Pope Francis continues his war on the traditional celebration of the Sacraments. This morning, a week before Christmas, the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) issued Responses to 11 “Dubia” (so the Vatican can answer dubia!) concerning the implementation of Traditionis Custodes, the pope’s July motu proprio that sought to restrict the traditional Latin Mass and traditional forms of the other Sacraments.
These new directives are startling in their reach: they eliminate traditional confirmations and ordinations, forbid a priest from celebrating both a Novus Ordo Mass and traditional Latin Mass on the same weekday, and require even TLM-only priests like those of the FSSP to concelebrate a Novus Ordo Mass. The pretense that a diocesan bishop has authority over the liturgy in his diocese is finally discarded. And like the original motu proprio and the letter that accompanied it, these Responses make the pope’s goal clear: he wants to eliminate the old Roman Rite, and he’s growing impatient to see it happen.
There’s only one way to put this: these are wicked commands.
It might be diplomatic to try to sugarcoat this, but in a time of war diplomacy is set aside. And make no mistake: this is a war, and it’s been declared by the pope himself on any Catholic with an attachment to the old forms of the Roman liturgy. To pretend—as the CDW Responses do—that this is somehow for the good of souls is a lie we should no longer gloss over.
Further, these are petty and vindictive commands. They resemble a Soviet purge of dissidents conducted in 1988. The walls are crumbling around the Church, and instead of trying to repair them, the pope and the Vatican are tearing down the one solid wall so it can match the rest. The fact that these directives were issued a week before Christmas only magnifies their pettiness.
A few years ago a friend said that he believed Pope Francis was a spiritually abusive father. I instinctively cringed. To my innate Catholic sense, such language was inappropriate to be directed at the Holy Father. But I can’t see how his actions regarding the old Rite can be seen as anything other than abusive.
An abusive father is a master at manipulation. He makes his children think they are the problem. He warps reality so that they think they “deserve” their abuse, and if they dare challenge it, he casts them as unloving and divisive family members. His children live in a constant state of self-doubt and confusion.
This is how the Holy Father treats those of his children who are attached to the old ways. If they find their spiritual life enriched by attending the TLM, he suggests they have schismatic tendencies. If they find their parish Mass to be unfulfilling in its entrenched mediocracy, he accuses them of rejecting Vatican II. When they complain at his unjust treatment of them, he says that proves they need further correction. It’s spiritual abuse, plain and simple.
Attendance at traditional Latin Masses has grown tremendously in the last decade, particularly in the past two years. What has fueled this growth? Is it a sudden desire to “reject Vatican II?” Is it a swift increase in feelings of nostalgia? I don’t think so.
I’ve spoken to many people in the last year who started attending the TLM only recently. I’ve found that they are not the nostalgic, anti-Vatican II “rad trad” stereotype pushed by the Vatican. When these newcomers think about Vatican II, which isn’t often, they see it as a historical event, not a super-council that must dominate their entire Catholic life. They do not consider the 1950’s an Immaculate Era to which we must return. They are just regular Catholics trying to live their Catholic faith in an age of confusion.
They simply desire to draw closer to Christ and they find that the TLM far better facilitates that than their experiences at their diocesan parish. Most of them have good friends at and fond memories of their old parishes, but they simply could not grow in their faith anymore where the liturgy was celebrated in a casual manner, with greater concern for COVID protocols than liturgical protocols. These newcomers are not embarking on an ideological jihad against modernism; they just want to reverently and beautifully worship the Lord.
And note, they are not finding this consolation in a local Protestant church or a secular movement; they are finding it in the Mass under which countless saints were formed for centuries. As Pope Benedict XVI said, “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.” To say that Catholics are being harmed by attending the TLM and that it thus must be eliminated undermines the entire Catholic religion.
If this Mass was spiritually enriching for Catholics in the 1920’s, then it cannot be declared spiritually harmful for Catholics in the 2020’s. Otherwise we must question the very foundations of our Faith. We become functional Mormons, believing there was a “Great Apostasy” in the Church that was only lifted with the Coming of Vatican II. Such an attitude is anti-Catholic to the core, for it rejects the role of Tradition in the Church.
And to those who say that the “rad trads” deserved this by their “rejection of Vatican II” or their “schismatic tendencies,” this is no different than blaming abused kids for daring to speak out against their father. If there are certain elements within the traditional movement who are acting contrary to Catholicism, then it would be a simple matter to censure those individuals. To eliminate the Mass of the Ages because some who attend it are problematic would mean we should eliminate the Novus Ordo Mass because of individuals like Fr. James Martin.
And let us not forget the context in which these directives have been issued. We are in the midst of a free fall in the Catholic Church, with millions of people leaving the Church every year. We are living in a global crisis, with world economies failing and governments instituting authoritarian laws. Yet somehow the great challenge for the Church, according to Francis, is that the small number of traditional Catholics is getting bigger.
So what can Catholics do in response? My honest answer is that I don’t know. These commands are ingenious in their wickedness. Without explicitly banning all celebrations of all the traditional sacraments, they push traditional Catholics more and more into a ghetto, with a match at the ready to light the whole neighborhood on fire.
I hope and pray that bishops worldwide simply ignore these latest directives. It wouldn’t be the first time Vatican commands have been disregarded. Canon 87 states that “A diocesan bishop, whenever he judges that it contributes to their spiritual good, is able to dispense the faithful from universal and particular disciplinary laws issued for his territory or his subjects by the supreme authority of the Church.” Clearly, dispensing from these directives is for the spiritual good of many. For a diocesan bishop to avoid being an abusive father himself, he must disregard these commands and tend to the spiritual needs of his children.
One thing I do know: Catholics must pray and fast for the Church. And I don’t just mean traditional Catholics who are directly impacted by the CDW Responses. All Catholics of good will must pray and fast that our Holy Father stops being an abusive father, works for our spiritual good, and ends his war against tradition.
[Photo Credit The Church Wanderer]