Latin for 'Guardians of the tradition'
Apostolic letter of Pope
|Signature date||16 July 2021|
|Subject||On the use of the Roman liturgy prior to the reform of 1970|
Traditionis custodes (Guardians of the Tradition) is an apostolic letter issued motu proprio by Pope Francis, promulgated on 16 July 2021. It restricts the celebration of the Tridentine Mass of the Roman Rite, sometimes colloquially called the "Latin Mass" or the "Traditional Latin Mass". The apostolic letter was accompanied by an ecclesiastical letter to the bishops of the world.
In 1969, the first new edition of the Roman Missal based on the revisions of the Second Vatican Council was promulgated, instituting a new form of the Roman Rite's Mass liturgy. Often referred to as the Mass of Paul VI, this edition of the Roman Missal was produced in Latin with consideration that it was to be translated into the vernacular. It replaced the Roman Missal of the Tridentine Mass, the last edition of which was promulgated in 1962, as well as the various vernacular translations that are often referred to as the "1965 Missal," though themselves not a new form of the Roman Missal. In 1971, the Liturgy of the Hours - also prepared with expectation of translation into the vernacular - was introduced to replace the 1960 edition of the Roman Breviary as the primary form of prayer for the canonical hours within the Latin Church.
John Paul II in Quattuor abhinc annos in 1984 liberalised the use of the Tridentine Mass, while still maintaining limitations on its use. This liberalisation was further expanded by the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei in 1988.
In 2007, Benedict XVI published the apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum which stated that while the Roman Missal promulgated by Paul VI is "the ordinary expression of the lex orandi [law of prayer] of the Catholic Church of the Latin Rite," the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Pius V and revised by John XXIII is nevertheless to be considered "an extraordinary expression" of the same lex orandi of the church. The Tridentine Mass was thus called the "Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite," and the Mass of Paul VI the "Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite."
Benedict decreed that "any Catholic priest of the Latin rite" may use either form and "needs no permission" from his bishop or from the Holy See to do so. He concluded then that "these two expressions of the church's lex orandi will in no way lead to a division in the church's lex credendi [law of faith], for they are two usages of the one Roman rite." Benedict also wrote that faithfuls could complain to their bishop or even to the Holy See if their requests for celebration of the extraordinary form were denied. This apostolic letter of Benedict XVI, in brief, allowed any priest of the Latin Church to celebrate the Tridentine Mass according to the Roman Missal of 1962 without needing to have his bishop or the Holy See's permission. "Prior to that law, priests and faithful who wished to celebrate the Traditional [Tridentine] Latin Mass had to request explicit permission from their bishop. It could only be offered to those who requested it; it was not allowed to be on the normal Mass schedule for parish churches; and the bishop could set specific days and conditions for its celebration."
In May 2021, less than two months before Traditionis custodes was published, a rumor said that during a "closed-door question-and-answer session" with the members of the Italian bishops' conference, Francis stated that the draft of a text restricting the celebration of the pre-Vatican II Mass was awaiting his approval.
Traditionis custodes not only repealed the changes liberalising use of the Tridentine Mass in the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, which had been issued by Francis's predecessor, Benedict XVI, in 2007, but it also went further to limit the practice of the Tridentine Mass.
The apostolic letter is divided into 8 articles.
In the apostolic letter, Francis writes as first article that the liturgical books issued by Popes Paul VI and John Paul II after Vatican II are "the unique expression of the lex orandi [law of prayer] of the Roman Rite."
Another measure is that "The bishop of the diocese in which until now there exist one or more groups that celebrate according to the Missal antecedent to the reform of 1970" has "to determine that these groups do not deny the validity and the legitimacy of the liturgical reform, dictated by Vatican Council II and the Magisterium of the Supreme Pontiffs".
Moreover, the diocesan bishop has "to designate one or more locations", excluding the parochial churches and without erecting new personal parishes where the faithful adherents of those groups may gather to perform Tridentine Mass. In short, bishops must find alternate locations for groups practising the Tridentine Mass without creating new parishes.
The diocesan bishop must also establish "the days on which eucharistic celebrations are permitted using the Roman Missal promulgated by Saint John XXIII in 1962" and ensure that the readings are "in the vernacular language, using translations of the Sacred Scripture approved for liturgical use by the respective episcopal conferences".
Furthermore, the diocesan bishop must appoint a properly-trained priest as his delegate to perform the Tridentine Mass and supervise groups that practice it. The priest must be familiar with the Tridentine Mass and have an understanding of Latin sufficient "for a thorough comprehension of the rubrics and liturgical texts". "This priest should have at heart not only the correct celebration of the liturgy, but also the pastoral and spiritual care of the faithful".
The diocesan bishop also has to "verify that the parishes canonically erected for the benefit of these faithful are effective for their spiritual growth, and to determine whether or not to retain them".
The diocesan bishop must not "authorize the establishment of new groups". The Associated Press paraphrases: "bishops are no longer allowed to authorize the formation of any new pro-Latin Mass groups in their dioceses".
Priests ordained after the publication of the motu proprio who wish to celebrate Mass according to the Tridentine Mass "should submit a formal request to the diocesan bishop who shall consult the Apostolic See before granting this authorization". Priests who already celebrate using the Roman Missal of 1962 "should request from the diocesan Bishop the authorization to continue to enjoy this faculty".
Institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life that were established by the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei,- which was created by John Paul II in 1988 and merged into the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2019, now fall under the jurisdiction of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (CICLSAL).
Both the CICLSAL and the Congregation for Divine Worship "for matters of their particular competence, exercise the authority of the Holy See with respect to the observance of these provisions", which means that requests are to be sent to those two dicasteries, which exercise the authority of the Holy See in overseeing those provisions.
In the letter accompanying the document, Francis explains that the concessions granted by his predecessors John Paul II and Benedict XVI for the use of the 1962 Roman Missal were above all "motivated by the desire to foster the healing of the schism with the movement of Mons. Lefebvre". The request directed to the Catholic bishops to generously welcome the "just aspirations" of the members of the faithful who request the use of this Missal was also motivated by "the ecclesial intention of restoring the unity of the Church," writes Francis. He adds that he believes "many in the Church came to regard this faculty as an opportunity to adopt freely the Roman Missal promulgated by St. Pius V and use it in a manner parallel to the Roman Missal promulgated by St. Paul VI".
Francis recalled that Benedict XVI's decision promulgated with the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum (2007), as well as John Paul II's decisions promulgated by Quattuor abhinc annos and Ecclesia Dei, were sustained by the confidence that "such a provision would not place in doubt one of the key measures of Vatican Council II or minimize in this way its authority". Francis also noted that Pope Benedict had called in 2007 "unfounded" the fear that parishes would be divided by the use of two forms and believed that the two forms would, Benedict said, "enrich one another".
In 2020, Francis asked the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to send a letter to bishops to ask them about the implementation of Summorum Pontificum. Francis says the bishops' answers "reveal a situation that preoccupies and saddens me." He explains that "an opportunity offered by St. John Paul II and, with even greater magnanimity, by Benedict XVI, intended to recover the unity of an ecclesial body with diverse liturgical sensibilities, was exploited 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."
Francis said that he deplores liturgical abuses "on all sides" and the fact that "in many places the prescriptions of the new Missal are not observed in celebration, but indeed come to be interpreted as an authorization for or even a requirement of creativity, which leads to almost unbearable distortions." However, Francis adds: "I am nonetheless saddened that the instrumental use of the Roman Missal of 1962 is often characterized by a rejection not only of the liturgical reform, but of the Vatican Council II itself, claiming, with unfounded and unsustainable assertions, that it betrayed the Tradition and the 'true Church.'" Francis reject that claim and explains that "the path of the Church must be seen within the dynamic of Tradition 'which originates from the Apostles and progresses in the Church with the assistance of the Holy Spirit' (Dei Verbum, 8)." He recalled that "a recent stage of this dynamic was constituted by Vatican Council II where the Catholic episcopate came together to listen and to discern the path for the Church indicated by the Holy Spirit." He added: "To doubt the Council is to doubt the intentions of those very Fathers who exercised their collegial power in a solemn manner cum Petro et sub Petro [with Peter and under Peter] in an ecumenical council, and, in the final analysis, to doubt the Holy Spirit itself who guides the Church."
He said the liturgical reform was carried out "based on the principles" given by the Second Vatican Council and reached "its highest expression in the Roman Missal" published by Pope Paul VI and revised by Pope John Paul II.
Francis also stated: "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."
Francis states his "final reason" for his decision is that "ever more plain in the words and attitudes of many is the close connection between the choice of celebrations according to the liturgical books prior to Vatican Council II and the rejection of the Church and her institutions in the name of what is called the 'true Church.'" Francis adds: "One is dealing here with comportment that contradicts communion and nurtures the divisive tendency--'I belong to Paul; I belong instead to Apollo; I belong to Cephas; I belong to Christ'--against which the Apostle Paul so vigorously reacted.[a]" For this reason, he says, "In defense of the unity of the Body of Christ, I am constrained to revoke the faculty granted by my Predecessors. The distorted use that has been made of this faculty is contrary to the intentions that led to granting the freedom to celebrate the Mass with the Missale Romanum of 1962."
According to Francis, John Paul II in 1988 and Benedict XVI in 2007 were motivated to allow "the use of the Roman Missal of 1962" for the celebration of the Mass "to promote the concord and unity of the church" and "to facilitate the ecclesial communion of those Catholics who feel attached to some earlier liturgical forms." He says that his predecessors "were confident that such a provision would not place in doubt one of the key measures of Vatican Council II, or minimize in this way its authority", but that things did not develop the way his predecessors intended; Francis states that therefore he had to act because the unity of the church was now threatened.
In this letter, Francis writes: "I take the firm decision to abrogate all the norms, instructions, permissions and customs that precede the present motu proprio, and declare that the liturgical books promulgated by the saintly Pontiffs Paul VI and John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of Vatican Council II, constitute the unique expression of the lex orandi [law of prayer] of the Roman Rite. I take comfort in this decision from the fact that, after the Council of Trent, St. Pius V also abrogated all the rites that could not claim a proven antiquity, establishing for the whole Latin Church a single Roman Missal."
Francis added that during four centuries, this Roman Missal was "the principal expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite, and functioned to maintain the unity of the Church" until "without denying the dignity and grandeur of this Rite" the bishops "gathered in ecumenical council asked that it be reformed". Francis says that their intention was that "the faithful would not assist as strangers and silent spectators in the mystery of faith, but, with a full understanding of the rites and prayers, would participate in the sacred action consciously, piously, and actively." He adds: "St. Paul VI, recalling that the work of adaptation of the Roman Missal had already been initiated by Pius XII, declared that the revision of the Roman Missal, carried out in the light of ancient liturgical sources, had the goal of permitting the church to raise up, in the variety of languages, 'a single and identical prayer' that expressed her unity. This unity I intend to re-establish throughout the church of the Roman Rite."
Pope Francis appeals to the bishops in his letter, saying: "While in the exercise of my ministry in the service of unity, I take the decision to suspend the faculty granted by my predecessors, I ask you to share with me this burden as a form of participation in the solicitude for the whole Church proper to the bishops."
Francis gave explicit instructions to the bishops to take measures to strongly limit the use of the Tridentine Rite, with the clear goal of getting all Catholics to eventually celebrate only the reformed liturgy which followed Vatican II. Francis wrote: "Indications about how to proceed in your dioceses are chiefly dictated by two principles: on the one hand, to provide for the good of those who are rooted in the previous form of celebration and need to return in due time to the Roman Rite promulgated by Saints Paul VI and John Paul II, and, on the other hand, to discontinue the erection of new personal parishes tied more to the desire and wishes of individual priests than to the real need of the 'holy People of God.'"
Francis adds that he asks the bishops "to be vigilant in ensuring that every liturgy be celebrated with decorum and fidelity to the liturgical books promulgated after Vatican Council II, without the eccentricities that can easily degenerate into abuses. Seminarians and new priests should be formed in the faithful observance of the prescriptions of the Missal and liturgical books, in which is reflected the liturgical reform willed by Vatican Council II."
Prelates including Cardinals Raymond Burke, Gerhard Müller and Joseph Zen and many lay attendees of the Tridentine Mass criticized Traditionis custodes. The general criticism is that Traditionis custodes and its restrictions are "unnecessary, needlessly harsh, and implemented in an unjustifiably swift fashion." Traditionis custodes was welcomed by some Catholics, some of whom view it as a step towards unity in the church.
Kurt Martens, professor of canon law at the Catholic University of America, noted that the term "extraordinary form" is no longer used in the new legislation and that the new motu proprio "establishes that liturgical books promulgated in conformity with the decrees of Vatican Council II are the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite." He adds: "Diocesan bishops are given broad responsibility with regard to the use of the former liturgy."
Christopher Bellitto, professor of church history at Kean University, said Francis was right to intervene, noting that Benedict XVI's original decision had had numerous unintended consequences that not only split the church but temporarily roiled relations with Jews. "Francis hits it right on the head with his observation that Benedict's 2007 loosening of regulations against the Latin rite allowed others to use it for division," he said. "The blowback[b] proves his point."
Martin Klöckener, professor of liturgy at the University of Fribourg, welcomed the motu proprio as a necessary correction to Benedict's approach. He noted that it restored some measure of the authority that Benedict had denied to local bishops. He also welcomed Francis's approach that makes the Mass of John XXIII the only form of pre-concilar Mass of the Roman Rite now permitted. He believes that Francis acted because in the 2020 survey "many bishops spoke a clearer language than was otherwise heard in public".
Douglas Farrow, professor of theology and ethics at McGill University, wrote: "In sum: Traditionis Custodes, alas, confirms that the old Mass has indeed become a proxy in the fight over the legacy of Vatican II, as much on the one side as on the other. It also confirms that in Rome rigidity is the order of the day."
Pope Francis' decision was interpreted by the priest Raymond J. de Souza as more a "sociological" decision relating to unity in the Catholic Church than a judgement of the Tridentine Missal's spiritual qualities.
Aficionados of the old rite like to talk about how that rite uniquely conveys the sense that each Mass is a part of the one eternal sacrifice of Christ [...] If the Eucharist is, as Vatican II taught, the source and summit of the Catholic faith, then we know that when the celebration of the Eucharist fails to serve the unity of the church, something is wrong, and it isn't ever the fault of him whose sacrifice we commemorate.
American Cardinal Raymond Burke told National Catholic Register that "he sees as a number of flaws in Traditionis Custodes, saying he could not understand how the new Roman Missal is the 'unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite,' as the new motu proprio states. The Extraordinary Form of the Mass 'is a living form of the Roman Rite and has never ceased to be so,' Cardinal Burke noted." He also could not understand why the motu proprio takes effect immediately, as the decree 'contains many elements that require study regarding its application.'" He added that "in his long experience he has not witnessed the 'gravely negative situation' Francis describes in his letter." He later published a statement regarding Traditionis custodes on his personal website. In this statement, he called the restrictions imposed by Francis "severe and revolutionary," and questioned the pope's authority to revoke the practice of the Tridentine Mass.
Cardinal Müller, who served as Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith until 2017, criticised the letter as "harsh", saying, "Instead of appreciating the smell of the sheep, the shepherd here hits them hard with his crook." He also contrasted the approach taken by Francis to curb the traditionalist movement with his failure to condemn "the innumerable 'progressive' abuses in the liturgy [...] that are tantamount to blasphemy."
Cardinal Joseph Zen released a statement on his personnal blog, in which he said: "Many tendentious generalizations in the documents [of the motu proprio] have hurt the hearts of many good people more than expected." He added that he believed that many people who had been hurt by the restrictions "have never given the smallest reason to be suspected of not accepting the liturgical reform of the [Second Vatican Council]."
Cardinal Walter Kasper, when asked to comment on Traditionis curstodes, said he believes the "overwhelming majority" of Catholic faithfuls are strongly against the Tridentine Mass, and that some of the Tridentine Mass adherents scandalise said majority by believing the Tridentin Mass is the only true Catholic Mass and by rejecting Vatican II "more or less in its entirety." He added that some faithful who attend the Tridentine Mass have turned Benedict XVI's efforts at reconciliation into division, and thus struck at the "very heart of the unity of the Church."
The president of the USCCB, José Horacio Gómez, states: "I welcome the Holy Father's desire to foster unity among Catholics who celebrate the Roman Rite. As these new norms are implemented, I encourage my brother bishops to work with care, patience, justice, and charity as together we foster a Eucharistic renewal in our nation."
The Bishops' Conference of France states that the bishops of France "wish to express to the faithful who habitually celebrate according to the Missal of St. John XXIII, and to their pastors, their care, the esteem they have for the spiritual zeal of these faithful, and their determination to continue the mission together, in the communion of the Church and according to the norms in force." It adds that "The motu proprio Traditionis custodes and the letter of the Holy Father to the bishops that introduces it are a demanding call for the whole Church to an authentic Eucharistic renewal. None can dispense with it."
American Jesuit priest and consultant to the Secretariat for Communications at the Vatican, James Martin, wrote in America Magazine, that "Overall, I agree with Francis's motu proprio, not simply based on my own experience of the growing divisiveness over the Mass, but even more on his consultation with bishops around the world who have weighed in on the experiences of the People of God."
It has been reported that Traditionis custodes demonstrated the growing influence of the liturgical faculty of the Sant'Anselmo University at the Vatican, as the newly appointed secretary and undersecretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Vittorio Francesco Viola and Aurelio García Macías, both studied at the institute. Andrea Grillo, a theologian and outspoken critic of Pope Benedict XVI's liberalization of the Traditional Latin Mass who has campaigned in favor of imposing an institutional silence on the pope emeritus (Benedict XVI), also taught at the institute.
Traditionalist Catholics "immediately decried [the document] as an attack on them and the ancient liturgy". The Tablet, a British Catholic publication, reported that many traditionalist Catholics were angered by Traditionis custodes, further stating that traditionalists expressed concern that certain bishops would use the motu proprio to prohibit the Tridentine Mass within their dioceses.
Joseph Shaw, the chairman of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales, said that the motu proprio appeared to "undo entirely the legal provisions made for the Traditional Mass by Pope Benedict, and to take us back not only to the situation before the 2007 apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum, but even before 1988, when Pope John Paul II -- who was canonized by Pope Francis -- described the more ancient Mass as a 'rightful aspiration' of the faithful. He also stated that Traditionis custodes was a "staggering document, exceeding our worst expectations. Pope Francis has completely undone the arrangements of Summorum Pontificum and crested a situation which seems entirely unworkable, banning the Extraordinary Form from parish churches." He also published a blog post on the subject on the Society's website.
The Foederatio Internationalis Una Voce released an official statement in which it rejected the idea that those who performed or assisted to Tridentine Masses were disobedient to the Catholic Church and the Second Vatican Council.
The Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter in a communiqué said it "ha[d] received Pope Francis' Motu Proprio Traditionis custodes with surprise". It adds that since the Fraternity is approved canonically, and had always been faithful to the "entire Magisterium of the Church" and to the pope, "[t]oday, therefore the Fraternity of St. Peter is deeply saddened by the reasons given for limiting the use of the Missal of Pope St. John XXIII, which is at the center of its charism".
Davide Pagliarani, Superior General of the SSPX, published a letter concerning Traditionis custodes. In it, he said: "We can point out, quite logically, that the era of the hermeneutics of continuity, with its equivocations, illusions and impossible efforts, is radically over - swept aside with a wave of a sleeve. These clear-cut measures do not directly affect the Society of Saint Pius X. However, they must be an occasion for us to reflect deeply on the situation." He added that "the Tridentine Mass expresses and conveys a conception of Christian life - and consequently, a conception of the Catholic Church - that is absolutely incompatible with the ecclesiology that emerged from the Second Vatican Council." He also stated: "May this 'shock', provoked by the harshness of the official texts of July 16th, serve to renew, deepen and rediscover our attachment to the Tridentine Mass!"
According to The Pillar's review of the Latin Mass Directory, there were 657 canonically regular venues that offered a Tridentine Mass in the United States prior to Traditionis custodes, including 49 operated exclusively by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP).
On 23 July 2021, Catholic News Agency reported on a survey of dioceses. The results were that although the majority of dioceses had not commented on the disposition of Traditionis custodes, most of the United States bishops who had to date issued statements on said dispositions had decided that priests who were already celebrating the Traditional Latin Mass may continue to do so.
In England, the first personal parish for celebration of the Tridentine Mass had been established in 2018, three years before Traditionis custodes would prohibit further creation of such parishes. The Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales did not issue a general statement regarding the celebration of the Tridentine Mass under the new regulations. Certain regularly-scheduled Tridentine Masses were permanently cancelled at the behest of local bishops within the first week, while other ordinaries stated they would grant temporary permissions until they had reviewed the motu proprio.
Texts of Francis