In case you missed it, a new document issued by Archbishop Arthur Roche, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW), was released Saturday, answering some dubia regarding Traditionis Custodes, Pope Francis’s July document restricting the use of the older form of the Roman Rite according to the 1962 Missal.
What follows is a less polished piece than I’d typically write. I just wanted to share some of my observations as well as a “cliffs notes” summary of the document, which includes some related information and definitions. Understand that nothing I write here is authorized or based upon any special knowledge, so be warned that my analysis might be completely off base. Additionally, re-reading this, I realize that I wrote this as if the document was composed by Archbishop Roche himself. He did sign the introductory letter, but he is not listed as the author of the dubia or responses, and it might have been written by other members of his staff.
Easter Eggs in the Document
This document is unconventional in several ways, not the least of which is the presence of several “Easter eggs” that will likely go unnoticed by most readers, but may jump out at those who have been following Vatican politics closely.
The first little Easter egg is the fact that this document is in the form of a “responsum” to dubia. You might recall that the internal resistance to Pope Francis escalated dramatically in late 2016 with the publication of five dubia submitted by four retired cardinals—loaded questions intended to entrap the pope in an admission that his exhortation Amoris Laetitia contains heresy. Frustrated that Pope Francis ignored their inquisition, these cardinals took to the mass media in an attempt to pressure him to answer the dubia, but he never responded.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that the publication of the dubia set off a chain of events that eventually led to the promulgation of Traditionis Custodes and this Responsum five years later. These dubia appear to have been composed by the CDW, and the document functions as a sort of “Frequently Asked Questions” page, ostensibly based upon the most-repeated questions they have received from bishops attempting to implement Francis’s motu proprio.
The second Easter egg is the language used to indicate the pope’s approval of this Responsum. The English translation of the document says (bold emphasis added):
The Supreme Pontiff Francis, in the course of an Audience granted to the Prefect of this Congregation on 18 November 2021, was informed of and gave his consent to the publication of these RESPONSA AD DUBIA with attached EXPLANATORY NOTES.
Note the words: “informed of and gave his consent to the publication.” They struck me as quite similar to those used earlier this year in the document opposing blessings for same-sex couples, which said:
The Sovereign Pontiff Francis, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Secretary of this Congregation, was informed and gave his assent to the publication of the above-mentioned Responsum ad dubium, with the annexed Explanatory Note.
In Italian, however, both documents use the same words, “è stato informato e ha dato il suo assenso alla pubblicazione.” Earlier in the year, it was argued that this wording was designed to distance Francis somewhat from the document. If that’s the purpose in this case, it’s hard to say. A quick search for the phrase on the Vatican website reveals that these are the only two documents in which that precise phrasing has ever been used. At the very least, it’s an interesting coincidence.
The third Easter egg is the reference to “instituted ministers” in question 9. Before Vatican II, the Church had “minor orders” (porter, lector, exorcist, acolyte) which made men progressing towards priesthood “minor clergy.” In the 1970s, Saint Paul VI abolished the minor orders and the “major order” of subdeacon, but retained the offices of lector and acolyte, designating them as “lay ministries.” In the last year, Pope Francis has opened these ministries to women and has established the new lay ministry of Catechist. The abolition of the minor orders and the establishment of canonically-recognized lay ministries remains a sore spot with traditionalists, so its usage here is interesting, to say the least.
Easter egg number four is that all the quotations from Traditionis Custodes are in Latin. You may recall that in Cardinal Raymond Burke’s lengthy critique of the document, he wrote in his very first point, “In a preliminary way, it must be asked why the Latin or official text of the Motu Proprio has not yet been published. As far as I know, the Holy See promulgated the text in Italian and English versions, and, afterwards, in German and Spanish translations.” I suppose this document clears that up.
Opening Letter of the document
In case the reasons for Traditionis Custodes were unclear, Archbishop Roche reminds us of the aim of Pope Francis’s decision: ecclesial communion. He writes, “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.” Continuous liturgical formation for both priests and laity is needed to achieve this aim.
He urges us to listen to Pope Francis, who “wants to point us to the only direction in which we are joyfully called to turn our commitment as pastors.” And that direction is the implementation of the Second Vatican Council. He reminds us of the Council fathers’ desire for reform, saying, “One fact is undeniable: The Council Fathers perceived the urgent need for a reform so that the truth of the faith as celebrated might appear ever more in all its beauty, and the People of God might grow in full, active, conscious participation in the liturgical celebration (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium n. 14), which is the present moment in the history of salvation, the memorial of the Lord’s Passover, our one and only hope.”
Summary and analysis
What follows are my own thoughts on each of the dubia and each of the responses. There are some direct quotations, but anything that’s not in quotes is my personal thoughts, summary, or paraphrase. I added some facts, definitions, and references that might help you to understand the original document, but please do not consider this an authoritative analysis.
1) Can a bishop offer a dispensation from Traditionis Custodes to allow the celebration of the 1962 Missal in a Parish Church? (Art. 3 § 2 of Traditionis Custodes states that bishops of dioceses with groups that celebrate the old rite are to designate the locations where these groups may gather for the Tridentine Mass, but “not however in the parochial churches and without the erection of new personal parishes.”)
Archbishop Roche answers yes, provided that it is understood that Traditionis Custodes affirms that the use of the previous rite is a concession, specifically for these groups that have already been celebrating in the older form and that it is “not part of the ordinary life of the parish community.”
Additionally, these exceptions are to be made by the CDW when requested by the bishop and “only if it is established that it is impossible to use another church, oratory or chapel. The assessment of this impossibility must be made with the utmost care.” He goes on to explain that these Masses should not be listed on the parish Mass schedule and should not conflict with parish activities. Furthermore, as soon as another venue becomes available, the permission will be withdrawn.
While this might be seen as an attempt to marginalize those who are attached to the previous rite, that is not the intention of this decision. Rather, the purpose is to remind them that this is a concession, not an opportunity to promote the celebration of the 1962 Missal.
2) Does Traditionis Custodes allow for the celebration of the sacraments with the Rituale Romanum and the Pontificale Romanum?
This dubium refers to liturgical rites that aren’t found in the 1962 Roman Missal or the Liturgy of the Hours. The Rituale Romanum and the Pontificale Romanum are liturgical books that include the pre-Vatican II sacramental rites other than the Mass. Very broadly speaking, the Rituale Romanum contains the rites used by priests and the Pontificale Romanum contains those used by bishops.
The Rituale Romanum, therefore, includes the sacramental rites for baptism, matrimony, penance, and extreme unction. The Pontificale Romanum includes the rites in which the bishop is the ordinary minister: Holy Orders and Confirmation.
The dubium asks whether the bishop may grant permission to use these books. The CDW completely denies permission to use the Pontificale Romanum, and the use of the Rituale Romanum is denied except in the case of “canonically erected parishes” that celebrate Mass using the 1962 Missal, according to the provisions of Traditionis Custodes.
The implication here is that in communities where a traditionalist parish has been erected—prior to the July 16, 2021 release of Traditionis Custodes, of course—with the purpose of celebrating according to the pre-Vatican II liturgical books, the bishop may allow the priests to use the older rites for baptism, confession, matrimony, and the anointing of the sick. In any newly-designated, non-parish venues, permission may not be granted. Further, the use of the Pontificale is never permitted, which means that going forward, all Catholic deacons, priests, and bishops of the Latin Rite will be ordained according to the Vatican II liturgy. Additionally, in ordinary cases, the implication seems to be that the Sacrament of Confirmation will be celebrated according to the reformed rite as well. This apparently even applies in the aforementioned canonically-erected parishes.
Archbishop Roche then offers an “Explanatory Note” with a reminder that the goal of Pope Francis is to re-establish a single unified expression of liturgy, according to the reforms of Vatican II. Traditionis Custodes was promulgated as a step towards that goal. It also states that both books have been abrogated.
He points out why this is especially important regarding the Sacrament of Confirmation. He writes, “It should be remembered that the formula for the Sacrament of Confirmation was changed for the entire Latin Church by Saint Paul VI with the Apostolic Constitution Divinæ consortium naturæ (15 August 1971).”
3) May a priest continue to celebrate Mass according to the Tridentine Rite if he does not recognize the validity and legitimacy of concelebration? Particularly, may he continue if he refuses to concelebrate at the Chrism Mass in his diocese?
Archbishop Roche answers no.
We might recall that priests of the FSSP were dismissed earlier this year from the diocese of Dijon, France, due to their refusal to concelebrate the Chrism Mass with their bishop during Holy Week. Concelebration is when more than one priest celebrates Mass together, with all the concelebrants participating in the Eucharistic Prayer. Many Catholics today might not realize this, because it has become so common for large Masses, especially at papal Masses or large diocesan events, but until the Second Vatican Council this ancient practice had largely disappeared from the liturgical life of the Church. Except for ordination Masses, where the newly ordained priest or newly consecrated bishop would concelebrate, every Mass had only one celebrant. Certainly other priests participated, especially in high Masses, but the roles they played (deacon, subdeacon, distributing communion, etc.) did not include the consecration of the Eucharist.
The practice of concelebration is frowned upon by many traditionalists, including Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, who compared concelebration to abortion, saying it should be “safe, legal, and rare.” (Ironically, many progressives also oppose concelebration, albeit for different reasons.)
The concern expressed in Archbishop Roche’s response is that priests who refuse to concelebrate even once a year may have an ideological aversion to the Vatican II liturgy, which is a hindrance to Church unity and doctrinal coherence. Archbishop Roche reminds the bishops that they are to take care to accompany the priest toward an appreciation of the value of concelebration when he is having difficulty.
Nevertheless, the archbishop sees this as a significant red flag. He explains, “The explicit refusal to take part in concelebration, particularly at the Chrism Mass, seems to express a lack of acceptance of the liturgical reform and a lack of ecclesial communion with the Bishop, both of which are necessary requirements in order to benefit from the concession to celebrate with the Missale Romanum of 1962.”
4) In Masses according to the 1962 Missal, is it possible to use the full text of the bible for the scripture readings indicated in the Missal?
Archbishop Roche answers yes.
This is actually a fairly important question, because the readings in the Tridentine rite do not align with the expanded Vatican II Lectionary. In the United States, for example, there is no approved English Lectionary for the 1962 Missal. Traditionis Custodes stipulates that going forward, when Mass is said according to the older form, “the readings are proclaimed in the vernacular language, using translations of the Sacred Scripture approved for liturgical use by the respective Episcopal Conferences” (Art. 3 § 3).
In the Tridentine Rite, it is the custom for the priest to proclaim the readings in Latin, and then, at the beginning of the homily, to re-read them in the vernacular. The translation in 1962 Latin-English Missals in the US is the Douay-Rheims, whereas the currently approved translation of the bible for use in the liturgy is the New American Bible. Since the chapters and verses of the readings don’t align between the two missals, it seems there were two options: create a new Lectionary or read straight from the Bible. The Congregation has deemed that the latter is more appropriate.
Interestingly, the USCCB is currently working on a revised New Testament for its official biblical translation, the New American Bible, Revised Edition. The Old Testament was completed in 2011, and the New Testament is expected to be completed in 2025. Only after that is complete will the Lectionary be updated, probably several years after that. This potentially means that those attending Mass according to the 1962 Missal will spend years listening to readings from more recent translations than those who attend the Vatican II liturgy!
This is an imperfect solution, however, because there are some significant differences between the Lectionary and the text of the bible. The Lectionary adds introductory phrases (such as, “Jesus said to his disciples,” or “Brothers and sisters”) that do not always appear in the actual bible. Another difference is that in a few cases the Holy See has required specific wording to be used in the liturgy that might not match the translation found in a copy of the bible. For example, when you hear the Gospel reading that includes the Lord’s Prayer at Mass (Mt 6:9-13), you will hear the words of the traditional prayer to which we are accustomed. In the actual bible, however, you will find a newer translation.
5) Does the diocesan Bishop need authorization from the Vatican to allow priests ordained after the publication of Traditionis Custodes (July 16, 2021) to celebrate according to the 1962 Missal?
Archbishop Roche answers in the affirmative.
This is a clarification of the original English text, which said that the bishop “shall consult the Apostolic See” before granting permission, but was not clear about whether explicit approval from Rome is required. This response makes clear that permission from the Vatican must be given in every case.
The response goes on to explain that it is “absolutely essential that Priests ordained after the publication of the Motu Proprio share this desire of the Holy Father” to recognize that the reformed liturgy is “the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.”
The response reinforces that this is to be part of their training, stating, “All seminary formators, seeking to walk with solicitude in the direction indicated by Pope Francis, are encouraged to accompany future Deacons and Priests to an understanding and experience of the richness of the liturgical reform called for by the Second Vatican Council.”
6) Can the permission to celebrate using the Missale Romanum of 1962 be granted ad tempus (on a temporary basis)?
Archbishop Roche responds that this is “not only possible but also recommended.” He explains that this allows the bishop to assess whether “everything is in harmony with the direction established by the Motu Proprio. The outcome of this assessment can provide grounds for prolonging or suspending the permission.”
7) Does the permission granted by a diocesan Bishop to celebrate using the 1962 Missal only apply to the territory of his diocese?
8) If the authorized Priest is absent or unable to attend, must the person replacing him also have formal authorization?
Archbishop Roche answers in the affirmative. This means that anyone celebrating Mass according to the older form must have permission, without exception.
9) Do Deacons and instituted ministers participating in celebrations using the older Missal need permission from the diocesan bishop?
10) “Can a Priest who is authorized to celebrate with the Missale Romanum of 1962 and who also celebrates on weekdays with the Missale Romanum of the reform of the Second Vatican Council, binate using the Missale Romanum of 1962?”
Archbishop Roche responds in the negative.
“Binate” means to celebrate two Masses on the same day. According to Catholic teaching and theology, ideally a priest will celebrate only one Mass per day on weekdays. (Although in practice, many priests regularly binate—or trinate—for “just cause” or “pastoral necessity.”) Archbishop Roche goes on to explain that the right of the faithful to the celebration of the Eucharist is not denied (and therefore there is no “just cause”) because the faithful always have the option to participate according to the Vatican II rite.
11) Can a Priest who is authorized to celebrate using the 1962 Missal celebrate on the same day with the same Missal for another group of faithful who have received authorization?
According to Archbishop Roche, once again, “It is not possible to grant bination on the grounds that there is no ‘just cause’ or ‘pastoral necessity’ as required by canon 905 §2: the right of the faithful to the celebration of the Eucharist is in no way denied, since they are offered the possibility of participating in the Eucharist in its current ritual form.”
Pope Francis means business. In the months immediately following the promulgation of Traditionis Custodes I wondered whether the document would lead to any significant changes. Many bishops, especially in the US, were carrying on as usual and essentially ignoring the document. Some even invoked canon 87, §1 in order to dispense their dioceses from having to implement it.
The question now is whether they’ll listen. It is becoming increasingly clear that beyond the ongoing open attacks against the papacy by radical traditionalists, the cold war between the US bishops and Pope Francis is beginning to heat up. Is this the start of a reckoning?
The legacy of Pope Francis and the Second Vatican Council are very much on the line, and the future of the Church, especially in the United States, is at stake.
 “Extreme unction” was the common English name for the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick before Vatican II.
 There are situations where a priest, rather than a bishop, does normally celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation, such as when receiving an adult into the Church, or in the danger of death, and when delegated by the bishop for just cause. That said, in the Latin Church, the ordinary minister of the Sacrament of Confirmation is the bishop. The only minister of Holy Orders is a bishop.
Image: Adobe Stock.