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Traditional Latin Mass at the seminary of the Institute of Christ the King, Italy.ICKSP/ YouTube screenshot

This essay by Fr. Joachim Heimerl was originally written in German. It has been translated and published with the permission of Fr. Heimerl.

(LifeSiteNews) — This coming Holy Thursday, we commemorate the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood. However, since the motu proprio Traditiones custodes (2021), a “civil war” has flared up in the Church over the celebration of Holy Mass. Since then, the supporters of the “old” Mass have had their backs to the wall. The pope treats them like lepers and does not even shy away from publicly insulting them. We have become accustomed to this behavior by now; nevertheless, it is scandalous and – pardon me – unworthy of a pope.

Incidentally, this also includes the fact that Francis has rigorously banned the celebration of Holy Thursday and the Holy Triduum according to the old liturgy. This is no way to treat people of faith. We should expect more love and much more understanding from the pope in particular. Instead, Catholics who are devoted to the old Mass are being forced to do something they don’t want to do: Indeed, abuse of Church power takes many forms, and it is painful when this comes to light on the holiest days of the year. But as always, most people in the Church duck away, remain silent, and hope for their own benefit. Abuse of power is only denounced where it fits in with the political program. The followers of the old Mass, on the other hand, should preferably disappear from the Church. One bishop after another makes them feel his displeasure, banishes them from his diocese, and secretly hopes for the cardinal’s hat in return – it is a disgrace and much more than that.

READ: Cardinal Müller says ‘some bishops’ behave childishly by canceling Latin Mass priests

When I think about the Eucharist on Holy Thursday, I think about my relationship to the Holy Mass and about my priesthood. I think about the fact that I grew up with the “new” Mass of Paul VI and never came into contact with the traditional Mass – at least not until Traditiones custodes.

When I read this motu proprio, I was stunned. I couldn’t believe that the pope would snub a large proportion of Catholics in this way and deprive them of what had been the most sacred thing for centuries, namely the “old” Mass. So I began to study it intensively, learned the rites and the Latin prayers, and discovered a huge treasure. At the same time, I painfully recognized the shortcomings of Paul VI’s “new” Mass, and more and more often, I asked myself: “Is what I thought was the epitome of ‘Catholic’ from a young age turning out to be a Protestant fake after all?”

All this went through my mind the first time I visited a church where the “old” Mass was celebrated. I knelt down in the last row and heard a priest quietly begin the ancient prayers at the foot of the altar: “Introibo ad altare Dei” – ” I will go to the altar of God, to God, who giveth joy to my youth.” “How else could one begin the Holy Mass,” I thought, “if not with these words?”

My gaze slowly wandered around the church: over the beautiful altar facing only the Lord, the small pulpit, and the statues of the saints who had all heard and loved these verses.

But what amazed me most were the faithful. The church was packed with people praying, and everyone showed the active, inner participation that the Second Vatican Council speaks of.

The sermon was also different from what I would have expected: no church warfare and no fairytale lesson in which one story follows the next, no reference to the politics of the day and climate policy, or a self-congratulatory theology lecture that nobody is interested in anyway. In short: none of the things you usually hear. Instead, the priest took the texts of the Mass and the saints of the day as his starting point and offered sound instruction in religious life. His sermon was a gift to everyone and also enriched me. It felt like we were on the way to Jesus Christ together. And even more so when the main part of the Mass began with the offertory that followed.

The unique thing about the old Mass is certainly not so much the Latin language but what we no longer know today: the sacred silence that encompasses the entire Eucharistic Prayer. “Is there really any other way to encounter God than in silence?” In the noisy hustle and bustle of our usual “church services,” I have rarely encountered Him. But here, it was different. Here, the sacred was not obscured by the protestant and profane. On the contrary: here, the silence opened up a view of the mystery. I spontaneously thought: “This is what the Catholic Church really looks like.”

I was particularly touched by two details at this Mass. They make it clear that the sacrifice of the cross is present here: The priest places the body of Christ directly on the corporal, which is a small, square linen cloth. This gesture expresses: The Lord now hangs on the cross with a loincloth and lies wrapped in linen in the Holy Sepulchre. He is truly the Lamb of God and is now among us with His Body and Blood.

Because this is truly the case, an altar boy holds the hem of the chasuble when the priest performs the holy consecration. – Yes, it is true: we all share in the sacrifice of Redemption, and we are all allowed to touch HIS vestment, just as the bleeding woman did in the Gospel.

This symbolism has been lost in the “new Mass,” like many things; I would almost like to say that the Catholic aspect is missing. This is all the more evident in our time, when the Church is giving up on itself.

Of course, I cannot say what will happen to the Church in these difficult times. But I am sure that it will continue to exist wherever the “old” Mass is celebrated.

Traditiones custodes will not change this. On the contrary, many Catholics feel as I do: the papal blow against the “old” Mass has opened the door to this treasure for them.

Traditiones custodes will disappear after this pontificate. But the “old” Mass will remain until the end of time. Pope St. Pius V made sure of this: thanks to his bull Quo primum (1570), no priest can be forbidden to celebrate this Mass. Pius gave this provision eternal (!) validity and banned anyone who violated it. Francis cannot get around this either, and in the end, he has only demonstrated with Traditiones custodes how papal authority demolishes itself. Those who arbitrarily overturn the final decisions of their predecessors cannot expect their own decisions to be taken seriously. This is especially true of the papal office, which cannot endure without continuity. In this respect, no one has undermined the foundations of the papacy more than Francis. And it borders on the grotesque that he, of all people, wants to rule more autocratically than any of his predecessors in recent times.

Nonetheless, Traditiones custodes backfired. The motu proprio gave Francis a miserable image and made the “old” Mass popular worldwide.

Since then, small cells have been forming everywhere: Faithful Catholics gather around the priests who hold on to the “old” Mass, and this – against the will of the pope – also on this Maundy Thursday. I am convinced that the renewal of the Church can only come from the love of these people for the Eucharistic Lord. The “reform church” of recent decades, on the other hand, is increasingly rushing towards its downfall, and the “new Mass” has even accelerated this. This makes it all the more worthwhile to discover the “old” Mass and to unearth this treasure.

For the coming Holy Thursday, I would like to say to all priests: Dear brothers! Do not be afraid! Celebrate the “old” Mass in this time of persecution; whether in public or in secret, it doesn’t matter. All popes and all bishops have celebrated it in the spirit of St. Pius V, and it alone is what the “new Mass” will never be: It is truly the Mass of the Ages, and everyone who celebrates it is in the full communion of the Church. This is what counts and this is what Maundy Thursday is all about, when we will renew the promise of our consecration! This promise is not a fetish, as many people think, and it certainly does not demand blind obedience. This promise is to Jesus Christ and the Church – not to the arbitrary will of individual popes and not to the destructive work of a “synodal” church reform.

READ: Austrian priest: Pope Francis’ fight against the Latin Mass is ‘a fight against the Church’