VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — Speaking to LifeSiteNews, Pope Francis defended his 2021 restrictions on the Church’s traditional liturgy, stating that all the reasons for his enacting such restrictions are found in the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes.
“Read the motu proprio; everything is there for you,” Pope Francis told LifeSiteNews’ Vatican correspondent today, when asked why – given that so many young people love the traditional Mass – he had enacted restrictions on it. He gave his answer during individual greetings as part of a papal audience for the Vatican press corps, held in the Clementine Hall.
The motu proprio in question is the July 2021 text Traditionis Custodes, by which Francis ushered in sweeping restrictions on the traditional liturgy – also known as the Latin Mass, or the Extraordinary Form – and which have resulted in devastating consequences for traditional communities and churches around the world.
Through Traditionis Custodes celebrations of the traditional Mass were forbidden from taking place in parish churches, and only priests who were granted express permission to do so were able to offer the Mass. Bishops were to ensure strict control over the offering and spread of the traditional Mass, and the Novus ordo Mass was declared the “unique expression” of the Roman Rite.
Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 Summorum Pontificum on the traditional Mass was officially “abrogated.”
Francis accompanied the motu proprio with a letter presenting official reasons for the devastating and widely impactful restrictions. He wrote that his new measures were done out of “solicitude for the whole Church, that contributes supremely to the good of the Universal Church.”
The Pontiff also decried “the instrumental use of Missale Romanum of 1962,” which he said “is 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 the Tradition and the ‘true Church.’”
The Pope stated in his letter that his attack on the Traditional Liturgy was motivated only by concern for the Church’s unity: “In defense of the unity of the Body of Christ, I am constrained to revoke the faculty granted by my Predecessors.” He claimed that there was a “distorted use” of the Traditional Liturgy, which is “contrary to the intentions” behind the “freedom” to offer the Latin Mass.
Additionally, Francis argued that his restrictions were the result of a survey of the world’s bishops, which he requested, and which was carried out by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) regarding the Traditional Mass. Francis attested that his decision to enforce restrictions was made in light of “requests” from bishops across the world:
Responding to your requests, 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.
Whilst the CDF’s survey was taking place, the Vatican consistently downplayed fears that the Latin Mass would be restricted. But Pope Francis’ claim – that the survey revealed widespread concern about the traditional Mass – has been consistently disputed as not aligning with the facts, or of even inverting the survey’s true result.
That survey has never been published by the CDF, and LifeSiteNews understands from Vatican sources that as recently as just a few months ago, the results of the secret survey had still not been disseminated to the relevant Curial bodies. Such a decision was even highlighted by Pope Benedict’s secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, who stated the late pope found it “mysterious” why the results of the survey were never published, and Cardinal Raymond Burke has also publicly expressed confusion on the question.
The daily task of enforcing restrictions on the traditional Mass has fallen to the Dicastery for Divine Worship, led by staunchly anti-traditionalist prefect Cardinal Arthur Roche. Some months after Traditionis Custodes, Roche issued a Responsa ad dubia which ushered in fresh restrictions on the ancient liturgy.
Roche’s December 2021 text outlined new bans on offering the Mass and sacraments according to the liturgical books used in the traditional liturgy, along with warnings that priests who do not cooperate sufficiently in Novus Ordo liturgies would have permission to offer the traditional liturgy stripped away.
Further moves to censure the growth and spread of the traditional liturgy have since emerged from the Vatican: these include Roche’s arguably canonically-illegal efforts to prevent bishops from exempting priests from Traditionis Custodes – in which he was subsequently supported by the Pope directly – along with the prohibition on bishops from independently establishing new groups of the faithful in their dioceses, which had been a move widely used to foster new communities devoted to the traditional liturgy.
Yet the Pope’s restrictions on the traditional liturgy have been widely decried by clergy and laity from the outset and continue unabated. Prelates such as Cardinals Raymond Burke and Gerhard Müller, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganó, Bishops Joseph Strickland and Athanasius Schneider, have been among the most vocal in opposing the measures.
Müller wrote that “the clear intent is to condemn the Extraordinary Form to extinction,” while Burke called it “severe and revolutionary action” signaling an attempted “ultimate elimination” of the traditional liturgy.
Faithful devotees of the ancient liturgy have continued undeterred in their positions in the face of increased persecution of the Mass, and more recently Tyler’s emeritus Bishop Strickland attested that his forced removal was due in part to his refusing to implement Traditionis Custodes.
The numbers in attendance at the Latin Mass, and admission figures to seminaries and religious orders devoted to it, grow increasingly large despite the Vatican’s various attempts to limit the liturgy. Indeed in many churches and religious communities Traditionis Custodes has been a catalyst for such growth, with a number of traditional communities noting record seminary applications in the years following Traditionis Custodes.
The Pope’s comments to LifeSiteNews today, however, seem to highlight and confirm the direction the Vatican is currently taking regarding its continued and unwavering opposition the Church’s traditional liturgy.