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How Pope Francis’s New Restrictions On The Latin Mass Could Make It Stronger


Just the other month, more than a few conservative Catholic writers felt comfortable lambasting traditionalist Catholics. They complained these types were toxic, disobedient, and malicious. One writer related his experience with a traditionalist priest who was needlessly difficult about administering a baptism. Another writer pointed out many traditionalist men fail to live up to the masculine standards they like to promote online.

I argued that these criticisms missed the important point about the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM): it is young, dynamic, and beautiful. With so many other problems buffeting Christianity, attacking a few traditional Catholic trolls online seemed counterproductive. To paraphrase the rapper Jay-Z, “I got 99 problems, but the TLM ain’t one.”

Unfortunately, Pope Francis really does believe the Latin Mass is a big problem and took action against its celebration by issuing restrictions on celebrating it, declaring: “I take the firm decision to abrogate all the norms, instructions, permissions and customs that precede the present Motu proprio, and declare that the liturgical books promulgated by the saintly Pontiffs Paul VI and John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of Vatican Council II, constitute the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.”

In other words, Pope Francis wants to phase out liturgies created before Vatican II, specifically the liturgy used by traditionalist Catholics. He places this responsibility with the bishops: “It is up to you [the bishops] to authorize in your Churches, as local Ordinaries, the use of the Missale Romanum of 1962, applying the norms of the present Motu proprio.”

In progressive fashion, the pope invokes “unity” as his motivation for marginalizing of Catholics who do not share his enthusiasm for the Novos Ordo liturgy and the Second Vatican Council. By placing these barriers and voicing his disapproval, Pope Francis somehow believes that traditionalist Catholics will give up their old ways and take their nine children to attend the nearby Catholic parish where they can sing “On Eagle’s Wings” by Michael Joncas, admire the felt banners on the walls, and give loud applause at the end of Mass for people with birthdays.

Many Catholics have rightly come to the defense of the traditional community, pointing out the the pettiness and hypocrisy of “Traditionis custodes.” It is not pastoral and, as Cardinal Gerhard Muller writes, needlessly tempts bishops “to act in an authoritarian, loveless, and narrow-minded manner against the supporters of the ‘old’ Mass.” More than likely, the pope took away the beautiful gift of his predecessor because he believes it gave the laity a big head—proverbial “pearls before swine.”

Rather than coming off as a magnanimous act of a shepherd saving his flock from a precipice, Traditionis custodes resembles more the act of an insecure boomer angry with his diminishing relevance. Writing in The Spectator, Tim Stanley speaks for many frustrated Catholics when he states, “we all know deep down that this is a desperate last stand by the 1960s generation of clerics, a generation that is about 10 years from losing its grip on power.”

By contrast, the Vatican is much more diffident towards openly schismatic bishops in Germany. Why the different treatment, except that one group shares his leftism and one doesn’t?

That said, while all these arguments against the pope’s decision are greatly appreciated, where were they before? It was no secret that the pope and his inner circle hated the traditional Catholic community. It was also no secret that traditional Catholicism was on the rise while mainstream Catholicism was in decline. Nevertheless, those who had platforms chose to caricature traditionalist Catholics for the amusement of their audience.

Even if these commentators had benign intentions with their critiques, progressive Catholic leaders obviously had no qualms about using them to make a case against a vulnerable minority of believers. After more than 50 years of prohibition, it was never wise to take the restoration of the TLM for granted when Pope Benedict XVI only recently allowed it with his own motu proprio, “Summorum Pontificum.”

In many ways, the situation in the Catholic Church mirrors the situation of the conservative movement, which is why this story should interest non-Catholics. All too often, during the good times, conservative commentators tend to criticize one another instead of focusing their efforts on the side that poses a serious threat to American constitutional order. Consequently, a corrupt and incompetent progressive leadership takes over and, in the name of unity, silences conservatives and attempts to rig the system so they stay in power indefinitely.

Fortunately, at least in the Catholic version of this story, it’s unlikely that Pope Francis’s motu proprio will stop the momentum of the TLM—if indeed anything could stop it. Many bishops have already issued letters to their priests celebrating the TLM and reassured them of their support. After all, simply dissolving these communities would lead to so much pointless acrimony and loss. Maybe the pope and his cronies can afford to do this, but most bishops hoping to maintain the livelihood of their dioceses cannot.

All the same, conservative Catholics should accept some responsibility for this. Instead of presenting a united front and making the most of the opportunity given to them by Pope Benedict, too many took to infighting. They could have embraced their identities as Catholics, learned from the successes of the TLM movement, and focused their efforts on opposing the Marxists and progressives undermining the church’s mission.

Perhaps Catholics can learn from this experience and turn this mistaken decision of the pope into a spiritual opportunity. In solidarity with their beleaguered traditionalist brothers and sisters, they can adopt the practices of TLM by worshiping ad orientem (with the priest facing the altar), banning lectors, prohibiting women from becoming altar servers and laity from serving the Eucharist, and setting a great big bonfire for all the “Breaking Bread” hymnals.

Not only would this be enormously popular, it would also exemplify the kind of unity Pope Francis always wanted. It might look a little different from what he has in mind, but, considering the type of leader he has turned out to be, that would be a good thing.