How bishops restrict and subvert the Traditional Latin Mass despite Summorum Pontificum
July 7, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – The traditional Catholic world has been buzzing with rumors over the past few weeks about Pope Francis and the Vatican moving to restrict Catholics from access to the Traditional Latin Mass, the increasingly popular form of the Mass which was the only Mass every Roman Catholic knew until the liberalizing reforms of Vatican II in the 1970s.
After the Second Vatican Council, Catholics who wanted to go to the Traditional Latin Mass (also known as the “TLM,” the “Old Mass,” the “Mass of the Ages,” the “Tridentine Mass,” the “Latin Mass,” the “Extraordinary Form of the Mass”) had limited options. Over the years, and with the establishment of more traditional orders and the institution of more Latin-friendly bishops, the availability of the TLM grew around the world. And as its availability grew, so did its popularity. Young people who hadn’t grown up with the Old Mass discovered it, and were drawn to its reverence, its grandeur, its otherworldliness.
On July 7, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI issued a motu proprio called Summorum Pontificum which clarified that the Old Mass was never abolished, and every priest in the entire world has the right to say it and does not need his bishops’ permission to do so.
“What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us, too,” the now-Pope emeritus wrote.
Summorum Pontificum was a game-changer for orthodox priests who previously had had to delicately navigate their aging Baby Boomer bishops’ opposition to the TLM, or just hide their interest in the TLM completely. Suddenly any parish priest could begin offering the Old Mass, and guess what – he had Rome on his side, and there was nothing his crabby old bishop could do about it.
It was a game-changer for the faithful, too, and interest in the Old Mass exploded. Almost every TLM Catholics can now access in the U.S. is available in part or completely because of Summorum Pontificum.
Despite all of this, and as rumors about an “update” or rescission of Summorum Pontificum float around, it’s important to note that bishops are still able to restrict the Latin Mass in their dioceses, despite it being against Church rules for them to do so. Of course, the “crabby old bishops” referenced above have always been able to send “problem” priests who use too much incense or preach a little too much about homosexuality off to a parish assignment in the middle of nowhere. Such priests can be made parochial vicars to vicious, left-wing pastors and their petty “parish councils.” Just like it’s very easy for a military commander to make the lives of his direct subordinates really, really miserable without technically doing anything illegal or “wrong,” it’s very easy for a bishop who doesn’t like a particular traditional priest to ruin or inconvenience his life.
Similarly, bishops can make it very hard on seminarians who want to learn the Old Mass and offer it once ordained.
Should Summorum Pontificum be abrogated, these power dynamics will only get worse.
Below are a few examples of how bishops, and in some cases left-wing pastors, restrict the Traditional Latin Mass despite Summorum Pontificum. Close friends were parties in all of the following cases, which all occurred in America:
Parishioners of a parish offering a once-a-month Latin Mass in a heavily Protestant state with a very small Catholic population were informed that Catholics attending the Latin Mass ought to learn Latin. Parishioners were confused about where this directive came from and why it was being suggested (there is no requirement anywhere in canon law that Catholics who want to attend a particular Mass must know Latin or any other language. Did the peasants who became saints by going to the Latin Mass centuries ago even know how to read Latin or the vernacular?). Diocesan coronavirus guidelines also banned Communion on the tongue, which is the only way Communion can be received at the TLM. The parish eventually discontinued its Latin Mass altogether. The closest available Latin Mass is now about two hours away.
College students in another heavily Protestant state were forced to have their visiting priest offer the Old Mass in a chemistry classroom rented from the university because the regular Catholic campus ministry wouldn’t allow it in their parish church. Under canon law, pastors have quite a bit of say over what goes on in their parish. In this particular diocese, the bishop has tended to name leftist priests as pastors, and thus limited what the young, good, conservative/orthodox priests can do in diocesan churches.
In the above-mentioned college town, a local priest (not affiliated with the campus ministry) wouldn’t let one of his parish churches (a historic church across town that the parish had outgrown, but still used for some daily Masses) be used for the Old Mass (“too divisive”) but would allow Protestants to have Sunday liturgies there. This could occasionally be overridden by a now-deceased retired bishop of the diocese, who would inform that priest he planned to offer the Old Mass at the church and then would show up and do so to the delight of the tradition-starved faithful.
A well-known Catholic community whose parish already has a weekly Sunday TLM is being forced to get permission from their bishop to add a weekday Latin Mass at a convenient time. Does this parish require permission from the bishop if Father wants to add another weekday Mass in English? I doubt it.
The rector of a basilica in Florida told a young, D.C.-based couple planning on getting married in their native Sunshine State, “It’s very simple…I will not allow a Latin Mass in my church.” The priest “assured me in the same stroke of his pen that the bishop would support him, and I would do well not to bother” to lobby the bishop, the groom in that situation wrote. The couple, with whom I am friends, was forced to change wedding locations 10 days before the ceremony.
If Summorum Pontificum is indeed axed, it will prove very difficult for tradition-hating prelates to actually abolish the Old Mass altogether. It never died after Vatican II, and was preserved by the careful efforts of groups like the Society of St. Pius X. Summorum Pontificum then fully freed the Tridentine Mass to the ordinary faithful (Father John Zuhlsdorf calls it “the Emancipation Proclamation”) and unleashed its beauty and mystery on the world.
Good luck putting that genie – and fan base, if you will – back in the bottle.