News emerged recently that the Archbishop of Dublin and the Bishop of Cork and Ross have decided not to introduce restrictions on the Latin Mass in their respective dioceses. Greeted with relief by Traditional Catholics, the decision came in light of Pope Francis’s controversial Apostolic Letter “Traditionis Custodes” (Guardians of Tradition), which seeks to limit the celebration of the Latin Mass.
The letter introduced a series of reforms, including reviving the requirement that priests obtain permission from their bishop if they wish to celebrate the older form of the Mass. While a dispute over liturgical preferences may seem unimportant to some, the controversy represents an intensification in the struggle between two competing wings within the Church, whose differences extend far deeper than aesthetic or ritualistic matters.
Promulgated on the 16th July, “Traditionis Custodes” contains eight articles, intended to tighten the restrictions which exist on celebrating the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM).
Article 2 states that the use of the Pre-Vatican 1962 Missal within a diocese is now subject to the authority of the diocesan bishop. Article 3 requires these bishops to assess the fidelity of Latin Mass communities to the “validity and the legitimacy of the liturgical reform, dictated by Vatican Council II and the Magisterium of the Supreme Pontiffs” and forbids the establishment of new “personal parishes” for Latin Mass or traditionalist organisations within a diocese. Articles 4 and 5 state that bishops must consult with the Holy See before granting newly ordained priests the right to celebrate the Latin Mass, whereas priests who currently celebrate this form must receive permission from their bishops to continue to do so.
“Traditionis Custodes” abrogates Pope Benedict’s 2007 “Summorum Pontificum” which had granted extensive freedom to those wishing to celebrate the Latin Mass, contributing to its significant growth in popularity across the world. The new rules are similar to those introduced by John Paul II, the first Pope to permit the 1962 Missal on a considerable scale since Vatican II.
While such provisions may not appear alarming in their severity, traditionalists argue that granting bishops power over the celebration of the TLM once again will lead to a return to an era where liberal prelates forbid or greatly restricted the traditional Mass in their jurisdictions. Such a fear is not unfounded, as this pattern was replicated across the world prior to the 2007 changes.
Pope Francis accompanied Traditionis Custodes with a “Letter to the Bishops of the World”, detailing his justifications for the new restrictions. The letter argues that the growth of the Latin Mass enabled by the reforms of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI was “exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce the divergences, and encourage disagreements that injure the Church”. He argues that the decision is motivated by “the ecclesial intention of restoring the unity of the Church”.
The Pope’s decision was met with significant anger by traditional Catholics, with whom he has clashed with throughout his pontificate. Prominent Francis critics from within the Episcopate such as Archbishops Schneider and Vigano were quick to attack the measures, with the former stating that “The faithful as well as priests have the right to a liturgy that is a liturgy of all the saints (…)the Holy See does not have the power to suppress a heritage of the whole Church”. Cardinal Burke also questioned the authority of the Pope to introduce the changes, while several mainstream prelates have also expressed concern at the developments.
Despite the Pope stating his desire to restore unity in the Church, the new restrictions are almost certainly destined to further inflame the divide between Traditionalists and Progressives. The provisions relating to newly ordained priests will probably direct the increasing number of traditionalist vocations towards the SSPX, who have unsurprisingly refused to comply with the restrictions.
Pope Francis is correct in identifying that a significant divide exists within the Church, with the two sides functionally independent in many respects at this stage. Critics have stated however, that this divide is not the fault of those wishing to preserve traditional liturgy or doctrine, but those who have remained committed to the revolutionary program of the Second Vatican Council, one which has led to empty churches across the globe. The controversy over the Mass extends beyond liturgical preferences, and has come to represent a struggle between two vastly differing theological wings over the future of the Church.
Despite the apparent severity of the new restrictions, Francis’s decision is unlikely to hinder the growth of the Latin Mass to a great degree. Based on its popularity among young Catholics, and numbers being ordained into orders such as the FSSP, ICKSP and SSPX, the traditional liturgy will most likely continue its growth (albeit slowed) within the confines of new restrictions. Although it enjoys the full support of the mainstream institutional Church, the Novus Ordo lacks similar prospects in the West at least, having largely failed to ensure continuity in the form of young priests or attendees.
Given the nature of the new restrictions, which give each Bishop the discretion to act according to their own judgment, the application of “Traditionis Custodes” will likely vary across the world. The precedent set by the Archbishop of Dublin and Bishop of Cork is encouraging in an Irish context.
Although the majority of Irish Bishops seem hostile or disinterested in the traditional Mass, they may refrain from introducing significant restrictions due to an unwillingness to ignite controversy. Alternatively, they may use the opportunity to attack traditionalists under their jurisdiction. The Bishops Conference of Costa Rica for example, made use of the new reforms to effectively ban the TLM throughout their jurisdiction. Nonetheless, despite the fact that the implementation of Traditionis Custodes has been slow in most places so far, early indications point towards a considerable amount of bishops leaving the TLM mostly unaffected.
The Latin Mass movement in Ireland, although not as strong as in countries like France, shows encouraging signs of growth, possessing a momentum which will not be significantly altered unless severe restrictions are implemented.
To conclude, the promulgation of Traditionis Custodes ranks among the most controversial actions of Francis’s papacy, one which has yet to make known its full effects. The radical nature of the move could be interpreted as the vindicative lashing out of a liberal ecclesiastical establishment which is aware it is being outpaced by a younger, more successful traditionalist movement. The coming years will be the source of much controversy and debate as bishops decide on the manner of implementing this historic document.