite Mass was a “thing” that was “totally out of control” becoming “a movement especially in the US, France and England”.
Catholic commentators such as Charles Moore, writing in the Spectator, questioned the impact of the initiative on church unity while many individuals took to the social media to protest against the motu proprio.
Among the critics was Auxiliary Bishop Rob Mutsaerts of ’s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands, who used his blog to describe the document as “declaration of war” in an essay entitled “A Malicious Ukase (Czarist proclamation) from Pope Francis”.
He said it was “dictatorial”, “unpastoral” and “unmerciful” and argued that it would play into the hands of breakaway traditionalist groups.
Other bishops have welcomed the publication of the document, however.
The motu prohibits the formation of new groups in parishes dedicated to worship exclusively according to the Old Rite.
But the Responsa goes further by demanding that parish priests should not even advertise Old Rite Masses in church bulletins and other media, leading many of the clergy to question its validity.
(Photo of Auxiliary Bishop John Sherrington of Westminster conferring Old Rite confirmation courtesy of the Latin Mass Society)
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