Ha so did you hear there's this thing called Traditionis Custodes that Pope Francis issued? Papa Francesco sure stirred up some lio with this one. If Francis is concerned about the growth of traditionalism that rejects the post-Conciliar Church, giving the SSPX their single biggest marketing boost of all time is certainly a strange way to show it.
Many people more astute than myself have already commented on Traditionis Custodes extensively, so I will try not to repeat their talking points. Here are my nine reflections on the new motu proprio.
Francis's motu proprio was issued out of concern that traditional communities foster a divisive spirit, believing that they alone are "the true church." What does this even mean? Does this refer to traditionalists who literally think the Church presided over by Francis is a false church? That Francis is a false pope? Or perhaps it merely means the belief that Traditional Latin Mass reflects the authentic heart of our faith? It's hard to say. Traditionis Custodes does not elaborate on what the false premises affirmed by these divisive traditionalists actually consist of. It is impossible to determine when and whether someone is guilty of thinking they are "the true church", as the document provides no explanation of this new and dangerous schism, which is nevertheless so grave as to justify suppressing an entire rite. It is meant to cast suspicion on an entire subsection of the Church.
Also, the fact that the Holy Father is taking punitive action against an attitude is horrifying. And this isn't even speculation; Francis says plainly in his accompanying letter that his edict is prompted by "words and attitudes."
This is demonstrably false. The indult was not set up to heal the schism with the SSPX. Rather, the indult was set up to create a home for the faithful who loved the Latin Mass but nevertheless did not want to follow the SSPX into formal schism. That is to say, the object of John Paul II's legislation was the faithful who did not want to join the SSPX; but Pope Francis says that the object of John Paul's legislation was the SSPX. This is a colossal blunder. Rorate Caeli has an excellent piece documenting the way John Paul's intent is mischaracterized by Francis.
Despite the motu proprio's insistence that the abuses in the Novus Ordo be checked, we all know that will never happen. If Francis is really concerned about Catholics dissenting from Church teaching, then Traditionis Custodes is like pulling the speck from the traditionalists' eye without removing the plank in the eye of the Novus Ordo. Polls consistently show that 89% of Catholics reject papal authority to teach on the immorality of contraception; 51% reject papal teaching on abortion. And 69% of Catholics do not believe in transubstantiation (source). Is the Holy Father distressed about this? Is he going to take decisive action against these people?
Of course not. The double standard does not invalidate the weight of Traditionis Custodes (whatever that may be), but it does destroy any pretense of good will on the part of the Holy Father, and it destroys any likelihood that the faithful will receive this with docility. In the face of such brazen injustice, the prospect of traditional Catholics just rolling over and accepting this is ridiculous. This is just going to cause more trouble. And it was 100% avoidable. What a waste. Talk about fights that did not need to happen.
One of the most laughable passages in the accompanying letter is where the pope says, "Whoever wishes to celebrate with devotion according to earlier forms of the liturgy can find in the reformed Roman Missal according to Vatican Council II all the elements of the Roman Rite, in particular the Roman Canon which constitutes one of its more distinctive elements."
This is a frighteningly reductionist view of the liturgy. There is a certain attitude amongst conservative Catholics that the only thing that matters in the liturgy is a valid Eucharist. "It's still Jesus!" they would predictably intone, as the balloons ascended and the sanctuary was filled with the strumming of guitars. This represents a radical minimalist view of the liturgy, reducing the Mass down to its most barebone component and rejoicing that we at least still have the sine qua non of the liturgy. Pope Francis evidences a similar view with this quote: the entire liturgical tradition of the West is boiled down to just the Roman Canon. "What are you complaining about? You have the Roman Canon." If that's the pope's view of continuity, then literally nothing in the Church is safe from his novelty. I hope more people realize what a horrifically reductionist hermeneutic this is. It's as if after years of feeding my children healthy, balanced meals, I suddenly throw them outside and tell them to eat insects. And when they complain that they can't survive on insects, I dismissively say, "It's still protein."
"What are we to do?" That's really what everyone wants to know. To this I shrug. I don't know. But I will say two things:
(1) Traditional Catholics have a tendency towards scrupulosity. We worry way too much about rules, about minutiae, about jots and tittles. And the current situation just exacerbates scrupulous anxieties. This development has put many of us in extremely challenging dilemmas that no Catholic should ever have to be in. No Catholic should have to pit pope against liturgy, obedience against worship, fidelity to tradition against the living magisterium. In these dilemmas, we cannot afford to be overly scrupulous. I'm speaking to laypeople, but also bishops and priests. We are way too litigious in the West. With all the shit going on in the world and the church, with civilization falling apart and the Church in total chaos, with all the confusion and misinformation and lies and double-standards being vomited forth from the hierarchy on a daily basis, do you really think God is laying the responsibility entirely on your shoulder for determining the precise canonical status of that independent chapel? Just do what you need to do and don't worry too much about the fine print.
Also, I said "shit" just to irritate the scrupulous people who, in a post about this crisis, will think complaining about the word "shit" in the combox is the best use of their energy.
(2) As awful as this situation is, I always try to remember that the Mass is not my faith. It's an integral part of how I live my faith, but my faith is much bigger than the Mass. I make this point because people will message me and say "This is damaging my faith." I don't know if they really mean that, in the sense that this is making them believe in God less; sometimes I think they just mean "This is making it challenging for me to live my faith." The Latin Mass is an absolute treasure. But God doesn't owe you the Mass. He gives it, and He can remove it. If deprivation of access to the Latin Mass actually makes you lose your faith, what would you have done in Japan all those centuries when the Catholics there had no Mass? Or in Elizabethan England? Would you have simply lost faith? Many of the Desert Fathers didn't even go to Mass at all; nor immured nuns in the Middle Ages, nor many of the hermits.
God is still on the throne. Jesus is still risen from the dead. I am still redeemed by His blood and incorporated into His body through the sacred font of baptism. Has any of that changed? No. None of it has changed, and therefore my faith is unchanged. I don't mean to diminish the importance of the Mass in any way; but if your actual faith in God is predicated upon a certain level of access to the Traditional Mass, where will your faith be when it becomes even more difficult in ages to come? I am not insulting you if your faith is being challenged. Rather, I am challenging you to go back to the basics, the unchanging truths that no prelate can touch. Have faith in God. And I'm not talking about "Have faith that the Traditional Latin Mass will triumph!" or "Have faith that some future pope will reverse all this." I mean have faith that God is with us, that the blood of Christ had freed us from sin, and that in Him we can live a life of grace and holiness—even if these disorders are never remedied unto the very ending of the world.
Click here for a Spanish language version of this article.