Response to Traditionis Custodes: Don’t Burn the Green Pastures Good Shepherd
Many Catholics around the world today are shocked by the latest Apostolic Letter from Pope Francis. Traditionis Custodes revoked Pope Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum and placed new restrictions on the celebration of the Tridentine Mass. You can find the Motu Proprio here and the accompanying letter to the Bishops here. These restrictions have made many Catholics frightened about the possibility of their bishops suppressing their local communities. However, we must ask ourselves why the Holy Father took this action and if this decision is merited?
I’m very happy to declare my bias and say that I regularly attend the Tridentine mass. However, I think even those who share my concerns about this new action by Pope Francis need to agree with some of his reasoning. There is a divide between Traditional Catholics and the rest of the Church. Pope Francis is right that many traditional Catholics question aspects of the Second Vatican Council. Yes, there are growing divisions within the Church and emphasising unity is incredibly important for the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. However, if Pope Francis wishes to invite traditional Catholics back to what he now calls the unique expression of the Roman Rite's lex orandi, he needs to do some house cleaning first. He recognises this need in his letter to the bishops where he says,
At the same time, I am saddened by abuses in the celebration of the liturgy on all sides. In common with Benedict XVI, I deplore the fact that “in many places the prescriptions of the new Missal are not observed in celebration, but indeed come to be interpreted as an authorisation for or even a requirement of creativity, which leads to almost unbearable distortions”.
Yet, since the Second Vatican Council, there has been little to no effort to curb these liturgical abuses in the reformed mass. These abuses have scandalised many Catholics, which have led to them forgoing their Sunday Obligations, leaving the Faith entirely, or even begin attending the Tridentine mass. There has also been severe neglect of the catechesis of young and new Catholics who attend the reformed mass. These, too, have led many of the faithful to leave the Church or begin attending the Tridentine mass. Many of the reasons why so many Catholics attend the Tridentine mass is because there have been so many problems with the parishes that celebrate the reformed mass. Yet, the same problems are not widely seen within the parishes that celebrate the Tridentine mass. These traditional parishes have seen increasing numbers of families attending, vocations, and supporters while performing beautiful and reverential masses. These parishes typically have better catechesis for young and new Catholics by going beyond a simple understanding of the catechism. They tend to have philosophical and theological classes to help parishioners have a deeper understanding and love for the Faith. These parishes are green pastures where many of the faithful flock to graze and grow within the Church.
However, while there are clear divisions within the Church between traditionalists and other Catholics, there are also divisions within the Traditionalist movement between those who are loyal to the Holy Father and those who aren’t. My fear is that this Motu Proprio will only lead to the growth of the latter group. Yet, it shouldn’t be understated that there are real divisions among the other Catholics too. The liberal Catholics like those in Germany have called for changes that are in direct contradiction to the teachings of the Catholic Church. Many have worried that these differences may lead to a schism with the German Bishops. Yet, these threats of schism seem ever more immanent than those by loyal Catholics who attend the Tridentine mass. With the exception of some internal groups in the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) and pseudo-catholic sedevacantist groups, there are no Traditional Catholic groups that openly reject any dogmatic teaching of the Catholic Church. There are, however, many groups outside of traditionalist circles that do openly oppose the dogmatic teachings of the Church. This is why I truly believe that this Motu Proprio is a mistake. One does not invite family members into their home before first cleaning it. While I will always remain faithful to God’s true Church and the Supreme Pontiff who occupies the seat of St. Peter, I fear that this action will only hurt the flock currently entrusted to the care of Pope Francis.
Yours in Christ,
 Although to call Sedevacantists “Catholic” is being overly charitable as they clearly aren’t.