Pope Francis has surprised this Friday with a movement of little practical relevance, but of enormous doctrinal and ideological significance within the Church. The Pontiff has limited with a motu proprio (papal document) the celebration of Tridentine Masses (by the Council of Trent), that is, those officiated in the ancient rite and prior to the Second Vatican Council. Until now, conservative groups and the most far-right sector of the church have continued to do so, since Benedict XVI allowed it in a 2007 document to avoid more fractures such as the one that had occurred with the Lefebvrians, one of the great traditionalist groups. From now on they will have to ask the bishops for permission to celebrate them and they will be authorized in very few cases.
The movement is highly unusual because it forcefully amends the decision of his predecessor (Benedict XVI), who is also still alive. But also, it is framed within the ideological war that the Church is going through between the different currents: especially that of the ultra-conservative sector against Francisco. The ancient rite, in which the mass is celebrated in Latin, with the back and with another missal, was still used in some groups of Catholics in Central Europe and in the United States. Benedict XVI had authorized this to be the case, despite the fact that it was theoretically left out. of the reform of Vatican II because it wanted to accommodate different sensitivities and avoid more fractures such as those that occurred when the French Bishop Marcel Lefebvre was excommunicated, who had challenged Paul VI years before with a mass of this type before 7,000 faithful. The Lefebvrians were left out of the Church in 1988 with John Paul II when Lefebvre himself ordained four bishops.
The Pope has titled his document Custodians of tradition. A way of revolting against the pre-established idea that the so-called traditionalists have the patent to keep the essences. For Francisco, the only way to safeguard this “tradition” is through unity. And he considers that he has been threatened by this type of rites. Conservative Catholic groups, however, have long called for the two ways of celebrating Mass to be maintained. In fact, Cardinal Robert Sarah, who has been very critical of the Pope and has been the symbol of the current opposition to Francis (he is the favorite of far-right politicians such as Santiago Abascal, of Vox), defended this duality on social networks pointing out that “respect for the two ordinary and extraordinary forms of the Latin liturgy will lead us to a missionary impulse for evangelization.”
Francis, usually little given to creating very clear borders within the Church, has now tired of the Tridentine rite being used to divide and not to unite and has excluded it from the law. Whoever does it without the authorization of the corresponding bishop will be out. Francis explained in a letter that in 2020 he sent a questionnaire to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to see how the Masses were developing after the papal document of Benedict XVI and that the answers obtained hurt and worried him, and for that reason chose to intervene. “The liturgical books promulgated by the Holy Pontiffs Paul VI and John Paul II, in accordance with the decrees of the Second Vatican Council, are the only expression of the Lex Orandi of the Roman Rite ”, he added. Furthermore, the bishop will be “responsible for regulating liturgical celebrations in his own diocese” and “it is his exclusive competence to authorize the use of the 1962 Roman Missal in the diocese, following the guidelines of the apostolic see”.
Francis finally underlines that “priests ordained after the publication of this motu proprio, who intend to celebrate Mass with the Roman Missal of 1962, must submit a formal request to the diocesan bishop who will consult the Apostolic See before granting authorization” and that those who already do so will have to request authorization to continue doing so.