Pope Francis’ new measures mean changes for Catholics dedicated to the traditional Latin Mass – and for the priests and bishops responsible for those communities.
Although these Catholics represent a relative minority of believers, the changes have ramifications for the whole Church. Here’s what you need to know about the rules set out by the Pope in a document titled Traditionis custodes.
What is Traditionis custodes?
Traditionis custodes is an instruction of July 16 called motu proprio. In it, Pope Francis made major changes to the place of the traditional Latin Mass in the life of the Church.
His predecessor Benedict XVI had published an apostolic letter in 2007, Summorum Pontificum, which recognized the right of all priests to say Mass using the 1962 Roman Missal.
What is the traditional Latin mass?
Take a look at our beginners guide to the traditional Latin Mass.
The mass said with the help of the Roman Missal of 1962 is known in different forms such as the extraordinary form of the Roman rite, the Tridentine mass, the antique usus, and the traditional Latin mass. It was the form of mass used for centuries. This form of the Mass has ancient roots, being much the same as that found in the sacramentaries of the 8th century, but it was especially codified following the Council of Trent in the 16th century.
After the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, Saint Paul VI published a form of the Mass that could be used in the vernaculars.
In the traditional Latin Mass, the priest faces the altar. Some prayers are different, some prayers are broadened, and some prayers and answers are limited to the priest or those serving at the altar. Traditional Latin Mass communities also follow a different liturgical calendar.
Why did Pope Francis say Traditionis custodes was necessary?
Pope Francis declared that he had acted “in defense of the unity of the Body of Christ”, on the grounds that there had been “a distorted use” of the capacity of priests to say mass according to the missal of 1962. The opportunities offered by Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI were “exploited to widen gaps, strengthen differences and encourage disagreements which hurt the Church, block its path and expose it to the danger of division”.
The Pope said he was saddened that the celebration of the extraordinary form is now characterized by a rejection of Vatican Council II and its liturgical reforms. To doubt the Council, he said, is “to doubt the Holy Spirit himself who guides the Church”.
He criticized what he said was a growing attitude of “rejection of the Church and its institutions in the name of what is called the ‘true Church’.”
In March 2020, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, wrote to the presidents of the episcopal conferences, asking them to distribute a questionnaire on how the rules of the Mass in Latin of Benedict XVI were affected the episcopal dioceses.
Pope Francis said the responses to the survey “reveal a situation that worries and saddens me, and persuades me of the need to intervene.”
What changes are we talking about?
Pope Francis has declared that the liturgical books published by Saint Paul VI and Saint John Paul II are “the only expression” of the Roman rite. While priests once had extensive rights to decide to celebrate the traditional Latin Mass, the Pope has now established the “exclusive jurisdiction” of a bishop to authorize the use of the 1962 Roman Missal in his diocese.
Bishops must determine that the traditional Latin Masses groups existing in their diocese do not deny the validity of Vatican Council II and the teachings of the Catholic Church. In addition, bishops must designate non-parish churches where these groups can meet to celebrate Mass and establish days when they can celebrate. These Masses are to use scripture readings “in the vernacular” in translations approved by the relevant episcopal conferences.
Bishops should also appoint a diocesan delegate to oversee the pastoral care of traditional Latin mass groups and verify that these communities are effective for spiritual growth.
Newly ordained priests who want to offer the extraordinary form of Mass must now make a formal request to their bishop. The bishop must then consult the Vatican before granting permission. Priests who already offered Mass in the extraordinary form had to ask their bishop for permission.
How many people attend traditional Latin mass?
There are perhaps as few as 150,000 American Catholics who regularly attend traditional Latin Mass, in about 700 venues. They represent less than 1% of the approximately 21 million Catholics who attend mass regularly.
At the same time, you might find traditional Latin Mass Catholics in many places. Political and cultural commentators show particular sympathy for this form of liturgy and do not hesitate to say so.
On social media, mainstream Catholics can be quite loud – and even eccentric and abusive. Some devotees of the traditional Latin Mass join the Society of Saint Pius X or have unusual beliefs about the papacy and the Second Vatican Council.
In France, there are perhaps 60,000 traditionalist Catholics. They represent perhaps 4-7% of practicing Catholics in the country, and a significant number are part of splinter groups. These communities show slow but steady growth each year and their members tend to be much younger than the average devotee.
What was the reaction to Pope Francis’ decision?
Many Catholics who attend traditional Latin Mass fear the Pope will not understand them.
Pope Francis’ restrictions on the traditional Latin Mass seemed unpopular among American Catholics who attend Mass regularly, but most Catholics in America haven’t even heard of the changes, the Pew Research Center said in early October.
Critics of the traditional Latin Mass are hoping that the Pope’s actions will hold back some Catholic traditionalists who they say have gone too far in their attitude towards the papacy or the Second Vatican Council.
The prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Archbishop Arthur Roche, told a Swiss TV station that Pope Francis published Traditionis custodes because the effort to reconcile the separatist traditionalist Brotherhood of Saint Pius X “has not entirely succeeded” and because we must “return” to what the Second Vatican Council demanded of the Church.
A Dutch bishop feared that the pope’s intervention was “dictatorial”, “unpastoral” and “ruthless”, and argued that it would benefit the Society of Saint Pius X.
The Archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore Cordileone, has spoken out against those who he says have responded to the Pope’s changes in a disrespectful manner.
The Pope’s action appears to have reopened long-standing debates over the Catholic liturgy that some observers believed had settled in a period of quiet coexistence, despite some controversy on the internet.
Those who still admire Pope Benedict’s broad permission for the traditional Latin Mass like to quote the previous Pope’s own words – and the words of former Vatican leaders in the liturgy.
Before Pope Francis announced his changes, Cardinal Robert Sarah, former head of the Congregation for Divine Worship, took to Twitter on July 8 to defend Benedict XVI’s rules on the traditional Latin mass: “ despite the difficulties and resistance, the Church has embarked on the path of the liturgy and spiritual reform, which, although slow, is irreversible.
“Despite uncompromising clerical attitudes in opposition to the venerable Latin-Gregorian liturgy, attitudes typical of clericalism that Pope Francis has repeatedly denounced, a new generation of young people has emerged at the heart of the Church,” said Cardinal Sarah. “This generation is one of the young families, who demonstrate that this liturgy has a future because it has a past, a history of holiness and beauty that cannot be erased or abolished overnight.
Have there been other directives issued by the Vatican?
Yes. The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Vatican office responsible for matters relating to the sacred liturgy, said it had received “several requests for clarification” on the proper application of the Traditionis custodes. For this reason, the congregation published on December 18, 2021 an explanatory document, called “responsa ad dubia“ (“Answers to doubts”), with one-word answers – either “negative” or “” affirmative “- to 11 specific questions, followed by brief explanations.
Among other directives, the document prohibits confirmations and ordinations according to the pre-Vatican II Roman Missals.
The intention of the new restrictions is to “restore throughout the Roman Rite Church a single and identical prayer expressing its unity,” said the liturgy office.
“In implementing these provisions, care must be taken to accompany all those who are rooted in the previous form of celebration towards a full understanding of the value of the celebration in the ritual form given to us by the reform of the Second Vatican Council. ”, The document mentioned.
“This must go through an appropriate formation which makes it possible to discover how the Reformed liturgy is the witness of an unchanged faith, the expression of a renewed ecclesiology and the primary source of spirituality for Christian life.