Archbishop Roche on the Interpretation of Traditionis Custodes

Correspondence from last summer between Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England and Archbishop Arthur Roche, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW), was recently leaked and can be found in various places online. Cardinal Nichols addressed pertinent questions about the implementation of Traditionis Custodes to the CDW late last July, and Archbishop Roche responded in early August with some pretty clear statements about the proper interpretation of the pope’s document restricting the preconciliar Latin Mass.

Roche’s response, which is “personal” in nature because more official guidelines have not yet been issued, makes the following points:

  • Pope Francis’s letter to the bishops grants the use of “antecedents texts” (i.e. the preconciliar liturgy) by way of “exceptional concession, and not by way of promotion.”
  • The reformed liturgy is intended to be normative for all. Pope Francis’s directives aim toward the “return and stabilization of the liturgy as decreed by the Second Vatican Council.”
  • Previous exceptions and limited concessions granted by John Paul II and Benedict XVI are clearly “abrogated.” “Pastoral prudence” may be required “for a very limited time only” until there is “full implementation of the Motu Proprio.”
  • “Delicacy of care and direction” is demanded of pastors toward those most affected – i.e. those drawn to the preconciliar liturgy. But this unreformed liturgy is “at variance with the Conciliar reforms.”
  • The preconciliar liturgy “in fact was abrogated by Pope Saint Paul VI.” This is surely the most important part of Roche’s letter. It undercuts the attempts made by some, including Benedict XVI, to claim that the Pauline reform did not abrogate what went before.
  • Misuse of the preconciliar texts has encouraged “an ecclesiology that is not part of the Church’s Magisterium.”
  • The Latin Mass Society (LMS) is to know that the moderators of the liturgy are bishops and the pope, and that LMS’s understanding of Traditionis Custodes “has no standing whatsoever and should not be published as an authoritative commentary.”

*               *               *               *               *

In 1981, German theologian and liturgist Theodor Maas-Ewerd released a study of the liturgical crisis of the 1930s and 1940s titled Die Krise der Liturgischen Bewegung in Deutschland und Österreich: Zu den Auseinandersetzungen um die “liturgicsche Frage” in den Jahren 1939 bis 1944 – which one could translate as “The Crisis of the Liturgical Movement in Germany and Austria: On the Struggles around the ‘Liturgical Question’ in the Years 1939 to 1944.”

The Liturgical Movement was rapidly advancing in central Europe at that time, and the Germans and Austrians were leaders in adapting the Tridentine Mass to be, within the limited options then possible, more participative and communal. But some, including very vocal bishops, objected to these efforts. The push for vernacular, increasing experimentation with Mass facing the people, unduly lengthening Mass by distributing Communion during Mass – all these were under attack. Leading German-speaking bishops rose up to defend the Liturgical Movement.

The response of Rome came in the papal encyclicals Mystici Corporis (1943) and Mediator Dei (1947) which largely affirmed the Liturgical Movement.

Maas-Ewerd calls it (in my translation) “an exemplary model for the resolution of a crisis in the life of the church.” Criticisms of the Liturgical Movement, divisions around it in the episcopate, ultimately served to bring about an official affirmation in its favor.

I’ve wondered for some time whether something similar might ever happen regarding the binding nature of the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. We have a difference of opinion around whether the continued celebration of the preconciliar liturgy comports with the Council, provided the adherents do not explicitly reject the Council, or whether the Council intended that the preconciliar liturgy be replaced by a reformed one.

I think it’s the latter. I suggest this comparison – which admittedly works in the U.S. and not in the U.K. but you’ll get the point: If I recognize that the law requires me to drive in the right-hand lane, and acknowledge the rightful authority that made this decision, this does not leave me free to drive in the left-hand land.

But traffic laws are clearer than evolving liturgical laws just now. For those following the conflicting opinions around Traditionis Custodes, the current liturgical situation is similar to the one in Austria and Germany 70 years ago.

It’s too soon to say whether Rome is moving toward a resolution of this crisis. The indications given by Archbishop Roche early last August are very helpful, and they probably reflect the dominant line of thought of the Holy See. But it is also possible that Rome’s resolve has softened since last August.

Eventually, a resolution of the crisis in the sense of the Second Vatican Council would be helpful. I think we need a major encyclical on the liturgy from Pope Francis.


*               *               *               *               *

Further information on the 1939-1944 liturgical crisis is found in Anthony Ruff, Sacred Music and Liturgical Reform: Treasures and Transformations, chapter 12, especially pp. 236-242.

The correspondence between Cardinals Nichols and Roche was first made public here.