Cardinal Nichols Prohibits Traditional Easter Triduum Services

The Archbishop of Westminster said he realized his decision would ‘disappoint some people’ but that he had to ‘keep the wider picture in view.’

Cardinal Vincent Nichols leads the Easter Vigil Mass on the evening of Holy Saturday at Westminster Cathedral on April 4, 2015 in London, England.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols leads the Easter Vigil Mass on the evening of Holy Saturday at Westminster Cathedral on April 4, 2015 in London, England. (photo: David Levenson / Getty )

LONDON — Cardinal Vincent Nichols has declined to give permission for the old Latin rite celebration of the Easter Triduum in Westminster, making it the first time since the 1990s that the Easter Triduum won’t be celebrated in the Diocese of Westminster according to the liturgical books in use before the 1970 reform of the liturgy.

The only “Traditional Triduum” in the diocese, which includes London, was to take place at St. Mary Moorfields, which has been attended by up to 200 people in recent years, drawing parishioners from other parts of the archdiocese who attend the traditional liturgy in other churches. 

But in a Feb. 23 email obtained by the Register to Father Michael Cullinan, the regular celebrant of the traditional Triduum services, Cardinal Nichols said that “for the sake of the wider provision” of allowing the traditional liturgy elsewhere in the archdiocese, he would “have to decline” Father Cullinan’s request for the Triduum services to take place at St. Mary Moorfields.

The Latin Mass Society of England and Wales said in a statement Feb. 27 it was “grieved” by the news, and pointed out that the faithful who attend the traditional liturgy in several other locations in the archdiocese “will now be denied the chance to attend the most important liturgical days of the year according to this liturgy within the Archdiocese of Westminster.”

Traditional Triduum services will still be celebrated in London but outside the archdiocese.

In his email, Cardinal Nichols said he took his decision in accordance with “the parameters laid down by the Holy See” — an implicit reference to Pope Francis’ 2021 apostolic letter Traditionis Custodes (Guardians of the Tradition) and subsequent clarifications from the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, which imposed restrictions on the traditional Latin liturgy. 

The cardinal said he was “waiting for the judgment of the Holy See on which, if any, parish church may be used for the celebration of Mass according to the Missal antecedent to the reform of 1970.” 

“I appreciate your desire to help the group that gathers for the Triduum and the stable group at Spanish Place,” the cardinal added, referring to another parish that Father Cullinan serves and for whom he celebrates the traditional liturgy on Sundays. “But, for the sake of the wider provision, I have to decline your suggestion that the Spanish Place stable group could transfer to St. Mary Moorfields for the Triduum,” he continued.

“I realize that this will disappoint some people, but I have to keep the wider picture in view,” the cardinal said. 

The cardinal’s media spokesman, Alexander Desforges, confirmed to the Register Feb. 27 that the cardinal had withheld the permission and that the cardinal had “explained his decision” in the email.

It is not clear what prompted Cardinal Nichols to issue his prohibition this year as he had allowed the traditional Triduum to take place in previous years. Last year, after he had threatened not to allow it, he reversed course following a petition. 

In its statement, the Latin Mass Society recalled that when Traditionis Custodes was published, Cardinal Nichols somewhat distanced himself from the apostolic letter, saying that, in his judgment, Pope Francis’ concerns “do not reflect the overall liturgical life of this diocese.” 

But since then, the cardinal has made two other significant prohibitions: In January 2022, he canceled a 20-year-old practice of the archdiocese providing the Sacrament of Confirmation according to the traditional liturgy, also known as the Vetus Ordo, and last November, he ended the Latin Mass Society’s annual requiem Mass in Westminster Cathedral, which had been celebrated for more than 50 years.

“It seems that Catholics attached to the older liturgy are being punished for misdemeanors that Cardinal Nichols believes they have not committed,” said Joseph Shaw, chairman of the Latin Mass Society.

He added that they are now awaiting “with concern” what the Dicastery for Divine Worship might decide regarding current celebrations of the Vetus Ordo on Sundays and weekdays in the archdiocese — liturgies, Shaw said, “which have enriched and consoled many hundreds of Catholics over the decades.” The dicastery has already made it known that it intends to gradually phase out the older rite, but that pastoral care has to be offered to those who attend such liturgies. 

Concerns have been heightened following recent restrictions in other parts of the world such as St. Mary’s Cathedral in Austin, Texas, whose traditional Latin Mass, which draws between 500-600 faithful each week, will be discontinued on March 19. 

It also follows comments made by Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago who, after attending a Feb. 6 plenary meeting of the Dicastery for Divine Worship of which he is a member and following a private audience he had had with Pope Francis, said the Traditional Latin Mass “impoverishes” the Church.

Shaw said that the traditional Mass has “never ceased to be celebrated regularly in the archdiocese” thanks to the “English indult” granted by Pope Paul VI in 1971, even though it was prohibited in the rest of the world. 

He said it was therefore “tragic to see that pastoral attitude now being put aside” through these recent restrictions.

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