On Saturday, the Vatican sent another shockwave through the Traditionalist Catholic community when it issued its “Responsa Ad Dubia” (answers to doubts), clarifying aspects of Pope Francis’ Apostolic letter Traditionis Custodes (Guardians of the Tradition) from last July. The document caused much dismay that summer, as it overturned decisions made by Francis’ two predecessors, and tightened access to the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM).
The responsa (to 11 dubia in total) was published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDWDS) under the auspices of Prefect Archbishop Arthur Roche, and with the “assent” and “consent” of the Pontiff.
The clarification, coming just one day after Francis’ 85th birthday and one week before Christmas, aims to do away with celebrating all sacraments in accordance with pre-Second Vatican Council rites. This, it reads, serves the “sole purpose of preserving the gift of ecclesial communion by walking together, with conviction of mind and heart, in the direction indicated by the Holy Father.” It went on to quote the initial letter, repeating that “we must not lend ourselves to sterile polemics, capable only of creating division, in which the ritual itself is often exploited by ideological viewpoints.”
The traditionalists’ response to the news—and implied impugnation—was irate. Various prominent commentators decried the move, some claiming it to be a petty attack by the Pontiff on faithful Catholics—already distressed by the pandemic-driven closing of church doors and growing economic uncertainty.
Eric Sammons, Editor-in-Chief of Crisis Magazine wrote:
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.
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.
Traditionalist clergy especially seem to be targeted by the document, with priests now almost being prohibited entirely from celebrating the sacraments according to the pre-Vatican II rites of the Rituale Romanum and the Pontificale Romanum. An explanatory note stated that this is because these are “liturgical books which, like all previous norms, instructions, concessions and customs, have been abrogated.”
Liturgies for celebrating the sacraments of baptism, penance, matrimony, extreme unction, as well as rites for the confirmation and ordination of bishops, priests, deacons, subdeacons, acolytes, lectors, and exorcists, as well as numerous blessings for consecrating altars and sacred objects, would no longer meet approval as a result.
Societies such as the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter and Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, whose clergy are ordained using pre-conciliar liturgies, would have most to lose from the decision, it is feared. However, in a published response, the FSSP wrote:
The recent document from the Congregation for Divine Worship released on December 18th does not directly address the former Ecclesia Dei communities such as the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter who possess their own proper law.
The members of the Fraternity of St. Peter promised to be faithful to our Constitutions at the time of our admittance into the Fraternity, and we remain committed to exactly that: fidelity to the Successor of Peter and the faithful observance of the “liturgical and disciplinary traditions” of the Church in accordance with the provisions of the Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei of July 2, 1988, which is at the origin of our foundation. The superiors of the Priestly Fraternity will be studying the document more closely while maintaining our ministry to the faithful entrusted to our care.
Another remarkable aspect of the responsa is its express disapproval of priests who celebrate the TLM but do not “recognize the validity and legitimacy of concelebration” and “refuse to concelebrate, in particular, at the Chrism Mass.” Under canon 205 priests have the right not to concelebrate however.
The CDWDS drew particular attention to the mandate from Traditionis Custodes, which insists that parish churches and “new personal parishes” would not be allowed to host celebrations of the Eucharist according to the old rite. Hereby it intends “to affirm that the celebration of the Eucharist according to the previous rite, being a concession limited to these groups, is not part of the ordinary life of the parish community.” In exceptional circumstances, and “only if it is established that it is impossible to use another church, oratory or chapel,” can the diocesan bishop grant a parish church permission to celebrate the TLM, the text stated.
The responsa also forbids any advertising of TLM’s: “Such a celebration should not be included in the parish Mass schedule” and that it “should not be held at the same time as the pastoral activities of the parish community.” The responsa went on to say that “it is to be understood that when another venue becomes available, this permission will be withdrawn,” and that “there is no intention in these provisions to marginalize the faithful who are rooted in the previous form of celebration.”
In the UK, the Latin Mass Society took to Telegram to provide information about Traditional Mass times for England and Wales.
Furthermore, priests cannot offer the TLM on the same day they celebrate Mass in the Novus Ordo because “there is no ‘just cause’ or ‘pastoral necessity’ as required by canon 905, §2: The right of the faithful to the celebration of the Eucharist is in no way denied, since they are offered the possibility of participating in the Eucharist in its current ritual form.” Should a priest who is authorized to celebrate the TLM fall ill or somehow become temporarily indisposed, he cannot delegate the celebration of the Mass to a substitute priest who does not have prior approval, the text went on to say.
Joseph Shaw, chairman of the Latin Mass Society in Britain voiced his concerns in a tweet, saying that the document “will have serious negative consequences for souls” and “drive Catholics wishing only to attend Mass in communion with their bishop to the SSPX (Society of Saint Pius X),” a group founded in 1970 by Archbishop Marcel Lefèbvre as a response to innovations coming out of the Second Vatican Council. While not in formal schism, the canonical situation of the SSPX remains unresolved to this day.