The latest motu proprio of Pope Francis, ‘Traditionis Custodes’, reversing the legislation of his predecessors, St. John Paul II (1984 and 1988) and Benedict XVI (2007), on the use of the Missal of Pope St. Pius V, can only be seen as a contradiction of the two themes of his papacy – Mercy and “who am I to judge”.
It is difficult to read Pope Francis’ letter to bishops without concluding that it is highly judgemental and omits even the smallest gesture of mercy to faithful Catholics who chose to worship using the traditional liturgical books.
According to the pope his main concern and motivation for restricting the “old” Mass is a concern that it has fostered disunity. In the covering letter to bishops he writes:
Regrettably, the pastoral objective of my Predecessors, who had intended “to do everything possible to ensure that all those who truly possessed the desire for unity would find it possible to remain in this unity or to rediscover it anew”, has often been seriously disregarded.
An opportunity offered by St. John Paul II and, with even greater magnanimity, by Benedict XVI, intended to recover the unity of an ecclesial body with diverse liturgical sensibilities, was exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce the divergences, and encourage disagreements that injure the Church, block her path, and expose her to the peril of division.
But what exactly are the “disagreements that injure the Church” and which diocese has been exposed to the “peril of division” as a result of making the Latin Mass more widely available. Over the years I have spoken to many bishops who have introduced the Latin Mass and traditional priestly congregations into their diocese and not one has even hinted at concerns over disunity.
This begs the question where is the pope getting his information from and, while we are told there was a survey conducted, we are not told how many bishops responded nor what the concerns of the bishops who did respond were. This contradicts another hallmark of this papacy, that of transparency.
And surely if the alleged disunity was occurring in local parishes then it would be the responsibility of the local bishop to intervene and correct the situation but we have not seen any examples of this because it simply does not happen – the accusation of disunity is false and unjust.
It seems that faithful traditional Catholics are to be condemned without trial yet when real disunity and rupture occurs – the call for women’s ordination, flying of LGBT flags, liturgical abuses too numerous to mention etc etc – the “peril of division” is not only ignored but those promoting the division are congratulated and promoted.
It is ironic that a document which purportedly is published in the name of unity is actually so divisive!
The Pope also writes that where the Tridentine rite is followed, such Masses cannot be held in parish churches. Where then are they to be held, in school halls, hotel rooms, car parks – if it were not so sad it would be amusing that the pope of the peripheries is himself pushing faithful Catholics beyond the periphery and into the wilderness.
Those priests already offering the Tridentine Mass must now seek the permission of their bishop to continuing doing so.
The document also makes it difficult if not impossible for diocesan priests to learn the traditional form of the Mass and introduces a highly restrictive and unique requirement that such a priest must not only first get permission from his bishop to do so but then the bishop must “consult” with Rome before any approval is given.
So what is now likely to happen in response to this document.
Speaking before but aware that the document was about to be published Cardinal Sarah spoke out saying that Summorum Pontificam is irreversible. History will remember Benedict XVI as a great theologian and as the Pope of Summorum Pontificum, Cardinal Robert Sarah told IlTimone.it (July 2).
He believes that with the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum began “a path of liturgical and spiritual reform” which in spite of difficulties, and resistances is “irreversible.”
Cardinal Sarah acknowledged a new generation of young people and families which emerged in the Church “despite intransigent clerical attitudes of opposition” to the Roman Mass.
“This liturgy has a future because it has a past, a history of holiness and beauty that cannot be erased or abolished from one day to the next,” he observes. Cardinal Sarah was ordained a priest in the Novus Ordo.
He avoided talking about Francis’ plans to restrict the Roman Liturgy and said the “clerical attitudes” of opposition against the Roman Mass were the “clericalism that Francis has denounced on several occasions.”
In the coming days I am sure other prominent voices will speak out against the injustice of the new restrictions.
Meanwhile the first sign from Ireland and the UK is that much will continue as normal, all of the parishes where the Tridentine rite is offered already have the permission and support of the local bishop and several bishops have attended such celebrations. The outcome may be that this messy document is ignored and things continue as before but of course it will be more difficult to establish new Mass centres – though this was ever the case even with Summorum Pontificam.
In the meantime we should continue to pray for the Pope and our bishops in these difficult times.