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on Jul 22, 2021
Many faithful – laity, ordained and consecrated – have expressed to me the profound distress which the Motu Proprio «Traditionis Custodes» has brought them. Those who are attached to the Usus Antiquior (More Ancient Usage) [UA], what Pope Benedict XVI called the Extraordinary Form, of the Roman Rite are deeply disheartened by the severity of the discipline which the Motu Proprio imposes and offended by the language it employs to describe them, their attitudes and their conduct. As a member of the faithful, who also has an intense bond with the UA, I fully share in their sentiments of profound sorrow.
As a Bishop of the Church and as a Cardinal, in communion with the Roman Pontiff and with a particular responsibility to assist him in his pastoral care and governance of the universal Church, I offer the following observations:
1. 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. Since the English version is called a translation, it must be assumed that the original text is in Italian. If such be the case, there are translations of significant texts in the English version which are not coherent with the Italian version. In Article 1, the important Italian adjective, “unica”, is translated into English as “unique”, instead of “only.” In Article 4, the important Italian verb, “devono”, is translated into English as “should”, instead of “must.”
2. First of all, it is important to establish, in this and the following two observations (nos. 3 and 4), the essence of what the Motu Proprio contains. It is apparent from the severity of the document that Pope Francis issued the Motu Proprio to address what he perceives to be a grave evil threatening the unity of the Church, namely the UA. According to the Holy Father, those who worship according to this usage make a choice which rejects “the Church and her institutions in the name of what is called the ‘true Church’,” a choice which “contradicts communion and nurtures the divisive tendency … against which the Apostle Paul so vigorously reacted.”
3. Clearly, Pope Francis considers the evil so great that he took immediate action, not informing Bishops in advance and not even providing for the usual vacatio legis, a period of time between the promulgation of a law and its taking force. The vacatio legis provides the faithful and especially the Bishops time to study the new legislation regarding the worship of God, the most important aspect of their life in the Church, with a view to its implementation. The legislation, in fact, contains many elements that require study regarding its application.
4. What is more, the legislation places restrictions on the UA, which signal its ultimate elimination, for example, the prohibition of the use of a parish church for worship according to the UA and the establishment of certain days for such worship. In his letter to the Bishops of the world, Pope Francis indicates two principles which are to guide the Bishops in the implementation of the Motu Proprio. The first principle is “to provide for the good of those who are rooted in the previous form of celebration and need to return in due time to the Roman Rite promulgated by Saints Paul VI and John Paul II.” The second principle is “to discontinue the erection of new personal parishes tied more to the desire and wishes of individual priests than to the real need of the ‘holy People of God’.”
5. Seemingly, the legislation is directed to the correction of an aberration principally attributable to the “the desire and wishes” of certain priests. In that regard, I must observe, especially in the light of my service as a Diocesan Bishop, it was not the priests who, because of their desires, urged the faithful to request the Extraordinary Form. In fact, I shall always be deeply grateful to the many priests who, notwithstanding their already heavy commitments, generously served the faithful who legitimately requested the UA. The two principles cannot help but communicate to devout faithful who have a deep appreciation and attachment to the encounter with Christ through the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite that they suffer from an aberration which can be tolerated for a time but must ultimately be eradicated.
6. From whence comes the severe and revolutionary action of the Holy Father? The Motu Proprio and the Letter indicate two sources: first, “the wishes expressed by the episcopate” through “a detailed consultation of the bishops” conducted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2020, and, second, “the opinion of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.” Regarding the responses to the “detailed consultation” or “questionnaire” sent to the Bishops, Pope Francis writes to the Bishops: “The responses reveal a situation that preoccupies and saddens me, and persuades me of the need to intervene.”
7. Regarding the sources, is it to be supposed that the situation which preoccupies and saddens the Roman Pontiff exists generally in the Church or only in certain places? Given the importance attributed to the “detailed consultation” or “questionnaire,” and the gravity of the matter it was treating, it would seem essential that the results of the consultation be made public, along with the indication of its scientific character. In the same way, if the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was of the opinion that such a revolutionary measure must be taken, it would seemingly have prepared an Instruction or similar document to address it.
8. The Congregation enjoys the expertise and long experience of certain officials – first, serving in the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei and then in the Fourth Section of the Congregation – who have been charged to treat questions regarding the UA. One must ask whether the “opinion of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” reflected the consultation of those with the greatest knowledge of the faithful devoted to the UA?
9. Regarding the perceived grave evil constituted by the UA, I have a wide experience over many years and in many different places with the faithful who regularly worship God according to the UA. In all honesty, I must say that these faithful, in no way, reject “the Church and her institutions in the name of what is called the ‘true Church’.” Neither have I found them out of communion with the Church or divisive within the Church. On the contrary, they love the Roman Pontiff, their Bishops and priests, and, when others have made the choice of schism, they have wanted always to remain in full communion with the Church, faithful to the Roman Pontiff, often at the cost of great suffering. They, in no way, ascribe to a schismatic or sedevacantist ideology.
10. The Letter accompanying the Motu Proprio states that the UA was permitted by Pope Saint John Paul II and later regulated by Pope Benedict XVI with “the desire to foster the healing of the schism with the movement of Mons. Lefebvre.” The movement in question is the Society of Saint Pius X. While both Roman Pontiffs desired the healing of the schism in question, as should all good Catholics, they also desired to maintain in continuance the UA for those who remained in the full communion of the Church and did not become schismatic. Pope Saint John Paul II showed pastoral charity, in various important ways, to faithful Catholics attached to the UA, for example, granting the indult for the UA but also establishing the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter, a society of apostolic life for priests attached to the UA. In the book, Last Testament in his own words, Pope Benedict XVI responded to the affirmation, “The reauthorization of the Tridentine Mass is often interpreted primarily as a concession to the Society of Saint Pius X,” with these clear and strong words: “This is just absolutely false! It was important for me that the Church is one with herself inwardly, with her own past; that what was previously holy to her is not somehow wrong now” (pp. 201-202). In fact, many who presently desire to worship according to the UA have no experience and perhaps no knowledge of the history and present situation of the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X. They are simply attracted to the holiness of the UA.
11. Yes, there are individuals and even certain groups which espouse radical positions, even as is the case in other sectors of Church life, but they are, in no way, characteristic of the greater and ever increasing number of faithful who desire to worship God according to the UA. The Sacred Liturgy is not a matter of so-called “Church politics” but the fullest and most perfect encounter with Christ for us in this world. The faithful, in question, among whom are numerous young adults and young married couples with children, encounter Christ, through the UA, Who draws them ever closer to Himself through the reform of their lives and cooperation with the divine grace which flows from His glorious pierced Heart into their hearts. They have no need to make a judgment regarding those who worship God according to the Usus Recentior (the More Recent Usage, what Pope Benedict XVI called the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite) [UR], first promulgated by Pope Saint Paul VI. As one priest, member of an institute of the consecrated life, which serves these faithful, remarked to me: I regularly confess to a priest, according to the UR, and participate, on special occasions, in the Holy Mass according to the UR. He concluded: Why would anyone accuse me of not accepting its validity?
12. If there are situations of an attitude or practice contrary to the sound doctrine and discipline of the Church, justice demands that they be addressed individually by the pastors of the Church, the Roman Pontiff and the Bishops in communion with him. Justice is the minimum and irreplaceable condition of charity. Pastoral charity cannot be served, if the requirements of justice are not observed.
13. A schismatic spirit or actual schism are always gravely evil, but there is nothing about the UA which fosters schism. For those of us who knew the UA in the past, like myself, it is a question of an act of worship marked by a centuries-old goodness, truth and beauty. I knew its attraction from my childhood and indeed became very attached to it. Having been privileged to assist the priest as a Mass Server from the time when I was ten years old, I can testify that the UA was a major inspiration of my priestly vocation. For those who have come to the UA for the first time, its rich beauty, especially as it manifests the action of Christ renewing sacramentally His Sacrifice on Calvary through the priest who acts in His person, has drawn them closer to Christ. I know many faithful for whom the experience of Divine Worship according to the UA has strongly inspired their conversion to the Faith or their seeking Full Communion with the Catholic Church. Also, numerous priests who have returned to the celebration of the UA or who have learned it for the first time have told me how deeply it has enriched their priestly spirituality. This is not to mention the saints all along the Christian centuries for whom the UA nourished an heroic practice of the virtues. Some have given their lives to defend the offering of this very form of divine worship.
14. For myself and for others who have received so many powerful graces through participation in the Sacred Liturgy, according to the UA, it is inconceivable that it could now be characterized as something detrimental to the unity of the Church and to its very life. In this regard, it is difficult to understand the meaning of Article 1 of the Motu Proprio: “The liturgical books promulgated by Saint Paul VI and Saint John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of Vatican Council II, are the only (unica, in the Italian version which seemingly is the original text) expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.” The UA is a living form of the Roman Rite and has never ceased to be so. From the very time of the promulgation of the Missal of Pope Paul VI, in recognition of the great difference between the UR and the UA, the continued celebration of the Sacraments, according to the UA, was permitted for certain convents and monasteries and also for certain individuals and groups. Pope Benedict XVI, in his Letter to the Bishops of the World, accompanying the Motu Proprio «Summorum Pontificum», made clear that the Roman Missal in use before the Missal of Pope Paul VI, “was never juridically abrogated and, consequently, in principle, was always permitted.”
15. But can the Roman Pontiff juridically abrogate the UA? The fullness of power (plenitudo potestatis) of the Roman Pontiff is the power necessary to defend and promote the doctrine and discipline of the Church. It is not “absolute power” which would include the power to change doctrine or to eradicate a liturgical discipline which has been alive in the Church since the time of Pope Gregory the Great and even earlier. The correct interpretation of Article 1 cannot be the denial that the UA is an ever-vital expression of “the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.” Our Lord Who gave the wonderful gift of the UA will not permit it to be eradicated from the life of the Church.
16. It must be remembered that, from a theological point of view, every valid celebration of a sacrament, by the very fact that it is a sacrament, is also, beyond any ecclesiastical legislation, an act of worship and, therefore, also a profession of faith. In that sense, it is not possible to exclude the Roman Missal, according to the UA, as a valid expression of the lex orandi and, therefore, of the lex credendi of the Church. It is a question of an objective reality of divine grace which cannot be changed by a mere act of the will of even the highest ecclesiastical authority.
17. Pope Francis states in his letter to the Bishops: “Responding to your requests, I take the firm decision to abrogate all the norms, instructions, permissions and customs that precede the present Motu proprio, and declare that the liturgical books promulgated by the saintly Pontiffs Paul VI and John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of Vatican Council II, constitute the unique [only] expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.” The total abrogation in question, in justice, requires that each individual norm, instruction, permission and custom be studied, to verify that it “contradicts communion and nurtures the divisive tendency … against which the Apostle Paul so vigorously reacted.”
18. Here, it is necessary to observe that the reform of the Sacred Liturgy carried out by Pope Saint Pius V, in accord with the indications of the Council of Trent, was quite different from what happened after the Second Vatican Council. Pope Saint Pius V essentially put in order the form of the Roman Rite as it had existed already for centuries. Likewise, some ordering of the Roman Rite has been done in the centuries since that time by the Roman Pontiff, but the form of the Rite remained the same. What happened after the Second Vatican Council constituted a radical change in the form of the Roman Rite, with the elimination of many of the prayers, significant ritual gestures, for example, the many genuflections, and the frequent kissing of the altar, and other elements which are rich in the expression of the transcendent reality – the union of heaven with earth – which is the Sacred Liturgy. Pope Paul VI already lamented the situation in a particularly dramatic way by the homily he delivered on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul in 1972. Pope Saint John Paul II labored throughout his pontificate, and, in particular, during its last years, to address serious liturgical abuses. Both Roman Pontiffs, and Pope Benedict XVI, as well, strove to conform the liturgical reform to the actual teaching of the Second Vatican Council, since the proponents and agents of the abuse invoked the “spirit of the Second Vatican Council” to justify themselves.
19. Article 6 of the Motu Proprio transfers the competence of institutes of the consecrated life and societies of apostolic life devoted to the UA to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. The observance of the UA belongs to the very heart of the charism of these institutes and societies. While the Congregation is competent to respond to questions regarding the canon law for such institutes and societies, it is not competent to alter their charism and constitutions, in order to hasten the seemingly desired elimination of the UA in the Church.
There are many other observations to be made, but these seem to be the most important. I hope that they may be helpful to all the faithful and, in particular, to the faithful who worship according to the UA, in responding to the Motu Proprio «Traditionis Custodes» and the accompanying Letter to the Bishops. The severity of these documents naturally generates a profound distress and even sense of confusion and abandonment. I pray that the faithful will not give way to discouragement but will, with the help of divine grace, persevere in their love of the Church and of her pastors, and in their love of the Sacred Liturgy.
In that regard, I urge the faithful, to pray fervently for Pope Francis, the Bishops and priests. At the same time, in accord with can. 212, §3, “[a]ccording to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.” Finally, in gratitude to Our Lord for the Sacred Liturgy, the greatest gift of Himself to us in the Church, may they continue to safeguard and cultivate the ancient and ever new More Ancient Usage or Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.
Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke
Rome, 22 July 2021
Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene, Penitent