ROME – As Thanksgiving approaches, here’s a holiday scenario that, in one form or another, most families have likely experienced.
There’s a cantankerous uncle in the family who insists on showing up every Thanksgiving, even though a lot of people wish he didn’t. He’s loud, he insists on telling everyone what they’re doing wrong, and no matter what, he’s always eager to explain why it used to be better. Frankly, Dad would have taken him down a long time ago, except Grandpa always insisted that everyone in the family had a seat at the table.
Now that Grandpa is gone, however, Dad would love to let go of Uncle, but for some reason he doesn’t really feel like he can directly say, “Get out. So he tries every way he can to make him feel unwelcome, in the hopes that he will eventually make himself scarce on his own.
In ecclesiastical terms, something like this scenario seems to be playing out now with regard to Pope Francis and the traditionalist Catholics attached to the Old Mass.
In July 2021, Pope Francis published an apostolic letter entitled “Traditionis Custodes” (“Guardians of the Tradition”), canceling the authorizations to celebrate the old Latin Mass granted by Pope Benedict XVI and imposing some new restrictions. Obviously, the idea was to phase out the old Mass and move to a situation in which all Latin Rite Catholics worship according to the post-Vatican II Mass.
Over the next five months, however, many traditionalist Catholics showed a stubborn reluctance to enter quietly into this good night, and found bishops willing to give them any remaining leeway under the terms of “Traditionis Custodes” for keep the old Mass alive. .
Of course, Pope Francis could just outright ban the old Mass and end it. But for now, he seems to be following Dad’s strategy above of trying to drop as many clues as possible without explicitly telling anyone they’re not welcome.
This effort appears to have started in March, when a circular letter regarding St. Peter’s Basilica was issued prohibiting the celebration of individual Masses in the side chapels. Since the vast majority of these Masses were celebrated according to the old rite, in part because of the architecture of the altars of these side chapels, this was widely regarded as love at first sight for traditionalists, making it clear that the Vatican was serious about the application of “Traditionis Les Guards.”
Last week, the Diocese of Rome issued its own guidelines for the celebration of the “Traditionis Custodes”, which among other things prohibit the city’s only traditionalist parish from using older liturgical books during Holy Week. The theory, presumably, is that especially during Holy Week, the whole Church should be unified in worship.
This decision has pushed many traditionalists into crises, in part because the parish is part of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter, whose raison d’être is the celebration of the older Mass – so that, according to them, the parish is being told to give up its identity during peak liturgical times of the year.
Also earlier this month, British Archbishop Arthur Roche, chosen by Pope Francis to head the liturgical department of the Vatican, sent a letter to Cardinal Vincent Nichols in Westminster, which ultimately leaked, and in which Bishop Roche asserts that Pope Paul VI “abrogated” the old Mass in use before Vatican II. This is important because traditionalists have long claimed that Pope Paul VI did no such thing, simply approving the New Mass but never abolishing the old one.
A few days later, Bishop Roche did it again, this time in an interview with an Italian-language Swiss television channel. In the exchange, the Archbishop said that Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict have granted concessions for the use of the old mass to promote reconciliation with the Brotherhood of Saint Pius X, the rebel group traditionalist founded by the late French archbishop. Marcel Lefebvre. But as that did not work, said Bishop Roche, it is now time to go back to what Vatican II wanted, that is to say a more or less complete transition to the New Mass approved by Pope Paul afterwards. the closing of the council.
Archbishop Roche obtained the post of Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship in part because he was seen as closer to the vision of Pope Francis than the previous occupying the post, Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea, and he is reasonable to assume that his comments more or less reflect the Pope’s own thinking.
The clear purpose of all this would seem to be to convince the traditionalists to give up the ghost and accept the New Mass. Otherwise, it would seem to be inviting them to take their business elsewhere.
What shall we do now? Does the brave uncle understand the hint and stop showing up on Thanksgiving? Maybe, and some families have been lucky with the clue removal strategy. Others, however, have found that in the absence of a restraining order, no force on earth will take away a parent determined to be at the table.
As in real families, of course, dads come and go from time to time. At least some traditionalists may think that someone else will end up carving up the turkey, and maybe that father – that “daddy” or “pope” – will be more open to the old ways.