Cardinal Zen: Traditional Latin Mass Should Continue, Though Some Critics Hope it Will ‘Disappear’

Cardinal Zen said he is pleased that the bishops of Hong Kong have opted not to make any changes regarding the celebration of the Latin Mass in their diocese.

Cardinal Joseph Zen in St. Peter's Square.
Cardinal Joseph Zen in St. Peter's Square. (photo: Courtesy photo / Cardinal Joseph Zen)

VATICAN CITY — Cardinal Joseph Zen said Monday he thinks Traditionis custodes may not have a disastrous effect on the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass, even if he doubts the intentions of some TLM critics closely connected to Pope Francis.

“I think the effect of the motu proprio may not be that devastating,” the cardinal emeritus of Hong Kong said Aug. 9, during a livestreamed event on Pope Francis’ restrictions and “the future of the Traditional Latin Mass.”

Cardinal Zen said he is pleased that the bishops of Hong Kong, for example, have opted not to make any changes regarding the celebration of the Latin Mass in their diocese. But added that he is worried some people hope the pope’s motu proprio will not only act to regulate that form of the Mass, but be “a process to have it disappear.” 

“That’s very worrying, because I think [the Latin Mass] is something very precious and very beneficial for the piety and nourishment of faith,” he stated.

Cardinal Zen also said he suspects the ideas behind Traditionis custodes may not have originated with Pope Francis but with “the people around him, especially [in] the Secretariat of State.” 

“Maybe if anybody has some more information about the origin of all this storm, it may spare us too much discussion about something which I think should be obvious: that [the Latin Mass] form of the liturgy is very conducive to piety and even to strengthen the faith,” the cardinal said.

Traditionis custodes, which entered into force on July 16, the day it was released, underlined that it is a bishop’s “exclusive competence” to authorize Traditional Latin Masses in his diocese.

The document made sweeping changes to Benedict XVI’s 2007 apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum, which had acknowledged the right of all priests to say Mass using the Roman Missal of 1962 without having to seek their bishop’s permission.

Mass according to the 1962 Roman Missal is referred to variously as the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, the Tridentine Mass, and the Traditional Latin Mass.

The Mass most commonly celebrated in Catholic churches worldwide, rooted in the Roman Missal promulgated in 1970 by Pope Paul VI, is also known by several different names, including the ordinary form of the Roman Rite, the Mass of Paul VI, and the Novus Ordo.

Cardinal Zen spoke about the Traditional Latin Mass during a livestreamed panel discussion that also included the auxiliary bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan,Bishop Athanasius Schneider; laymen John Rao; Felipe Alanis; James Bogle, and Robert Moynihan. The online roundtable was hosted by Aurelio Porfiri, a music composer and founder of Altare Dei, a Catholic magazine about liturgy and sacred music.

During the discussion, the Chinese cardinal spoke about his upbringing and his earliest experiences with the Latin Mass.

He noted that his father, who was a convert to Catholicism, had wanted to become a priest, but was discouraged from it by missionaries since he was so newly confirmed.

According to Cardinal Zen, the missionaries told his father to get married and later “send your boy to become a priest.”

“So my father got married and he had five girls before me. I was the sixth in the family and the first boy,” the cardinal said, explaining that his father took him to Mass every day except Sunday, when he took him to five Masses at five different Catholic churches.

“It was wonderful, in no way something tedious. Very enjoyable. And that’s the origin of my vocation to become a priest,” Cardinal Zen said.

The last Mass of the day on Sunday was always a well-attended High Latin Mass, he said, noting that the music was beautiful and captured his attention as a child.

He said he loves the Requiem Mass, and can sing the Latin sequence Dies Irae “from the first word to the last.”

At the urging of another panel member, Cardinal Zen sang a small part during the livestream. “A beautiful prayer,” he said.

He added: “I would like to have this for my funeral, so now if there is not anybody able to do that I will record it” to have it played.

Nicolas Poussin, “Sts. Peter and John Healing the Lame Man,” 1655 — “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk.” ... He leaped up, stood, and walked around, and went into the Temple with them, walking and jumping and praising God.” [Acts 3:6, 8].

No Reason for Being Sad

“For man was made an intelligent and free member of society by God who created him, but even more important, he is called as a son to commune with God and share in his happiness.” (Gaudium et Spes, No. 21)