Action on fringe Latin Mass rites – timely and necessary

Sacrosanctum Concilium,

In the wake of recent events in Christchurch involving the fringe group “Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer” and their alleged exorcisms, a critical examination of the Church’s stance on pre-Vatican II Latin Mass rites is both timely and necessary.

This group’s actions have them being accused of

  • operating as a law unto themselves,
  • disrespecting Church authority, and
  • flouting diocesan oversight.

Their actions underscore the concerns that led Pope Francis to issue his Apostolic Letter Traditionis custodes and its accompanying letter to bishops on 16 July 2021.

After extensive consultation with bishops, Pope Francis discerned a troubling pattern among many adherents of the pre-conciliar rites: a rejection of the Church and its institutions.

The rejection was in favour of a so-called “true Church.”

This notion, rooted in a mythical ideal, fosters division and undermines ecclesial communion.

The crux of the issue can be traced back to Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Letter, Summorum Pontificum,

Benedict introduced the concept of “extraordinary” and “ordinary” expressions coexisting within the Roman Rite with this letter.

Benedict XVI intended to harmonise these expressions without undermining the liturgical reforms.

However, his actions led to unintended consequences, deepening divisions under the guise of a “reform of the reform.”

Regrettably, Benedict’s initiative inadvertently nurtured a sector within the Church.

Allowing both rites often lacks a comprehensive grasp of their respective understanding of Church.

In many cases, the assumption that these groups adhered to the binding character of Vatican Council II and remained faithful to the Pope and Bishops was misplaced.

In response, Pope Francis, informed by the bishops’ experiences, issued Traditiones Custodes.

This document and his explanatory letter emphasised the need to continuously pursue church communion, a cornerstone of his papal duty to preserve unity.

Consequently, Francis revoked Summorum pontificum, nullifying the concept of ordinary and extraordinary forms and affirming the liturgical books promulgated by Saint Paul VI and Saint John Paul II as the sole expression of the Roman Rite’s lex orandi.

Diocesan bishop’s role modified

The restrictions on the pre-conciliar rites, now subject to the local bishop’s authorisation, were further clarified in a Rescript to Traditiones custodes (20 February 2023).

This document reserved certain dispensations to the Apostolic See, including using parish churches for the 1962 Missal and permissions for priests ordained post-Traditionis custodes to celebrate using this Missal.

The Apostolic Visitation by Bishop Emeritus Robert McGuckin to the Diocese of Christchurch is a testament to the pervasive issues in this diocese and potentially in others.

This situation highlights the necessity of Pope Francis’s decision to address a liturgically divided Church where fringe groups, unchecked, pose a risk of scandal.

The Pope’s directive underscores the diocesan bishop’s role as moderator, promoter, and guardian of the liturgical life of their Church.

It is imperative that bishops actively oversee priests who contravene the Rescript of Traditiones custodes and that Metropolitan Archbishops monitor the conduct of their suffragan bishops.

This ensures adherence to the call for unity within Traditiones custodes.

Christchurch – key questions

The Christchurch case presents two critical questions.

  • Firstly, who are the bishops and priests with written permission from the Holy See to celebrate the pre-conciliar rites?

Their identities should be transparently communicated to all the baptised in a synodal manner.

  • Secondly, who moderates groups not conforming to Traditiones custodes, ensuring compliance with its liturgical theology and principles?

As “Guardians of the tradition,” bishops are responsible for preventing liturgical abuses, including unauthorised celebrations of the abrogated rites.

The Church’s unity and integrity depend on their vigilant stewardship and adherence to the directives set forth in Traditiones custodes.

  • Dr Joe Grayland is currently a visiting professor at the University of Tübingen (Germany). He has been a priest of the Diocese of Palmerston North for nearly thirty years.
  • His latest book is: Catholics. Prayer, Belief and Diversity in a Secular Context (Te Hepara Pai, 2021).
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