Bishop Paprocki Discusses ‘Traditionis Custodes’: Liturgical Unity Doesn’t Mean Liturgical Uniformity

The shepherd of Springfield, Illinois, who last month issued canonical dispensations for devotees of the traditional Latin Mass, said Pope Francis’ motu proprio doesn’t suppress the extraordinary form, as some claim.

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, has issued dispensations for two churches in his diocese, allowing them to continue to celebrate the traditional Latin Mass.
Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, has issued dispensations for two churches in his diocese, allowing them to continue to celebrate the traditional Latin Mass. (photo: Diocese of Springfield, Ill.)

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, a canon lawyer, sparked headlines after he promptly issued dispensations for two churches in his diocese, allowing them to continue to celebrate the traditional Latin Mass following the release of Pope Francis’ motu proprio Traditionis Custodes. But in an interview with Register senior editor Joan Frawley Desmond, he also pushes back against reports that frame the Pope’s move as a full suppression of the extraordinary form of the Mass, or link the celebration of this rite to open dissent from the Second Vatican Council. 


After the release of Pope Francis’ motu proprio, you issued dispensations for two churches in the Diocese of Springfield, allowing them to continue to celebrate Masses in Latin according to the 1962 Missal. Yet you’ve also challenged claims that Francis is suppressing the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite. 

I was baptized Thomas, so my patron saints are Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher. I look to both for guidance, particularly St. Thomas More, who was a lawyer. He did what we lawyers are trained to do: Read the words [in a document]. That instinct is helpful now as we review Pope Francis’ motu proprio.

Some folks think the traditional Latin Mass, the Missal of 1962, has been suppressed, but Traditionis Custodes doesn’t say that. 

Its main thrust is to give bishops responsibility for these matters, in contrast to Pope Benedict XVI, who, in his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, used his papal authority to give all priests the faculty to say the extraordinary form. 

Pope Francis is basically saying that the bishop has liturgical oversight in his diocese. The Holy Father is not calling for the suppression of the 1962 Missal. If he were, he could have said, “I’m not allowing anyone to use the 1962 Missal.” 

He didn’t do that. He asked bishops to review the situation, and where the extraordinary form is fulfilling a pastoral need, to retain it.


So as a bishop and canon lawyer, you are asking Church leaders and lay Catholics to carefully read the motu proprio

Regarding the language of the motu proprio, I have tried to distinguish between the use of “should” and “shall.” In the document, there are recommendations regarding how things should be done as opposed to mandates, like “must” or “shall.” 

In one passage, according to the English translation, “Priests ordained after the motu proprio should contact their bishop, who shall contact the Holy See to consult.” Well, a consultation is different from approval, consent or permission.

But since this matter is now under the local bishop’s authority, Catholics also need to find out what their bishop has to say about this. 


Yet the new motu proprio has also raised questions about Francis’ long-term plans for the extraordinary form. 

Both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have expressed the hope that there will eventually be one form. 

At the time that Pope Benedict issued his motu proprio, I thought he was perhaps setting [the ordinary form and the extraordinary form] on parallel tracks and, at some point, maybe they would converge into one form.

Pope Francis also hopes that there will be one form, although he doesn’t say it will be a merging of the two. Instead, he’s hoping the old form will go away.


Why are so many younger Catholics attracted to the traditional Latin Mass, and how will the motu proprio affect them? 

After the Second Vatican Council, lots of people thought that contemporary music would help bring the young to church. Now, the young are saying, “If I want rock music or folk music, I’ll go to a concert or a nightclub. If I go to church, I want something that’s going to put me in touch with the Divine.”

I wonder if the attraction to the extraordinary form, for some people, is not to the ritual itself but to what surrounds it: the sacred music, the Gregorian chant, the use of incense and the celebration of the Mass ad orientem [to the liturgical east]. These [elements can also be part of] the ordinary form. 


Why are divisions over the Novus Ordo Missae (the ordinary form of the Roman Rite) reportedly more pronounced in the U.S. than in other countries? 

I haven’t heard that the U.S. is necessarily the epicenter of support for the traditional Latin Mass. But it does seem that the 1962 Missal is more widely used here. 

It may be a reaction to the abuses that [accompanied the implementation of the] ordinary form. 

Also, we were founded as a Protestant country, and that’s still in our culture.

The Second Vatican Council [led some U.S. Catholics to focus on] bridging the gap with Protestants. And, of course, we must reach out to our separated brothers and sisters, with the goal of bringing unity to the Church. But the way to do that is not to adopt a Protestant approach to liturgy or music. 

That did not happen in countries that are more culturally Catholic, like Poland, where I have traveled extensively. 

In Poland, the primate, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński of Warsaw, and Cardinal Karol Wojtyła of Kraków, who would become Pope St. John Paul II, directed a correct implementation of the Second Vatican Council. When you go to a Mass almost anywhere in Poland, it will be celebrated in the ordinary form in a very respectful and traditional way.


The motu proprio has stirred some confusion about whether the extraordinary form can only be celebrated in certain designated churches as opposed to a parish church.

There is some ambiguity about this. In one paragraph, the motu proprio does make reference to Masses which use the 1962 Missal no longer being celebrated in parochial churches. But then there’s a later article that says when the bishop reviews the situation of parishes where [such] Masses are being celebrated, he may decide to retain them. 

Well, if they’re currently celebrating the extraordinary form in a parish church, what are they supposed to do? I don’t think the Holy Father is calling for them to be kicked out of the parish. I don’t think he’s saying you have to move them to the gym or reconstitute the canonical status from a church to a shrine or an oratory.


Are you aware of situations either in your diocese or elsewhere in the U.S. where the celebration of the extraordinary form is associated with outright rejection of the Second Vatican Council? 

I don’t think that’s the case; certainly not in my experience. 

In my diocese, we have Masses with the extraordinary form celebrated in two churches, St. Rose of Lima parish in Quincy, Illinois, staffed by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, which only celebrates Mass in the extraordinary form, and St. Katharine Drexel parish, which has two churches and where Mass is said in both the ordinary form, in English and Spanish, and the extraordinary form. Obviously, Catholics at St. Katharine Drexel accept the ordinary form because its celebrated there. I’ve also talked with members of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, and they accept the validity of the Second Vatican Council. 

But I would clarify that when some people question the success of the Second Vatican Council, they are not necessarily challenging its validity. By that I mean it’s possible to say that the Council has, at least to date, failed to meet some of its objectives. That’s different from saying it’s invalid. 

Stephen Bullivant, the author of Mass Exodus: Catholic Disaffiliation in Britain and America Since Vatican II, offers a sociological analysis of the numbers and trends of Catholicism in these two countries since the Second Vatican Council. He argues that if the [Council Fathers sought] to increase participation in religious life, the priestly life, and in the sacramental and Eucharistic life of the Church, then a comparison of the [relevant sociological data] prior to the Council and afterward suggest that they failed. 

In France, less than 10% of Catholics regularly attend Sunday Mass. In the United States, between 25% and 39% of Catholics do so. 

So without questioning the validity of anything that the Second Vatican Council taught, the numbers raise questions about our approaches to pastoral ministry. What we’re currently doing, in many ways, is not working.


Pope Francis said that Traditionis Custodes was designed to promote unity in the Church. How does the celebration of both the ordinary and extraordinary forms affect our unity as one Church? 

Unity is the hope that Our Lord himself expressed: that all may be one. That is what we hope and pray for, that we will all be of one faith and united in communion with God in his Kingdom. 

Over 2,000 years of Christianity, we have struggled with that teaching in many different ways. I don’t think that unity necessarily means uniformity, that we do everything the same way, particularly in an age that celebrates diversity.

The challenge is how to provide for some diversity in our worship styles that will not divide us, in terms of what we ultimately believe, or in terms of our ability to love each other and to love God.

Archbishop Hubertus van Megen celebrates the episcopal consecration of Father John Kiplimo Lelei as auxiliary bishop of Kenya’s Diocese of Eldoret on May 25, 2024.

Nuncio in Kenya: Church in Europe is Losing ‘its Inner Compass’

The Nairobi-based Vatican diplomat, who has also been representing the Holy Father in South Sudan, highlighted the need to seek God’s mercy as important and implored: “Let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”