Why the Pope Is Wrong About Latin Mass Restrictions

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Throughout its history, the Catholic Church developed rich forms of liturgical worship in both East and West, a testament to its universality. In the West, a form of the Mass developed, known as the Latin or Roman Rite. Its origins can be traced back to Apostolic times and its form remained essentially unchanged for centuries, until it was replaced by a Novus Ordo (new form) of Mass in 1969.

There is a widespread, and very mistaken, idea in the Church that the Second Vatican Council, held from 1962 to 1965, ordered the change to the Mass. This is patently not so.

As the Council stated in its document on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy): “Holy Mother Church holds all lawfully recognized rites to be of equal right and dignity; that she wishes to preserve them in the future and foster them in every way.”

This took into account various rites of Eastern Catholic Churches, as well as the many nuances then existing in forms used by religious orders and in local Churches and regions.

Further, it was the express wish of the Council that “the use of Latin in the rites is to be preserved” and that the ancient music of this language, Gregorian Chant and Polyphony, be given pride of place in liturgical services, since they “express to the highest degree the purposes of sacred music laid down by the Church: the glory of God, the sanctification of the faithful, making prayer more pleasing, promotion of unity of minds, and the conferring of greater solemnity upon the sacred rights.”

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Ancient Latin music such as Gregorian Chant expresses the glory of God. (FNeumann/Pixabay)

In fact, the liturgy was to be “carefully and thoroughly revised in the light of sound tradition,” to make it more suitable for modern times.

Notwithstanding the introduction of the new Mass, the Traditional Rite has survived and, particularly over the last 40 or so years, experienced rapid growth, particularly among young people.

Let me state at the outset that it is not my intention here to delegitimise the Novus Ordo Mass. On weekdays I often attend Novus Ordo Masses. All my sacraments have been celebrated in the Novus Ordo, and yes, it can be celebrated very devoutly and prayerfully.

However, since its implementation there is one incontrovertible fact. Rather than the Mass being, as the Second Vatican Council declared, the summit of the Church’s life, the insistence on modernising has led to dwindling congregations, except in parishes and orders that are faithful to tradition, doctrine, and the Church’s Magisterium (teaching).

I believe this is a factor of great irritation to Pope Francis and his fellow travellers, hence the draconian crackdown on tradition.

Last year, the Pope issued a motu proprio (document) entitled Traditionis Custodes, calling for the restriction of the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass. A further document addressing its implementation, the Responsa ad Dubia (Response to Questions), outlined these restrictions, which mean that many priests will be banned from saying the Traditional Mass, and it will only be able to be celebrated in limited settings.

All this has been done in the name of fostering “unity” in the Church.

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A general view at St Peter’s Basilica as Pope Francis celebrates the Epiphany Mass at Vatican City, on Jan. 6, 2022. (Filippo Monteforte/AFP via Getty Images)

Archbishop Roche, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, which is responsible for issuing these documents, has stated in the past that the “Ordinary Form” (that is, the Novus Ordo), has much to learn from the Extraordinary Form and that the latter is a “valid expression of the Church’s liturgy.”

However, the tenor of Traditionis Custodes and the Responsa are completely contradictory to these public statements, and, in the view of this correspondent, fail on two counts: first, on the idea of “disunity,” and second, even more importantly, on their legality.

In attending the Traditional Mass, I have not encountered people who wish to cause division in the Church, which Traditionis Custodes suggests. On the contrary, I know many joy-filled (especially young) people who love their faith and stand foursquare with the teachings of the Church’s Magisterium.

The Traditional Mass, as far as I can see, is a source of unity for the Church, not division. It is the earnest desire of those in the Latin Mass community to be part of the Universal Church, not separate from it.

The Traditional Mass, as I have observed, also draws people to the Church who, inspired by a love of their faith and the law of prayer being the law of belief, find in it a sense of the sacred that allows them to give their children the greatest gift they can give, the gift of faith.

These are exactly the kind of people, I would have thought, the Church aspires to attract, since they are a source of growth and a living witness to a life-giving faith. They should be encouraged and supported, not discouraged.

Since the post-conciliar liturgical reforms, there has always been a question of the authority of the pope to change the rite. Again, I reiterate, I am not out to denigrate the Novus Ordo, but rather demonstrate that restrictions on the Traditional Mass are of doubtful legitimacy.

As the great 20th century theologian and liturgist, Monsignor Klaus Gamber, observed in his work The Reform of The Roman Liturgy, the argument that the Pope has the authority to change the Mass is based on the notion that he has “the full and highest power” in the Church, derived from the First Vatican Council, “that pertains to the discipline and rule of the Church spread out over all the world.”

However, as Gamber demonstrates, this “discipline” in no way applies to the liturgy, which popes through the ages have repeatedly observed is founded on apostolic tradition. Therefore, as Gamber notes “the rite cannot fall into the discipline and rule of the Church.”

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Believers pray during the Christmas mass at the Archangel Michael Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo, Egypt, on Jan. 6, 2022. (Khaled Desouki/AFP via Getty Images)

What is more, there is not a single document, including in the Church’s Code of Canon Law, in which there is a specific statement that the pope, in his function as supreme pastor of the Church, has the authority to abolish (and thus by extension, restrict) the traditional rite. Gamber quotes St Gregory the Great in this regard: “As long as the Church is of one Faith, different ritual customs do not harm her.”

He further notes that there are also other limits to this “full and highest power,” that is, in matters of dogma, the pope is bound to follow the tradition of the universal Church. As noted in the opening paragraph, if one looks at the history of the Church’s liturgy, he or she will find that the Mass had been essentially unchanged from Apostolic times until the post-Conciliar reforms.

After initially banning the celebration of the Traditional Mass, Pope Paul VI, perhaps recognising such a ban was invalid, allowed its use in England and Wales, and then to Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s Society of St Pius X. Successive popes have also recognised that it not proper for the Traditional Mass to be restricted.

St John Paul II further allowed for its increased celebration in 1984 and 1988 (exhorting that it was a “legitimate aspiration”), and Benedict XVI restored full rights to the traditional liturgy.

Since these initiatives, as noted in previous sections, the communities and seminaries linked to the Traditional Mass have multiplied, the frequency of the faithful’s attendance has increased, and the spiritual life of many young people and many families has found an unexpected impetus.

It is therefore Papa Bergoglio and Archbishop Roche who are causing division, on false pretences. So much for “Fratelli tutti” and inclusivity!

I conclude by citing the words of the former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States of America, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò: “Traditionis Custodes and the Responsa must simply be ignored, returned to the sender. They must be ignored because it is clear that their intention is to punish Catholics who remain faithful, to disperse them, and to make them disappear.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Rocco Loiacono


Rocco Loiacono is a Senior Lecturer at Curtin University Law School in Perth, Australia, and is a translator from Italian to English. His work on translation, linguistics, and law have been widely published in peer-reviewed journals.

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