Vatican’s New Guidelines Further Restrict Traditional Rites

The guidelines are in the form of responses to 11 dubia (questions), which the Vatican says are ‘the most recurrent questions’ it has received about Pope Francis’ recent motu proprio ‘Traditionis Custodes.’

A Traditional Latin Mass being celebrated in the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome on September 15, 2017
A Traditional Latin Mass being celebrated in the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome on September 15, 2017 (photo: Edward Pentin Photo)

VATICAN CITY — In guidelines issued on Saturday on interpreting Pope Francis’ apostolic letter Traditionis Custodes (Guardians of the Tradition), the Vatican has clarified that the traditional sacraments should only be celebrated in personal parishes approved by a bishop, and that traditional rites of confirmation and ordination are forbidden without exception. 

The clarifications, issued by Archbishop Arthur Roche, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and addressed to the presidents of the conferences of bishops, were published in the form of responses (responsa) to 11 dubia — questions requiring simple “Yes” or “No” answers.

In a note that accompanies the text, Archbishop Roche said he was issuing the guidelines in response to “several requests” on the correct application of Traditionis Custodes, Pope Francis’ July 16 letter published motu proprio (of his own accord) that placed sweeping restrictions on the traditional Latin Mass used before the 1970 liturgical reforms of Pope Paul VI. 

The responsa are to the “most recurrent questions” received “from several quarters and with greater frequency,” and after having received the Pope’s assent, the archbishop said.

They were approved by Pope Francis in a private audience with Archbishop Roche on Nov. 18, and are dated Dec. 4, the 58th anniversary of the promulgation of the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium.

In summary, Archbishop Roche has ruled the following: 

  • If traditional faithful are unable to find a church, oratory or chapel to exclusively celebrate the older rite, a bishop can ask the Congregation for Divine Worship for a dispensation to use a parish church, but if allowed, such a celebration should not be advertised in a parish Mass schedule (this is not to marginalize the faithful who prefer the traditional form, he insisted, but to “remind them that this is a concession to provide for their good … and not an opportunity to promote the previous rite”).
  • The traditional sacraments in the Rituale Romanum (e.g. baptisms, nuptial Masses, extreme unction, confession) need a bishop’s permission and can only be celebrated in “canonically erected personal parishes” [Editors’ note: This applies to those already in existence, as the erection of future such parishes is not allowed in Traditionis Custodes]. A bishop is not authorized to grant permission to use the Pontificale Romanum, that is sacraments celebrated by bishops, i.e. traditional ordinations and confirmations. 
  • A priest cannot continue to celebrate the traditional Latin Mass if he “does not recognize the validity and legitimacy of concelebration,” especially at the Chrism Mass. A bishop should “take care to establish a fraternal dialogue” with the priest before revoking this concession. 
  • A reassertion that readings must be proclaimed in the vernacular language and a stipulation that no new vernacular lectionaries may be published that use the old cycle of readings.
  • Bishops must obtain authorization from the Holy See to allow priests ordained after the publication of Traditionis Custodes to celebrate the traditional Mass. 
  • It is “recommended” that the traditional Mass be celebrated for a defined period of time set by the bishop who can assess at the end of that time whether or not there are grounds for prolonging or suspending the permission, depending on how much “everything is in harmony” with the direction of Traditionis Custodes. 
  • A bishop can only grant permission to celebrate the traditional Mass in his own diocese.
  • If a priest authorized to celebrate the older rite is unavailable or absent, his replacement must also be given formal authorization. 
  • Deacons and instituted ministers taking part in a traditional celebration must also have their bishop’s permission.
  • A parish priest or chaplain who is authorized to celebrate the traditional Mass but must also celebrate the ordinary form of the Mass during the week cannot then also celebrate the traditional Mass on the same day (binate). 
  • A priest who is authorized to celebrate the traditional Latin Mass cannot celebrate it for another group of faithful on the same day, even if that group has received authorization.

In his introductory note, Archbishop Roche reiterated that Traditionis Custodes and Pope Francis’ accompanying letter “clearly express the reasons” for the apostolic letter, and that the Mass of Paul VI is the “unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.” 

“This is the direction in which we wish to move, and this is the meaning of the responses we publish here,” Archbishop Roche said. “Every prescribed norm has always the sole purpose of preserving the gift of ecclesial communion by walking together, with conviction of mind and heart, in the direction indicated by the Holy Father.”

He said it was “sad” that the Eucharist would become “a cause for division,” adding it is the duty of bishops, cum Petro et sub Petro (with and under Peter), “to safeguard communion.” 

The English archbishop said that the Second Vatican Council Fathers sought the reforms so that the liturgy would appear “ever more in all its beauty and the People of God might grow in full, active, conscious participation in the liturgical celebration.” 

“As pastors, we must not lend ourselves to sterile polemics, capable only of creating division, in which the ritual itself is often exploited by ideological viewpoints,” Archbishop Roche said. “Rather, we are all called to rediscover the value of the liturgical reform by preserving the truth and beauty of the Rite that it has given us. For this to happen, we are aware that a renewed and continuous liturgical formation is necessary both for priests and for the lay faithful.”

Quoting the words of Pope Francis in 2017, in which he said, “We can affirm with certainty and with magisterial authority that the liturgical reform is irreversible,” Archbishop Roche said the Pope “wants to point us to the only direction in which we are joyfully called to turn our commitment as pastors.”  

Initial Reactions

Initial reactions from traditional Catholics to Archbishop Roche’s guidelines have not been positive, even though the prohibitions on the celebration of the traditional sacraments appear slightly softer than those enforced in the Diocese of Rome in October.

Father Claude Barthe, an historian, jurist and expert on the traditional liturgy of the Diocese of Fréjus-Toulon in France, said the responsa “considerably aggravate the provisions of Traditionis Custodes, insofar as they make the intention of the legislator clear.”

He added, “It is true that the prohibitions against sacraments other than the Eucharist are softened slightly by the fact that they may be permitted in personal parishes, but generally speaking, there are no more traditional baptisms, no more marriages and, without exception, no more confirmations and no more ordinations.” 

He predicted the prohibition of traditional ordinations “will have grave consequences,” as it will likely have a severely detrimental effect on future vocations to the priesthood, especially harming traditional institutes. 

“It is clear that, in the name of the sensus fidelium, we must oppose Traditionis Custodes and its clarification through non-reception, because it is a doctrinally unjust law,” Father Barthe told the Register. 

“Indeed, the justification that recurs from answer to answer is that the traditional rite is only tolerated before it is one day totally forbidden, on the grounds that it is not the expression of the lex orandi, given its only current expression is the new rite.” 

He noted a contradiction between Traditionis Custodes and Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict’s 2007 motu proprio that allowed any stable group to celebrate the old Mass. The latter, he said, “makes the opposite observation” to the former, a reality “underlined by the responsa.

“At the very least,” he contended, “Traditionis Custodes is a relative law, therefore without force.”