Traditionis Custodes comes across as payback, dressed in sweeping charges that have embarrassingly little substance—a settling of scores with conservative and traditional Catholics.
Its publication had been expected, but not its harshness.
And this harshness, this meanness of spirit, this willingness to punish everyone for the (supposed) sins of a few, has cemented the motu proprio’s evil reputation. If the old Mass and especially its vocal proponents—who also tend to be the opponents of his progressivism—are a thorn in the side of Pope Francis, his motu proprio is a thorn in the side of all bishops who, over the past fourteen years, may have felt relieved to find a bit of liturgical peace in their dioceses and some growing communities of young people as well as families who are generous with life and zealous in faith (and, let’s not forget, generous in the collection basket). The pope’s action has insulted the episcopacy by implying they have been incompetent in doing their work (which sadly is often true, but in a way contrary to what Francis has in mind) and that they are, moreover, incompetent to handle the problem of a perceived lack of docility to the Magisterium. For we must note that the motu proprio gives bishops only power to destroy, not to build up: they may limit or eliminate Latin Mass groups but they may not authorize new groups, new parishes, or newly-ordained priests to learn the Mass. This is like tying the hands of over 4,000 bishops and then expecting them to be grateful for it.
Traditionis Custodes comes across as payback, dressed in sweeping charges that have embarrassingly little substance—a settling of scores with conservative and traditional Catholics, especially in the United States, for their steady resistance to the pope’s progressivism and modernism.
It will return us straight back to the bitter days of the 1970s. This step puts the entire project of seeking an “inner reconciliation” (as Benedict XVI expressed it) back fifty years.
What practical consequences might it have in the life of the Church?
It will return us straight back to the bitter days of the 1970s. This step puts the entire project of seeking an “inner reconciliation” (as Benedict XVI expressed it) back fifty years. But with this difference: there are now millions of Catholics who either love or are supportive of the TLM, and they are often well-organized and well-educated. Therefore, the civil war the pope has unleashed will involve many more people than there were in the early days of traditionalism. In those early post-Council days, when the faithful were still in the grip of a naive ultramontanism, nearly everyone went along with the new program (or, sadly, voted with their feet and left the modernizing Church behind). Today, fifty years later, faithful Catholics have been shocked so many times by abuses and corruption that they are not so willing to be blind followers who simply obey the commands of the Great Leader.
In reality, there should be a peace treaty as soon as possible, to mitigate the casualties. The effects will be dire: many will be tempted to despair and discouragement; some will find a permanent home among Eastern-rite Catholics or even the Eastern Orthodox; a large number may go over to the SSPX (not that I would blame them!), effectively giving up on a Vatican that seems more interested in purging its own faithful than in purging heresy, financial scandal, and sexual abuse. In all of these cases, we can see how hypocritical it is for the pope to say he is doing all this in the service of unity. It is rather in the service of ideological uniformity.
Already reports are flowing in from all sides of bishops who are irritated and indeed angry that they were given such a difficult and draconian document the very day it was supposed to be put into effect.
It is striking that it came into force immediately, without a prudential interval between the announcement and its entry into force (vacatio legis).
Yes: this too is unprecedented, and it may turn out to be one of the ways in which this move by Bergoglio is suicidal, since evil has a way of overreaching itself in its ambitions, and falling into catastrophe. It’s clear that the lack of vacatio legis was due to fears over the pope’s health: serious surgery presents the risk of a sudden end to the pontificate, and if a pope happens to die during the vacatio legis of a law, the legislation never goes into effect.
Already reports are flowing in from all sides of bishops who are irritated and indeed angry that they were given such a difficult and draconian document the very day it was supposed to be put into effect. One bishop said he learned about it first on social media! The general response has been either to say “things will not be changed” or “we need more time to study how to implement the document.” In other words, the bishops are giving themselves a vacatio legis—and who knows, maybe after this “vacation” many will decide not to implement it, or to implement it as minimalistically as possible, so as to not have more turbulence and bureaucratic headaches in their dioceses.
We must remember that it was not 99% of the world’s bishops who asked for this motu proprio, but perhaps 1% who seethe with a hatred of the enduring witness of the traditional Latin Mass. I do not believe for one moment the pope’s assertion that the results of the CDF survey were predominantly negative, as contrary evidence is abundantly at hand, and the narrative irresistibly reminds one of other notorious cases of information control and suppression. The strategy of “just trust us” has really run out of gas in the Age of McCarrick.
Is this a disappointment for those for whom the traditional liturgy is a “just aspiration” and who believe it provides great richness to the Church?
No, it’s not a disappointment. It’s a cause of righteous anger, a scandal, a form of clerical abuse from a father who has kicked his children in the gut for the “crime” of loving what the saints have loved for so many centuries, and who then waits for their grateful return to the Novus Ordo.
I had always thought Jesuits were supposed to be clever, but this one seems not to know basic rules of human psychology: (1) the underdog always wins the sympathy of the many; (2) harsh tactics directed against minorities will draw lots of attention to their cause; (3) forbidden goods become more desirable; (4) if you try to take away something that people love as dearly as life itself, you will only succeed in intensifying their love of it and increasing their distance from or violence against those who would take it away. If you want a man to show his love for his family, all you have to do is threaten his wife and children with harm, and he will either take them far away or fight to the death. This is the right reaction on a natural level and on a supernatural level. After all, St. Thomas Aquinas said that in the face of injustice “the lack of anger is a sign that the judgment of reason is lacking” (ST II-II.158.8 ad 3).
The way Francis speaks makes it seem as if adherence to Vatican II were somehow more important than adherence to Trent. We are seeing, in short, the weaponization of the Council.
Its negative judgement of the traditional Mass and the faithful who assist in its celebration seems entirely unjustified. Moreover, it speaks of bishops have to evaluate whether TLM groups do not question the validity and legitimacy of the liturgical reform, of the decrees of Vatican II, and of the magisterium of the supreme pontiffs.
The document is (and can’t help being) vague about what “adherence to” or “acceptance of” the Second Vatican Council would actually mean, and after so many decades of discussion, it is still not entirely clear what it means. Take Dignitatis Humanae, for example: scholars have been arguing for decades about what it says and what it obliges us to do or not to do, and still the matter is far from clear. John XXIII and Paul VI both said the Council taught nothing fundamentally new, but presented the same Catholic Faith to the modern world. There is legitimate room for debate about how effectively and clearly that Faith was in fact presented, but surely no Catholic should be required to receive Vatican II in a way that runs contrary to Vatican I, Trent, the first seven councils, or any of the preceding Magisterium.
It is therefore arbitrary and ideological (as Ratzinger noted more than once) to isolate Vatican II as a “super-council,” a litmus test of orthodoxy, when one would be able to find heresies galore in the Novus Ordo environment—meaty heresies, things that have been anathematized, whereas Vatican II defined nothing and anathematized nothing. My point here is that the way Francis speaks makes it seem as if adherence to Vatican II were somehow more important than adherence to Trent, from the teaching of which huge numbers of clergy, religious, and laity dissent or distance themselves. We are seeing, in short, the weaponization of the Council. No observant person can fail to note the irony that traditionalist Catholics accept the “traditional” content of Vatican II far more than their Novus Ordo brethren tend to do, especially among academics and clergy. By that standard, Pope Francis should be taking action against the Novus Ordo world, but he doesn’t, and he can’t, owing to his ideological blinders.
Venerable liturgies like these bring us to the brink of heaven. And they do so in ways that either do not exist in the reformed liturgy of Paul VI or find a place there awkwardly and rarely.
The same sort of thing could be said about making the liturgical reform into a gauge of orthodoxy. Unless there is an outright contradiction between the lex orandi of the old Roman rite and the lex orandi of the modern rite of Paul VI, such that the one is orthodox and the other heretical—a few hold this view, but the vast majority of traditionalists do not—there is no reason why a Catholic who accepts the one should be thought to reject the other’s theological content as such. Many (including Francis’s own living predecessor) have criticized the weaknesses and omissions of the new liturgical books, but very few call their sacramental validity into question. On top of this, no liturgical reform could ever be “irreversible,” since it’s inherently a disciplinary matter subject to prudential evaluation and practical modification.
So the shibboleths imposed by the pope seem to have to do with something other than their surface meaning. Here, “Vatican II” and “the liturgical reform” stand for something else, something that cannot be said openly.
But let’s be honest: high-level theological discussions do not appeal to most of the faithful. They go to the TLM because they love its reverence, its beauty, its transcendent orientation, its rich and always-reliable prayers (the lack of “optionitis”), its atmosphere of timelessness that pulls us out of and above our ordinary life, as does its cousin from the East, the Byzantine Divine Liturgy, which chants: “Let us all who mystically represent the cherubim and sing the thrice-holy hymn to the life-creating Trinity now set aside all earthly cares.” Venerable liturgies like these bring us to the brink of heaven. And they do so in ways that either do not exist in the reformed liturgy of Paul VI or find a place there awkwardly and rarely.
The document states that the liturgical books promulgated by the holy pontiffs Paul VI and John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of Vatican II, are the sole expression of the lex orandi of the Roman rite. Does this mean that the Missale Romanum of 1962 is, in a way, abolished?
It would be impossible in principle for a pope to abolish the venerable Roman rite, the Mass of Ages. I have explained the reason why in an article published at LifeSite News (link). As did Paul VI before him, so Francis in this motu proprio never dares to say “the rite in force before the liturgical reform is abrogated.” Rather, he abrogates Summorum Pontificum, and attempts to exclude the old Roman rite from being a legitimate lex orandi of the Catholic Faith. This is bizarre, untenable, and ultimately incoherent. The document is full of contradictions and mental fog. It never mentions the Ordinariate liturgy, which is also part of the Roman rite but has a distinctive lex orandi, or the various uses of the Roman rite that are again not identical with it (e.g., the Dominican or the Norbertine). The vitriolic spirit of Traditionis Custodes is betrayed by its poor composition—the result of haste, lack of intelligence, and profound ignorance of liturgical history and theology.
We can see some hopeful signs, however: Bishop Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, canonically dispensed his diocese from some elements of the motu proprio; Archbishop Fisher of Sydney told his diocese that the TLM will continue.
We might add that flagrantly contradicting theological stances of one’s predecessor is about as sensible as sawing with vigor at the branch one is sitting on. It discredits either the current pope or all popes.
At the same time, however, it affirms that diocesan bishops have the exclusive competence to authorize the use of the Missale Romanum of 1962 in their dioceses, following the instructions of the Holy See.
Right: another of the contradictions. As of this past Sunday, when I attended a Latin Mass, I was (according to the motu proprio) no longer praying with the lex orandi of the Roman Church. And yet the Mass was a Roman rite Mass offered by a priest in good standing and with full permission of the Church. It seems to me that the motu proprio is a perfect expression of nominalism and voluntarism, in that it thinks by applying the labels of words to certain realities we make those realities to exist, and they exist if we want them to, but not if we don’t want them to. It is of a piece with the relativistic philosophy that can be detected in so many acts of this pontificate, a sort of union of infidelity and irrationality that parodies the Catholic harmony of faith and reason.
In point of fact, a very good case can be made—I have begun to make it in that LifeSite piece—that this document is so full of errors, ambiguities, and contradictions that it lacks juridical standing. It is illicit from the get-go. That won’t prevent some hierarchs from feeling compelled to put it into effect with a speed that does credit to their unity of spirit with the reigning pontiff. One need only recall, in contrast, how Ex Corde Ecclesiae of John Paul II, the document that tried to clean up Catholic higher education, remained nearly universally unimplemented.
RELATED: Michael Matt on Traditionis Custodes
We can see some hopeful signs, however: Bishop Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, canonically dispensed his diocese from some elements of the motu proprio; Archbishop Fisher of Sydney told his diocese that the TLM will continue and the faithful need have no fear of losing it. I heard of a diocese where the bishop within 24 hours had granted renewed permission to 27 priests to keep saying the Latin Mass. Reports like this, which keep reaching me, indicate that the number of friends of tradition, or at least diplomatic partners, is perhaps larger than we realized. The motu proprio has drawn them out of the woodwork. Stark alternatives have a way of doing that.
In any case, regardless of what the motu proprio says to the contrary, no priest needs any permission to offer the Tridentine Mass. Inevitably and prudently, most priests will wish to be or to remain in their bishops’ good graces and will seek their blessing (and even play along with calling it “permission”), but it is crucial to remember that this is only a formality, a matter of clerical politesse.
Although the traditional Mass continues to be permitted under certain circumstances, is this a step towards its outright suppression?
The neo-modernists of our time desire nothing more than this, precisely because they recognize the truth of the axiom lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi. Traditional Catholics are inoculated, in a way, against the destruction and reconstruction of Catholicism that has been pursued for some time now, in the “long march through the institutions.” Such Catholics are the “iconophiles” of our time who revere the images of Christ and His holy ones—the primary image being the liturgy itself!—and who therefore make a central place for ritual, culture, memory, history. The iconoclasts would rid the Church of these things and replace them with their own humanistic substitutes. The faction in power right now will do their utmost to suppress the old Mass altogether. It’s worse: they want the extinction of the usus antiquior in its entirety—all the sacramental rites, the Breviarium Romanum of Pius X, the Rituale Romanum, the Pontificale Romanum, the whole works. They’re starting with the Mass because it’s the “font and apex,” but their end game is to see the historic Roman rite confined to encyclopedia entries. We will have to work and pray very much to oppose their efforts, and it is going to get very messy in many places.
In the three days that followed the publication of the motu proprio, I realized anew the magnitude of the spiritual warfare in which we are engaged as traditional Catholics.
In closing, is there any advice you would like to give to our readers, Dr. Kwasniewski?
In the three days that followed the publication of the motu proprio, I realized anew the magnitude of the spiritual warfare in which we are engaged as traditional Catholics. Let’s not kid ourselves: this is a battle for souls, a battle for clergy and religious, a battle for the future of the Church, for our descendents. We’re all in—or it’s all over. We need to be driven by faith, not by fear.
My wife and I decided to commit to a daily Holy Hour at an adoration chapel near our house, to pray for a resolution to this crisis, to pray for all the priests and laity it will affect, for all the bishops and, of course, for the pope. I would urge everyone to take some concrete step, even if it’s as simple as explicitly praying daily in the Rosary for the restoration of tradition to its rightful place. Enroll in the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel if you haven’t already done so. Choose a day or days for fasting: Our Lord says some demons are driven out only through prayer and fasting. And finally, remember that this crisis is not likely to clear up quickly. We may not even live to see it resolved, but it will be our children and grandchildren who reap the fruits of what we sow today by the prayers, labors, and sufferings we offer up. We do all this because God deserves our faithful love and rewards it with admission to the heavenly liturgy.
A friend reminded me recently of some timely verses from St. Peter’s First Epistle: “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is right? But even if you do suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence; and keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing right, if that should be God’s will, than for doing wrong” (1 Pet 3:13–17).
May St. Gregory the Great, St. Pius V, and all holy popes intercede for us!