Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

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Did French bishops just declare war on the traditional Mass?

The French Bishops’ conference suggests that the 'exclusive use of the extraordinary form' should be revoked.
Tue Feb 2, 2021 - 12:52 pm EST
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FRANCE, February 2, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – The French Bishops’ conference (CEF) has produced a report on the application of Pope Benedict XVI’s Motu proprio Summorum Pontificum in France, in order to assess the way in which the Vetus Ordo of the Roman Rite – the so-called “extraordinary form” – is being celebrated and lived out in the Catholic dioceses of France. The survey came as a response to a questionnaire from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the faith that was sent to all countries of the world last April and that should normally have resulted in a worldwide report. The fact that the French Bishops’ conference should have preemptively presented a national synthesis for France has given rise to speculation: is the CEF aiming to bear pressure on Rome’s own, yet to be published appraisal of the usus antiquior in the Latin Church?

If such is the case, that pressure is certainly hostile to the large “traditional” Catholic community in France – so much so that Jean des Tauriers, president of Notre Dame de Chrétienté that organizes the yearly, 20,000-strong traditional pilgrimage from Paris to Chartres, summarized his reaction with this question: “Who can have written such a document? How can the French Bishops’ Conference have produced a document so far removed from commonly agreed terms of language and also from the most elementary charity?”

In a 10-page, unsigned synthesis made available online, among others, by the pro-traditional Mass association “Paix liturgique” (see here), the CEF makes clear that most bishops in France are critical of many aspects of the traditional Roman Rite and of the priests and faithful who are attached to it – especially the young – accusing the Summorum Pontificum community of living out the faith in a “parallel” Church and suggesting that efforts should be made so that all priests who celebrate in the traditional rite should also use the “ordinary form.”

The document reads like a classic progressivist analysis of the situation and contains many disparaging comments ranging from the training of priests in seminaries run by traditional institutes to the negative character traits of young people who prefer the traditional Latin Mass (TLM).

Paix liturgique commented: “From a political point of view, the realization of this synthesis is a kind of coup de force. The Roman Congregation itself should have analyzed the responses of the bishops and made a general synthesis of them. However, both the Italian and the French Conferences (and no doubt others as well) have decided to do this work themselves, which makes it possible, according to the usual inclination of bishops' conferences, to draw up a general line, to which a certain number of bishops will not relate, and to formulate wishes that are purported to be those of all.”

Remarkably, the CEF’s synthesis shows that at least 15,000 French Catholics practice their faith in TLM or bi-ritualist parishes and other sanctuaries approved by their local bishop – an under-estimated figure, according to Paix liturgique, whose surveys point to the much higher figure of  67,000, albeit including the faithful who join FSSPX (Priestly fraternity of Saint Pius Xth) Masses.

France has been a historic fighting ground for the TLM since the introduction of the “Mass of Paul VI” in 1969: nowadays, both FSSPX chapels and “Motu proprio” Masses attract not only those who are presented as “nostalgic” of the “old Mass,” but many young people, young families and converts in a country where religious practice has declined catastrophically among the younger generations of the “underprivileged” socio-professional categories.

A certain resentment against the often-flourishing TLM communities can be sensed in the French Bishops’ official synthesis, in particular in its systematic minimization of regular TLM-goers (“20 to 70” per venue in most dioceses where one or two “Motu proprio” Sunday Masses are usually available, although four dioceses offer none at all). Given the hundred or so dioceses existing in France, one wonders why such a supposedly marginal phenomenon should be causing concern to the CEF… Roughly half of the dioceses offering TLM have called on traditional institutes such as the FSSP (Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter) or the ICKSP (Institute of Christ the King). Four “personal parishes” exist in Blois, Laval, Strasbourg and Versailles, solely for the traditional rite.

The diocese of Versailles is an exception or a flagship: 17 “Motu proprio” Masses every Sunday, with 11 in the city of Versailles alone: 9 percent of practicing Catholics (5,500) frequent the TLM there (not counting the FSSPX), according to the document.

To the second question in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s survey regarding the “pastoral need” for the TLM, two-thirds of the French bishops answered that this need does exist. The rest often responded: “The extraordinary form is more an answer to the expectations of some rather than to a pastoral need.” And the CEF commented: “When do the faithful’s expectations become a pastoral need?”

Several bishops noted that they offer Motu proprio Masses to “allow the faithful to retain a bond with the Catholic Church” and to avoid their going to an FSSPX Mass, but, added the CEF: “When a place run by the FSSPX is nearby, there is no notable flux of a return to the Catholic Church” – even though the excommunications of the bishops ordained by Bishop Lefebvre in 1988 were lifted by Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis gave its priests the legal power to celebrate marriages and to hear confessions.

As an aside, it should be added that the two strict COVID-19 lockdowns in France last Spring and in November led many Catholics to join more or less underground FSSPX Masses because many diocesan parishes were not offering public Mass.

The CEF voiced another negative comment regarding the principle of offering diocesan TLM: “It often simply maintains the faithful in a particular conception of the Church (rejection of Vatican II, criticism of Pope Francis, hostility to a Church that is too ‘open’).”

While the document does acknowledge that these TLM venues are mostly promoted by “young large families,” it immediately regrets that these faithful find support for their “individualism” and their “cliquishness,” adding that some bishops have questions about the “theological training” priests from the FSSP or ICKSP – although seminarians or young priests who frequented both a diocesan seminary and then a traditional one are often critical of the lack of well-grounded training in the former.

The idea of the CEF is clearly to evaluate the priests hailing from the latter, as its document openly states.

The CEF recognizes that the traditional Mass has some positive aspects (question 3) such as a clearer sense of the “sacrificial” aspect, “heartbalm for those who were wounded after Vatican II,” “solemnity” and even: “Celebrating ad orientem could be an antidote to the threat of clericalism.”

But according to the document, the “negative aspects” far outweigh the positive ones, through “wounding the unity of the Church,” criticism of the “conciliar Church,” the “inducing of a parallel Church” of even of “Two Churches.” Individualism, subjectivism and “self-centeredness” are pointed at and the FSSP priests, who refuse any kind of concelebration, are especially singled out. The faithful are accused of not participating in diocesan activities and the use of the traditional calendar and lectionary are pointed at for allowing them “limited access to the Word of God.”

“These faithful are depriving themselves of liturgical riches linked to the reform;” “Reading one’s bilingual missal does not foster union of hearts;” “the poor quality of the sermons” are but some of the criticisms leveled at the TLM communities and their pastors who are deemed to become useless for other tasks as they “specialize” in the Old Rite and in catechism classes that are very different from those dispensed in the official circuit. The faithful are accused of having certain political views (such as monarchism) and of “exerting pressure to get what they want.” The CEF even deplores the “impossibility of organizing common moments of prayer such as Vespers or Adoration” – in a context where many traditional Masses are grudgingly conceded and no time is offered for such celebrations.

Worst of all, according to the CEF, “the authority of the bishop over these communities is next to zero.” The question is, of course, why – when so many Catholic parents realize that the religious education offered in many dioceses does not actually teach their children about the dogmas of the Faith.

The CEF acknowledges that Benedict XVIth’s Motu proprio brought with it a form of appeasement, but adds: “one would have hoped that a dialogue would have been initiated regarding in-depth acceptance of the conciliar teachings.”

“Some bishops have questions about the true communion of these faithful with the Catholic Church,” the document reveals. This is a grave accusation: it implies that people who frequent the TLM within their diocese and under approval of the Church have actually already separated from the Church.

Interestingly, in the commentary on Question 4 regarding the correct implementation of Summorum Pontificum, the CEF notes that the idea of a “stable group” that is allowed to ask for the TLM is not clear: “We can but notice that in many places where the TLM is celebrated, a pole of attraction is established where faithful come from afar, and sometimes even from other dioceses.”

The CEF also condemns the “sometimes critical and suspicious attitude of these communities towards the conciliar Church, beyond the liturgical issue,” “homilies are sometimes revealing of this drift.”

Question 5 asked whether elements of the TLM were being imported into the “ordinary form.” The answer was: “marginally,” with more Latin, old vestments, the adding of signs of the Cross, veiling statues during the Passion weeks, use of the communion-plate… Some bishops attribute the more careful celebration of the New Mass by young priests not to the influence of the TLM, but to “a generational issue.” But the CEF adds: “When some elements are introduced into the ordinary form, they are more often a cause for tensions than of enrichment. ‘Often, extraordinary means exclusive.’”

The CEF glosses over the use of the 1962 missal as required by Summorum Pontificum, but stresses that the bishop of Nîmes finds it “difficult to know whether the prayer for the Jews on Good Friday is effectively recited in the way Pope Benedict XVI modified it, and the same goes for the use of certain prefaces.”

As regards the other Sacraments and catechesis (Question 7), most bishops celebrate confirmations in the traditional rite once a year or once in every two years for these communities, but the CEF notes that many bishops have questions about the Catechism used to prepare for the Sacraments: “This catechesis is often very remote from that offered by the diocese.”

Question 8 asks about the impact of Summorum Pontificum on life in seminaries. The answer, as synthesized by the CEF, reveals that most of the handful of seminaries that are still functioning in France hardly ever offer the TLM: some seminarians left them to join the FSSP, others “train individually thanks to their own network or during a stay at a TLM religious community; others take advantage of their holidays to familiarize themselves with the TLM.”

In other words, many French diocesan seminarians receive little or no training in the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite; bishops are instead stressing the importance of “training to understand the liturgy… in order to obtain a correct comprehension of the ordinary form.” “It would be wrong to give rise… to the belief that there are two forms in the Latin Church between which you can choose. A pedagogy must be devised so that the presentation of the TLM can be made in a non-divisive manner,” summarizes the CEF.

It also remarks: “One bishop suggested that we should think about training a few seminarians for the TLM in order to break free from depending on particular institutes, and especially the FSSP, that exclusively use the extraordinary form.” It adds that “seminarians do not master Latin” – not very surprising, given that Latin is only taught in the traditional way in independent Catholic schools, mostly attached to the TLM: in State-funded schools, Latin is taught – when it is taught! – using “whole language” methods.

The CEF document also reveals that “bishops are attentive to the training given in their seminaries… and they exert vigilance as to the manner in which seminarians live out their attachment to the liturgy.” This sounds like a form of surveillance regarding the possible influence of the traditional rite.

Question 9 asked the bishops to offer their advice regarding the TLM. The CEF noted several major trends. Some spoke of “the wounding of unity” in their diocese, as well as the possibility for an “insidious implementation of parallel pastoral care”: “Some bishops note that these communities are often vindicative; the Motu proprio has often simply bolstered a small minority in its shortcomings and in the cultivation of its particularisms by asking for more and more rights. A world apart, a parallel Church is in formation.”

The CEF also favorably presents the suggestion that the TLM should adopt the new lectionary “to help FSSP and ICKSP priests to enter into the intelligence of liturgical teachings that emerged from the [liturgical] reform but also in that of Verbum Domini or Evangelii Gaudium.”

It is not a surprise to learn that the CEF’s document suggests that the “exclusive use of the extraordinary form” should be revoked: it even asserts that the FSSP’s exclusive celebration of the TLM is “a cause for scandal,” grave words that are usually applied to situations where great sins are involved. “One bishop suggested not to incardinate a priest who would refuse to celebrate in the ordinary form.”

The CEF also puts forward a “doctrinal concern,” suggesting that there is “an underlying ecclesiological issue linked to the implementation of the Motu proprio.” “It would be wrong here to forget the moral teaching of the Church – and that includes the reception of Amoris Laetitia.”

The CEF would like to see “missionary dynamics” in communities where they are “weak,” in order for them to conform to Pope Francis’ vision. Beyond “personal sensitivity” regarding liturgy, the bishops of France (or at least those who have the upper hand in the CEF) suggest that priests should “work on the link between the Eucharist and apostolic life at the service of a part of the People of God.” They add: “The FSSO could also deploy its zeal in favor of other persons than communities celebrating in the ordinary form” (this is probably a slip of the pen).

In a short comment, fsspx.news noted that the missionary spirit of Novus Ordo parishes remains to be proved: “The regular decline of practicing Catholics is a sure witness… It is clear that if the churches are emptying, it is because of doctrinal and moral deficiencies and of the meagerness of the spiritual life being offered by the ‘conciliar’ Church.”

Finally, the CEF suggests several “points of attention” that deserve to be translated in full:

  • Take care not to extend the TLM so as not to induce a wrongful understanding of the place of this form that would end up being considered as a rite.
  • A fragile and identity-conscious youth is easily fascinated by the TLM. It is reinforced in its siege mentality by mediocre sermons and by social media that impoverish thought and reinforce the young in their ideas and even their excesses.
  • Liturgical education (Ars celebrandi) and historical and theological training that insist on ecclesiology (study of the Dogmatic Constitutions and pastoral care according to Vatican II).
  • Verifying the obedience of the communities that celebrate in the extraordinary form.

The questionnaire left the bishops wondering at young people’s “craze” for the extraordinary form; “the scrupulous form,” as the document put it.

It also led them to question Summorum pontificum itself: “The publication of the Motu proprio demonstrates commendable intent but it is not giving expected fruits. While it honors a principle of reality, un untiring work for unity appears necessary. The promise of mutual enrichment of the two forms of the one Roman Rite remain largely inchoative. Sterilizing mutual distrust remains. The concern for the unity of the Church is not honored in full by the implementation of the Motu proprio. The implementation of this letter ultimately poses ecclesiological questions rather than liturgical ones.”

Put in plainer terms, the French bishops’ conference is accusing Pope Benedict of having favored a drift towards schism by pandering to anti-Vatican II, self-centered Catholics whose catholicity should now be questioned, their communities watched and the priests who serve them put under scrutiny.

Jean des Tauriers’ comment on what looks like a declaration of war on the part of the CEF underscores an important point:

“The text in itself is not surprising when one frequents certain French episcopal circles. It represents the historical canal of the progressive reforms, of the great pastoral, liturgical and suchlike experiments of the sixties. In France, these ill-inspired and badly conducted reforms aroused a powerful traditional reaction that created, among other things, Notre-Dame de Chrétienté. Benedict XVI wanted to appease the spirits through an act of reconciliation (the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum of 2007). The reading of this synthesis of the CEF clearly shows that the motu proprio was ultimately never accepted or understood by many dioceses.”

He added:

“We meet many priests and seminarians in our pilgrimages who do not all come from the so-called ‘Eccesia Dei’ environment. Remember all those conversations with priests, seminarians and sometimes bishops during our pilgrimage. The Catholic friendship that unites us is much more important than the stereotypes being spread by the synthesis. This friendship is the fruit of Benedict XVI’s motu proprio. When he was Cardinal Ratzinger, he assured us that we had our full place in the Church, just as we were, that is, integrally.

“Dear pilgrim friends of Notre Dame de Chrétienté, I understand your resentment in the face of this ill-treatment. You are involved in your workplaces, in schools, in pro-life movements, in the defense of the family, in evangelization. …You fight every day so that your children may receive a Catholic catechism, and Catholic sacraments in an atheistic and anti-Catholic world. You are right to support the priests of communities who give their lives for your souls. Let us neither be discouraged nor divided. This synthesis of the CEF shows no understanding for the difficulty of Christian life in a ‘world that has ceased to be Christian’. This anti-Catholic world, dear friends, is a legacy you have inherited and those who today criticize and judge you, are those who attended in the front row the collapse of the Catholic Church in France!

“The last ‘observant’ French Catholic families have no use for this hatred, this shriveled resentment. They simply ask for the basic charity of the Catholic towards his neighbor and also, for the salvation of our souls, the possibility of carrying on the experiment of tradition.”


  benedict xvi, catholic, france, french bishops, french bishops conference, jean des tauriers, notre dame de chrétienté, paix liturgique, pope benedict xvi, pope francis, summorum pontificum, traditional latin mass

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