Part One: The Official Motives
In the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes, Pope Francis is implementing a battery of measures seeking to circumscribe the Tridentine Mass, with the hope of making it disappear to the advantage of the Mass of Paul VI.
Such a commitment prompts the asking of a question: Do the motivations he gave in his accompanying letter truly correspond to the real goal he has set?
Traditionis Custodes details a series of conditions that henceforth must govern the celebration of the Tridentine liturgy: the Masses following the old rite cannot be said in parochial churches. It returns to the diocesan bishop the responsibility to determine the church or chapel, as well as the days on which the celebrations are authorized.
The readings will be in the vernacular, according to the translations approved by the episcopal conferences. The celebrant must be a priest appointed by the bishop.
The bishop is charged with verifying whether it is appropriate or not to maintain the celebrations according to the old missal, by assuring they “are effective for...spiritual growth.” Further, the bishop should “take care not to authorize the establishment of new groups” of the faithful attached to the traditional Mass.
Priests ordained after the publication of the motu proprio, and who have the intention of celebrating according to the missal of St. Pius V, “should submit a formal request to the diocesan Bishop who shall consult the Apostolic See before granting this authorization.”
As to those who already celebrate it, they must “request from the diocesan Bishop the authorization to continue to enjoy this faculty.” Religious institutes, “erected by the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei,” from now on come under the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies for Apostolic Life. The Dicasteries of Divine Worship and Religious will ensure compliance with these new dispositions.
The bishop must also verify that the groups for whom the traditional Mass is celebrated, “do not deny the validity and the legitimacy of the liturgical reform, dictated by Vatican Council II and the Magisterium of the Supreme Pontiffs.”
This measure corresponds with one of two official motives for the motu proprio given by the pope: Unquestioning acceptance of the Second Vatican Council and Church unity.
In the letter accompanying the motu proprio, Francis explains that the concessions established by his predecessors for the use of the old Missal were “above all motivated by the desire to foster the healing [i.e., the diminution – Ed.] of the schism with the movement of Mons. Lefebvre.”
The bishops were then asked to accept with generosity the “just aspirations” of the faithful who requested the use of that Missal, “with the ecclesial intention of restoring the unity of the Church.”
This faculty, Francis observes, has been “an opportunity to adopt freely the Roman Missal promulgated by St. Pius V and use it in a manner parallel to the Roman Missal promulgated by St. Paul VI.”
(We note the parallelism maintained between the promulgators of the two missals, both receiving the epithet “holy,” in order to express a perfect equality between the two missals.)
However, according to Francis, his predecessors’ desire for unity has been “seriously disregarded” and the concessions offered with magnanimity have been used “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.”
The Pope says he is saddened by “the instrumental use of Missale Romanum of 1962, often characterized by a rejection not only of the liturgical reform, but of the Vatican Council II itself, claiming, with unfounded and unsustainable assertions, that it betrayed Tradition and the ‘true Church.’”
Doubting the Council, Francis explains, “is to doubt the intentions of those very Fathers who exercised their collegial power in a solemn manner cum Petro et sub Petro in an ecumenical council, and, in the final analysis, to doubt the Holy Spirit himself who guides the Church.”
And he emphasizes that what is “ever more plain in the words and attitudes of many is the close connection between the choice of celebrations according to the liturgical books prior to Vatican Council II and the rejection of the Church and her institutions in the name of what is called the ‘true Church.’”
“One is dealing here with comportment that contradicts communion and nurtures the divisive tendency… against which the Apostle Paul so vigorously reacted. In defense of the unity of the Body of Christ, I am constrained to revoke the faculty granted by my Predecessors.”
By revoking in this way the dispositions taken by his predecessors, and most particularly by Benedict XVI with the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, is Francis undertaking a radical rupture? No, because he and his immediate predecessor both have the same worry about remaining in the line of Vatican II and of preserving the unity of the Church.
But Benedict XVI situated himself in what he called, during his discourse to the Curia on December 22, 2005, “the hermeneutic of continuity in the reform.” In that way he hoped, through Summorum Pontificum, to respond to Catholics who suffered from the “deformations of the liturgy” and hoped to find again the “form of the holy liturgy which had been dear to them,” while accepting the “binding nature of the Second Vatican Council.”
Benedict XVI considered that the fear that the authority of the Council would be “diminished” by Summorum Pontificum was “unfounded,” he considered that fidelity to the ancient missal was only an “external distinctive sign.”
14 years after, Francis denounced the “instrumental use of Missale Romanum of 1962, often characterized by a rejection not only of the liturgical reform, but of the Vatican Council II.” Neither one wanted to question the authority of the Council, but they diverge in the way of interpreting it.
Francis no longer accepts the existence of one rite under two forms—ordinary and extraordinary—he sees in the new Mass of Paul VI, and it alone, the “highest expression” of the liturgical reform wanted by the Council:
“I take the firm decision to abrogate all the norms, instructions, permissions, and customs that precede the present Motu proprio, and declare that the liturgical books promulgated by the saintly Pontiffs Paul VI and John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of Vatican Council II, constitute the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.”