Washington Archbishop Addresses Decision to Limit Traditional Latin Mass

Cardinal Gregory made the comments while speaking at Catholic University of America.

Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C.
Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C. (photo: Courtney Mares/CNA / EWTN)

Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., explained his reasoning for limiting the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass in his archdiocese, saying that allowing the old form of the Mass is an “exception” and that the post-Vatican II Mass should be “the dominant rite.”

Cardinal Gregory’s comments on the Traditional Latin Mass, also known as the Tridentine Mass, were given in response to a student’s question at The Catholic University of America’s Presidential Speaker Series on Thursday night. The Catholic student had asked how he could respond to his peers in “a loving and opening way” as to why the Traditional Latin Mass could not be offered on campus.

Cardinal Gregory answered by saying that the Traditional Latin Mass is “not forbidden, but it’s limited.”

WATCH: Asked why CUA students have no access to TLM on campus, +Wilton Gregory says “Tradition dies a slow, sometimes bloody death”, acts like Summorum PontifIcum never happened, & adds that #PopeFrancis “is right to say (through #TraditionisCustodes) deal with the priests.”(1/4) pic.twitter.com/VlDYv2FDTc

— Diane Montagna (@dianemontagna) December 8, 2023

“When Pope Paul VI instituted the new ritual tradition, he made an exception for older priests … who, it would have been just too much for them, they had celebrated the Tridentine Mass for 60 years, he made an exception for them. But it was his desire, his intent, to say that when that generation goes that everyone will be in the new Mass.”

Though the celebration of the newer form of the Mass, which follows the 1970 Roman Missal, is the norm throughout the world; the Traditional Latin Mass, which follows the 1962 Roman Missal, is still celebrated by many members of the faithful. 

In July 2021, Pope Francis published the apostolic letter Traditionis Custodes, which established new guidelines for how the older form of the Mass could be celebrated. The Holy See then published additional guidelines in February that clarified that any dioceses wanting to grant parishes special dispensations to celebrate the old Mass needed the express approval of the Vatican to do so. The result of these instructions was a restriction on the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass throughout the world.

In line with Traditionis Custodes, Cardinal Gregory published his own liturgical guidelines in July 2022 in which he reduced the number of parishes that could celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass to three. The three churches Gregory said are allowed to celebrate the old form of the Mass are St. John the Evangelist in Forest Glen, Maryland; the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in Washington, D.C.; and St. Dominic in Aquasco, Maryland.

Cardinal Gregory pointed out that he allowed the Traditional Latin Mass to be celebrated without restriction in his former Diocese of Belleville, Illinois, and Archdiocese of Atlanta. His decision to restrict the Latin Mass did not come until the pope’s new guidance in Traditionis Custodes

Variances Among Dioceses

Bishops have taken differing approaches to implementing Traditionis Custodes in their various dioceses. Bishop Jeffrey Monforton, formerly of the Diocese of Steubenville, Ohio, made headlines when he stopped the Traditional Latin Mass from being celebrated on the campus of Franciscan University, keeping the old Mass available only at a parish in downtown Steubenville. Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, worked to preserve the celebration of the old form of the Mass in his diocese and vocally defended faithful who prefer to attend that Mass. 

Many dioceses continue to offer the Traditional Latin Mass or allow groups such as the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter to celebrate the old Mass. The Traditional Latin Mass remains available to the faithful in most parts of the country, though with limited Mass times. 

Cardinal Gregory, who has been the head of the Archdiocese of Washington since 2019, said he believes that by restricting the Traditional Latin Mass, “the Holy Father is trying to complete what Paul VI began,” that is, establish “the new rite as the dominant rite, but with exceptions, modest exceptions.”

“Tradition dies a slow death, sometimes a bloody death,” Cardinal Gregory added, pointing out that “two hundred years after Trent, there were still places that were celebrating the pre-Trenten Mass, so it took that long.”

As to why the new form of the Mass should be the dominant rite, Cardinal  Gregory said that it’s “because that’s the Church’s liturgy.” “If you want to belong to another ritual family, you can be Ruthenian, you can be Maronite, you can be Melkite, but the Roman rite has one dominant rite.”

Cardinal Gregory also said the Church’s goal is to unite people around the new Mass over time by also restricting the number of priests who are allowed to celebrate the old Mass.

“Any priest that wishes to celebrate that has to write to the bishop and say I accept the liturgical reform, I’m not fighting the reform, but I’d like to be able to make myself available to celebrate under these conditions; that’s for priests who are already priests,” Cardinal Gregory explained, adding that “anyone who is not yet ordained but would like to learn to celebrate [the old Mass] has to write to Rome.”

Cardinal Gregory added that he believes the pope is “right to say ‘deal with the priests’” promoting the Traditional Latin Mass. 

“In many of the places where it grew, the Tridentine rite, it grew because priests promoted it,” Cardinal Gregory said.

“In other words, if you had a guy that came into the parish and said, ‘Well I like this rite, I’m going to do it,’ and he gathered people together, and now all of a sudden he created the need in places where there wasn’t a need there.”

Monsignor Charles Pope, who serves as coordinator for the celebration of the Latin Mass in the Archdiocese of Washington, further clarified to CNA that any faithful wishing to worship through the older form of the Mass can still do so in the archdiocese.

“Here in the Archdiocese of Washington we remain committed to meeting the needs of Catholics attached to the old rite in the three locations,” Msgr. Pope said, adding “that commitment remains something that we’ve abided by.”

He further emphasized that “these Masses will continue to be celebrated at these locations” to “meet the needs of the faithful.”

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