July 25 of this year marked the second anniversary of the promulgation of Traditionis custodes, a document of Pope Francis directed against the traditional Latin Holy Mass. In spite of the criticism that this decree received from all over the world – and even within the Synod on Synodality – the pope has not retreated an inch. At the same time, in the texts of the synodal process, a drastic reconstruction of the new liturgy has been announced, and the chief architect of Traditionis custodes has been revealed as a supporter of full permissivism in the sphere of sexual morality – with the clear approval of the leadership of the Roman Curia.
In Francis’ motu proprio letter of 2021, far-reaching restrictions on the traditional liturgy were introduced. For example, the pontiff forbade bishops to allow its celebration by priests ordained after the date of promulgation of the document, and also prohibited the celebration of the Tridentine Mass in parish churches. In December of the same year, further restrictions were imposed by the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, which is headed by cardinal Arthur Roche, a spiritual pupil of the great reformer of the post-Vatican II liturgy, archbishop Annibale Bugnini. In the so-called Responsa ad dubia, he prohibited – among other things – the administration of any sacraments according to the Tridentine rite.
Catholics the world over, including bishops and priests, wondered for a long time whether Roche’s restrictions carried any force at all, considering that they went much further than those in Traditionis custodes itself. Pope Francis then cleared up all doubts in the matter. In February 2023 the dicastery issued a brief “rescript” concerning Traditionis custodes, signed by Roche and officially approved by Francis, which confirmed that all of the prohibitions announced by the cardinal were binding, and that he was the only papally authorized interpreter of the will of the Holy Father in matters of liturgy.
Roche thereby silenced his critics, and bishops all over the world who disfavored the traditional liturgy were handed an extremely powerful legal instrument: using the trio of Traditionis, Responsa and the rescript, they can now literally stifle traditional worship in their dioceses. This enables the achievement of what appears to be Pope Francis’ goal, namely to “force out” all of the traditional faithful into the arms of the Society of Saint Pius.
Despite favoring orthodox teaching, that Society is in dispute with the Holy See. Anyone who is pushed out and joins the Lefebvrists will be subject to possible stigmatization in the future as a supposed “schismatic.” This may even lead to persecution from state institutions that support the liberal church establishment. Such moves have already taken place in Richmond, Virginia, as I reported in Do Rzeczy no. 19/2023.
Two years after the promulgation of Traditionis custodes, Pope Francis makes no secret of his extreme aversion to the traditionalists. He even suggested this spring that those faithful to the Tridentine liturgy were – take note – heading toward damnation. During a meeting with Hungarian Jesuits on April 29, he accused the traditionalists of adopting a reactionary attitude (using, in Italian, the now famous neologism “indietrismo”). He also quoted Hebrews 10:39, which contrasts “those who have faith and are saved” with “those who shrink back and are destroyed.” The context of that passage indicates that the “faithful” are those who scrupulously adhere to the principles of the new revelation in Christ and suffer numerous torments for doing so. Those who “shrink back,” on the other hand, are those who consciously sin despite having heard Jesus’ teaching. In the context of the liturgical dispute, this is a perverse reference. Indeed, in Francis’ interpretation, the “faithful” are those who reject the liturgical tradition and papal teaching about the Holy Mass which go back more than a thousand years, while the “shrinkers” are those who keep faith with that tradition. The pontiff’s use of Hebrews 10:39 is correct only insofar as we regard his teaching as a “new revelation” and that of his predecessor Benedict, for example, as “sin.”
A brief mention of the former pope, who died on December 31, 2022, is warranted here: thanks to the memoirs of his private secretary archbishop Georg Gänswein, contained in his book Nothing but the Truth. My Life alongside Benedict XVI and recounted in several interviews, we know that pope emeritus Ratzinger was heavily disheartened by the promulgation of Traditionis custodes. He is also reported to have reacted negatively to Francis’ words concerning his supposed intentions in issuing the motu proprio letter Summorum pontificum of July 7, 2007, which provided for general freedom in celebrating the Tridentine Mass. Francis stated publicly that what Benedict had wished for was a “dialog with the Lefebrvists.” In fact, Benedict wanted to put an end to the situation where there was an extreme split between adherents of the old and new liturgy, and as he himself wrote, to reach an internal reconciliation so that what had always been holy to the Church would be holy now. Even in 2015, Benedict wrote that since the Second Vatican Council the Church had been overcome by a widespread “misunderstanding of the liturgical reform” which almost led to “forgetting about the presence of God” in the liturgy. He wanted to change that. Francis decided to erase those efforts.
The liturgy in the synodal Church that Jorge Mario Bergoglio is building cannot, after all, be a traditional one. According to the official synodal documents, such as Instrumentum laboris published in June 2023, or the Continental Document of December 2022, it is necessary to overcome the “liturgical protagonism of the priest” and to make the liturgy “include” all those who today “feel” excluded from it. The liturgy – the one produced after the Second Vatican Council, already amended – is to be subjected to a further reform, this time according to a “synodal key,” which will involve, among other things, its far-reaching “inculturation.” In the background of this inculturation are processes that are ongoing in Central and South America: the development of two new liturgical rites, the Mayan and the Amazonian, which will take account of the pagan customs of the native peoples and the protagonistic role of the laity, including women. In turn, in the Western version of the synodally incultured liturgy, there will be a place for homosexuals.
It is no coincidence that one who recently came out as a radical supporter of LGBT ideology is Professor Andrea Grillo, a liturgist at the Anselmianum in Rome, who is the real architect of Traditionis custodes and the originator of the main ideas behind that document. Grillo has published on his blog a long article by Father Cosimo Scordato, calling homosexuality a “gift from God” and proposing full acceptance of sexual activity within same-sex relationships. Grillo had previously published statements questioning the dogma of transubstantiation – the real transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. It is hard not to form the impression that, just as the architect of the post-Vatican II reform, archbishop Bugnini, was accused of freemasonry, the architect of the synodal reform is not so distant from such circles.
Bishops worldwide have very different approaches to the battle being waged against the Tridentine liturgy. Some pretend not to have heard of Traditionis custodes and allow the faithful to practice traditional worship freely, which may of course be justified by the principle salus animarum suprema lex (the salvation of souls is the supreme law). Others – and there are especially many such cases in Poland – have introduced lesser or greater restrictions, without engaging in the full anti-Tridentine offensive envisaged by the Vatican’s documents. Some openly ignore the pope’s instructions – interestingly, this approach is often taken by German bishops. However, the Germans ignore documents from Rome on principle, regardless of their subject, and they have enjoyed a kind of carte blanche in that regard for many years. Particularly in the Latin American and English-speaking worlds, there is no shortage of clerics who implement the restrictions with great zeal. The best-known example is an archbishop close to the hearts of Poles in Chicago, cardinal Blaise Cupich. He seems simply unable to abide traditionalists: in February this year he equated objections to Traditionis custodes with opposition to the Holy Spirit Himself, thus virtually anticipating Francis’ announcement of the informal anathema indietrismo.
A WAVE OF OPPOSITION
In the meantime, opposition to Traditionis custodes continues unabated. Hundreds of thousands of Catholics across the globe have no intention of agreeing to the killing off, by the pope’s decree, of a thousand-year-old liturgical tradition. The best proof of this was this year’s traditional pilgrimage to Chartres, in which more than 16,000 people took part, most of them young. Tradition is alive and well, and in the judgment of some courageous bishops, a good Catholic should even feel a duty to oppose attacks on it. On the occasion of the feast of the apostles Saints Peter and Paul, this claim was made explicitly by the auxiliary bishop of Astana in Kazakhstan, Athanasius Schneider, regarded informally as the worldwide chaplain of Tradition. In his view, acceptance of the restrictions on celebrating the Mass of All Time is a manifestation of “false obedience”, and it is in fact objections to those restrictions that represent obedience to “the Catholic Church of all ages and all the Popes who diligently celebrated and commanded the preservation of that venerable and canonized form of the Mass.”
In Traditionis custodes, Francis ordered bishops to cause all (sic!) of the faithful to participate in the new Mass exclusively. Bishop Schneider is convinced, however, that this plan of total extermination of the traditional liturgy is unrealistic. In some years’ time it will be found to be those who did not wish to submit to the synodal diktat, with its hostility to Tradition, that displayed authentic faith to the Church’s magisterium.
“Future Popes will thank all priests and faithful who, in difficult times, notwithstanding all pressures and false accusations of disobedience, and in a spirit of sincere love for the Church and for the honor of the Holy See, maintained and transmitted the great liturgical treasure of the traditional Mass for future generations,” the bishop wrote.
By God’s grace, may we live to see those times.
The author is a journalist and writer for the Pch24.pl website.
This article was published in July 2023 in Do Rzeczy magazine.