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SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (ChurchMilitant.com) - Fear and dismay abound in Latin America following Pope Francis' restricting of the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM).
In response to Pope Francis' motu propio Traditionis Custodes, the bishops of Costa Rica have prohibited the TLM in their country and banned vestments, prayers and rites associated with the ancient liturgy.
In a July 19 Facebook message, the bishops' conference of Costa Rica declared, "No priest is authorized to continue celebrating according to the ancient liturgy." Referring to Traditionis Custodes and the pontiff's accompanying letter, it affirmed, "In these two documents the most exquisite ecclesiology is perceived."
The three bishops, all appointed by Francis, continued:
It not only recalls that the 'Custodians of Tradition' — the bishops in communion with the Bishop of Rome — constitute the "visible principle and the foundation of unity in their particular churches," but that these texts were written with the logic of the communion. What the Roman Pontiff has published is the result of a synodal process in which our Episcopal Conference of Costa Rica has also participated.
Indeed, this is an issue that has long occupied the attention of the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Costa Rica. It has been reflected on at diocesan levels, where each one of us has made his own discernment listening to the different voices and concerns that have been presented. But we have also treated it in a collegial way, even opening our considerations to the instances of the universal communion of the Church.
Promulgated July 16, the feast of Our Lady of Carmel, Traditionis Custodes effectively tells bishops they should not admit new Traditional Latin Mass groups. It also instructs them to prohibit Latin Mass in parish churches and the creation of new Latin Mass parishes while giving them the authority to decide when and where TLM can be celebrated. Pope Benedict's motu propio Summorum Pontificum of 2007, in contrast, had given priests greater freedom to celebrate the Latin Mass according to the 1962 Missal as promulgated by Pope St. John XXII.
Francis argues that liberalizations instituted by Pope St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI have been "exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce the divergences, and encourage disagreements that injure the Church, block her path, and expose her to the peril of division."
The bishops of Costa Rica echoed those thoughts, stating "[T]here have been circumstances that led Pope Francis to intervene on this issue" and citing the following excerpt from the letter accompanying the motu propio:
[T]he pastoral objective of my Predecessors, who had intended "to do everything possible to ensure that all those who truly possessed the desire for unity would find it possible to remain in this unity or to rediscover it anew," has often been seriously disregarded. An opportunity offered by St. John Paul II and, with even greater magnanimity, by Benedict XVI, intended to recover the unity of an ecclesial body with diverse liturgical sensibilities, was exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce the divergences, and encourage disagreements that injure the Church, block her path, and expose her to the peril of division.
As a result of their "pastoral discernment ... in communion with many other faithful," the Costa Rican bishops confirmed "there is no objective justification for the use among us of the liturgy prior to the 1970 reform."
Furthermore, citing Traditionis Custodes, the bishops declared, "Those who show an affinity for the ancient forms do not always express their assessment of 'validity and the legitimacy of the liturgical reform, dictated by Vatican Council II and the Magisterium of the Supreme Pontiffs.'"
Apparently reaching for support for their position from Francis' predecessor, the bishops wrote, "With sometimes discreet statements or directly offensive comments, they [pro-TLM adherents] call into question the 'sanctity of the new rite' (Summorum Pontificum of Pope Benedict XVI). They do not seek the synergy that would give theological-pastoral validity to their ritual preferences."
At least one bishop in Latin America was quick to put Francis' diktat into practice.
Bishop Ángel Ríos Matos of Mayagüez, Puerto Rico released a statement July 17 prohibiting the celebration of the TLM in his diocese and claiming no one had ever requested it.
No priest will be allowed to celebrate the ancient rite, nor will it be permitted anywhere in the diocese located on the western edge of the U.S. commonwealth. Altar linens, Roman-style vestments, birettas and chalice coverings are banned. Ríos Matos was designated to the see by Francis in 2020.
Bishop Edmar Peron of Paranaguá, Brazil, who presides over the liturgy commission of the conference of Brazilian bishops, wrote July 20 that the pope sought to "promote harmony and unity of the Church." Appointed by Francis, Peron wrote, "The starting point of this motu propio is, therefore, Ecclesiology and not Liturgy, that is: acceptance of the Second Vatican Council and fidelity to the Bishops and the Pope."
According to an Argentine priest who spoke with Church Militant on condition of anonymity, there is "radio silence" in the pontiff's native country about the motu propio. "We remain frightened by Francis," he affirmed.
According to Latin Mass Directory, there are but four places where the rite can be celebrated in Argentina. While there was no mention of the pope's motu propio on the Argentine bishops' website, its official news service published an article noting the "change to norms that guide the use of the pre-conciliar missal."
Likewise, the website of the Mexican bishops' conference made no reference to Traditionis Custodes. In June, Cdl. Raymond Burke — a frequent critic of the reigning pope — celebrated a TLM in Mexico during a conference on Summorum Pontificum that featured a confirmation and an ordination.
Elsewhere in the Church, dismay was evident.
On July 20, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), founded during the pontificate of Pope St. John Paul II in 1988 to advance pre-Vatican II liturgical traditions, stated it "is deeply saddened by the reasons given for limiting the use of the Missal of St. John XXIII, which is at the center of its charism."
FSSP was surprised that Francis did not mention "the many fruits visible in the apostolates attached to the missal of St. John XXIII and the joy of the faithful in being able to benefit from this liturgical form." It affirmed that many people have entered or returned to the Church because of the Latin liturgy, creating communities that are "often young and flourishing."
Critics of Traditionis Custodes include Cdl. Gerhard Müller, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who opined July 19 that Pope Francis failed to make a sensible case for the sweeping restrictions. Echoing other critics, Müller paraphrased one of the pope's most lapidary statements, writing that "instead of appreciating the smell of the sheep, the shepherd here hits them hard with his crook."
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