After upsetting the former Ecclesia Dei communities by issuing the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes and its decree of application, documents that simply repeal the measures taken by Benedict XVI in Summorum Pontificum, Pope Francis suddenly relaxed the measures through a new decree signed on February 11, 2022.
This text is specifically intended for the Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP). The Pope thus acceded to the requests made by the superior of the district of France and by the rector of the Wigratzbad seminary, who were received in audience by Francis on February 4.
The official communiqué of the FSSP points out that, during this hearing, the Pope wanted to clarify in particular that institutes such as the Fraternity of St. Peter were not affected by the general provisions of the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes, the use of ancient liturgical books being at the origin of their existence and provided for by their constitutions.
Although the decree mentions only the FSSP, it implies that all institutes which are in the same situation as this Fraternity are concerned, or may be so at their request.
The Pope kindly “grants” to the members of society, “the power to celebrate the sacrifice of the Mass, to administer the sacraments, and other sacred rites, and to perform the Divine Office,” according to the typical editions of the liturgical books in force in 1962, that is, the Missal, the Ritual, the Pontifical, and the Roman Breviary ”.
However, this concession is only valid in the houses of the institute, as “everywhere else [members] will use it only with the consent of the local Ordinary, except for the celebration of private Masses.”
One last clarification is thought-provoking: “The Holy Father suggests that, as far as possible, the provisions of the motu proprio Traditionis custodes be taken into account as well.”
Reactions were not long in coming after the publication of this new decree.
Given the lack of coherence between these practical provisions and the framework established by Traditionis custodes, some have given up finding logic in the acts of Francis’ government during this period of his pontificate.
Others find a message to the Congregation for Divine Worship, as well as to the hardest bishops, to recommend more flexibility in the application of Traditionis custodes.
Still others see it as a precaution to avoid targeting some members of the former “Ecclesia Dei” institutes, who may have been willing to cross the Rubicon to strongly oppose Traditionis custodes and its harsh application promoted by Msgr. Arthur Roche.
In any case, it would be erroneous to believe that this decree returns to the pre-TC state. This is not a return to the Summorum pontificum standard, which was repealed, but only an exception to Traditionis custodes, which remains in force and continues to exclude the traditional liturgy for the entire Church. This observation requires some in-depth study.
A Fragile Concession
The general reaction in “Ecclesia Dei” circles was relief, understandable at first sight. According to the FSSP communiqué, the members of the institute read the decree as a “confirmation of their mission,” a mission involving “the use of ancient liturgical books … at the origin of their existence and provided for by their constitutions.”
It should be noted that the decree speaks precisely of a concession made by Francis to the FSSP - and most likely to others who would request it. The term “concession” means an exception, a special rule - in other words, a privilege. Which leads to many thoughts.
First of all, even attached to the constitutions of an institute, a privilege remains revocable at all times. In such a fragile situation, it’s hard not to see it floating like a sword of Damocles, which the recent past has shown can be used.
However, this threat itself masks an even deeper fragility.
Indeed, the situation thus created is that of a derogation, an exception. The general law does not change. Not only does this law not change, but the exception itself is powerless to modify it: it does not undermine its legitimacy.
Accepting to consider the traditional mass as an exception is therefore implicitly admitting the general law it presupposes: this lex orandi defined, according to Traditionis custodes, by the new Mass alone. And it is therefore to give up fighting it effectively, and with it, fighting the new doctrine that it conveys: that of the Second Vatican Council.
It is not surprising, then, that the response given by the former Ecclesia Dei institutes to the publication of Traditionis custodes, on August 31, 2021, was a protest of fidelity to the Council and its aftermath. Unfortunately, this was the answer that the enemies of Tradition were waiting for.
Nor is it surprising if, while “conceding” the celebration of the traditional Mass, the Pope recalls the unchanged value of Traditionis custodes. The exception confirms the rule.
This is how the situation created by this “waltz of decrees” places the members of the former Ecclesia Dei institutes, despite their certain good will, in an ever greater powerlessness to fight effectively against the crisis which is demolishing the Church, and which lies not only nor primarily in the liturgical debacle, but in the propagation of modern errors which have poisoned souls since the Second Vatican Council.
A Special Privilege
Certainly, it is important to celebrate the Mass and the sacraments according to the form polished by the centuries and the faith of the Church. The traditional Mass is indeed the perfect solution to the crisis in the Church, since it conveys within itself the truths that oppose modern errors. It is still necessary that these truths be expressed, clarified, taught, and used for the fight for the faith.
Now, to that end, the Mass must be recognized for what it is: the common good of the whole Church and not a simple particular good.
The liturgical crisis can never be resolved by a concession granted to those who want to remain attached to traditional worship, because a privilege remains a particular, limited good. To conceive of the Traditional Mass as literal privilege is therefore to restrict the influence of the Mass itself. Especially since the authority that grants these concessions considers this form to be outdated, and in a way void, no longer being, according to Traditionis custodes, the lex orandi of the Church.
If you look closely, the tragedy of the situation that has just been created is that those who are granted this concession, a sort of prison prohibiting them from combating the errors of the Council, have themselves become their own guardians.