ST. PAUL, Minn. / PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Saying he was acting for the good of the unity of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis July 16 restored limits on the celebration of the Mass according to the Roman Missal in use before the Second Vatican Council, overturning or severely restricting permissions St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI had given to celebrate the so-called Tridentine-rite Mass.
His apostolic letter, “Traditionis Custodes” (“Guardians of the Tradition”) declares the liturgical books promulgated after the Second Vatican Council to be “the unique expression of the ‘lex orandi’ (law of worship) of the Roman Rite,” restoring the obligation of priests to have their bishops’ permission to celebrate according to the “extraordinary” or pre-Vatican II Mass and ordering bishops not to establish any new groups or parishes in their dioceses devoted to the old liturgy.
Priests currently celebrating Mass according to the old missal must request authorization from their bishop to continue doing so, Pope Francis ordered, and for any priest ordained after the document’s publication July 16, the bishop must consult with the Vatican before granting authorization.
In the Diocese of Providence, where Mass in the extraordinary form is offered in at least four parishes, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin said on July 19 that Pope Francis’ apostolic letter presents both challenges and opportunities for the Church everywhere, and that the clergy and lay faithful are encouraged to read it and reflect upon it prayerfully.
“We should receive the letter with open hearts and minds and see it as an opportunity to renew our appreciation for the Holy Eucharist, in whatever form it is celebrated,” he said. “We welcome and support our Holy Father’s desire to foster the unity of the Church, especially as it is manifested in the celebration of the liturgy.”
While the diocese studies the document and all of its implications and specific requirements, Bishop Tobin said he has granted permission for the current practices regarding the celebration of the Mass according to the 1962 Roman Missal in the Diocese of Providence to be temporarily maintained.
“However, at some point in the future we will need to begin the implementation of the requirements of the new instruction,” Bishop Tobin said, noting this process will be done with patience and prudence, with sensitivity to the legitimate spiritual needs of the faithful.
“Clergy and lay faithful who are accustomed to the usus antiquior form of the liturgy should be prepared — spiritually, personally and pastorally — to accept and implement any changes that may be required.”
Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis said July 16 that, for now, parishes that celebrate Mass in the extraordinary form — also known as the “traditional Latin Mass” or “Tridentine Mass” — should stick to the status quo.
Archbishop Hebda has formed a task force to review Pope Francis’ new law to place greater oversight on the use of that form of the Mass.
Auxiliary Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens is chair of the task force, which will take time to understand the new law and consider the next steps to take to implement it in the archdiocese.
Noting that the norms were effective as of July 16, Archbishop Hebda said he “will need some time to study the new norms, examine our local situation and seek counsel.”
“With that in mind, I am happy to grant the necessary faculties so that those priests who are already celebrating the rites of the extraordinary form may continue to do,” he said. “I similarly direct that the Mass in the extraordinary form continue in those locations where it is currently being offered in the archdiocese.
“No new public liturgical celebration of the extraordinary form, however, should be introduced anywhere in the archdiocese at this time without my written permission.”
Currently, Mass in the extraordinary form is regularly offered in the archdiocese at seven parishes.
In a statement issued late July 16, Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, encouraged his brother bishops “to work with care, patience, justice and charity” as “these new norms are implemented ... (and) as together we foster a eucharistic renewal in our nation.”
Like Minnesota’s archbishop, a number of other U.S. bishops similarly told their priests and parishes which already celebrate the Mass in the extraordinary form that they can continue to do so while they further study the document.
Also in a July 19 statement, Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori said that further study of the norms by individual bishops and the USCCB “will help determine how these norms apply here in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. In the meantime, the current practice will continue and going forward every effort will be made to meet the pastoral needs of those who frequent Holy Mass in the extraordinary form.”
Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City tweeted shortly after the papal document was released:
“Many questions have been raised by today’s publication of Pope Francis’ motu proprio ‘Traditiones Custodes.’ I have informed our clergy that I am granting temporary permission for those priests competent in offering Mass in the Extraordinary Form to continue to do so in churches that already have an Extraordinary Form Mass on their schedule or in a private setting until further study and clarification can inform an appropriate implementation of this document. Thank you for your patience.”
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor of Little Rock, Arkansas, in a July 16 statement said it was “incumbent on me as your bishop to indicate the implications of this change for our diocese.”
The new norms “do not apply to our two personal parishes for the celebration of the Latin Mass: St. John the Baptist Parish in Cabot and Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Springdale,” he explained. “There is no change for these parishes or the priests serving them.
“All that is required of them and the Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) priests serving them is that they accept the validity and legitimacy of the liturgical reform of Vatican II, which they do. ‘Traditionis Custodes’ does caution me not to establish any additional personal parishes for the celebration of the Latin Mass going forward.”
In Pittsburgh, Most Precious Blood of Jesus Parish was established as a personal parish to support the celebration of the traditional Latin Mass in July 2019. Under the new norms, Bishop David A. Zubik confirmed there will be no alterations to the parish’s status and “no changes” to these Masses celebrated at the church.
“With today’s communication from the Holy Father, we remain committed to work for the unity of the church as Pope Francis implores us to do in his latest teaching,” Bishop Zubik said in a statement.
Rhode Island Catholic Executive Editor Rick Snizek contributed to this story from Providence, R.I.