Traditionis custodes should move us to compassion

Source: District of Great Britain

Cohabitation of the rites of St. Pius V and Paul VI is impossible.

1. With the recent Motu proprio Traditionis custodes of 16th July, Pope Francis establishes that "the liturgical books promulgated by the Holy Pontiffs Paul VI and John Paul II, in accordance with the decrees of the Second Vatican Council, are the only expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite"[1].

2. Various reactions were not long in coming from the Ecclesia Dei movements. Without doubt, the situation risks becoming problematic for all those who are attached to the traditional liturgy but do not want to follow Archbishop Lefebvre and the Society of St. Pius X in a supposed "schism" or at least in an equally supposed "disobedience". This will undoubtedly appear - and in fact remain - very distressing in the eyes of all those whose consideration stops at the personal good of the members of the said movements. The example of the Superior of the District of France of the Fraternity of Saint Peter is characteristic in this regard when he sees in the Motu proprio of Pope Francis an "offensive" text which is poor recompense for the "obedience" practised until now. He even went so far as to say that "the Society of St. Pius X is treated better than we are".

3. Although it may seem distressing in its effects and penalising for the faithful, the Pope's initiative is not surprising. It is even logical. And one may well ask whether it was not inevitable. For the situation of the two rites, that of St Pius V and that of Paul VI, is indeed that described in the recent Motu proprio Traditionis custodes: a situation of impossible cohabitation, on the very level of liturgical principles. Beyond actual situations and infinitely variable relations - peaceful or conflicting - which concern individuals, there is a fundamental and formal opposition of doctrine between the Mass of Saint Pius V and the new rite of Paul VI. For the liturgy is a theological place[2]. The gap between the two liturgies is an abyss, separating two conceptions of the Church and of faith. The breadth of this gap can be measured by the strength with which most episcopates, conscious of their adherence to Vatican II, opposed the initiative of the Motu proprio Summorum pontificum even when the traditional rite of the Church was not supposed to exclude the new rite. And this is precisely because, beyond a purely juridical non-exclusion, there will always remain an incompatibility and a doctrinal exclusion between the two liturgies. The good intentions of a conservative Pope, such as Benedict XVI, are similar to those of a liberal: both nurture the illusion of giving truth and error equal status. But the intentions of an avant-garde Pope, such as Francis, are of a different order: the one and only expression of the lex orandi can only be in his mind the Novus ordo missae, to the exclusion of the traditional Mass. And in this, Francis is much more logical than Benedict XVI with the adage that it is the law of belief that is at the foundation of the law of prayer, lex orandi, lex credendi. If the new belief is that of the Second Vatican Council, the new liturgy that must correspond to it can only be that of the New Mass of Paul VI, and not that of the Old Mass, which is the expression of a doctrine opposed on more than one point to that of Vatican II.

4. This clearly means, among other things, that for a true Catholic attached to Tradition, or for a true conciliar attached to Vatican II, the traditional Mass cannot be the object of a personal preference or of a choice motivated by a particular theological or aesthetic sensitivity. One does not "prefer" the traditional Mass to the new Mass, as if the new Mass were only less good or less pleasant. In fact, the traditional rite of the Mass is the complete and necessary expression of the Church's faith, as opposed to the new rite which (in the words of the Ottaviani Intervention) departs from it in its detail and in its entirety. Every Catholic must therefore adhere to the traditional rite as the profession of the Catholic faith and in opposion to the claims of the legitimacy and intrinsic goodness of the new rite of Paul VI.

5. It is undeniable that, with the Motu proprio of 7th July 2007, Benedict XVI wanted to widen the possibility of celebrating the ancient liturgy more than at any time since 1969. But Pope Benedict, because he was only conservative, did not go so far as to make the traditional rite the necessary, ordinary and common expression of the law of prayer; the ordinary expression of this law remained in fact that of the Novus ordo missae of Paul VI. Benedict XVI only wanted that, for the same lex orandi, there should be two expressions: one of which (that of the Mass of St. Pius V) would be extraordinary compared to the other (that of the New Mass of Paul VI). Benedict XVI thus introduced into the Church's liturgy the impossible dualism of a bi-ritualism, a dualism that is impossible at the level of the principles of the liturgy itself, and this is why his Motu proprio was in sum nothing more than an act of an equally impossible and illusory liberalism, which could satisfy neither the Society of St. Pius X nor the unconditional supporters of Vatican II, both of whom are attached to their principles. Conservatives of various persuasions, including the Ecclesia Dei movements, saw in it a providential way of reconciling their attachment to the liturgy of St. Pius V and their [at least material] submission to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. However, the recent initiative of Francis has reminded them that this unstable situation was only made possible thanks to the quite personal and ultimately strategic initiative of a conservative Pope.

6.  For all of these conservatives, Catholics worthy of the name should feel genuine compassion: genuine compassion not only because conservatives may be deprived of the liturgy of St. Pius V, but especially because they might persist in the deadly illusion that the old liturgy may be reconciled with adherence to the Second Vatican Council - or a supposed "obedience" to the present hierarchy. To all these people in the present state of the Church, it is important to make it clear (in charity) that the Society of St. Pius X's position on the Mass of St. Pius V, far from being just an option or an opportune and provisional preference, is actually an imperative.

7. Pope Francis' initiative might thus open both eyes, as well as hearts.


Rev. Fr.  Jean-Michel Gleize

Professor of Ecclesiology at the Seminary of St. Pius X, Ecône, Switzerland



  1. Article 1
  2. Cf. what Dom Jean-Pierre Longeat wrote, just before the publication of Benedict XVI's Motu proprio, "L'Unité de la liturgie romaine en question" in the newspaper La Croix of Monday 23rd October 2006, p. 25: "The 1969 Ordo missae implements in particular the theology of the dogmatic constitution on the Church. Lumen gentium presents the Church both as the Mystical Body of Christ and as the People of God gathered in the name of Christ. [...] To want to encourage in the Latin Church a return to another theological emphasis by extension of the 1962 Ordo is to generate a very deep disturbance in the people of God.