‘Traditionis Custodes,’ One Year Later, Brings New Pastoral Realities and Challenges

Bishops seeking to faithfully fulfill the Pope’s call for greater regulation of the traditional Latin Mass are grappling with tough decisions that have real pastoral consequences.

A traditional Latin Mass is celebrated inside St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City.
A traditional Latin Mass is celebrated inside St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. (photo: PIGAMA / Shutterstock)

More than one year has passed since Pope Francis’ 2021 apostolic letter Traditionis Custodes (Guardians of Tradition), and as U.S. bishops implement the papal decree limiting the use of the 1962 Roman Missal for Catholic communities, new pastoral realities and challenges are arising.

For the most part, the 150,000 U.S. Catholics who regularly attend Mass celebrated with the 1962 Roman Missal, commonly called the traditional Latin Mass or “Tridentine Mass,” have been unaffected so far. But the issuance of new diocesan regulations limiting this form of the Mass has picked up in 2022, especially over the summer. 

The Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, announced July 29 that it would be reducing the number of traditional Latin Masses (celebrated weekly or monthly) from 21 to eight geographically dispersed locations. Among them are three parishes that are given at least two years to make the transition from the TLM. The Arlington Diocese has more than 70 parishes for 100,000 weekly Mass-attending Catholics (450,000 total registered parishioners), and the arrangement is intended to serve the 2.5% of Catholics who attend the older Mass. 

The Diocese of Arlington’s instruction follows on the heels of neighboring Archdiocese of Washington’s July 22 announcement implementing Traditionis Custodes, which limits the 1962 liturgy from six locations to three non-parochial churches in the archdiocese. Notably, the instructions from Cardinal Wilton Gregory ended the celebration of the TLM at St. Mary, Mother of God parish, a longtime bastion of the traditional Latin Mass community.

Changes in Arlington coincided with the latest development of Cardinal Blaise Cupich’s implementation of Traditionis Custodes in the Archdiocese of Chicago, which has been one of the more forceful cases of any diocese nationally. On Aug. 1, the celebration of Mass and other sacraments was prohibited at the Shrine of Christ the King, a Chicago church in a troubled neighborhood maintained by the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, a priestly society that only celebrates the sacraments in the pre-conciliar form.


Pastoral Challenge

On July 15, the Diocese of Savannah, Georgia, announced that the Vatican had approved Bishop Stephen Parkes’ proposal for implementing Traditionis Custodes in the diocese. The decree limits the celebration of the TLM to one location weekly and three locations monthly, while also noting that use of the 1962 Missal in Savannah will cease in May 2023.

Bishop Parkes, who has attended the traditional Latin Mass at the cathedral and has cultivated pastoral relationships with members of his flock who prefer the older form of the Mass, told the Register in late July he was trying in good conscience to fulfill the directives of the Holy Father outlined in Traditionis Custodes, but emphasized other bishops may come to different pastoral conclusions for their dioceses. 

“I take these things to prayer, first of all,” he said. “I put it in the hands of the Holy Spirit.” The bishop explained that with Pope Francis making clear his intention of moving the Church to a unitary celebration of the Roman Rite, he wanted to begin preparing the faithful for the eventual end of the use of the 1962 Missal. 

Bishop Parkes said he is open to having the ordinary Roman Rite Mass celebrated in Latin ad orientem (facing the east), with incense and sacred music sung by the schola. For now, he will be in dialogue with the TLM communities and the priests who celebrate it before making any further revisions.

“I am concerned about their spiritual life,” he said. “I certainly don’t want to bring harm or sadness to anybody.”

John Brenton, a member of the community that had participated in the TLM Mass at Savanah’s cathedral, which discontinued its use of the 1962 Roman Missal at the start of this month, expressed concern that the move would serve to marginalize Catholics who love the older Mass, proving counterproductive to the goal of drawing them into deeper unity with the wider Church.

Brenton said he understands the Pope has the authority to do what he did. But he rejects the idea that all Catholics attending the Tridentine Mass “deserved it.” 

“We are everything they say that they want,” he said about the TLM community and the Church’s call for more reverent participation in the liturgy. “Our attendance records and pictures attest to the vibrant and youthful demographics.”

However, Brenton stressed that while he was grieving the restrictions placed on traditional Catholic communities, his “honest assessment” is that Bishop Parkes of Savannah has been “nothing but charitable and loving in his interaction with us in person.”

“He visited us and sat ‘in choir’ with us for Mass. It was a very meaningful moment for us,” Brenton added. “I believe and hope that he came to the decision prayerfully and with great conflict.”

The Archdiocese of Detroit, which has 40 Catholic communities that offer the traditional Latin Mass, implemented its regulations in July. The archdiocese allows preexisting stable groups to continue, provided they fulfill the archdiocese’s conditions and reapply for permission annually unless otherwise specified. 

The directive requires Detroit priests requesting permission to celebrate the TLM to state in an annual homily that the post-Vatican II reform of the Mass and other sacred rites “provide a legitimate and fruitful path to holiness in the Catholic Church” and that to disparage them “puts one in opposition to the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church.”

The Detroit Archdiocese states the 1962 Roman Missal cannot be used during the Triduum, while other dioceses have specified Christmas, Easter and Pentecost also require use of the post-conciliar Roman Missal. 

Other bishops have chosen so far to use their authority to keep the status quo in their dioceses, on the basis that the pastoral concerns expressed by Pope Francis in connection with the TLM are not problematic in their jurisdictions. For instance, Archbishop Alexander Sample’s implementation of Traditionis Custodes in the Archdiocese of Portland, has resulted in “no major changes,” while Archbishop Jerome Listecki said applying the motu proprio “will not create much change” in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

One online tracker, TraditionisCustodes.info calculates that out of 98 U.S. dioceses that have responded, only three have suppressed the TLM; 23 have issued restrictions of some kind, and 72 have chosen thus far to leave it in place.


Unity and Division 

In his letter accompanying Traditionis Custodes, Pope Francis cited the need to act “in defense of the unity of the Body of Christ.” In doing so, his July 16, 2021, motu proprio abrogated Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum, which allowed for the wider celebration of the older form of the Mass. 

Benedict’s decree, Pope Francis explained, was aimed at “coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church” where he identified the failure of the Church’s leaders to promote “reconciliation and unity.” He maintained that the celebration of the 1962 Missal, “the extraordinary form,” and the reformed Roman Missal, the “ordinary form,” would be mutually enriching. Summorum Pontificum led to an explosion of traditional Latin Masses in the U.S. 

In his letter, Pope Francis pointed to a 2020 survey of bishops that indicated to him that liberalization of the traditional Latin Mass under St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI “was exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce the divergences, and encourage disagreements that injure the Church, block her path, and expose her to the peril of division.” The survey has been criticized for a lack of transparency and not being representative. 

The bishops implementing Traditionis Custodes have so far not explicitly identified “a widening gap” as an existing pastoral reality for them. Rather, they have stated their intention is to bring their respective jurisdictions in line with Pope Francis’ decree for unity in the celebration of the liturgy.

In the Diocese of Arlington’s decree, Bishop Michael Burbidge pointed out, “Already it is the reality that our faithful who participate in the usus antiquior also frequent the reformed liturgy interchangeably for daily, Sunday, and Holy Day Masses.”

In the Archdiocese of Washington, Cardinal Gregory said the majority of those attending Latin Masses “are sincere, faith-filled and well-meaning. Likewise, the majority of priests who celebrate these liturgies are doing their very best to respond pastorally to the needs of the faithful.”


Upended Parishes

Meanwhile, the removal of the traditional Latin Mass from Catholic parishes may have the unanticipated consequence of financially threatening or capsizing parishes that depend on the Latin Mass community for financial support and volunteers in order to carry out the Church’s mission and maintain its presence in poorer areas.

Phillip Menke, a member of the finance council at St. Mary, Mother of God, in Washington, D.C., told the Register that St. Mary functioned as a single parish with the active collaboration of congregants at the traditional Latin, English and Chinese Masses. 

“We added a parish picnic, a parish arts festival — we did food drives together,” said Menke. “We all got along really well.”

Menke said the parish plans to replace the older form with a “beautiful Novus Ordo,” and the pastor has been “trying to reach all of us.” Menke believed the parish would remain financially viable, but the likelihood of some devotees of the TLM choosing to worship elsewhere may tighten the budget, reducing the parish’s outreach capacity.

Another Washington parish, St. Francis de Sales, which hosts an older African American congregation and the D.C. Juventutem group of young-adult Catholics attached to the traditional Latin Mass, however, may be more imperiled. The parish celebrates both a traditional and a Gospel Mass. 

Will [who requested his last name be withheld] is a married father of eight who attends the parish. He said Catholics attending the older form helped financially support the parish and reduced expenses by volunteering. 

“I’ve attended Novus Ordo Masses and Tridentine Masses,” he said. “I think there’s a richness we’ve been allowed to experience. And now we’re no longer going to be included in parish life in these prayers and forms we’ve been accustomed to.”

The Detroit Archdiocese’s policy seems designed to recognize the role the traditional Latin Mass plays in parishes, which may avoid compromising parishes’ ability to carry out their mission. 

Alex Begin, executive producer of EWTN’s Extraordinary Faith, told the Register that the older form has grown in the Detroit metro area by having a collaborative relationship with diocesan chanceries and strengthening evangelization.

Begin pointed to one parish in Detroit, St. Mary of Redford, which was revitalized using both a traditional Latin Mass and a Novus Ordo with contemporary charismatic music. Begin said the parish brings Catholics from suburban areas back into the inner city — a culture of encounter that infuses more financial support and volunteering, and in turn allows these parishes to do more robust evangelization and outreach.

“We have to be a positive addition to their existence,” he said. Begin, however, explained that while every community has its “cranks,” the loud, toxic voices online claiming affiliation with the TLM community represent only themselves. They do not represent the Catholics who have dedicated time, talent and treasure to build living Catholic communities around the older Roman Rite and have the most to lose by not cultivating positive relationships needed to sustain them within their dioceses.

“The people who are ‘keyboard warriors’ aren’t the ones who get things done here,” Begin said. 


Assessing Pastoral Reality

A number of Catholics who attend the traditional Latin Mass expressed concern to the Register that spiritual trauma over losing their Mass, similar to what happens with the closure of any Catholic parish community, will weaken Catholics’ relationships with the Church or their faith, particularly among Millennials and Gen Z. While some may make that transition, others will go elsewhere.

Begin said attempts to force Catholics from the traditional rite into the ordinary Roman Rite will not work, simply for the fact that human beings do not like being forced to do what they could not be freely persuaded to do. He said that the restriction of the traditional Latin Mass in the Houston Archdiocese led to many people decamping for ordinariate parishes or Eastern Catholic Churches in a quest for more reverence and a greater sense of the sacred in the liturgy. 

Msgr. Charles Pope, who Cardinal Gregory tapped as his delegate to work with pastors to develop a pastoral plan for implementing Tradtionis Custodes in Washington, told the Register that he and other priests are trying to pastorally address the concerns of Catholics attending the traditional Latin Mass. 

The priest said he hoped the archdiocese and others would assist by generously responding to requests to celebrate the normative 2002 Roman Missal with all the solemnity and reverence that some Catholics associate with the older form, including ad orientem as opposed to versus populum, where priest and people face each other. However, Cardinal Gregory has required priests to seek prior authorization to celebrate ad orientem in the ordinary form of the Mass, a formality not required by Traditionis Custodes.

“We’re trying to bridge the two forms of the Mass,” Msgr. Pope said, adding that without more focus on the solemnity of all liturgical celebrations, it “makes it harder to fulfill what the Pope asked.”


Bridging Communities

For some Catholics attending the older form, the challenges are also leading them to practices encouraged by the Second Vatican Council but not normative in the wider Church. For instance, praying older versions of the Divine Office, which includes the Collects from the 1962 Roman Missal, has given those attached to the TLM a chance to preserve some elements of the pre-conciliar liturgy while also following the Council’s direction that the Divine Office should be prayed more widely.

“This is tradition you can hold in your hands,” said Daniela, a consecrated virgin involved in the D.C. Juventutem who asked the Register not to use her last name.  

Hilary Tucker, a member of Savannah’s traditional Catholic community, told the Register that the young adults she knows have been reading the Council and have brought “fresh eyes” to Vatican II. She noted their celebration of the 1962 Missal actually responded to what the official texts of Vatican II’s pastoral constitution on the liturgy called for: pride of place for Gregorian chant, attentive participation in the Mass, learning liturgical Latin and bringing renewed reverence and solemnity to the liturgy. 

“It’s a Vatican II parish — but maybe Vatican II is turning out differently than we expected,” she said. 

Bishop Parkes explained that pastorally providing for Catholics attached to the 1962 Missal is also a call for real pastoral accompaniment. He encouraged bishops and clergy to listen and learn from the Catholic faithful what they value in those older liturgical forms. 

“We must meet people where they are at.”


Bishop Michael Burbidge is the shepherd of Arlington, Virginia.

Arlington Bishop Curtails Traditional Latin Masses

Under the rules, eight other parishes may continue to offer Masses in what is called the Extraordinary Form, but five of those may only do so in other locations besides their churches, including school buildings and a former church.