On 16 July, Pope Francis published an Apostolic Letter, by way of a motu proprio, entitled Traditionis Custodes (Guardians the Tradition), which puts in place significant changes to the liturgical rites of the Catholic Church. The Holy Father explains that the letter is the result of the consultation and reflection with bishops of the Universal Church and seeks to restore 'unity of the Church'.
Traditionis Custodes (TC) puts in place restrictions on the celebration of the Mass in the "extraordinary form". This Mass uses the Roman Missal of St Pius V, which was later revised by St John XXIII in 1962, prior to the Second Vatican Council. Pope Francis' latest Apostolic Letter essentially revokes the faculty given to priests by St John Paul II, and 'with even greater magnanimity' by Benedict XVI, to celebrate Mass in Latin without needing the permission of their local bishop.
Pope Francis explains that his decision is the result of consultation with bishops around the world which revealed a situation 'that pains and worries me, confirming the need to intervene,' the motu proprio states.
The Pope says he is saddened by 'instrumental use of the Missale Romanum of 1962,' which has led to a 'growing rejection not only of the liturgical reform, but of the Second Vatican Council, with the unfounded and unsustainable assertion that it has betrayed Tradition and "true Church".'
Importantly, the Holy Father puts forward in the letter that it 'belongs to the diocesan bishop, as moderator, promoter, and guardian of the whole liturgical life of the particular Church entrusted to him, to regulate the liturgical celebrations of his diocese.'
Following the release of the Apostolic Letter, Archbishop Peter A Comensoli sent a letter to the clergy of the Archdiocese of Melbourne reiterating Pope Francis’ explanation for the change.
'Pope Francis’ reason for taking the steps he has, for the good order and life of the Church, is to call all Christ’s faithful to Communion, both in the form of our ritual expression and in our ecclesial faith. All Christ’s faithful are called into a living relationship with this Communion,' wrote the Archbishop.
'You and I, as Ordained Ministers, are called to serve according to this Communion. And as a bishop, I am called to be a source and witness of this Communion in the local Church.'
The Archbishop also stressed the need to 'calmly, considerately and humbly take on what has been given to us as truly the Church’s voice.'
'For this reason, I want to indicate at this early juncture that I do not intend to rush to putting in place definitive directives. Instead, I need time to pray, study and consult on this new law of the Church, so that I can respond in truth and charity. It is, for me, a time to examine my own conscience – and I encourage you each to do the same – in how I am celebrating the liturgy of the Church, and to more ardently conform myself to the worthy and dignified celebration of the Roman Rites.'
Read Archbishop Comensoli's full letter below:
17 July 2021
Dear Brothers in the Lord,
As no doubt you are aware by now, Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Letter, by way of motu proprio, yesterday evening. Entitled Traditionis Custodes (TC), it sets in place more restrictive measures concerning the celebration of the liturgical rites of the Catholic Church according to the 1962 Rituals.
The motu proprio itself can be read here. An accompanying letter from Pope Francis to the Bishops of the world can be read here.
This is a very significant document, touching on the manner in which the Church worships, as taught by Sacrosanctum Concilium (of the Second Vatican Council), and promulgated in the Rituals by Pope St Paul VI and Pope St John Paul II.
May I note two immediate dimensions of TC. Firstly, Pope Francis declares that the Rituals promulgated by the above-mentioned Popes are “the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.”
Secondly, and with personal significance for me, Pope Francis has called on the Bishops of the Church, cum et sub Petro, to implement what has now been promulgated with regard to the 1962 Rituals.
Pope Francis’ reason for taking the steps he has, for the good order and life of the Church, is to call all Christ’s faithful to Communion, both in the form of our ritual expression and in our ecclesial faith.
All Christ’s faithful are called into a living relationship with this Communion. You and I, as Ordained Ministers, are called to serve according to this Communion. And as a bishop, I am called to be a source and witness of this Communion in the local Church.
Pope Francis, speaking for the entire Church, has judged that what was offered by his predecessors as a facilitation towards ecclesial Communion, has instead – in its worldwide practices – become a point of division. This is despite what a number of you, and a good number of our people, have experienced in individual circumstances.
In noting the significance of the motu proprio (for those of us who worship according to the Roman Rite), it will be important for all of us to calmly, considerately and humbly take on what has been given to us as truly the Church’s voice. For this reason, I want to indicate at this early juncture that I do not intend to rush to putting in place definitive directives. Instead, I need time to pray, study and consult on this new law of the Church, so that I can respond in truth and charity.
It is, for me, a time to examine my own conscience – and I encourage you each to do the same – in how I am celebrating the liturgy of the Church, and to more ardently conform myself to the worthy and dignified celebration of the Roman Rites. Let us use this moment to better exercise the ars celebrandi and renew our conformity to the 3rd typical edition of the Missale Romanum.
In terms of present circumstances, for the time being and until a more measured reflection and consultation can be undertaken, I will be guided by a prima facie reading of TC, and an open-hearted obedience to it.
In light of this, I draw your attention to the directive of TC Art.3, §2, that the celebration of the Mass according to the 1962 Ritual is no longer permitted in parochial settings (this does not apply in the Personal Parish of St John Henry Newman).
According to the provision of TC Art.3, §5, again for the time being, I grant the faculty to celebrate the Mass according to the 1962 Missal in a private capacity (i.e. without a congregation present).
Understandably, this new motu proprio will possibly bring confusion and bewilderment to some of you, and to a number of Christ’s faithful, particularly given the current inundation of heated voices across the global media.
As Pastors in Christ’s name, however, it will be our shared responsibility to guide our people carefully through these turbulent waters.
I would be grateful if you could share this information – sensitively and respectfully – with your people over the weekend.
While I acknowledge the great majority of our clergy and people will not be overly impacted by Pope Francis’ decisions, this is nonetheless a moment where the spiritual longings of some will be challenged by this call of the Church to a unity in our corporate manner of praying and worshipping.
Please keep me in your prayers, as I keep you in mine.
Yours fraternally in Christ Jesus,
Most Rev Peter A Comensoli
Archbishop of Melbourne