Cardinal Burke and Bishop Schneider Restate Concerns About Restrictions on Traditional Liturgy

The cardinal and the bishop offered their comments for a talk the author gave recently in London.

Cardinal Raymond Burke (l) and Bishop Athanasius Schneider
Cardinal Raymond Burke (l) and Bishop Athanasius Schneider (photo: Edward Pentin)

VATICAN CITY — Cardinal Raymond Burke has questioned the basis of papal-led efforts to restrict and eventually eliminate the traditional Latin Mass, while Bishop Athanasius Schneider has said the “millennium-old treasure” cannot be destroyed, as it is the work of the Holy Spirit.

The cardinal and bishop kindly shared their comments as part of a talk I gave the Latin Mass Society in London on Oct. 21.

As concerns deepen over this pontificate’s new restrictions regarding the traditional liturgy, Cardinal Burke said that “to the degree that reason and sound theology prevail, the safeguarding and promotion of the Usus Antiquior [the ancient liturgy in use before the reforms of 1970] will continue.” 

The prefect emeritus of the Apostolic Signatura said this is “despite the difficulties and even the persecution” inspired by Traditionis Custodes (Guardians of the Tradition), Pope Francis’ 2021 apostolic letter issued motu proprio (decree) restricting the ancient liturgy, and the Responsa ad Dubia, the guidelines on implementing the decree issued five months later.

But Cardinal Burke stressed that as a “motu proprio,” Traditionis Custodes lacks sufficient force because it has authority only to the degree that it is founded on just grounds. He added that the grounds for the decree, and the letter Pope Francis wrote to bishops which accompanied it, “are not true and just” when taken together, and he gave his reasons.

The first, he said, is that it’s “simply not true” that the reformed liturgy is the only valid form of the Roman Rite. He pointed out that, as Pope St. Paul VI, Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged, the Usus Antiquior was “never suppressed” and, in fact, has continued to be celebrated since the time of the promulgation of the Missal of Pope St. Paul VI.

Cardinal Burke said it is “contrary to reason and to sound liturgical theology to assert that a form of the Roman Rite celebrated uninterruptedly for some 15 centuries is no longer a valid form of the Roman Rite.”

He also took issue with the documents’ assertion that those who assist in the traditional liturgy reject the Second Vatican Council and are divisive because they consider themselves to be the only true Catholics — something he rejected as false, except for some “extremists” who hold such views, just as there “are extremists in any group.”

On the contrary, he said it is evident, including to those who are not attracted to the traditional liturgy themselves, that the faithful who are attracted to it are “nurtured spiritually by it, that they are devout in their worship and in their practice of the faith. They are also loyal to their bishops and the Holy Father.” 

“For that reason,” he added, “they have understandably been deeply hurt by the harshness of the documents in question, by the fact that the document Traditionis Custodes took effect immediately, and by the application of the documents by certain bishops without any regard for the good of souls.”

He also said that “sadly, some have wrongly concluded that there is no home for them in the Church.”

Cardinal Burke said their hurt is “understandably intensified” when they see “open deviation from what the Church has always taught and practiced by the German Synodal Way and other dissident individuals and groups, while they are treated as harmful to the Church because of their deep appreciation of the classical Roman Liturgy. 

“The situation is totally confusing and divisive,” he said.

Cardinal Burke also alluded to the results of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith survey on which Traditionis Custodes was ostensibly based, saying it was not a justified basis for these measures because the results of the survey “have never been made public, and several trustworthy persons who have seen the results or, at least, some of the results, state that they are favorable to the continuation of the discipline established by Summorum Pontificum.

But Cardinal Burke highlighted another “fundamental procedural flaw in the promulgation of Traditionis Custodes,” which is that most of those affected by it were not consulted before its promulgation — something, he said, that goes against the Regulae Iuris [Rules of Law].

As for the Responsa ad Dubia, Cardinal Burke said they have only the force of the law to which they refer, but the Responsa go beyond Traditionis Custodes and, even, presume to change universal Church law — for example, regarding the law regarding bination (celebrating Mass twice on the same day).

A further problem for the Vatican, he said, is that the Dicastery for Divine Worship is taking to itself competencies that belong to the diocesan bishop and fall under his jurisdiction. 

The cardinal said there are many other serious difficulties with the Responsa ad Dubia, which derive from the fact that it was developed and promulgated without nearly adequate enough consultation. “One can only hope that bishops will interpret it according to the perennial principles of canon law, especially the principle that the care of souls is the supreme law,” he said. 


Bishop Schneider’s Views

In his comments on the situation, Auxiliary Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Astana, Kazakhstan, strongly encouraged bishops, priests and faithful to keep their attachment and fidelity to the ancient liturgy which, he said, “is a treasure of the entire Church, also because of its vitality.” 

Being such a priceless gift for the Church, he said a way needs to be found “to defend this treasure and hand it on to the next generation, because of love of holy mother Church, and also because of our love for the honor of the apostolic see.” 

 “This is very serious,” Bishop Schneider added. “It was an attempt to destroy partly the liturgical tradition. No pope in 2,000 years, and no council, had dared to reform a proven age-old venerable rite; no one would dare do this to something proven to be so venerable and bearing fruits.” 

“For these reasons,” Bishop Schneider said, “bishops, priests and faithful must remain faithful to this great treasure of the Church.” If they don’t, and collaborate in enforcing these restrictive measures, then they are causing “spiritual harm for the Church, because to lose such a treasure sanctified by the saints for so many years would be an evident harm for the spiritual good of the Church and for souls.” 

This includes rejecting the versus populum (facing the people) style of worship and Communion in the hand. “This has never been Catholic,” he said. “It’s a Protestant style and these must be abandoned.” He firmly believes that if that is done, there would be no more liturgy wars, both forms would be in some way close to one another, and in time they would become ever closer and so transmit what all the popes and saints have transmitted to us in the Holy Liturgy. 

He also believes the faithful should press their bishops and the Holy See to unify the lectionary and liturgical calendar (the traditional Latin Mass and the reformed Mass have different readings and liturgical calendars).

Asked if he thought there could be dialogue with the Pope and Cardinal Arthur Roche, prefect of the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, about achieving this, he said he was not optimistic because in the current Vatican even some bishops prohibit celebration of the Mass versus Deum (“facing God”). He called this a “grievous” ban, and so believes there are no grounds on which to discuss the fundamental question of what the Holy Mass is.

Bishop Schneider said that for those pushing liturgical reform, the Mass is a community-centered gathering, whereas for traditional Catholics it is the adoration of Most Holy Trinity. The Mass is primarily the sacrifice of Golgotha in the sacramental form, but for those in the Vatican, he said, they’re more stressing the banquet element which according to Bishop Schneider is Protestant and Lutheran and not of apostolic tradition. This, he added, was especially clear in the Pope’s 2022 apostolic letter Desiderio Desideravi on liturgical formation. 

“This is very serious,” he said. Asked how the Vatican could gain a clearer picture of traditional Catholic so that they’re not erroneously called “extremists,” he said such terminology is abusive and an injustice. 

“Maybe they have to apply these words to themselves,” he said. “Are they not extremists when they’re ruthlessly persecuting such an old treasure of the Church? Is this not extremist also? So they apply their behavior to others. Theirs is an ideology to repeat a new form of Protestant understanding, and this is undermining the unchanging Catholic proof of the sacrificial character of the Mass and primarily the adorational character of the Holy Mass.”

Could the situation worsen? “All is in the hands of Providence,” Bishop Schneider replied. “Even if God permits such persecution of this treasure of the Church, he permits this for a greater good, that our faith will be purified, cleansed, and the truth will be ever more visible after this crisis.” He said the “beauty of the sacrificial, adorational and unchanging character of Mass and the liturgy should be ever more highlighted so that in the future, no pope would ever dare to make such a revolution again — not in such a drastic revolutionary way.” 

“Of course,” he added, “the Church can make some changes, but not in a drastic and revolutionary way.” 

He then made the point that if, as this pontificate insists, the liturgical reforms after Vatican II were not a revolution but in continuity with Tradition, “then why do they persecute the traditional form?” If the Novus Ordo is just another form of the Tradition, he asked, then why do they have to persecute the other form, which is also tradition?

Bishop Schneider said that, to him, this shows their “concept of the Mass is contrary in some way to what expresses the traditional form of the Mass, and this traditional form of the Mass is bothering them, or questioning their new ideological understanding of the Mass, which is in contrast to the perennial sense of the Church.” 

Bishop Schneider closed by expressing confidence that “no pope, no bishop, no Vatican dicastery will succeed in eliminating a millennium-old treasure.” The Holy Spirit, he added, “will not allow this and even after Traditionis Custodes, the Holy Spirit is now awakening a new wave of love for the traditional liturgy for new generations.”

“This is a fact which demonstrates it’s the work of the Holy Spirit,” he said, “and shows that they cannot fight against the work of the Holy Spirit. 

“I would say to the Holy Father, to cardinals in Rome, to the Dicastery for Divine Worship, to diocesan bishops: Do not dare to fight against the work of the Holy Spirit.”