Fifty-six years have passed since the Roman Rite Mass of Paul VI (also called, Novus Ordo, New Order Rite, Ordinary Form, post-Vatican II Mass) had become the ordinary form of the Latin Church, and, yet, given the widespread liturgical abuses and liberties and desecrations that are witnessed daily in that rite, what “preoccupied and saddens” Pope Francis is liturgical tribalism; to the extent that the best course of action available for him was to suppress the liturgical rite where abuses, liberties, and desecrations are not witnessed.
The two things that I found most interesting in Pope Francis’ Apostolic letter, Guardians of the Tradition (Lat. Traditionis Custodes), and his accompanying letter were his unthoughtful parental tone and the exposure of his very linear liturgical soteriology and ecclesiology. In this essay, I will comment on just those two things and contrast them with the liturgical soteriology and ecclesiology of his some of his predecessors. Hopefully, in this community where we are witnessing a litany of troubling petulant, legitimate, triumphant, irrational, and apathetic reactions, we might consider taking a moment to consider some important developments concerning a topic that has the potential to become the Vatican’s version of the U.S. Government’s ‘Mexico City Policy,’ which is always implemented by Republican presidents and revoked by Democrat presidents.
Prior to Pope Saint Pius V’s promulgation of this Apostolic Constitution, Quo Primum on July 14, 1570, liturgy used to be a much larger conversation, because the liturgies of the Church were amazingly diverse – towns, cities, countries, oratories, and religious orders, from Europe to Africa to Asia, from east to west and north to south, had their own liturgies. It was truly a beautiful reality how although there were many, there remained One who came to us through the liturgy; many liturgical forms, but one Body and one Bread, but with that liberty of diversity came some distortions and abuses that disrupted the conformity of essence of the liturgy, which is the one memorial sacrifice. Responding to what appeared to be a threat to the Catholic Church at that time, and so that there would be a “preservation of a pure liturgy,” it was decreed by Pius V:
Thereby, from 1570 to 1965, liturgy became a much narrower topic, and widespread liturgical diversity largely became a historical topic, and due to the age of “Age of Discovery” wave of modern European colonialism (beginning about 1500 until 1770), for the next three-hundred and ninety-five years of the Church, the Mass of Paul VI became a chief export of the Catholic Church and contributed greatly to the narrow path walked by countless numbers of saints in our communion. Moreover, the objective of Pius V to curb abuses and liturgical innovations was an astounding success, as Pope Francis, notes, “For four centuries this Missale Romanum, promulgated by St. Pius V was thus the principal expression of the lex orandi [Lat. the Law of what is Prayed] of the Roman Rite, and functioned to maintain the unity of the Church.” Indeed, it is this vision of a Latin Church with one primary expression of the lex orandi that Francis hopes to restore through his very restrictive (seemingly punitive) Apostolic letter, Guardians of the Tradition.
Francis as the Father who Hands His Son a Snake When He asks for a Fish
The plain problem that Pope Francis cannot overcome here is that Mass of Paul VI has not measured up to the Mass of Pius V, and it is not because it was disadvantaged by having a competing liturgy in the Traditional Latin Mass; for, in Europe, the Mass of Pius V (arguable a very plain local Roman rite) still had to contend with the incredibly more beautiful and solemn Dominican, Lyonensis, Bracarensis, Cartussiensis, Carmelitanus, Ambrosianus, and the Mozarabicus liturgies. It is true that reverence fosters reverence and irreverence fosters irreverence, and the Bishops have systematically allowed for the Mass of Paul VI to be a wet breeding ground for irreverence and spiritual complacency and backwardness. Yet, now we are being told by Francis that some other liturgical rite is the cause of disunity and factions in the Catholic Church. Imagine a person who is a chain-smoker blaming his lung cancer on the fact that his neighbor has not smoked a cigarette a day in his life. In his 2007 letter, Benedict XVI notes the root of why schism has occurred in the Church most recently; “This occurred above all because in many places celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal, but the latter actually was understood as authorizing or even requiring creativity, which frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear.” Therefore, it is odd that Francis, knowing full well that this unfaithfulness to the prescriptions of the Mass of Paul VI has not ended, would think that torching Summorum Pontificum to the ground, would do something other than lead to another round of schisms. Although, when you are a person who only sees the world through the Marxist’s victim vs. oppression constructs, you naturally need to wage ongoing and pointless wars.
The parental argument to rescind Summorum Pontificum is that thirteen years ago we allowed you, children, to have some liturgical freedom because Pope Benedict XVI thought that you were mature enough to handle it and that it might be good for you; good for your souls and “good of all his holy Church,” but after thirteen years, it has been discovered that you are not mature enough, because you have abused your freedom to distort the use this faculty, which is “contrary to the intentions that led to granting the freedom to celebrate the Mass with the Missale Romanum of 1962,” and you have used this freedom “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.”
I think that honest Catholics should be able to admit that the liturgy has been weaponized by some to stir division and prejudice in the Church. I am uncertain whether this is just a phenomenon in the Catholic Church in the United States, but liturgical elitism and extremism are very serious problems. Yet, what seems to have been missed by the Pontiff was how much good was happening with the faithful having the opportunity to worship in a consistently reverent liturgy. Again, the parental argument here was that I am not going to give you credit for any of the good you have been doing for the last thirteen years; rather, I am just going to focus on a couple of the problems and fix them by taking everything away from you; or at least make it much more difficult and drive you to travel substantial distances to worship reverently. Also, I am not going to place any restrictions upon the Mass of Paul VI, which is destroying the faith of many, making a mockery of the Holy Eucharist, and causing millions of people to leave the Catholic Church for the Protestant traditions. Given that the Mass of Paul VI has proven to be far more spiritually divisive and harmful, Pope Francis could have much more easily found just cause to suppress and torch his predecessors 1969 Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanum, but restoring reverence to the liturgy of the Church is not the objective of Francis here. Whether that objective is demonically or divinely inspired is something that time will tell. Unfortunately, the Bishops have not been given that allowance of time to discern the source of this law that will lead to deeper divisions and suspicion.
“What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish?” (Luke 11:11). A large number of the faithful already do not believe that the Bishops and priests do not truly care whether they go to heaven or Hell, and they will view Guardians of the Tradition as another piece of evidence in their firm conviction.
The Idea of Liturgy Being a Source of Unity
Looking across Paul VI’s Missale Romanum, Pope Saint John Paul II’s 1988 Moto Proprio Ecclesia Dei, and Pope Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum, a variation in the role that liturgy plays in the visible unity of the Church is on display. Prior to Paul VI’s Mass, the common wisdom of the faithful was that the role liturgy played in the visible unity of the Church was through the primary liturgical lex orandi and through the one language spoken and sung prayer. Then, in Paul VI’s liturgical innovation, it was thought that although the language of the Church was now diverse, it was through the one unique prayer which would “affirm the common unity of all.” Pope Saint John Paul II was a throwback to a time before Pius V, where the diversity of liturgy was thought to be a beautiful gift of the Church in which “a diversity of charisms, traditions of spirituality and apostolate, which also constitutes the beauty of unity in variety: of that blended “harmony” which the earthly Church raises up to Heaven under the impulse of the Holy Spirit.” In fact, Benedict XVI notes that the primary motivator for John Paul II’s Moto Proprio was to promote unity through diversity – “to assist the Society of Saint Pius X to recover full unity with the Successor of Peter.” Then, in his own time, Benedict XVI too thought that the Church might regain reconciliation and unity through a liberal diversity of liturgy; insisting that the faithful had a right to the Mass of Pius V, even in light of the Bishop being the moderator of the liturgy in his own diocese (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 22). Now, here, Pope Francis is a return to Pius V and Paul VI in the belief that one principle expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite and one common liturgy is the visible unity for the Latin Church. Yet, again, the Francis problem is that with massive numbers of people leaving the Catholic Chruch, low numbers of vocations, empty lines in front of the confessional, and the common irreverence in the New Order Mass, there is little to no evidence that the Mass of Paul VI is uniting many to Christ Jesus. That is, the visible unity that Francis believes that the Mass of Paul VI is, is just an ugly glaze on the outside of the vase, while something far uglier than that is causing the burnt clay to crack and decay from the inside.
What is lost in the ecclesiology and soteriology of Pius V, Paul VI, and Francis is that the Christian idea is not that we are uniting with a what (e.g., the institutional Church, the bishops, or with our brothers and sisters); rather, the Church as the Body of Christ was established to unite us with a Who through Her Sacraments, and that Who is a person named Christ Jesus. Even in a diversity of liturgies (in the many) still comes The One – the Who – to conform us into His image. Moreover, it is through the diversity of liturgies that attracts the many more, and, thereby, facilitates more unions with Christ Jesus.
I Have Prayed for you, Simon, that Your Own Faith May Not Fail
It is beyond my comprehension why a failing liturgy would be given another fifty-six years to fail and cause more division. Clearly, there will always be people who just cannot encounter God well through irreverence. Perhaps there is a way to restore reverence to the Mass of Paul VI, through obligating Ad Orientum, using more Latin, and reverent reception of the Holy Eucharist, but in a Church that cannot even protect the Holy Eucharist from sacrilege and desecration who thinks that will ever happen?
And that is precisely why we do not trust Francis’ Traditionis Custodes, because at no point in time in his papacy thus far has he proven to be interested in being a source of unity for the Church or a guardian of the tradition. Rather, at every point of his papacy he has betrayed the tradition, he has winked at the dogma, he has given his imprimatur to evil (e.g., Jesuit James Martin and Reinhard Cardinal Marx), he has subverted attempts to reign in sacrilege (e.g., the ‘Joe Biden Communion Scandal’), he has filled the episcopacy and electorate with homo-clerics and Judases, and he has been far more concerned with things like climate and immigration and being a two-bit globalist politician than he has in being the successor of Peter.
To be sure, Traditionis Custodes, is nothing more than another sorry bullet shot in the direction of those who Pope Francis calls rigid, and we will suffer this blow because it will only unite us closer to Him who shed His blood first.
It is a Marxist worldview that views the world as being is divided into camps of oppressors and victims, and through this construct, Pope Francis views those who cling to tradition and orthodox and rigidity as the oppressors who must be suppressed so that the Church never returns to Her old mean ways.