We have reached the end of an era. Pope Francis Apostolic Letter Traditionis Custodes has revoked and nullified Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum which liberalized usage of the Traditional Latin Mass (1962 Missal) throughout the Church. For that matter, it also nullified Pope Saint John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter Ecclesia Dei which likewise encouraged liberalization of the Traditional Latin Mass (1962 Missal). The terms “ordinary form” and “extraordinary form,” defined and promulgated by Pope Benedict XVI, have been abrogated. Henceforth, according to the subtext of Traditionis Custodes, the different forms of the mass will be referred to as the “1962 Roman Missal” and the “1970 Roman Missal.”
Recognizing this new paradigm, and that one pope has abrogated the wishes and precedence of his previous two predecessors, including a canonized Saint, I will henceforth refer to the “extraordinary form” (Traditional Latin Mass) as the “1962 Missal,” and the “ordinary form” (Modern Vernacular Mass) as the “1970 Missal.”
The short of the story is this. It’s over.
Pope Francis has exercised his legitimate power as the Supreme Pontiff and there’s nothing we can do to change that. He took the bold route, far bolder than any of us expected, and unless a future pope completely reverses his decision, we are stuck with this for the long-term foreseeable future.
What are the implications of this? The diocesan communities, attached to the 1962 Missal, are slated for gradual suffocation in many areas. The Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) has now been given a blank check, which it will use to siphon more Catholics away from the mainstream Church and into their canonically irregular organization. Based on the language of Traditionis Custodes, the SSPX has no future in the mainstream Catholic Church, in spite of whatever liberties Pope Francis has currently given it. If the objective of Francis is to move all Latin Mass lovers into the SSPX, then the short-term objective is to legitimatize it, and the long-term objective is to excommunicate it for failing to acknowledge the legitimacy of the 1970 Missal and the validity of the Second Vatican Council. It will be called “rigid” and “divisive,” and regarded as “harbingers of schism,” right before they are formally expelled from the mainstream Church. As the great Admiral Ackbar, of Star Wars lore, would say to his comrades in battle: “It’s a trap!” We can now see why the SSPX has been so hesitant to accept the offer of a personal prelature from Rome.
As an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism, let me give you my take on all this. I’m flabbergasted! I can’t believe the way the Catholic Church has been mismanaged for the last half century. In the evangelical/protestant world, such actions would be considered unthinkable. Just about every non-Catholic church I’ve been a part of has compromised between those who want traditional worship, and those who want contemporary worship. Usually, two church services are held every Sunday morning. One is traditional and the other is contemporary. In The Episcopal Church (Anglicanism), such compromise is codified right into the Book of Common Prayer, with Rite I being a traditional mass, and Rite II being a contemporary mass. Every Sunday morning, the Episcopal priest usually offers two masses; one contemporary and the other traditional. Protestants do this because they instinctively understand that a heavy-hand management style on liturgy will alienate a large portion of their congregations, inciting push-back and eventually schism. Obviously, Pope Benedict XVI tried to create a similar environment in the Catholic Church with his designation of the “ordinary” and “extraordinary” forms. Now, that is gone, replaced by a heavy-handed management style not seen since the 1970s.
As an Evangelical/Protestant convert, I don’t have a dog in this fight. I’m part of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, which is an English Patrimony jurisdiction. The missal I use is Divine Worship. I do visit a diocesan parish on occasion, which typically uses the 1970 Roman Missal. I hold no latent animosity toward that liturgy at all. I just wish it would be celebrated in a more traditional way. My criticism is not of the 1970 Roman Missal itself, but rather the failure of too many Catholics to celebrate it properly. As for the 1962 Roman Missal, I must confess it is beautiful. Every Catholic should visit a Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) at least once. Once upon a time (from 2008 to 2014), I visited it quite frequently. It was my “home away from home” for about seven years. However, since 2015 I have returned to my Anglican roots within the Catholic Church in Divine Worship – The Missal, and I am happy. I am not a Latin-Mass-Only kind of guy. I never was. These days, I don’t go to the TLM at all. It’s not that I don’t want to, but rather because I’m happy were I am, and the opportunities to attend a TLM in my area are limited. So, as I said, I don’t have a personal stake in this issue. I don’t have a dog in this fight. My interest in this issue is one of empathy, for my Catholic brethren who are deeply attached to the 1962 Missal (TLM). It is for them I write this essay.
There has been a whole lot of focus on the Apostolic Letter Traditionis Custodes itself, which is quite draconian in the way it deals with the celebration of the 1962 Missal, and the people attached to that form of liturgy. I won’t go into the details of that here, as one can easily find plenty of information on that from various other sources. Instead, I would rather focus on the accompanying letter. So I will just summarize the main points of Traditionis Custodes here…
- The 1970 Roman Missal is the expression of the Roman Rite as it exists in our time.
- The diocesan bishop is fully in charge of liturgy in his diocese, and that includes usage of the 1962 Roman Missal.
- The diocesan bishop now has full authority to regulate, and even outlaw, the celebration of the 1962 Missal in his diocese. He has full regulatory powers. He decides where, when and who celebrates the 1962 Missal, and under what conditions this celebration may take place. He is to specifically determine, and make his decisions based on, his perception of how well the TLM group adheres to the Second Vatican Council and accepts the 1970 Missal as valid. (This nullifies Summorum Pontificum.)
- Newly ordained priests must now obtain permission from the local bishop, and the Vatican, before being allowed to celebrate the 1962 Missal. (This nullifies Summorum Pontificum and Ecclesia Dei.)
- Priests who currently celebrate the 1962 Missal must now obtain permission from the local bishop to continue to do so. (This nullifies Summorum Pontificum.)
- Traditional orders, attached to the 1962 Missal, now fall under the jurisdiction of a different dicastery in the Vatican.
- The Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) and the Discipline of the Sacraments and the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life now regulate the implementation of this decree.
- All previous rules and instruction concerning the 1962 Missal are abrogated. (In case there are any questions, this nullifies Summorum Pontificum, Ecclesia Dei and the 1984 Indult.)
As I said above, others are covering the details of the Apostolic Letter in greater detail. I want to focus on the accompanying letter, which was published simultaneously and alongside the Apostolic Letter Traditionis Custodes. In the sixth and eighth paragraphs of the accompanying letter, Pope Francis stated his reasons for his new restrictions upon the 1962 Missal…
I am nonetheless saddened that the instrumental use of Missale Romanum of 1962 is often characterized by a rejection not only of the liturgical reform, but of the Vatican Council II itself, claiming, with unfounded and unsustainable assertions, that it betrayed the Tradition and the “true Church”.
A final reason for my decision is this: ever more plain in the words and attitudes of many is the close connection between the choice of celebrations according to the liturgical books prior to Vatican Council II and the rejection of the Church and her institutions in the name of what is called the “true Church.” One is dealing here with comportment that contradicts communion and nurtures the divisive tendency — “I belong to Paul; I belong instead to Apollo; I belong to Cephas; I belong to Christ” — against which the Apostle Paul so vigorously reacted. In defense of the unity of the Body of Christ, I am constrained to revoke the faculty granted by my Predecessors. The distorted use that has been made of this faculty is contrary to the intentions that led to granting the freedom to celebrate the Mass with the Missale Romanum of 1962.Traditionis Custodes
These are the main reasons Pope Francis cited for nullifying Summorum Pontificum and Ecclesia Dei, effectively restraining the celebration of the 1962 Missal, resulting in its complete ban in some dioceses. Some have called into question the sincerity of the pope’s explanation of his motives here. I won’t indulge that, and I say it doesn’t matter. I can’t get inside Francis’ head and neither can anyone else. The explanation he gives is the only official one we have to use, and this is where I’m going to get into trouble with my traditionalist friends. I can’t deny that he has a point.
The pope has raised a legitimate issue, by citing a legitimate problem among some (not all but some) traditionalists. He’s not wrong.
I have personally witnessed what I can only describe as a “spirit of schism” among some (not all but some) of my fellow Catholics attached to the 1962 Missal. I should be fair here, in saying that its not universal, and many of these Catholics do not foster such a spirit, nor would they ever do such a thing. However, of those who do, their voice is growing, as are their numbers.
By this “spirit of schism,” I don’t mean an actual schism, or actual schismatic acts. The overwhelming vast majority of these Catholics pledge their allegiance to the Church and to Rome. Rather, their criticism of the 1970 Missal, and of Vatican II often goes beyond what anyone would consider “constructive.” I have witnessed some call for an outright ban on the 1970 Missal and demand a return to the 1962 Missal Church-wide, in effect doing to other Catholics what was done to them in 1970. I have witnessed some say the 1970 Missal is “less efficacious” and a “lower form” of Catholicism. I have witnessed a growing number of these same Catholics call for the complete abrogation of Vatican II, with some saying “just throw the whole thing out!” These are not low-profile individuals. They run Catholic news outlets, blogs and podcasts. It is slowly becoming more common to hear them say that “real” or “true” Catholics agree with them on these things, and those who don’t are somehow “lesser Catholics,” if they are still Catholics at all.
Is this schismatic? Well, no, not really, but it is a “spirit of schism” where one group of Catholics set themselves apart and above the mainstream Church. Francis is right about this. It’s a real thing, and it is a problem. Yes, it’s a problem that must be remedied.
Liberals are often good at diagnosing problems. Where they lack skill is in prescribing treatment. For the Left (both in politics and religion) the cure is often worse than the disease. Pope Francis is no different, and he fits the mold perfectly, by placing draconian restrictions on the Latin Mass that punish the innocent right alongside the guilty. It’s a lot like swatting a fly with a hand grenade, or stopping a bank robbery with a nuclear bomb. Both methods are effective techniques to accomplish the goal, but at the price of countless innocent bystanders. Yes, dropping a grenade into a whole room full of people, just to kill a pesky fly, will work. The concussion blast alone is more than enough to get the job done. That and the shrapnel will insure the death of everyone and everything. Then of course, there is the bank robber. If you want to stop him, and the robbery in progress, a nuclear bomb will most certainly be effective. The thug will be vaporized, and the robbery will stop. Of course, everyone else in the bank will be vaporized too, along with the bank, and about 100 square-blocks of city as well, but it will be effective at getting the job done.
That’s a good analogy of what Francis has done here. He pulled the pin and lobbed a grenade into a room, just to kill a fly. He detonated a nuke just to stop a bank robbery. That’s overkill. It’s actually a ridiculous level of overkill, and this is where we must pause… and laugh. Yes, I said laugh. Because while on one level it’s not funny at all (because people are getting hurt), on another level it really is quite funny, because the man’s actions are ridiculous! He clearly doesn’t have a strong grasp of reality. He is clearly very insecure. And he is clearly willing to go to extreme lengths just to address a minor problem on the religious right, while he virtually ignores everything on the religious left. I mean, for heaven’s sake! He’s got bishops in Germany blessing same-sex “marriages,” and getting ready to ordain women, and he does nothing other than “issue a stern letter” from the CDF. While, at the same time, he drops a nuclear bomb on traditionalists because some (not all but some) are saying they’re “better than” other Catholics. What a joke! Can anyone take such a management style seriously?
Francis has demonstrated he doesn’t know how to handle traditionalists, so he instead abuses them. These are clearly the actions of a man who doesn’t know what he’s doing, and I’m being generous here. The only alternative would be to assume that he does know what he’s doing, and his intentions are evil. Many have gone down that road of speculation. I’m not going to say they’re wrong, nor am I going to say they’re right. The truth is, I don’t know if Pope Francis is evil, so I will just be generous instead by saying he’s incompetent.
He does fit the profile of many other liberal-Leftists I see both in religion and politics. Most of them are both insecure and incompetent. They have a thin skin, wearing their emotions on their sleeves. They’re short-tempered, and don’t know how to handle tough questions or challenges to their way of governance. They’re blinded to inconsistencies and hypocrisies within their own party, but hyper-critical of inconsistencies and hypocrisies in their opposing parties. When they get power, their reign of terror is marked by making excuses and covering for crimes committed by their supporters, while simultaneously prosecuting the crimes of their opponents with extreme prejudice, all the while inflating them into infractions much worse than they actually are.
Here in the United States, we have front-row seats to this very thing in our national politics right now. For months our cities burned, businesses were destroyed, our city streets were vandalized, our churches were attacked and yes, people were killed, during the BLM-Antifa riots of 2020. And yet most of the perpetrators were given a pass, released from jail, and never prosecuted. We were told this was their “freedom of speech” and “right to protest.” We were called “racists” and “white supremacists” and even “fascists” and “Nazis,” for daring to criticize them. Meanwhile, the Capitol Hill rioters, who didn’t burn anything or kill anyone on January 6, 2021, are classified as “insurrectionists” in the “greatest crime against the government since the Civil War,” who are “worse than terrorists.” They’ve been hunted down like animals, imprisoned without bail, and are now facing life behind bars. You can see what I mean here. The liberal-Leftist reaction to two different rioters was predictable. The actual crimes were graded solely on political orientation. This is how the liberal-Left operates, both in politics and religion. Francis is no different. He’s a liberal-Leftist on both politics and religion, often blending the two. His actions are as predictable as they are typical. All he did in Traditionis Custodes was live up to that expectation — perfectly.
If Francis were a good pope, who really cared about the souls of those who reject the 1970 Missal and Vatican II, then he might have issued a more measured and tempered response in Traditionis Custodes, that would have looked something more like this…
- Leave Summorum Pontificum in place.
- Give bishops the explicit faculty to remove priests from ministry who explicitly preach against the 1970 Missal and/or Vatican II, especially if they question their validity.
- Give bishops the explicit faculty to remove priests from ministry who explicitly preach against the 1962 Missal, especially if they question its validity.
- Require that all “Latin Mass Only” parishes explicitly state in their parish charter, bulletin and/or website that they do not reject the 1970 Missal or Vatican II.
- Write a nice, pastoral, Apostolic Letter to the Faithful explaining why outright rejection of the 1970 Missal and/or Vatican II is not Catholic, while simultaneously explaining why rejection of the 1962 Missal is not Catholic either, and simultaneously explaining that all Catholics are free to choose which missal they want to celebrate and should never be derided, or looked down upon, for the choice they make, for that is not Catholic.
You see, that’s how a strong leader does things. If Pope Francis were strong, secure in himself, calm and charitable, this is how he probably would have done things. That, of course, did not happen, and so Pope Francis (once again) showed his hand as weak, insecure, impulsive and uncharitable. (In other words, he’s a typical Leftist.) I’m writing this concerning his actions alone, because I cannot get inside the man’s head, and I don’t know what he’s thinking or feeling. All I know is actions speak louder than words, and Pope Francis’ actions in Traditionis Custodes were very telling.
So what should our reaction be? Shall we be as impulsive and uncharitable as Francis and the religious Left? Shall we be as overreacting and incompetent as Francis and the religious Left? Some would say that’s exactly what Francis and the religious Left want. To be honest, I don’t know what they want. I’m not sure they even know what they want. What I do know is this. We can’t be like them. As I said above, I don’t have a dog in this fight. I do love tradition, but I’m not what you might call a “traditionalist” in the Catholic sense. I love the 1962 Roman Missal, but I don’t attend its celebration regularly. In fact, I haven’t been to one in years. I’m a convert. I come at the Church with the mindset of somebody who spent his entire youth outside of it. I can never know exactly what cradle Catholics think or feel about these things. All I can do is empathize with them, and try to find common points of reference in my own religious experience. I have done so with my experience in both Evangelicalism and Anglicanism. While the traditional Catholic struggle is not identical, it is similar to the struggle within these groups of Christians. However, there is one difference with traditional Catholics, and it’s a big one. Unlike conservative Evangelicals and traditional Anglicans, schism is not an option for traditional Catholics, and it never will be. So how should traditional Catholics, and all Catholics of good will, deal with this travesty of justice from the Francis pontificate? Here are my suggestions…
- Don’t get schizy. Avoid any and all temptation toward schism. The sedevacantists don’t have any more answers than the Eastern Orthodox do. If Francis really does want to put all traditionalists outside of the Church, let him pull the trigger. Let him commit the sin. Let him answer for it before God. Let him excommunicate traditionalists, on his own, all by himself, and with no aid or comfort from them. Don’t give the religious Left the satisfaction of watching traditionalists hang themselves. Make them do it. Give them the rope. Make the religious Left turn themselves into tyrants and monsters, for all the world to see, and for history to record. Pope Francis has already given them a good head-start on this. He’s leading the way. Let him do it.
- Don’t be afraid to be a martyr. As a convert, I’ve spend more of my life outside the Church than I have inside. I will never leave the Church of my own will, but if Francis and gang wish to kick me out (for whatever bogus reason) I will survive. I’ll be fine, actually. I was fine before I entered the Church, and I’ll be fine if I get kicked out. My life will go on. In some ways, it may even be easier. My beliefs won’t change, and I’m sure I’ll find some way to get the sacraments anyway. (If there’s a will, there’s a way.) As long as my exodus from the mainstream Church is through no fault of my own, then the sin is not mine, and God will not hold me responsible for it. My point is, if I can think this way, you can too, and so can any traditionalist worried about the religious Left cornering them into an excommunication. If you’re secure in your Catholic faith, and you’re living according to a well-formed Catholic conscience, there really is nothing the religious Left can do to hurt you. They can make your life inconvenient, but they cannot destroy you. Only you can do that. So be chill. Be cool. Relax and think (don’t feel, think!) your way through this.
- Recognize that this current situation is just as temporary as Pope Francis is. The plight of traditionalists today is no different than it was for traditionalists in the 1970s and early 80s. We’ve been here before. Talk to some of the old traditionalists in your community. Seek their wisdom. How did they handle it? Maybe we can all learn a thing or two from them.
- Find a friendly bishop and diocese. Many traditional Catholics will be tempted to go to the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX). That’s one way to solve the problem, but it’s not the best way, and in the end it will probably cause more problems than it solves. The SSPX is not perfect, and has a host of its own internal problems. Some of them are very serious. (So just keep that in mind.) The SSPX will likely remain in canonical limbo for the foreseeable future, and considering the actions of this pope, it’s highly unlikely that they will strike any kind of a prelature deal with Francis now. We can now expect more bishops to marginalize the SSPX in the coming years, and any association with them can potentially ruin one’s credibility with the local diocese. So I would advise against it at this time. As I’ve said many times, where you live matters. If you’re an American who is strongly attached to the 1962 Missal, you need to move to a Red state, and you need to find a tradition-friendly bishop therein. That’s your best option.
- If all you’re looking for is a more reverent Catholic Mass, and the particular missal is not as important to you, then you can find one at ReverentCatholicMass.Com. This is where I find myself, and I would dare say most Catholics are probably the same way, if they are conscious of it. The truth is, most Catholics are completely unaware that more traditional options in liturgy are available to them, in many different forms. Most Catholics would probably prefer one of these more traditional forms of liturgical celebration, if only they were aware of them. So get the message out for those good folks at ReverentCatholicMass.Com. Share their website with family, friends and other parishioners. While you’re at it, maybe drop the administrators of ReverentCatholicMass.Com a few bucks so they can keep up the good work finding these parishes for us.
- Change your attitude if you need to. Francis does raise a valid point. Some traditionalists (not all but some) have an attitude of superiority, and they not only reject the 1970 Missal as invalid, but they also reject Vatican II as invalid as well. This is not Catholic. We can do better than this. Pope Benedict XVI showed us the proper way to accept Vatican II with the Hermeneutic of Continuity (which I explain in detail here), which simply expounds upon Pope Paul VI’s definition of the Council as purely pastoral in nature, something of a lower order than Vatican I and Trent. As for the 1970 Missal, it is legit, it is Roman, and it can be both beautiful and efficacious when celebrated properly. Here is a video of what a 1970 Missal celebration of the mass ought to look like. We should all study this video, and share it with others. We should tell our priests and bishops that this is what we want to see more of. Provide a copy (or link) of this video to them. Being Catholic is about unity not uniformity. There are different ways to celebrate the liturgy. There is the 1962 way, the 1970 way, the English Patrimony way (Divine Worship), and various Eastern Catholic ways. We’re Catholic not Lutheran. We don’t just do liturgy one way. We’re not locked into one missal. It’s always been that way, and it always will be. There have been times when the Church was more restrictive than others. Probably the most restrictive time was between AD 1570 to 1969, wherein the Missal of Pope Pius V (1962 being the most recent edition) was the only missal allowed in the Latin Rite, but the Eastern liturgies have always been allowed and never abrogated. Vatican II reopened the possibility of more Latin Rite liturgies, something not seen since 1569, of which the 1970 Roman Missal is one expression of that. Divine Worship the Missal (English Patrimony) is another expression of that. Francis himself has floated the idea of other missals, including an “Amazonian Missal.” We can debate which missal is better, all we want, and there should be room in the Church, and among Catholics, for those kind of debates to happen in a charitable way. That said, no missal should be disparaged outright, or declared invalid, and no Catholic should have to endure disparagement for the type of missal they choose to observe. That’s what Modernists do! They disparage traditional Catholics for using the 1962 Missal. Traditionalists need to be better than that. We all need to be better than that.
- Lastly, Francis’ restrictions on the 1962 Missal will inevitably force a number of Catholics to return to the 1970 Missal at a typical diocesan parish. Some Modernists are hoping the traditionalist will just go schizy and leave the diocese altogether, but they may be in for a surprise. As I pointed out in #6 above, if you watched the video, you now know what a 1970 Missal celebration of the Mass ought to look like. Suppose a number of traditional Catholics entered regular diocesan parishes and started respectfully demanding the 1970 Missal start being celebrated this way. I’m talking about regular, consistent, respectful but unrelenting pressure to reform the typical diocesan celebration of the 1970 Missal, one parish at a time. In this respect, Traditionis Custodes could become the Modernists’ worst nightmare.
Regarding #7 above, Francis has backed himself, and the religious Left, into a corner on this. In the sixth paragraph of the accompanying letter of Traditionis Custodes, Pope Francis said the following…
At the same time, I am saddened by abuses in the celebration of the liturgy on all sides. In common with Benedict XVI, I deplore the fact that “in many places the prescriptions of the new Missal are not observed in celebration, but indeed come to be interpreted as an authorization for or even a requirement of creativity, which leads to almost unbearable distortions”.Traditionis Custodes
Did you catch that? Pope Francis decries the liturgical innovations and abuses of the new Mass along with Benedict XVI and the traditionalists! While some might doubt his sincerity on this, I would say such speculation is a distraction. The fact is he wrote it. There it is, in black and white! Whether he means it or not is irrelevant. Pope Francis just wrote a blanket condemnation of liturgical innovation and abuse. If traditionalists are smart, they’ll seize upon this statement and use it wisely in their dealings with their diocesan priests and bishops. To innovate the liturgy is to go against the prescriptions of the 1970 Missal, the letter of Vatican II and the wishes of Pope Francis as explicitly stated in the accompanying letter for Traditionis Custodes. If they continue to innovate and abuse the 1970 Missal, they are openly defying Pope Francis!!!
Remember what I said above in #2. We have to think, not feel, our way through this. If the intention of Francis was to give the religious Left a victory, he miscalculated. If he’s a chess player, as they say, then he left an opening for a checkmate. The accompanying letter to Traditionis Custodes gives traditionalists a wide opportunity to expand the traditionalist movement into a Church-wide phenomenon, entering the parishes and chanceries of every diocese in the West, demanding a reform of the reform, and bring about a more traditional expression of the 1970 Missal everywhere. Lex orandi lex credendi. The law of prayer is the law of faith. With the reform and renewal of the 1970 Missal everywhere, the hearts and minds of Catholics worldwide will begin to be reformed and renewed as well.
Think about it.