Just in time for the weekend, the Pope banned the Latin Mass.
Wait, he did what?
The headlines in quite a few places, including Yahoo News and many Italian sources, say the Pope Francis “banned the Latin Mass.” But other sources say he “reimposed previous limits on the Mass.” So which is it? After a bit of digging, I found the actual Vatican source, an Apostolic Letter issued “motu propio” (meaning “on his own accord”) by Pope Francis called TRADITIONIS CUSTODES. So, let’s have a read!
The letter starts with the subject “On the Use of the Roman Liturgy Prior to the Reform of 1970.” Well, its certainly not hiding what its about. After a bit of babbling about the importance of the Bishops, the letter says that they wanted to “assess the application of the Motu Propio Summorum Pontificum three years after its publication…” The Summorum Pontificum was issued in 2007 by Pope Benedict XVI and allowed and encouraged use of either the 1962 Missal or the 1970 Missal, while proclaiming that “they are two usages of the one Roman rite.” Essentially, this decree opened the door to the Latin Mass and made it more difficult for the Bishops to deny its use. So, we’re revisiting this decree.
Right after this intro we get into the meat of the letter.
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.Traditionis Custodes
Ok, nothing much here…except there is. See, the Latin Mass normally uses the liturgical book from John Paul XXIII. While there was a debate as to whether the Latin Mass (typically called “the extraordinary form”) or the Mass said in the vernacular (also called the Norvus Ordo, or “ordinary form”) was better or the “true form,” Pope Benedict XVI essentially said that they were all equal. Not so now. The Norvus Ordo is the true form of the Roman Rite. That’s a pretty big shot across the bow, and we’re only on Article 1!
Art. 2. 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.  Therefore, it is his exclusive competence to authorize the use of the 1962 Roman Missal in his diocese, according to the guidelines of the Apostolic See.Traditionis Custodes
Yup, that’s a reversal. In Summorum Pontificum, it said “In parishes where a group of the faithful attached to the previous liturgical tradition stably exists, the parish priest should willingly accede to their requests to celebrate Holy Mass according to the rite of the 1962 Roman Missal.” Which pretty much said if people want the Latin Mass, they get to have it. Now the Bishop gets veto power.
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:Traditionis Custodes
§ 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;
So, first, now we’re simply calling the Latin Mass “antecedent to the reform of 1970.” Wow, it’s kind of harsh not even giving it a name.
At first I didn’t care too much about this section. While my family attends the Latin Mass at our local FSSP parish, I do a lot of things that draw nasty comments from traditional parishioners, such as sending my kids to public schools, allowing my girls to wear pants, and not thinking that Vatican II was horrible. I agree that the IMPLEMENTATION of Vatican II went astray in many places, but there is a huge difference between plan and execution. So, if this was used to get people to tell people to shut up and color on Vatican II, well, I’m OK with that.
But then I got to thinking, what could this be used for? And my first thought was forcing people to sign some sort of loyalty oath to the Church. The same Church that bowed to the authority of the Chinese Communist Party and allowed them to pick Bishops for China. Yeah, that Church. And that made me think, WTF? How can the same Church that kissed up to Xi Jinping turn around and beat down on good Catholics? For all their flaws, the folks attending a Latin Mass are likely trying to do the right thing. Why on Earth would we not want to encourage this? And why would anyone take steps to ostracize them?
§ 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);Traditionis Custodes
Read my lips, no new Churches. I mean, we lost 1,000 parishes since 1970 just in America alone, so that shouldn’t be an issue, right? We should have lots of extra real estate anyway.
§ 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;Traditionis Custodes
§ 4. to appoint a priest who, as delegate of the bishop, is entrusted with these celebrations and with the pastoral care of these groups of the faithful. This priest should be suited for this responsibility, skilled in the use of the Missale Romanum antecedent to the reform of 1970, possess a knowledge of the Latin language sufficient for a thorough comprehension of the rubrics and liturgical texts, and be animated by a lively pastoral charity and by a sense of ecclesial communion. This priest should have at heart not only the correct celebration of the liturgy, but also the pastoral and spiritual care of the faithful;
I got no issues here. FSSP parishes already do this.
§ 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;Traditionis Custodes
§ 6. to take care not to authorize the establishment of new groups.
Ouch. So now Bishops can now say “We decide to not retain you.” That’s bureaucratic speak for “You’re fired.”
Worse still, not authorizing new groups is a great way to kill something off. There are a bunch of Latin Mass die-hards, and while they aren’t insignificant (estimates around 100,000 US people attend a Latin Mass), they aren’t huge. They are growing, or rather, were growing until this came out. Not being able to start new groups, and being able to kick out ones you don’t like, make future growth a challenge.
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.Traditionis Custodes
So now the Pope himself must approve new priests celebrating the Latin Mass? Hmmm….want to bet how many requests get denied? Maybe all of them?
Art. 5. Priests who already celebrate according to the Missale Romanum of 1962 should request from the diocesan Bishop the authorization to continue to enjoy this faculty.Traditionis Custodes
Hmmm…want to bet there are strings attached with approval?
Art. 6. Institutes of consecrated life and Societies of apostolic life, erected by the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, fall under the competence of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies for Apostolic Life.
Art. 7. The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, for matters of their particular competence, exercise the authority of the Holy See with respect to the observance of these provisions.Traditionis Custodes
This is bureaucratic shuffling that puts a thumb on, and limits the influence of, Latin Mass groups like FSSP.
Art. 8. Previous norms, instructions, permissions, and customs that do not conform to the provisions of the present Motu Proprio are abrogated.Traditionis Custodes
Seems harsh. Again, its giving Bishops a big stick, a bazooka and other high end weapons against the Latin Mass.
So, the big takeaways are:
- The Latin Mass isn’t banned outright.
- The Latin Mass is pretty heavily restricted now.
- Every possible step was taken to prevent any spread.
- This seems to be motivated by a hatred of the traditional-type Catholic that questioned Vatican II.
I would compare this to being an AR-15 in President Biden’s America, where your existing presence is tolerated but every attempt is made to make it more difficult to acquire, manufacture, use and sell AR-15s in the future. Worse, some Biden crony will come to your door and ask you to sign a form saying you’re not violating the law. I’m sure that won’t come back to haunt you.
I would also like to again point out that Pope Francis is now treating Latin Mass attendees more harshly than he treated the People’s Republic of China wrecking his Church in mainland China.
Not a good move. I’d expect to see an awful lot of uproar over this. We’re already seeing places, like Arkansas, publish statements to quickly conform with Pope Francis. While the Latin Mass has increased over time, its hardly the norm in America or elsewhere, and a systematic effort to stop its spread could be effective. However, it might actually spread more because of the sudden focus on the Mass. As more people emerge out of COVID-19 isolation and (hopefully) attend Mass regularly in-person, it’ll be interesting to see what parishes they choose to seek out.
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.