The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, popularly known as Vatican II, sought to confront a hidebound clericalism, and a modern world that no longer takes as its starting points basic natural law and Christian dogmatic commitments. It is unfortunately known in some circles for the opportunity it provided for poorly catechized Catholics and progressive innovators to make changes (liturgical abuses) under the guise of the Council’s authority.
The counter-reaction — shown at the extremes by sedevacantism (a rejection of the validity of the pope, ironically, by the most traditionalist Catholics) and the SSPX schism — was a retreat to the Traditional Latin Mass (“TLM”), as celebrated according to the liturgical rubrics of 1962. Meanwhile, a “new” Mass, in the vernacular, with more lay participation and an expanded lectionary, was promulgated by Pope St. Paul VI in 1970. This is most likely the Mass you will encounter in the West today.
(Certainly, many religious communities—nuns and brothers—and priestly confraternities received permission to celebrate the TLM, subject to their acceptance of the Council, and to the proper authorities.)
Even so, the Mass of 1962 was subject to many restrictions, loosened by Pope St. John Paul II in 1984, and Pope Benedict XVI in 2007, in a document entitled, Summorum Pontificum. The main effect of this document was to allow priests at the parish level or the equivalent to celebrate the TLM without a new episcopal permission. I believe Pope Benedict XVI’s motive — like that of his predecessor — was to see if the two liturgical rites would “cross-pollinate” each other, leading to spiritual fruit.
According to Pope Francis, and the motu proprio Traditiones Custodes— which reverses the permissions of Summorum Pontificum—that has not occurred. Indeed, the affection for Old Europe may have imported some of its antisemitism, for one, in many TLM communities. A certain “shadow Church” attitude, or of the traditionalist community as the “faithful remnant” alone, persisted. Anecdotally, I have seen this myself.
The permissions of Summorum Pontificum seemed to create rebellious pastoral fiefdoms in many instances, despite the fact that the priest is meant to understand himself as the assistant to the Bishop, the servant of the flock of Christ. Traditiones Custodes returns the sole authority for liturgical celebrations to the diocesan bishop. It also does forbid the creation of new traditionalist communities aiming to celebrate the TLM.
Pope Francis’ assessment of the pastoral situation may or may not be correct, but given that antisemitism, rigid Catholic supremacy, and by definition a lack of filial submission came from various schismatic movements nominally dedicated to traditionalism, the pope’s assessment cannot be entirely lacking foundation.
It is interesting that Pope John Paul II’s entire pastoral and theological approach might be described as one of dialogue, an ongoing conversation with God and others, one that leads all the way to communion with God in Heaven. Conversation is by definition opposed to dictation, or imposition.
Of course, God’s “contribution” to any conversation is both definitive and creative. Jesus is God’s definitive and final Word to humanity. As Savior, He may speak challenging words, but they are also welcoming words. We must say that salvation consists in a loving, trusting, personal encounter with Jesus. Is God in Jesus beginning to reverse the divisions of ages past? It seems so. Jesus did pray for the unity of all Christians in His high priestly prayer of John 17. And how might we be empowered to share the gospel in new ways with different people? Despite many challenges, it seems that the opportunity is here now.
Jason Kettinger is Associate Editor of Open for Business. He writes on politics, sports, faith and more.