27 November 2021

Shepherding the Flock Out of the 1962 Missal

The game plan for breaking us of the habit of loving the Old Rite. Of course, it ignores the fact that the NO would horrify the Fathers of VII. Latin was to be retained.  Gregorian chant was to have pride of place.  There was nothing about celebrating Mass versus populum or removing altar rails.  If we need to be faithful to the Council, as the author argues, we should start with a complete overhaul of the Novus Ordo in line with Sacrosanctum Concilium.

From Homiletic and Pastoral Review

By E. Tyler Graham

The time has come, says God to Moses. You must lead my people out of Egypt, out of captivity, toward the Promised Land.1 Unfortunately for the eager travelers, the journey lasts 40 years,2 and along the way the people murmur; they look back in nostalgia at the good things they once had.3 And they doubt that they will ever make it to the Promised Land. Many of them, in fact, die along the way.4 It is not easy to shepherd a people from one place to another physically; it is much harder to shepherd them spiritually.

Thus, it might not be easy for our Shepherds — the Church’s bishops — to fulfill the command of the Holy Father’s recent Motu proprio (entitled Traditionis custodes) and accompanying letter. For in these documents he is asking his bishops to lead some of the faithful away from the celebration of the 1962 Missal (known by many as the “extraordinary form,” “The Traditional Latin Mass,” “The Tridentine Mass, etc.); it will be a challenge for some of our shepherds to fulfill the mandate from Pope Francis “to provide for the good of those who are rooted in the previous form of celebration and need to return in due time to the Roman Rite promulgated by Saints Paul VI and John Paul II.”5 For the American bishops, in particular, who preside over many parishes and groups that are attached to the Missal of 1962, this task could be daunting.

What then is the current Magisterial teaching on liturgy? First, it is important to note the change from 2007, when Pope Benedict XVI promulgated Summorum pontificum. Whereas the Church has taught two valid forms of one Roman rite (ordinary and extraordinary), Pope Francis is now putting forth that the current missal — and not the 1962 missal — is the “unique expression of the lex orandi.”6

Whereas Benedict saw the license of the 1962 Missal worship as an opening to greater unity in diversity, Francis believes that this has led to disunity, growing toward the level of possible schism. He explains that “an opportunity offered by St. John Paul II and, with even greater magnanimity, by Benedict XVI, intended to recover the unity of an ecclesial body with diverse liturgical sensibilities, was exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce the divergences, and encourage disagreements that injure the Church, block her path, and expose her to the peril of division.”7

As such, Pope Francis deems that the time has come for local bishops, whom he expects to internalize these fundamental changes, to implement these new developments: no more regular 1962 Missal celebrations in the parishes,8 no more denying the validity of the current Missal,9 no more unlimited faculties for priests to celebrate it,10 and no more new groups celebrating it,11 and so on.

At the same time, the document offers tremendous leeway for bishops. Article 2 boldly states: “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. Therefore, it is his exclusive competence to authorize the use of the 1962 Roman Missal in his diocese, according to the guidelines of the Apostolic See.”12

Pope Francis, in his accompanying letter, stresses this point thus:

In the Motu proprio I have desired to affirm that it is up to the Bishop, as moderator, promoter, and guardian of the liturgical life of the Church of which he is the principle of unity, to regulate the liturgical celebrations. It is up to you to authorize in your Churches, as local Ordinaries, the use of the Missale Romanum of 1962, applying the norms of the present Motu proprio. It is up to you to proceed in such a way as to return to a unitary form of celebration, and to determine case by case the reality of the groups which celebrate with this Missale Romanum.13

Thus, whereas the motu proprio may seem “heavy-handed” and even “un-pastoral” to some, it remains largely an entrustment to the local ordinary.

Now, if necessary, given local circumstances, the law of gradualness may require allowing some celebrations of the 1962 Missal until (“in due time”) the faithful are allowed to find a different place of worship. Perhaps oratories? Shrines? Maybe call in special religious orders attached to the 1962 Missal?

Or, maybe given the state of things, a bishop decides to change as little as possible. And, maybe, if we look at it all in a few years, not much really will have changed outwardly in Church liturgical celebration (at least in areas where bishops are largely favorable or indifferent to celebration of the 1962 Missal).

Meanwhile, it might even be worth pushing the minimality of the new liturgical discipline a bit further. Why hasn’t the Pope abrogated the 1962 Missal if it is not a valid expression of the lex orandi? Why is the Pope allowing so much possibility for the faithful to keep this practice alive? Why are the bishops given such leeway on a matter if it is of such importance to the Pope?

Although I do not want to downplay the challenges currently faced by some of the faithful who have good reasons to worship in the Mass of John XXIII or who may experience difficulties in dioceses that have locked out the 1962 Missal, it may be helpful to look elsewhere for the deeper significance of the document. It seems to me that the major import of the motu proprio and its corresponding letter to bishops is largely theological.

This would explain, for example, the primary interest in restating the current Missal as the unique lex orandi. In the very first article we notice that the Holy Father stresses the lex orandi of the current Missal. He writes: “The liturgical books promulgated by Saint Paul VI and Saint John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of Vatican Council II, are the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.”14

This, of course, is a shift away from Benedict’s 2007 document, which stated that there were both an ordinary and extraordinary form of the lex orandi.15 But the phrase echoes the famous line from the Church linking liturgy to belief: lex orandi, lex credendi.16 Pope Francis is ultimately concerned about the rule of faith. In particular, the central reflection in the letter is a Magisterial teaching on the theological meaning and importance of Tradition. And his theological reflection on Catholic tradition radiates out from a reflection on the Second Vatican Council to Protestantism in general and, finally, to our fundamental orientation to God.

The Second Vatican Council

Pope Francis, as we have seen, makes clear that anyone celebrating the 1962 Missal must not deny the validity of the conciliar reforms of the liturgy and the current Missal.17 Meanwhile, in his letter to bishops he notes that he is saddened that “the instrumental use of Missale Romanum of 1962 is often characterized by a rejection not only of the liturgical reform, but of the Vatican Council II itself, claiming, with unfounded and unsustainable assertions, that it betrayed the Tradition and the ‘true Church.’”18 If this is true anywhere, those who are being misled by liturgical differences are being misled by faults in their fundamental theology of Catholic Tradition.

Why might the celebration of the 1962 Missal be linked to a possible schism or rupture with Tradition? One answer comes from realizing that, however beautiful and attractive the celebration of the 1962 missal is, it can never be one that fulfills the command of 1963 document, Sacrosanctum Concilium, which demanded its reform. Here are some relevant passages from the very first document of the Second Vatican Council:

The Council therefore sees particularly cogent reasons for undertaking the reform and promotion of the liturgy. . . .

In order that the Christian people may more certainly derive an abundance of graces from the sacred liturgy, holy Mother Church desires to undertake with great care a general restoration of the liturgy itself. For the liturgy is made up of immutable elements divinely instituted, and of elements subject to change. These not only may but ought to be changed with the passage of time if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become unsuited to it.

In this restoration, both texts and rites should be drawn up so that they express more clearly the holy things which they signify; the Christian people, so far as possible, should be enabled to understand them with ease and to take part in them fully, actively, and as befits a community. . . .

The liturgical books are to be revised as soon as possible; experts are to be employed on the task, and bishops are to be consulted, from various parts of the world.19

The 1962 Missal can never be the proper answer to the 1963 call to reform it, for such a claim would breach the principle of non-contradiction; one would effectively be saying that something could be “reformed” and “not reformed” simultaneously! Thus, there is always a danger in celebrating the 1962 Missal that one fundamentally rejects the call of the Council, however wonderful the older Missal liturgy may be.

Regardless of the depth of this practical problem of failing to fulfill the “letter” of the liturgical reform, what ultimately is at stake in Francis’s discussion of the Council, it seems to me, is the battle for the authentic meaning of Church tradition. In answering the objection that the Council betrayed Tradition, he argues, “the path of the Church must be seen within the dynamic of Tradition ‘which originates from the Apostles and progresses in the Church with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.’”20 The Holy Father quotes Dei Verbum; he is interpreting the theology of Tradition as explicated in the Second Vatican Council. Only an apostolic tradition is a true tradition; one which breaks from the apostles is pseudo-traditional.

Catholic, not Protestant

Francis further explains that “to doubt the Council is to doubt the intentions of those very Fathers who exercised their collegial power in a solemn manner cum Petro et sub Petro in an ecumenical council.”21 In other words, there is something at stake in the current celebration of the 1962 Missal that is not simply a rejection of the Council; rather, it may go to the very foundation of the apostolic life of the Church.

Notably, in drawing the faithful into greater unity in celebrating a unique lex orandi, Francis says that

I take comfort in this decision from the fact that, after the Council of Trent, St. Pius V also abrogated all the rites that could not claim a proven antiquity, establishing for the whole Latin Church a single Missale Romanum. For four centuries this Missale Romanum, promulgated by St. Pius V was thus the principal expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite, and functioned to maintain the unity of the Church.22

It is obvious that Pope Francis sees his work in the same light as Pius V who stemmed the tide of certain currents of Protestantism with his liturgical initiatives. Moreover, the current Holy Father realizes that those who reject the current Missal are often doing so in a dangerous spirit akin to the Protestant “reformers.” Such a position denies the validity of the Church’s authority and chooses “Tradition Alone” as Luther chose Sola Scriptura. Private interpretation of liturgical tradition is no less schismatic than private interpretation of Scripture.

Trusting the Holy Spirit

Finally, the Holy Father notes that “to doubt the Council is, . . . in the final analysis, to doubt the Holy Spirit himself who guides the Church.” In other words, at stake in misinterpreting liturgy is the possibility of doubting the acts and teachings of the Holy Spirit. This is the most grievous form of doubt. It is a sin against faith, as the Catechism explains.23

This last point from the Holy Father must not be underestimated. He is our first Jesuit Pope who has made extensive use of the Ignatian principle of discernment, enshrining it, as it were, as Magisterial teaching.24 Putting this line in light of the entire pontificate of the Holy Father suggests that he is calling us all to discern which spirit we are following in the liturgy with which we worship. If that spirit has an accusatory, skeptical, and anti-Papal sentiment to it, it is likely not to be the spirit of the Living God. The motu proprio is a call to discerning the spirits even — or especially — in our life of public prayer and worship.

Tradition or Traditionalism?

It goes without saying that many who celebrate the 1962 Missal enjoy calling it “the traditional Latin Mass” or TLM. Is this use of language tied to a claim on a tradition that is not fully in line with the apostolic tradition? Is the intent in using this phrase to define tradition against the Council, against the Magisterium, against the Pope in an attempt to forge a private interpretation of Tradition?

Or, on the other hand, does the person devoted to the “TLM” simply enjoy that the 1962 Missal captures hundreds of years of past Church Tradition? Does this person necessarily reject the Council, the Magisterium, the current Missal, etc.?

Furthermore, does the Catholic think that the 1962 Missal alone is celebrated in Latin, or is he/she aware that the current Missal can also be celebrated largely in Latin?

Does the person who loves the “Tridentine Mass” believe that the reforms of Pius V remain unimpaired in the 1962 Missal, or is the use of this term just a helpful nod at the major elements of the Tridentine reform that remain largely unchanged in the 1962 Missal?

One cannot know for sure how any given individual is understanding these words without charitable dialogue, seeking first “to understand rather than be understood.”25 However, it seems that the pastoral and homiletic implications of Traditionis custodes come right down to this kind of initiative. If some of the faithful have come to see the 1962 Missal as alone valid, or alone authentically traditional, or the last good missal before the modernist rupture of the second Vatican council, then such a person needs to encounter the new evangelization and purify his/her understanding of tradition in light of the principles Francis is pointing toward.

What, then, is the final stage of the bishop’s response to Traditionis custodes? He must continue to call all the faithful to active participation in the liturgy and a witness to the truth of the Catholic faith. The new evangelization must now include winning souls to celebrate Mass according to the current Missal. Meanwhile, the faithful should be challenged to spare no expense in celebrating the Mass exactly in line with the rubrics with a full, active, conscious participation that wins souls over with evident holiness.

And in one-on-one conversation it means accompaniment (as Pope Francis has described),26 speaking the truth in charity, and acceptance of the divine pedagogy according to the law of gradualness. There are many, it seems, who flock to the 1962 Missal and communities developing around it because it represents a rejection of so much of the bad developments after the Council: liturgical abuse and theological error as well as priestly abuse and Episcopal malfeasance.27 Walking with these people and listening to their concerns is an important first step in any dialogue ordered to saving the Church and preventing a schism.


Rarely does Francis appeal to Latin in his writings. Several of his encyclicals are titled in Italian. But this motu proprio is titled in Latin with a clear message: the Pope is the custodian or Guardian of Tradition. Whether his sources are correct that a significant rejection of the Council or apostolic authority is at play in the hearts of those seeking the 1962 Missal, the motu proprio should not be discarded as simply a rule-book for the latest liturgical directives. It carries with it a stern warning and prophetic utterance: the true Catholic will be found following the church “cum Petro et sub Petro.” Today, we are challenged to express this fidelity by working our way back to — or helping others find their way back to — the Mass celebrated according to the current Missal.

  1. Ex 3:10. 
  2. Deut 1:3. 
  3. Ex 16:2. 
  4. Num 14:23. 
  5. Pope Francis, “Letter of the Holy Father Francis to the Bishops of the Whole World, that Accompanies the Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio Data ‘Tradionis Custodes,’” July 16, 2021, Vatican.va. 
  6. Pope Francis, Traditionis custodes, July 16, 2021, Vatican.va, Art. 1. 
  7. Francis, “Letter to Bishops.” 
  8. TC, Art. 3 § 2. 
  9. TC, Art. 3 § 1. 
  10. TC, Art. 5. 
  11. TC, Art. 3 § 6. 
  12. TC, Art. 2. 
  13. Francis, “Letter to Bishops.” 
  14. TC, Art. 1. 
  15. Benedict XVI, Summorum Pontificum
  16. CCC 1124. 
  17. TC 3.1. 
  18. Francis, “Letter to Bishops.” 
  19. Pope Paul VI, Sacrosanctum concilium, December 4, 1963, Vatican.va, 1,21,25. 
  20. Francis, “Letter to Bishops.” 
  21. Francis, “Letter to Bishops.” 
  22. Francis, “Letter to Bishops.” 
  23. CCC 2088. 
  24. Tyler Graham, “Pope Francis and the Purification of Heroic Desire,” Homiletic and Pastoral Review, March 10, 2019. www.hprweb.com/2019/03/pope-francis-and-the-purification-of-heroic-desire/. 
  25. As in the prayer of St. Francis, an appropriate citation, it seems, for this pontificate. 
  26. Pope Francis, Evangelii gaudium, Nov. 24, 2013, Vatican.va, 169–173. 
  27. Consider, for example, this cri de coeur from Crisis Magazine: www.crisismagazine.com/2021/the-beiging-of-bishop-barron. 

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