Cardinal Gregory’s TLM Restrictions Illustrate Why Traditionis Custodes Must Be Reversed

A thriving parish in Washington DC is the latest victim of the pope's motu proprio "Traditionis Custodes."

As infant baptisms and Mass attendance continue their precipitous decline across the Church, St. Francis de Sales in Washington, D.C., offers a striking contrast. Every Sunday you will find large families with gaggles of young children at Mass. One would think this would be a point of great optimism for the scandal-plagued Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. Imagine all of these children growing up in the Church and starting their own large, Catholic families who attend weekly Mass. It is enough to give one hope for the future of the Church in these troubled times.

Instead, Cardinal Wilton Gregory has decided to shut this Mass down. Why? Because it is a traditional Latin Mass. 

Citing Pope Francis’ Traditionis Custodes, Gregory decreed last Friday that the traditional Latin Mass must end entirely at St. Francis de Sales on September 21. This directive throws the future of St. Francis, which traces its history to 1722 and boasts the oldest continuing congregation in the District of Columbia, into grave doubt. It is unclear whether St. Francis can survive without the traditional Latin Mass, which attracts the vast majority of its current parishioners and contributions.

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Last Sunday, St. Francis’ priest assured his flock, most of whom were children: “You have done nothing wrong. You did not deserve this.” I was reminded of the moment I learned of my parent’s divorce, when I was the same age as many of the children in the congregation. I cried endlessly, thinking that my world was coming to an end and wondering whether it was my fault. Now, Church authorities are inflicting a similar trauma on these children, who face the loss of their church community and their Mass. The families of St. Francis de Sales face a future where their beloved Mass will be gone and their church community broken apart.  

Indeed, many of these families had personally pleaded with Cardinal Gregory not to cancel their Mass at the synodal listening session in May. At that session, one mother, whose husband had died that very week, implored of Cardinal Gregory: “I just buried my husband two days ago, please don’t make me lose my parish.”

These desperate pleas, alas, were ignored. Cardinal Gregory did not modify the restrictions from what he planned before Easter. In his letter accompanying the restrictions, Cardinal Gregory assured traditional Latin Mass attendees that he found “the majority” of them to be “sincere, faith-filled and well-meaning.” This statement strikes a decidedly different tone than Pope Francis’ cover letter accompanying Traditionis Custodes, wherein the pope castigated TLM attendees for “encourag[ing] disagreements that injure the Church, block[ing] her path, and expos[ing] her to the peril of division.” 

Yet, despite implicitly disagreeing with Pope Francis about the intentions of TLM attendees, Cardinal Gregory decreed that the cause of “unity” and “the Second Vatican Council” demanded the ending of nearly all TLMs in the Archdiocese. Never mind the fact that the Second Vatican Council declared, “in faithful obedience to tradition…that holy Mother Church holds all lawfully acknowledged rites to be of equal right and dignity; that she wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way.” Never mind the fact that the Second Vatican Council promised that “the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.” Never mind the fact that the Second Vatican Council abjured any intention “to impose a rigid uniformity” and decreed that “[p]rovisions shall also be made…for legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions, and peoples.” 

Those “peoples” apparently do not include faithful Catholics who simply wish to celebrate the same Mass that nourished countless saints and martyrs of the Church prior to 1970. Had the pope decreed the end of the Spanish-language Mass, or another similar punitive measure targeted at a particular community, Cardinal Gregory would surely have reacted with outrage. But because TLM attendees are perceived by the Vatican to be “conservatives,” and thus at odds with Pope Francis, their Masses are now being suppressed—even though the predictable consequence is that innocent children and families, who have done nothing wrong, will suffer greatly. 

In his decree, Cardinal Gregory held out the option that “those devoted to the [traditional Latin Mass] can celebrate the reformed Mass using the approved rubrics, which include reverent movement and gestures, Gregorian chant, Latin, incense, and extended periods of silence.” Ad orientem worship of the Novus Ordo, however, requires special permission from the Archdiocese. But the rubrics for the Novus Ordo themselves contemplate ad orientem worship. Moreover, in announcing the Novus Ordo in 1969, Pope Paul VI said (contrary to the Council), “No longer Latin, but the spoken language will be the principal language of the Mass” and that in celebrating the Novus Ordo, “We will lose a great part of that stupendous and incomparable artistic and spiritual thing, the Gregorian chant.”

All of which is to say that the Archdiocese’s plan to “accompany” TLM attendees through “catechetical resources that explain the Second Vatican Council’s principles of liturgical renewal and the beauty of the reformed Mass” faces a dim likelihood of success. The arguments for those who seek to suppress the Latin Mass simply do not make sense. For TLM devotees, as with Catholics throughout the ages, the TLM is a means of spiritual sustenance and a necessity for the practice of our Catholic Faith. It is the sacred patrimony of our Church, and we cannot live without it. The intrinsic holiness of the Old Rite and its continuity with Catholic tradition demand nothing less.

Thus, ironically enough, it is Traditionis Custodes that will “encourage disagreements that injure the Church, block her path, and expose her to the peril of division.” The restrictions that are its poisonous fruit alienate faithful Catholics and punish innocent children and families who wish for nothing more than what Vatican II promised: faithful obedience to tradition, preservation of the Latin Rite, and that the Mass “be given new vigor to meet the circumstances and needs of modern times.” In marked contrast to a graying Church, we see liturgical vigor in many young, faithful Catholic families who are devoted to the traditional Latin Mass and will stop at nothing to preserve it.

[Photo Credit: Catholic News Agency]

  • Noah Peters

    Noah Peters is an attorney in Washington, D.C.

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