The Faithful Catholic Responses to Traditionis Custodes
By Guillermo Moreno
Oct. 14, 2021
On July 16, 2021, Pope Francis issued a motu propio titled Traditionis Custodes (TC), which restricts the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM). Many public figures in social media have expressed their frustration regarding TC, and Pope Francis’s apparent opposition to traditionalism. ‘Traditionalism’ is the term which will be used to describe the disposition of some of the Catholic faithful to attend the Tridentine Mass (another term for the TLM) for the sake of celebrating the “traditional” Mass as opposed to the new Mass; traditionalism will be used here in contrast to actual Tradition (a.k.a., Sacred Tradition), the latter term meaning the “living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, through which ‘the Church, in her doctrine, life, and worship, perpetuates and transmits to all generations all that she herself is, and all that she believes’” (CCC 78). This includes the sacramental economy, in which generations of Christians after the Apostles would partake in God’s life through the sacraments of the Catholic Church (CCC 1076). This obviously means that partaking in God’s life in this life is not restricted to the TLM. While restricting the TLM is cause for concern, some responses by the Catholic faithful are beacons of hope for Christianity to flourish, even if the fruits are born in the distant future.
Before proceeding, there is the need to make another distinction, that between ‘traditional’ and ‘conservative.’ In brief, Catholics who are “conservative” are Catholics who are faithful to the Church in her teaching, governance, and sanctifying role; faithful Catholics in this sense come in two camps: the traditionalist camp, which is devoted to the TLM, and the post-conciliar camp, the Catholics who by default attend the Novus Ordo. This shows that not all faithful Catholics are traditional in the afore-mentioned sense, but they all essentially accept the sacred deposit of the Word of God, consisting of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition (Dei Verbum, 10). For our intents and purposes, the former camp will be referred to as the Trads (not to be confused with the Rad Trads, who are the right-wing dissidents such as the SSPX) and the latter camp will be referred to as the NOs (those faithful Catholics who regularly attend the Novus Ordo Mass, and who are not to be associated with the Caf Cats, the left-wing dissidents who also attend the Novus Ordo Mass, if at all).
There have been mixed responses to TC within faithful Catholic circles, but overwhelmingly negative coming from the Trads because of the consequences due to the restrictions. Firstly, TC’s restrictions will limit their access to the TLM. Secondly, this will compel them more to partake in the Novus Ordo. Considering that both forms are valid, there is nothing wrong with preferring one form of the Mass over the other, although, as we shall see, some Trads may have intentions for attending the TLM that are along the lines of dissent or even schism. But if certain faithful Catholics so choose to attend the TLM, then these restrictions inhibit their choice. Thirdly, this will show the Trads to the door to become Rad Trads, if any of them so choose “tradition” over Tradition, and thus to dissent. On the surface, however, it looks like there is a grudge in the hierarchy against traditionalism and conservatism, judging by some remarks that Pope Francis has made against Trads. Furthermore, there seems to be resentment against Trads who are associated with social-political conservatism, and this is more evident in the traditionalist communities who do not compromise the faith in the way that they vote and strive to be civilly governed.
TC’s restrictions are arguably draconian. In short, any priest who wants to celebrate the TLM must first get permission from his bishop (Art. 5, c.f. Art. 2), and any priest ordained from here on out who wants to celebrate the TLM must get permission from his bishop, who must then consult with the Holy See before granting authorization (Art. 4). This looks like surveillance on the part of the Vatican to see who are the “conservatives” and to keep them in check. Regardless, TC doesn’t ban the TLM per se, and there are pros and cons to highlight especially in light of the accompanying letter to TC, written by Pope Francis.
In the letter, Pope Francis explains his reasoning for this motu propio. In sum, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI had issued their own motu propios, Ecclesia Dei and Summorum Pontificum, providing the rights for priests to celebrate the TLM. These were provisions for the faithful who wanted to follow the Church and to attend the TLM, in the hopes of achieving unity among all Catholics, whether they preferred the old form or the new form of the Mass. The provisions were also established ecumenically to pave the way for Rad Trads to come back to and to follow the Church rather than to stay in schism:
Most people understand the motives that prompted St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI to allow the use of the Roman Missal, promulgated by St. Pius V and edited by St. John XXIII in 1962, for the Eucharistic Sacrifice. The faculty... was above all motivated by the desire to foster the healing of the schism with the movement of Mons. Lefebvre. With the ecclesial intention of restoring the unity of the Church, the Bishops were thus asked to accept with generosity the “just aspirations” of the faithful who requested the use of that Missal.
However, Pope Francis has commented on the rigidity of Trads, namely since many young Trads who weren’t around before Vatican II still want the TLM. Subjectively, every Trad has his or her reasons for their devotion to the TLM, and objectively, TLM communities are renowned for their fidelity to Catholic teaching. In contrast, NO parishes are prone to having dissenting priests and laity. But because of their obstinance for traditionalism, and their refusal to attend the Novus Ordo, many Trads can come off as rigid.
This traditionalism, though, can become an idolatry for a form of archaism. In this case, Rad Trads and some Trads pine for the way Catholicism was practiced between the Council of Trent and the Second Vatican Council. Regarding this, a fair point can be made from Pope Francis’s accompanying letter. In it, he mentions that often, where the TLM is celebrated, there is a characterization of rejection of the liturgical reforms after Vatican II and even of Vatican II itself in the name of the “true Church”; many who attend the TLM do so as a means of rejecting Vatican II and the subsequent liturgical reforms without necessarily leaving the Church.
Thus, the purposes of allowing the TLM by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, according to Pope Francis, were not achieved, and these restrictions are the consequences:
In defense of the unity of the Body of Christ, I am constrained to revoke the faculty granted by my Predecessors. The distorted use that has been made of this faculty is contrary to the intentions that led to granting the freedom to celebrate the Mass with the Missale Romanum of 1962. Because “liturgical celebrations are not private actions, but celebrations of the Church, which is the sacrament of unity”, they must be carried out in communion with the Church. Vatican Council II, while it reaffirmed the external bonds of incorporation in the Church — the profession of faith, the sacraments, of communion — affirmed with St. Augustine that to remain in the Church not only “with the body” but also “with the heart” is a condition for salvation.
This will evidently push out those who reject the Church due to the aforementioned archaism. This is fair insofar as Pope Francis is calling out the Rad Trads who reject the Church without having left her. They are being shown the door. But this is unfair to the Trads who attend the TLM without a spirit of schism or dissent. This will cause resentment at best, and schism or dissent at worst, among them. The Pope can canonically enforce liturgical uniformity in this sense, but it is imprudent. While a positive result is that Rad Trads in Trad circles are being called out and shown the door, the collateral damage is that Trads are more deprived of their devotion because of their form of conservatism.
A further point of contention is the rigidity of Pope Francis. By restricting the TLM, he is attempting to force unity among Catholics. Trads are now more restricted from the liturgy of their choice. Furthermore, among the restrictions are no new groups which celebrate the TLM (Art. 3 §6), prohibiting the establishment of new groups like FSSP, and perhaps no new parishes which only celebrate the TLM (Art. 3, and §2). Respectfully, Pope Francis himself is being rigid in his insistence, by these restrictions, that Trads should attend the Novus Ordo.
There are various possible responses. For Trads, a response is to continue to attend the TLM and refuse to abandon the Church even after feeling abandoned by her current hierarchy. At the same time, admittedly, Trads have at some level a moral duty to extend themselves to other Catholic circles for the sake of unity, charity, and evangelization, especially in communities with dissenting Catholics. It would be good for them to leave their safe spaces and face the modern world with the boldness that comes from Catholicism. NOs, on the other hand, should make the effort to attend the TLM, experience it for themselves, and seek to understand the frustration coming from Trad circles due to TC.
A final point: Pope Francis’s letter does call out liturgical abuse in celebrations of the new Mass:
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 authorization for or even a requirement of creativity, which leads to almost unbearable distortions”.
I ask you [bishops] to be vigilant in ensuring that every liturgy be celebrated with decorum and fidelity to the liturgical books promulgated after Vatican Council II, without the eccentricities that can easily degenerate into abuses. Seminarians and new priests should be formed in the faithful observance of the prescriptions of the Missal and liturgical books, in which is reflected the liturgical reform willed by Vatican Council II.
NOs and Trads alike should seek out the NO parishes with faithful priests, and join those parishes for the sake of Tradition. By doing so, and by answering our call to sanctity, the Church will continue to grow, for just as Catholic fidelity continued after 1970, when the NO was promulgated and thus when no one was apparently celebrating the TLM, neither is fidelity going to end now.
 Ibid. C.f. also https://www.lenouvelesprit.com/culture-articles/theocratic-propaganda
 Headlines such as this video by Dr. Taylor Marshall give this false impression: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vP50114b1A4
 Thanks to my cohort, Jeremy Hausotter, for the use of this term.
 This concept borrowed from Dr. Taylor Marshall: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1GyCN_rDuw
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