Pope’s Restrictions Spark Resurgence of Interest in Traditional Mass Among Youth

Two French Catholic writers analyze how Traditionis Custodes is fueling a Traditional Mass movement among young Catholics

Pilgrims approach Chartres Cathedral at the end of the annual Pentecost Pilgrimage, June 6, 2022
Pilgrims approach Chartres Cathedral at the end of the annual Pentecost Pilgrimage, June 6, 2022 (photo: Edward Pentin / National Catholic Register)

PARIS — The authors of two articles published in the progressive French Catholic daily La Croix have drawn attention to how Pope Francis’ restrictions on the Traditional Latin Mass have fueled a growth in support for the ancient liturgy among young Catholics, producing the opposite effect to what was intended and posing a dilemma for bishops and for Rome. 

In a June 4 article headlined “Young Trads: ‘Bishops Must Seek a New Balance,’” French Catholic historian Christophe Dickès recalled a video, made soon after Pope Francis imposed sweeping restrictions on the Traditional Latin Mass with his July 2021 motu proprio Traditionis Custodes, in which a group of young French Catholics made clear their love for the old form of the Mass was not ideological. 

They were not “grumpy, old fashioned, and even less, separatist,” Dickès observed, but were instead attached to the traditional rite because of its “transcendence, its verticality, and its orientation towards the East.” There was no desire to dissent, he said, but rather they addressed the Pope, saying: “We are your sheep.”

But he noted that almost two years later, Rome has rejected such appeals.

“Worse still,” Dickès said, “legal blindspots” in Traditionis Custodes led to further restrictions via Cardinal Arthur Roche, prefect of the Dicastery for Divine Worship, who “had the Pope sign another text reducing episcopal power in this area to almost nothing” — what Dickès described as “squeezing the lemon until the pips squeak.”

He was referring to two particular measures, a responsa ad dubia document issued in December 2021 and a rescript in February 2023, both severely limiting a bishop’s authority in granting permission to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass and instead concentrating authority in Rome. The measures are part of Pope Francis’ stated wish in Traditionis Custodes for the reformed liturgy of Pope Paul VI to be the “unique expression” of the Roman Rite.

“Much has been said about this policy, which is out of step with the spirit of decentralization that the Pope wished to give his pontificate,” Dickès noted. “While the progressive wing of the Church keeps repeating the need to put an end to the pyramidal organization of the Church, this does not seem to be accepted when it comes to the traditionalist world.”

Recalling Archbishop Georg Gänswein’s recent disclosure that Benedict XVI considered Traditionis Custodesa mistake” when he found out about it in L’Osservatore Romano, Dickès also pointed out that bishops also were surprised by the restrictions that the Vatican “justified by a survey of dioceses, the results of which were never made public” — and which, according to a report by Vatican journalist Diane Montagna, were mostly favorable to the old rite. 

Dickès then referred to a May 26 survey by La Croix that questioned 4,000 young French Catholics who will be part of the 32,000 from France heading to World Youth Day in Lisbon in August. The survey, he said, showed the “pips had not squeaked” and that the “wall erected by the Roman decisions had not produced the desired effects.” 

On the contrary, he said the “pips seem to be germinating, to the extent that 38% of the young people questioned said they appreciated the Latin Mass, while 40% had nothing against it, even if the rite did not correspond to their expectations.” In addition, the recent annual traditional pilgrimage over Pentecost from Paris to Chartres attracted a record number of young pilgrims, causing the organizers to end registrations early. 

The proportion of the 30,000 young people questioned saying the Traditional Latin Mass was their favorite Mass was still relatively low, at 8%, and 19% said they attended it occasionally, but the report also said that “in many churches” where the TLM is celebrated, “a good third” are 18-35-year-olds.

“The reality on the ground as expressed in this survey reveals a complexity that no longer corresponds to the progressive/traditionalist polarity of the 1970s,” Dickès observed. In this respect, he said, there is an “astonishing parallel” between the La Croix survey and the video made by the young Catholic faithful in 2021. “These young people present an astonishingly modern face, making the world aware of the hope that lies within them,” he said.

Furthermore, he said he agreed with La Croix’s editor, Jérôme Chapuis, who in a May 25 editorial said it would be a mistake to label young traditional Catholics as “reactionaries” or “Catho-identitarians.” Dickès referred to a 2021 American survey carried out by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter that revealed only a small minority of 18-39-year-olds (16%) attended the Latin Mass because of parental influence, with 36% saying the essential factor “was respect and veneration.”

Given this situation, Dickès said today bishops are confronted with a dilemma: how to deal with the reality of this rising “creative minority,” and how to handle vocations “without posing serious problems of conscience” for potential young candidates, “now that Rome must give approval for every new ordination in the old rite.”


Second La Croix Article 

In another article in La Croix headlined “The Chartres Pilgrimage Has Become the Symbol of a Fundamental Movement,” Jean-Bernard, a contributor to the French traditional Catholic monthly La Nef, highlighted a growing “objective risk” of a “consolidation of parallel communities located outside the diocesan structures.” This is a danger, he said, which has been “considerably amplified by Traditionis Custodes” whose “key idea, in essence, has been to isolate the traditionalists” outside these diocesan structures “in order to avoid any publicity or propagation given to this rite.”

Recalling the Pope’s restrictions, he said the “traditional Mass can no longer, in principle, be celebrated in the parish,” and noted another “visible effect” of the restrictions: “diocesan seminaries emptying in favor of the formation houses of traditionalist communities.” 

These trends, he said, therefore “urgently demand, contrary to the orientation adopted by Rome, bringing the traditional Mass back into the bosom of dioceses.” Furthermore, he said, “bishops must imperatively reclaim the fullness of their prerogatives in liturgical matters, in accordance with the ‘healthy decentralization’ whose merits Pope Francis often praises.” 

The French author proposed a possible solution that would entail each form of the rite adopting some minor aspects of the other but with these changes carried out very carefully and in line with the principles set forth in Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Second Vatican Council’s constitution on the divine liturgy

He acknowledged that other important factors also need to be taken into account, such as a crisis on “the theological level, Christianity's relationship with modernity and, on the moral level, the disaster of scandals,” but he believes such proposed solutions could “feed the necessary debate” on ending the liturgical war between Catholics — a war, he said, that began “more than 50 years ago, is now in the third generation of faithful, and has definitely lasted too long.”


An Ecclesiology of Communion

For his part, Dickès observed that any group that feels persecuted ends up being reinforced, something Benedict XVI understood, according to Archbishop Gänswein in his recent book. In light of this, Dickès called on all parties to “rediscover and cultivate an ecclesiology of communion.” 

“This would be the best way forward: that of seeking a new equilibrium,” he said. “It’s a narrow path, but not an impossible one. 

“It would be a reminder that everyone has a place in the Father’s house, like an echo of the words of the prophet Jeremiah: ‘I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be lost (23, 1-6).”

Taken together, these commentaries by Dickès and Bernard are significant as they appeared in La Croix, France’s only nationwide Catholic daily, well known for its liberal editorial position and for generally taking a favorable view of Pope Francis’ reforms.

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