VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pope Francis abrogated Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's historic decree on the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) Friday morning, sending seismic shock waves across the Catholic Church.
"Previous norms, instructions, permissions and customs that do not conform to the provisions of the present motu proprio are abrogated," Francis declared in his motu proprio euphemistically titled Traditionis Custodes (Guardians of the Tradition).
The new decree, subtitled "On the Use of the Roman Liturgy Prior to the Reform of 1970," severely restricts Summorum Pontificum (SP) — Benedict's 2007 motu proprio which freed priests to celebrate the Tridentine Mass without episcopal encumbrances.
Francis justified his decision in an accompanying letter to bishops, claiming: "In defense of the unity of the Body of Christ, I am constrained to revoke the faculty granted by my predecessors."
"The distorted use that has been made of this faculty is contrary to the intentions that led to granting the freedom to celebrate the Mass with the Missale Romanum [Roman Missal] of 1962," he alleged.
Francis said he was "saddened" that the Latin Mass "is often characterized by a rejection not only of the liturgical reform, but of the Vatican Council II itself, [with many people] claiming, with unfounded and unsustainable assertions, that it betrayed the Tradition and the 'true Church.'"
"At the same time, I am saddened by abuses in the celebration of the Liturgy on all sides," the pontiff observed, lamenting how a false notion of "creativity" while celebrating the new missal "leads to almost unbearable distortions."
Nevertheless, Francis maintains that "the liturgical books promulgated by the saintly pontiffs Paul VI and John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of Vatican Council II, are the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite."
Dr. Joseph Shaw, chairman of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales told Church Militant that Traditionis Custodes "does not address the foundational claim of SP that the older missal 'has never been abrogated' and that, for this reason, priests do not need permission to celebrate it."
"If this is true ... then the provisions of this motu proprio look legally shaky," Shaw stressed.
"It is hard to comprehend why Pope Francis has signed this extraordinarily negative document after eight years of not only tolerating the TLM but of welcoming it into St. Peter's every year in the Summorum Pontificum Pilgrimage," lamented Shaw, editor of The Case for Liturgical Restoration: Una Voce Studies on the Traditional Latin Mass.
"It is simply staggering that, in the context of the great fruits of SP, the Holy Father should create a situation where ... bishops are essentially invited to close it down. It seems to be that the banning of the TLM from parish churches is simply unworkable," the Oxford philosopher observed.
Francis' new decree, containing eight articles, gives the diocesan bishop the "exclusive competence to authorize the use of the 1962 Roman Missal in his diocese, according to the guidelines of the Apostolic See."
The bishops are to ensure that groups already celebrating the TLM "do not deny the validity and the legitimacy of the liturgical reform dictated by Vatican Council II and the Magisterium of the supreme pontiffs."
Catholics will not be granted the right to celebrate the TLM in "parochial churches" or to erect "new personal parishes," and bishops are to "verify" that already-existing TLM churches are "effective for ... spiritual growth and to determine whether or not to retain them."
Francis warns bishops "to take care not to authorize the establishment of new groups" and instructs that the TLM will have biblical readings "proclaimed in the vernacular language using translations of the Sacred Scripture approved for liturgical use by the respective episcopal conferences."
Priests ordained after Traditionis Custodes who wish to celebrate the TLM will have to "submit a formal request to the diocesan bishop who shall consult the Apostolic See before granting this authorization."
"Priests who already celebrate according to the Missale Romanum of 1962 should request from the diocesan bishop the authorization to continue to enjoy this faculty," Francis insists.
Societies dedicated to the celebration of the TLM like the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) will be transferred to the jurisdiction of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies for Apostolic Life.
The congregation has recently become notorious for suppressing contemplative orders and forcing them to leave their cloisters for initial and ongoing formation.
Fears began rising last year when Francis sent out a nine-point questionnaire on the Latin Mass to bishops all over the world, Church Militant reported.
"The responses reveal a situation that preoccupies and saddens me and persuades me of the need to intervene," Francis wrote, defending his decree, and pointing out that the pastoral concerns of his predecessors in liberalizing the TLM were "seriously disregarded."
These magnanimous gestures were "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 pontiff complained.
A final reason for my decision is this: Ever more plain in the words and attitudes of many is the close connection between the choice of celebrations according to the liturgical books prior to Vatican Council II and the rejection of the Church and her institutions in the name of what is called the "true Church."
The pope ended his letter exhorting bishops to seek the "return in due time" of Latin Mass Catholics to the new Liturgy and "to discontinue the erection of new personal parishes tied more to the desire and wishes of individual priests than to the real need of the 'holy people of God.'"
In the June issue of The Traditionalist, Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò wrote: "It is disturbing as well as scandalous that in the face of the good that the Tridentine Mass brings to the Church, there are those who want to ban it or limit its celebration."
"Abusing the apostolic authority and the power of the Holy Keys for a purpose opposed to that for which they were instituted by the Lord represents an unheard-of offense against the Majesty of God and a sin for which he will have to answer to the One whose vicar he is," the Vatican whistleblower wrote in a stinging indictment of Pope Francis.
Predicting the abrogation of SP, Viganò pleaded with faithful Catholics to "prepare to descend into the catacombs, offering this trial for the conversion of the shepherds."