Guest Submission: ‘Tradiciones Custodes’: A Progressive Church cannot live with a Traditional Liturgy

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Gustavo Caldas, from Brazil

Pope Francis’ lastest Motu Proprio, called Traditiones Custodes, went unnoticed by most Catholics, who do not even know that there is a Roman rite different from the Mass rite they usually attend every week, perhaps with the exception of the elderly who still remember a Mass in Latin, called the Tridentine Mass. However, for those who belong to groups linked to the celebration of Mass in the pre-conciliar rite, or who have discovered the value of this celebration and have started to attend Tridentine Masses in recent years, the papal document was an unexpected blow.

The initial propensity when discussing the theme is to treat it as something merely liturgical, that is, referring only to the celebration of the Mass, without further implications. However, this is far from true. We do not intend to go into detail here about the Missal of Saint Pius V and contrast it with the Missal of Paul VI, an analysis that takes time and has already been carried out by others. The intention here is to understand what is at stake in a more conceptual way. For this, we first need to rescue the definition of sacrament given by St. Thomas. In the Summa, St. Thomas explains that the sacraments “accomplish what they mean”, that is, the symbolism associated with the rite serves to highlight something real, which happens at that moment. This is true for all the sacraments and, most notably, for the Mass.

The Mass, according to Catholic doctrine, accomplishes something incredible: the bloodless sacramental renewal of the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. It is not a mere theater, nor a mere banquet, but a true actualization of the redemptive act of Christ. It was to redeem the world from sin and open the way to Heaven that Christ became incarnate. Only Jesus Christ, God incarnate, could offer God an effective reparation for original sin and for all human sins, merit obtained in his unconditional surrender with his death on the Cross. Christ himself made the connection between his sacrifice on the Cross and the celebration of the Bread and Wine, both in his speech collected in chapter 6 of the Gospel of Saint John, and in the accounts of the Last Supper. In the Eucharistic Communion, the union of the soul with God takes place in time and in history, being, therefore, a prefiguration of the beatific vision, the definitive union and the full meaning to which we are all called. In the Mass, therefore, all theology is condensed, for there is the Paschal mystery of Christ in his saving and redemptive efficacy for everyone and, at the same time, the invitation to conversion and holiness in order to participate in this mystery.

The Church over the centuries has defined how this central celebration of the Christian mystery should be carried out in order to bring out more perfectly the whole mystery being celebrated and carried out. Therefore, gestures, words, clothing, sacred vessels are not arbitrary, that is, nothing is superfluous in the rite of the Mass. The more full of meaning the Mass is, the more the mystery being performed is manifested and the more God is glorified. The Church teaches that every valid Mass has infinite value in itself (ex opere operato), independent of the celebrant’s faith and the richness of the rite. However, the sacrifice that is renewed on the altar glorifies God all the more as it more fully manifests the mystery being celebrated in all its richness of meaning. And the celebrant and the faithful, more intensely participate in the mystery and draw its spiritual riches, as they understand more deeply its meaning and freely associate with Christ, sharing his Body and Blood. When the rite is impoverished or mixed with elements alien to its essence, the mystery is hidden, running the risk of even making the celebration invalid or sacrilegious.

The axiom ‘lex orandi, lex credenti’ refers precisely to this intimate relationship between liturgy and theology, between prayer and faith. All the doctrinal richness of the Catholic faith must necessarily be materialized in a corresponding liturgy. The immediate corollary is that an alternative view of the faith will necessarily lead to an alternative liturgy. The Protestant Reformation, in theological terms, began with questions about some dogmas of the faith and ended up changing the understanding of the sacraments and, consequently, of the corresponding rites. In the case of the Reformation, the questioning was so radical that it resulted in the invalidation of the sacraments, as understood by Catholics. Within the Catholic Church, any movement that questions or proposes updates in doctrine will necessarily propose liturgical renewals: a new doctrine cannot coexist with an old liturgy.

The Second Vatican Council, without wanting to exhaust its complexity, proposed an aggiornamento (from the Italian, renewal) of the faith, in order to give new impetus to evangelization in a world undergoing an accelerated process of change. There is a debate, still current, about how much the text of the conciliar documents reflect or not the doctrinal tradition of the Church. Even without entering into this debate, we know that the Council as a historical event was an occasion for a progressive movement already active in the Church even before the Council to take shape and act in a more active way. The post-conciliar liturgical reform was inspired by the corresponding liturgical document of the CVII, the Sacrosantum Concilium, but it incorporated practices and eliminated relevant elements from the previous rite, no longer obeying the rule of faith, but an alternative view on the purposes of evangelization, on the meaning the Mass and the Eucharist.

Added to this is the fact that in general even the Missal of Paul VI is not followed to the letter, but it has become a reference on which many people add extraneous elements, the result of a false notion of protagonism and creativity and a generalized loss of faith, even among the clergy, which more intensely obscures the original meaning of the Mass and the Eucharist. The gap between the pre-conciliar tradition and its liturgy and what took place in the post-conciliar years has widened over the years. As the deposit of faith was squandered on relevant issues, the liturgy became more and more caricatured, in some cases a distant reflection of the full meaning it was supposed to reflect.

Since the liturgical reform of Paul VI, some groups have realized the underlying risk of liturgical change and have remained faithful to the pre-conciliar Mass, not because of external preciosity, but because they understand the intimate relationship already mentioned between the ‘lex orandi and lex credenti ‘. If faith cannot be changed, neither should the liturgy be, in the conception of these groups. Other groups, already inserted in the debate and in the post-conciliar reality, understand that it is possible to be reverent and faithful to the Catholic faith and accept the liturgical reform, following the Missal without ‘creativity’ and preserving the dignity of the ceremony. This is another current debate: is it possible to adopt the liturgical reform and preserve all the value and meaning of the sacrifice of the Mass? For those who remained or returned to the Tridentine rite, the answer is obviously no, as essential elements and important clauses were eliminated in favor of an adaptation and simplification of the rite that should never have taken place.

The problem has been accentuated in recent years, with the pontificate of Pope Francis. The progressive wing of the Church gained prominence and an alternative vision of the Catholic faith accelerated its search for hegemony, which was already happening. In response, new groups linked to the traditional Mass were formed, not only in liturgical opposition, but essentially doctrinal.

Francisco’s Church, an expression that points to his most controversial and radical positions, contrasts with the Church that the traditional movement wants to rescue. Pope Francis introduced anti-faith elements regarding the communion of couples in second union in the Encyclical Amoris Letitia, diminished the hegemony and superiority of the Catholic faith over other religions with the Abu Dhabi document, allowed the introduction of the pagan symbol of ‘Pachamama’ at the Vatican at the Amazon Synod, whose documents and declarations by the participants reflect a vision of the Catholic faith more interested in ‘ecoteology’ than in conversion, more in caring for the environment than in combating widespread paganization in the world. Pope Francis has partnered with the UN and interest groups called globalists in advancing their agenda, lauded the LGBTQ+ pastoral of American Jesuit James Martin, and labeled seminarians interested in traditional mass and liturgy as “rigid”. It is clear that there is a dichotomy between the progressive Church of Pope Francis and the bishops and priests who share his vision and the traditional Church that many want to rescue, not only in doctrine, but in faith and morals.

For progressivism (for want of a better expression) to win this struggle and to stifle the opposite movement, it cannot be allowed to have a traditional liturgy widely celebrated in the Church. The richness of the traditional liturgy and the integrity of the Catholic faith appeals to young people who see the current degeneration of Eucharistic doctrine and celebrations in so many parishes. The traditional Catholic movement has been very successful among converts and Catholics living reconversions to the faith, among young couples with large families and has had its seminars with abundant vocations. All of this is a clear threat to an alternative project of Church that the pontificate of Pope Francis represents.

Without these references, it is not possible to understand the motivations of the Motu Proprio Tradiciones Custodes, which in its name proposes to protect the Catholic tradition, but which in reality is a strong blow to the thriving Catholic traditionalism. However, we know that true faith flourishes under persecution, as it has always done in Church history. It will not be different this time: interest in the traditional Mass must increase, as well as the conviction of those who have chosen to live the Catholic faith according to tradition.

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