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Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (LifeSiteNews) – Following backlash against Cardinal Wilton Gregory’s refusal to allow a retired archbishop to celebrate a Latin Mass at the National Shrine in Washington last week, the highest-ranking African-American prelate penned a letter to those organizing the event, doubling down on his decision.

After the release of Pope Francis’ most recent motu proprio Traditionis Custodes, in which harsh restrictions were placed on the celebration of Mass according to the 1962 Missale Romanum, Gregory, Archbishop of Washington, rescinded his previous permission for the celebration of a Latin Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on August 14, the Vigil of The Assumption.

Now, after exchanging letters with the Paulus Institute, which had organized the event, Gregory has confirmed his position against the Mass, doubling down under the instruction given by the Pope to restrict the use of the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM).

Originally, the event had been planned for last year but was postponed due to constraints in place during coronavirus-related lockdowns. The Mass was to be celebrated by Archbishop Thomas E. Gullickson, a retired American prelate who had served as papal nuncio for almost two decades, most recently to Switzerland and Lichtenstein in 2015, and whose resignation was accepted by Pope Francis in December 2020.

In light of the Pope’s declaration against the TLM, Gregory wrote to Gullickson, asking the archbishop to request special permission from the cardinal to celebrate the Mass according to the Old Rite. Gregory took the opportunity to refuse Gullickson this permission, citing Traditionis Custodes as the reason. Use of the 1962 missal “would seem … to be at odds with the restrictions” imposed by Francis, the cardinal wrote last week.

In response to Gregory’s denial, the Paulus Institute wrote to the cardinal, respectfully requesting that the scheduled Pontifical High Mass be reinstated “without delay,” given the late stage at which Gregory rescinded his permission and the preparation required in arranging the event.

In no uncertain words, the Paulus Institute characterized the cancellation of the Mass, “so long planned and prepared,” as a “violation of fundamental justice, because it is an arbitrary action not motivated by any urgency.”

The Paulus Institute submitted to Gregory that some of the foundational motives underpinning the motu proprio cannot be applied to the circumstances of the proposed August 14 Mass, particularly in relation to the accusation that the celebration of the TLM is a cause of division in the Church.

The Paulus Institute explained that over the years the events has brought together “thousands of pilgrims, scores of priests, seminarians, orders of knights, and an Eastern Bishop in choro in 2018.” The Paulus Institute also cited a 2019 LifeSiteNews’ article – US Bishops ask young Catholics why they stayed in Church. They respond it’s the Latin Mass – to explain the power of the TLM to bring young people into the Church.

Of note is the mention of the Shrine building itself, which is not a parochial church of the Archdiocese of Washington, but is merely situated within the geographical boundary of the diocese. While the edicts of the Pope’s document do stipulate the denial of Latin Masses being said in parochial churches, no such restriction is placed on other church buildings within a diocese which are not attached to a parish or directly with the diocese.

Paul King, President of the Paulus Institute and author of the letter to Archbishop Gregory, explained that the Shrine is “‘the Patronal Church of United States Catholics.’”

“It is known as ‘America’s Catholic Church,’ according to the Shrine’s own materials. It is a National Shrine. It has no pastor. It has no designated territoriality,” King wrote.

King described how the church “was built on land donated by the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, and paid for by donations from Catholics all across the United States.”

Moreover King explain that the shrine is also recognized as “the bishops’ church” and that “any bishop in the United States may say Mass at the Shrine as its calendar permits, which the Rector is obligated to respect.”

Not only does the shrine’s administration not fall under the direct purview of the Washington Archbishop, according to King, but he insists that concerns of defiance against the validity of the Second Vatican Council and consequent Novus Ordo Missae, raised by Francis in his letter accompanying the motu proprio, cannot be levelled against the Paulus Institute.

“The Mission of The Paulus Institute concerns only the propagation of Sacred Liturgy —specifically the Usus Antiquior — the classical Roman Rite of the Mass and the Sacraments. It has not addressed the new Mass or the Council,” the letter reads.

As such, “The Paulus Institute has an impeccable history that cannot be disparaged by false accusations regarding the Mass of the New Order Missal and the Second Vatican Council.”

In fact, King went on to cite the constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium from the Second Vatican Council as a defense for maintaining the planned TLM at the Shrine.

“In Sacrosanctum Concilium, 4, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council expressly required, ‘In faithful obedience to Tradition, the sacred Council declares that holy mother Church holds all lawfully acknowledged rites to be of equal right and dignity; that she wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way.’”

Accordingly, “offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the Roman Rite, the Usus Antiquior, is a millennial treasure of the sacred Deposit of the Faith — and as such is a right enjoyed by entitlement by the Catholic faithful, including all those hundreds of thousands who will join this Mass by EWTN broadcast. The traditional Mass must therefore be directed to all the Catholic Faithful, and fostered in every way, which is incumbent on the episcopate to respect and propagate,” King wrote.

“Therefore, if there are any objections to faithful Catholics who attend this Roman Rite liturgy, the objections cannot be addressed by suppressing the liturgy itself, either de jure or de facto.”

In closing, King noted that the Shrine “is the church of all American Catholics, and the Church of the bishops. Those Catholics whose parents and grandparents built this majestic edifice have inherited a right to this most glorious liturgical enactment.”

“As they see in it a reflection of the mysteries and Catholic beliefs, they must be given the essence of our Catholic faith and the fullest expression of the lex orandi–lex credendi of our Catholic patrimony.”

Despite King’s plea, and all of his careful work in explaining why the Mass ought to be reinstated, within 24 hours Gregory had responded negatively, upholding his decision to ban the TLM from being celebrated.

Basing his decision on the Pope’s instruction that “It belongs to the diocesan bishop, as moderator, promoter, and guardian of the whole liturgical life of the particular Church entrusted to him, to regulate the liturgical celebrations of his diocese” found in article two of his motu proprio, Gregory insisted that his decision “not to allow the celebration of this Mass according to the 1962 Roman Missal promulgated by Saint John XXIII … is in conformity with the directives of the motu proprio.”

In place of the originally planned TLM, the cardinal suggested that the Mass might still “be celebrated in Latin,” but only “according to the Roman Missal promulgated by Saint Paul VI and revised by Saint John Paul II.”

Gregory offered his regret that his prohibition has “been a source of disappointment.”