Who is Pope Francis punishing?
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July 19, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – In his Apostolic Letter Traditionis Custodes and its covering letter, Pope Francis is introducing stringent new restrictions on the celebration of the ancient Latin Mass, now called not the Extraordinary Form but simply the 1962 Missal or “earlier Missal.”
Pope Francis writes, in the letter, that the use of the 1962 Missal 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”.
Pope Francis indicates that this concern, and the desire for measures such as those he has adopted, has been expressed by bishops responding to the survey on the implementation of Summorum Pontificum which the Congregation for Divine Worship carried out in 2020. This is very surprising, since those who had sight of the results consistently reported that a great many bishops were positive about the place of the Old Mass in their diocese. Even the French bishops, whose rather negative collective response was leaked, had to acknowledge many positive aspects of the phenomenon, and concludes that “if it [Summorum Pontificum] honors a principle of reality, then a tireless work of unity is always necessary.” What the French bishops had in mind, to assist this “work of unity,” was things like reconciling the calendar and lectionary, issues which Pope Francis has not broached.
Wherever Pope Francis has received this idea about Latin Mass celebrations, the important question is whether it is true. Now notwithstanding that one can find on social media individuals (in some cases, individual robots) representing every possible version of extremism, the reality of the priests and faithful attached to the 1962 Missal is completely at odds with the picture painted in this Apostolic Letter. This can be seen both in the context of the ordinary pew-sitters, and of the leadership of the movement, both clerical and lay.
Catholic congregations are, or should be, fairly diverse. Some Catholics are immature, because some Catholics are literally children. Some Catholics are a bit grumpy, because they’ve had a bad week. This is true of those who go to all kinds of Mass. But in my experience of the Traditional Mass in a wide range of places, the great majority, if not necessarily the noisiest, of the people there, simply find in it spiritual consolation. If their association with it is of long-standing, they may have received treatment from priests and bishops which is less than one would hope and expect from a spiritual father. But the ones still at Mass are the ones who have not reacted with bitterness about the Church as a whole.
They are served by diocesan or regular priests, and by priests of the traditional institutes. The kind of language quoted above is completely alien to these men, who, like the laity, are the ones who have not abandoned their vocations, as tragically so many priests have over the years, or left the obedience of their bishop or superiors. In any case, if an individual priest was problematic in this way, it would be a simple matter for the bishop to remove him from pastoral ministry: Pope Francis does not need to give anyone special powers or instructions to make that solution possible.
What of the lay leadership? Certainly, there are lay people behind social media accounts who say all sorts of things, but their claim to represent the ordinary faithful who attend the Traditional Mass is not based on anything but notoriety. Most Catholics, like most human beings, are not deeply invested in social media celebrities. There are genuine home-grown representatives of the lay movement in support of the ancient Mass, and they are found in the Una Voce movement. This movement, however, is absolutely not guilty of saying the kinds of things which Pope Francis suggests.
As the Chairman of the largest of these Una Voce groups, England’s Latin Mass Society, and simultaneously the Secretary of the International Federation of these groups, the FIUV, I have written many tens of thousands of words on behalf of them, on matters connected with the liturgical reform. I can say emphatically that those involved at a senior level, and the great majority of our supporters, are absolutely opposed to language of this kind. We have endlessly based our arguments on the documents of the Second Vatican Council and of the post-Conciliar Popes, and our entire reason for existing is to persuade our bishops, officials in Rome, and the Holy Father, to allow us to attend the older Mass. This would obviously be completely pointless if we thought that the bishops, the curia, and the Papacy belonged to a “false Church,” whatever that might mean.
The gross injustice and incoherence of the claim that the movement which has been trying, for fifty years, to maintain the legal recognition of the ancient Mass by the Pope and by the bishops of the world, actually rejects the authority of the people to whom it ceaselessly appeals, should be evident to any fair-minded observer.