As we highlighted on this site on Tuesday, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago wrote an article entitled “The Gift of Traditionis Custodes” for the PrayTell blog, in which he explained the reasoning behind Pope Francis’s decision over the summer to reinstate restrictions on the use of the 1962 Missal and offered some ways to help accompany those attached to the Tridentine Mass as the Church progresses towards a single Roman Rite that expresses our unity.

In his article, Cardinal Cupich explained how Traditionis Custodes is a gift to the Church because it will help promote Church unity, reaffirm the validity and continuity of the Second Vatican Council, and re-establish the bishop in his traditional role of authority over liturgy in his diocese. All of this is spelled out clearly in the text of the motu proprio and its accompanying letter to the bishops.

Cardinal Cupich also wrote a response to the pope’s instruction on July 21, in which he said that after study, consultation, and reflection he plans to “offer a pathway for implementing what the Holy Father has asked us to do, keeping in mind the principle of unity and the ability to appropriately authorize the use of the Missal of 1962.” In this statement, he touched on some of the same points as in the article, including on the role of the bishop as the authority on liturgy and on the importance of unity, about which he wrote, “My hope and prayer, as always and in communion with the Holy Father, is for the unity of the Church.”

In his recent article, in addition to explaining the reasoning behind Traditionis Custodes, the cardinal also proposes ways to pastorally accompany those who are unhappy with the pope’s decision as it is implemented, and (in the long run) as the Church moves toward returning to a single expression of the Roman Rite:

“Accompaniment may take the form of visiting with the faithful who have regularly attended Mass and celebrated sacraments with the earlier rituals to help them understand the essential principles of renewal called for in the Second Vatican Council. It must also involve helping people appreciate how the reformed Mass introduces them to a greater use of scripture and prayers from the Roman tradition, as well as an updated liturgical calendar of feasts that includes recently canonized saints.”

Essentially, Cardinal Cupich is echoing Pope Francis and reasserting the teaching of the Council fathers and St. Paul VI when the reformed missal was requested, developed, and introduced. He also makes a pastoral suggestion: to include some of the treasured practices to which many of these faithful are accustomed in their experience of the Tridentine rite, such as Latin, incense, and chant—elements that have always been valid options in both the old and new revisions of the rite. Furthermore, much like Pope Francis and Archbishop Arthur Roche, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Cardinal Cupich does not back down from the notion that neither the Council nor the Vatican II liturgy is reversible in the sense that their place in the Church’s Magisterium and tradition can be undone.

This is a key “reality check” found repeatedly in Pope Francis’s Magisterium, but this intention to unify the Church through one form of the Roman Rite is also in full continuity with that of his sainted predecessor Paul VI. Paul VI never intended for both forms to coexist in the long term, and made it clear in his April 1969 Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanum that the reformed liturgy was to become the unique expression of the Roman Rite. He wrote, “While leaving room in the new Missal, according to the order of the Second Vatican Council, ‘for legitimate variations and adaptations,’ we hope nevertheless that the Missal will be received by the faithful as an instrument which bears witness to and which affirms the common unity of all.”

Critics have been quick to push back against the idea that the ultimate goal is to move the Latin Church towards exclusive use of the Vatican II liturgy and away from the pre-Vatican II form. The traditionalist blog Rorate Caeli was not having it. “Your Eminence, we do not want the ‘gift’ of Traditionis custodes,” wrote Matthew Hazell, “precisely because this motu proprio is ein Gift, a poison in the Body of Christ. Nothing good can come from it.” Meanwhile, the Catholic newsletter The Pillar posited that the cardinal’s “idea” of liturgical reform bumps up against the “reality” that “for many Catholics, the faith is tied up intimately with the experience of the Extraordinary Form.”

But regarding the liturgical debate in the Church, is Cardinal Cupich’s understanding the idea, or is it the reality?

The impasse

A reading-between-the-lines of Cupich’s article—in light of the criticism directed at both the cardinal and the pope by critics of Traditionis Custodes—reveals an essential difference in understanding of Church, Magisterium, and ecclesial authority between the leadership of the institutional Church and the traditionalist movement. Cupich does not directly engage the concerns of the traditionalist movement, but his assertions regarding the future of the liturgy and the implementation of Vatican II indicate that he, like Pope Francis and St. Paul VI, considers the matter settled and the debate irrelevant.

The talking points of contemporary traditionalists about the Council, the liturgy, and papal authority date back to at least the 1970s, when Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and his Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) resisted Pope St. Paul VI and the reforms and teachings of the Second Vatican Council. These arguments have been rejected or dismissed by every pope since that time, and emphatically so by Pope Francis. Then, as now, these arguments have fallen flat in the eyes of the Church’s magisterial authority—rejected as contrary to Church teaching and to the papacy. Yet since the election of Pope Francis, this ideology has gained a stronger foothold among Catholics than perhaps ever before. Despite the newfound popularity of these old ideas, Pope Paul’s admonitions remain as valid as ever.

Several exchanges between Pope Paul and the renegade archbishop demonstrate that today’s traditionalist grievances are nothing new. For example, in his letter to Lefebvre in October 1976, which came a month after a highly-charged meeting at Castel Gandolfo, Paul VI wrote:

You say that you are subject to the Church and faithful to tradition by the sole fact that you obey certain norms of the past that were decreed by the predecessor of him to whom God has today conferred the powers given to Peter. That is to say, on this point also, the concept of “tradition” that you invoke is distorted.

In this letter, Paul VI also told Lefebvre that one of the conditions for his reconciliation with Rome was that he “must explicitly recognize the legitimacy of the reformed liturgy, notably of the Ordo Missae, and our right to require its adoption by the entirety of the Christian people” (emphasis added). Ironically, many traditionalists today, including cardinals—who are ostensibly in “full communion” with the pope—would fail to accede to this demand of this sainted pontiff.

In the transcript[1] of the aforementioned meeting, Pope Paul did not hold back when enumerating Archbishop Lefebvre’s extensive public record of accusations, disobedience, and dissent against the Council and the papacy. For Paul, Lefebvre’s slanderous words were much more dangerous than personal insults. “It is not the person who is at stake here: it is the pope,” he told Lefebvre. “And you have judged the Pope as unfaithful to the Faith of which he is the supreme guarantor. Perhaps this is the first time in history that this has happened. You have told the whole world that the Pope has no faith, that he does not believe, that he is a modernist, and so on.”

This same sentiment—that whatever is said about the pope as a person, attacks against the pope are attacks against the papacy and damage the Church—was echoed by Pope Francis in his recent conversation with the Slovak Jesuits. In that dialogue, Francis described the similarly incessant attacks against him by the television network EWTN, saying, “I personally deserve attacks and insults because I am a sinner, but the Church does not deserve them. They are the work of the devil.”

Later in the meeting between Paul and Lefebvre, the pope admonished the archbishop for his intransigence, saying, “If you had made the effort to see, to understand what I do and say every day, to ensure the Church’s fidelity to yesterday and responsiveness to today—and yes tomorrow—you would not have arrived at the painful point where you find yourself.” Was this not essentially the response of Pope Francis’s supporters to traditionalists who condemned Traditionis Custodes? “If you had listened to Pope Francis and not attacked his teaching and the authority of the pope, you would not have brought this upon yourself.”

At another point in the meeting, Paul VI responded to Lefebvre’s complaints of abuses (liturgical and otherwise) found in the postconciliar Church. Paul responded that he did not approve of “abuses that do not conform to the current law of the Church, which is that of the Council and Tradition.”

Likewise, Cardinal Cupich quotes Archbishop Augustine DiNoia, Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who told Cindy Wooden of Catholic News Service that one of the reasons St. John Paul and Pope Benedict allowed greater use of the Tridentine Rite was “to counter abuses that were widespread in the celebration of the post-Vatican II Mass.”

Pope Francis expresses a similar sentiment in his letter accompanying Traditionis Custodes. He writes, “I am saddened by abuses in the celebration of the liturgy on all sides. In common with Benedict XVI, I deplore the fact that ‘in many places the prescriptions of the new Missal are not observed in celebration, but indeed come to be interpreted as an authorization for or even a requirement of creativity, which leads to almost unbearable distortions.’”

Cardinal Cupich’s words on the unity of the Church and the need to implement the council were consistent with those of Pope Francis and St. Paul VI before him. Although the cardinal’s article was met with criticism and contempt from traditionalists, he was simply restating the Church’s longstanding positions on the liturgy and magisterial authority. Although these positions don’t line up with the ideas of many Catholics, no good can come from avoiding the reality that this is simply what the Church teaches.


[1] Translated from the original Italian and French with the assistance of DeepL Translator.

Image: Charles Edward Miller, Golden Wedding Anniversary Mass Conducted by Cardinal Cupich at St. John Brebeuf Church Niles Illinois 9-8-19, Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/2hdakBb


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Mike Lewis is a writer and graphic designer from Maryland, having worked for many years in Catholic publishing. He's a husband, father of four, and a lifelong Catholic. He's active in his parish and community. He is the founding managing editor for Where Peter Is.

A dose of reality from Cardinal Cupich
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