Billboard Posters Defending the Traditional Liturgy Appear on Streets of Rome

The initiative comes from an Italian group of traditional Catholics, ‘Pro Libertate Missalis.’

A Pro Libertate Missalis poster defending the traditional Latin Mass is seen Tuesday in Rome
A Pro Libertate Missalis poster defending the traditional Latin Mass is seen Tuesday in Rome (photo: Edward Pentin)

VATICAN CITY — Dozens of billboard posters defending the traditional Latin Mass appeared on the streets of Rome Tuesday as resistance grows to Pope Francis’ restrictions of the ancient liturgy. 

The posters, each carrying a quote from Benedict XVI, Pope St. John Paul II and Pope St. Pius V underscoring the historical importance and sacrality of the traditional liturgy, is the initiative of a group of Italian traditional Catholics called Pro Libertate Missalis. 

Posted near and around the Vatican, the posters will remain visible for 15 days, the group said in a statement.

The statement added that the organizers wished to make public their “profound attachment to the traditional Mass at a time when its extinction seems to be planned.” 

They also said the action was being taken “out of love for the Pope, so that he might be paternally open to understanding those on the liturgical peripheries who no longer feel welcome in the Church.” The traditional liturgy, they added, is “the full and complete expression of the entire Catholic Faith.”

The Pro Libertate Missalis group includes members of the National Committee on Summorum Pontificum, a federation of Italian Catholic Church organizations, as well as the president of the Italian pro-life and pro-family group Pro Vita & Famiglia Onlus, Toni Brandi, and the authors of several traditional Catholic Italian blogs. One includes MessainLatino, which has half a million views each month, was the first to report on Francis’ planned traditional Mass restrictions in May 2021, and recently helped uncover the Father Marko Rupnik scandal. 

The billboard initiative comes after the Pope imposed sweeping restrictions on the TLM in July 2021 with his motu proprio Traditionis Custodes (Guardians of Tradition), reversing previous papal decrees that had liberalized the Mass celebrated before the liturgical reforms of Pope St. Paul VI in 1970, and urging a “return in due time” to the liturgy instituted after the Second Vatican Council. 

In his letter to bishops that accompanied the motu proprio, the Pope said he took the action because of “instrumental use” of the liturgy, which is also called the Tridentine Mass, and because he believed some adherents rejected the Second Vatican Council, claiming it “betrayed the Tradition and the ‘true Church.’”

The Pope’s move caused dismay and consternation among traditional Catholics, especially in the United States where the motu proprio has had the most impact. The older form of the liturgy has been banned in several dioceses or relegated from parish churches to town halls and gyms, despite growing attendance and vocations.

Quotes Premium

One of the posters contains a famous quote of Benedict XVI: “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden of even considered harmful.” The quote is taken from Benedict’s accompanying letter to his 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum that liberalized the celebration of the traditional Mass, but which Pope Francis abrogated in Traditionis Custodes, along with John Paul II’s preceding liberalization of the ancient liturgy in 1988. 

Another of the posters contains a quote from Pope St. John Paul II, who told the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in 2001 that the Pius V Missal “contains many very beautiful prayers with which the priest expresses a profound sense of reverence and humility before the Sacred Mysteries. These prayers reveal the very substance of every Liturgy.” 

A third poster features a quote of Pope St. Pius V from his 1570 apostolic constitution Quo Primum Tempore, in which he stipulated that no one can be forced or coerced to alter the Roman Missal but that it should “remain always valid and retain its full force.” 

“The growing hostility towards the traditional liturgy finds no justification on either a theological or pastoral level,” the Pro Libertate Missalis group said in the statement published March 28. The group stressed traditional Catholics are “not rebels against the Church” but have growing numbers of faithful and priestly vocations, and “constitute an example of steadfast perseverance in Catholic faith and unity” in a world “increasingly insensitive to the Gospel” and a Church “yielding to disintegrating impulses.”

For this reason, the group said, the “attitude of rejection” being imposed on these communities is a cause of “bitter sorrow” and “constitutes a grave injustice.” The group’s members believe they cannot therefore remain silent, and so are appealing to synodality and the current emphasis on “listening, welcoming, and inclusion” as a resolution. 

Those who go to the traditional Mass “are not second-class believers,” the statement said, “nor are they deviants to be re-educated or a burden to be gotten rid of.”

In comments to the Register, Luigi Casalini of MessainLatino said he and other members of the Pro Libertate Missalis group don’t recognize themselves at all in the negative narrative directed at them, partly because the results of a survey of bishops on which Traditionis Custodes is based actually were “largely positive.” They therefore find the restrictions, by any objective measure, prejudicial and “deeply unfair.” There is “nothing theologically wrong or outdated” about the traditional Mass, Casalini stressed.

Rare Poster Protests

Although billboard posters are commonly used in Italy, they are very seldom used to protest against the Pope. Under Benedict XVI and Pope St. John Paul II, such action was unheard of, but this is the second time they’ve been used to protest against Francis. 

In 2017, an anonymous group plastered posters across Rome containing a photograph of a grim-faced Pope Francis and the caption “Where is your mercy?” The action was taken after the Pope’s refusal to answer the dubia about Amoris Laetitia, the abrupt dismissal of priests in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the Vatican’s intervention in the Order of Malta. Unlike the posters displayed Tuesday, those were allegedly posted illegally and soon removed by city officials. 

Toni Brandi, who chaired the World Congress of Families in 2019, also initiated a similar campaign a few years ago but using posters on the side of vans. In 2017 he had the vehicles drive around the Vatican with quotes of John Paul II upholding the indissolubility of marriage, and pictures of the late Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, the archbishop emeritus of Bologna, thanking him for his tireless defense of life.

Rome TLM Posters
English-language versions of three billboard posters defending the traditional Latin Mass that appeared in Rome on March 28, 2023.