Traditionis Custodes: New Instructions from the Vatican

December 21, 2021

There is an adage in canon law - also used in civil law - which says that odious laws, in other words those which restrict a right or freedom, must be interpreted strictly, in favor of those who are subject to them. To the contrary, favorable laws must be interpreted broadly.

This adage, which comes from Roman law, is formulated as follows in Latin: “odiosa sunt restringenda, favores sunt amplianda.” It expresses both benevolence and concern for fairness, especially to avoid sentiments toward vengeance. Canon law has taken it up and it is an important source for interpreting the laws of the Church. In its mouth it is an expression of its mercy, which however does not exclude justice.

The great idea of ​​the pontificate is placed precisely under this motive of mercy. But the double example that has just been given by the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes and especially by the interpretation given by Msgr. Arthur Roche, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, is anything but merciful.

A characteristic example is given in the response concerning the authorization to celebrate the Tridentine Mass for priests ordained after the publication of the motu proprio. The answer recalls that the bishop is the “moderator, promoter, and guardian of the whole liturgical life,” but he is obligated - according to the letter with Traditionis Custodes, in art. 4 - to consult the Holy See to grant this authorization.

One of the central elements, often repeated, is the concern for liturgical unity. But of what liturgical unity are they speaking?

In the past, a Catholic could go to any parish of his rite, in the whole world, and easily follow the Mass that was celebrated there. Today that is no longer possible. First because of the language: Latin was abandoned, which gave a wonderful unity.

Then because of the innumerable variations that have developed in the rite, as much through the multiplication of the parts left to the choice of the celebrant, as by the profusion of new texts, like the canons of which it is difficult to know the exact number.

Finally, because of the celebrant's “creativity,” which is more or less encouraged with the aim of facilitating “active” participation. In truth, the liturgy has never been so disparate in various places, even in a given national territory.

It is said and repeated what already appeared in the motu proprio: the new measures are simple, temporary concessions, which have no other purpose than to allow the faithful attached to the Tridentine use to gradually move on to the new liturgy. 

Anything that could in the slightest way go the other way is prohibited. Thus, since there is no Lectionary of the Tridentine rite texts, in the translations approved by the episcopates, it is permissible - and even necessary as the answer acknowledges - to use the Bible directly, in an approved translation.

But the bishop must not allow an approved translation, stating that  “no vernacular lectionaries may be published that reproduce the cycle of readings of the previous rite.” It’s hard to be more petty.

Another marked pettiness forbids a priest who celebrates in the Novus Ordo bination (offering two Masses on the same day) in celebrating the Tridentine use. The reason given deserves to be cited:

“It is not possible to grant bination on the grounds that there is no ‘just cause’ or ‘pastoral necessity’ as required by Canon 905 §2: the right of the faithful to the celebration of the Eucharist is in no way denied, since they are offered the possibility of participating in the Eucharist in its current ritual form.”

As for those who still had the hope that things would not go further, and that, perhaps, a merciful application would bring about a certain peace: they can give it up.

One answer goes further than the motu proprio itself, or at least gives a very restrictive explanation, according to an interpretation of what Canon Law would characterize as “odious,” according to the explanation given above.

Referring to Articles 1 & 8 of Traditionis Custodes, this response prohibits the use of the old Ritual - that is to say, prohibits giving the other sacraments outside the Eucharist - outside the personal parishes that will be erected according to the new motu proprio. The bishop can then grant them this celebration of the other sacraments.

But the previous Pontificale Romanum cannot be used under any circumstances. This explanation goes again in the direction of a restriction of the right or the freedom.

But come to think of it, these answers only develop the law of the motu proprio and show its profound intention. They make it possible to remove any doubt about the will to end the traditional mass in the long term. They apply, in all their rigor, the death sentence pronounced against the use of the Tridentine use.

This is the occasion to recall another adage of Latin law: “Summum jus, summa injuria,” which can be translated “excessive justice becomes injustice.” This is the lesson left to us by the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship.