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From Summorum Pontificum to Traditionis Custodes: Changes in Liturgical Matters at the Catholic Church

The following post is by Dante Figueroa, a senior legal information analyst at the Law Library of Congress. He has recently written for In Custodia Legis on the Italian Parliamentary LibrarySpanish Legal Documents (15th to 19th Century)Recent Legislation Enacted by Italy to Tackle COVID-19; and Italy: A New Silk Road Between Italy and China – the Belt and Road Initiative.

Missale Romanum. Photo by Dante Figueroa.

History shows that developments do not happen hastily at the Vatican, particularly when it comes to liturgical matters. In fact, ten years ago I wrote about the “Instruction” issued by the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei (Church of God) in 2011 on the implementation of Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum. This concerned the use of the Roman Liturgy (also called “the Roman Rite,” “Tridentine Mass,” or “Traditional Latin Mass/TLM”), which is contained in the 1962 Roman Missal (Missale Romanum) of the Roman Catholic Church approved by Pope St. John XXIII, and later revised by Pope St. Paul VI in 1969. The latest edition of the Roman Missal was published in 2000.

The Missale Romanum also contains the New Order of Mass (Novus Ordo Missae). Interestingly, when the Novus Ordo was approved, prominent thinkers and personages of the United Kingdom, including Agatha Christie, sent a letter to Pope Paul VI pleading for the “survival of the traditional rite of the Mass [which] belongs to universal culture.” The Pope consequently authorized the TLM on a limited basis in England and Wales.

The Novus Ordo is considered the forma ordinaria (the normal form) of the Mass, and the 1962 Roman Missal the forma extraordinaria (the extraordinary form). Prior to Summorum Pontificum (SP, 2007) and its Instruction (2011), the TLM could still be used, but only with permission from the respective bishop. The SP and its Instruction contained measures to expand the use of the TLM, as discussed in my previous blog post.

On July 16, 2021, Pope Francis issued his Apostolic Letter, “Traditionis Custodes (Guardians of the Tradition, TC), on “the Use of the Roman Liturgy Prior to the Reform of 1970.” In the TC, the Roman Pontiff states his motivation “to promote the concord and unity of the Church, with paternal solicitude towards those who in any region adhere to liturgical forms antecedent to the reform.”

Per the TC, the respective bishop must:

  • decide whether to authorize the use of the 1962 Roman Missal (TLM) in his diocese (art. 2);
  • ensure that Catholic groups that until now celebrate according to the TLM “do not deny the validity and the legitimacy of the liturgical reform, dictated by Vatican Council II and the Magisterium of the Supreme Pontiffs” (art. 3 § 1);
  • designate locations where the TLM may be celebrated, with the exclusion of parochial churches or the erection of new personal parishes (art. 3 § 2);
  • establish the days on which the celebration of the TLM is permitted (art. 3 § 3);
  • appoint a suitable priest who, as his delegate, is entrusted with the celebrations of the TLM and with the pastoral care of the TLM faithful (art. 3 § 4);
  • verify that the parishes canonically erected for the TLM faithful are effective for their spiritual growth, and to determine whether or not to retain them (art. 3 § 5); and
  • take care not to authorize the establishment of new groups (art. 3 § 6).

In addition, the TC states that:

  • the readings of the Sacred Scripture at the TLM must be proclaimed in the vernacular language, using authorized translations approved for liturgical use by the respective Episcopal Conferences (art. 3 § 3);
  • priests ordained after the publication of the TC who wish to celebrate the TLM should submit a formal request to their bishop, who is to consult with the Apostolic See before granting authorization (art. 4);
  • priests who already celebrate the TLM should request from their bishop the authorization to continue to enjoy this faculty (art. 5); and
  • enforcement of TC measures falls, on behalf of the Holy See, onto the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (art. 7).

The new measures included in the TC have met a mixed response in different Catholic circles. At the core of the debate, on the one hand, is the real or perceived lack of acceptance by certain groups of the reforms approved by the Second Vatican Council to the millenary Catholic liturgy. On the other hand, proponents of Pope Benedict XVI’s reforms, lifting the restrictions imposed on the TLM (now reinstated by Pope Francis), argue against real or perceived abuses of the liturgy unleashed after the Second Vatican Council. Even Pope Francis has expressed his sadness about “abuses in the celebration of the liturgy on all sides.”

Since the Council of Trent, a gathering of Catholic bishops in northern Italy between 1545 and 1563, “the ordinary celebration of the Mass followed a precise format that was set forth in printed books – and was always celebrated in Latin. This Mass held firm in Catholic life for 400 years. That was until the Second Vatican Council of 1962 to 1965. Also known as Vatican II, the council was convened to address the position of the Catholic Church in the modern world,” leading to changes to the Mass and subsequent debate.

UPDATE (1/27/2022):  On December 18, 2021, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship sent a letter to Episcopal Conferences worldwide containing responsa ad dubia, being responses to questions posited by the bishops concerning the application of the new rules contained in the Motu proprio “Traditionis custodes.” The explanatory notes reaffirm the overall purpose of the TC, which in certain Catholic circles seems to be perceived as discouraging the promotion of the Latin Rite.

The eleven dubia refer to the following topics:

  • celebration of the Latin Rite at parishes in the event of the impossibility of finding a different venue;
  • the possibility of celebrating the Sacraments other than the Eucharist according to the Latin Rite;
  • concelebration according to the Latin Rite and Novus Ordo;
  • the proclamation of Holy Scripture in Latin or the vernacular language;
  • consultation with the Holy See prior to authorizing priests to celebrate according to the Latin Rite;
  • temporary episcopal authorizations to hold the Latin Rite;
  • the possibility of “bination,” that is, the celebration of two Masses (Latin Rite and Novus Ordo) on the same day by the same priest;
  • authorization for substitute priests and deacons to celebrate per the Latin Rite.

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