VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - Catholics worshipping according to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass are deeply apprehensive after the Vatican sent bishops a questionnaire asking for "their advice" on the Latin Mass.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) is directing bishops to complete a survey on Pope Benedict XVI's edict Summorum Pontificum stating that "His Holiness Pope Francis wishes to be informed about the current application of the aforementioned document."
In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI clarified that the Latin Mass had not been abrogated by Vatican II and was permitted, as "in the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture."
But traditionalist Catholics fear that CDF prefect Cdl. Luis Ladaria's letter of March 7 could be the beginning of a process which puts the Vetus Ordo Missae "under threat."
"I can only interpret this as the CDF looking for trouble. As the old saying goes, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' It looks like they're trying to break it, so then they can 'fix' it," a Rome-based canon lawyer told Church Militant.
"Doesn't the CDF have anything else to do? For years and years they have been up to their eyeballs in graviora delicta [serious offense] cases. Since Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela was issued in 2001, bishops are now required to contact the CDF when they receive accusations of clerical sex abuse," the canonist said.
"I've heard that the CDF has been chronically short-staffed and desperate for competent priest-canonists to handle those cases, which are urgent by definition, and are piled up with more constantly coming in non-stop," the canonist added. "So why on earth are they creating more work for themselves with this questionnaire?"
A source close to the Vatican told Church Militant this was typical of Pope Francis' modus operandi:
He gets others to do his unpleasant work. When the CDF has compiled what we must expect will be an overwhelmingly negative appraisal of the Latin Mass from progressive or neutral bishops, the pontiff will put the ball in their court and say that it was a CDF recommendation to abolish the Old Rite.
However, Joseph Shaw, chairman of the Latin Mass Society UK, said he was "optimistic about Summorum Pontificum and CDF's attitude to it" and did not "view this survey as a threat, but simply as indicating a desire by the CDF to have solid information from around the world."
Speaking to Church Militant, Shaw noted that very few bishops in England and Wales are actively hostile to the Latin Mass. "Even those least friendly to it tend to treat it with neglect rather than active opposition. Many bishops have celebrated it, two in their own cathedrals; Bp. [Philip] Egan and Abp. [Malcolm] McMahon have actually ordained priests using the older form."
"Bishops have invited traditional institutes like the FSSP [Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter] and ICKSP [Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest] into five dioceses and they have primary or complete control of four churches. Men have joined the institutes from all over England and Wales," he added.
Shaw admitted that "ideological opposition to the older Mass continues to linger, and one odd thing about the current situation in England is that public celebrations of the Latin Mass still are not allowed in the seminaries."
In its survey, the CDF asks bishops if Summorum Pontificum has had "an influence on the life of seminaries and other formation houses" in the dioceses.
It also queries if priests are using "liturgical books prior to Vatican II" for "other celebrations" like baptism, confirmation, marriage, penance, unction of the sick, ordination, Divine Office, funerals and the Easter Triduum.
"In your opinion, are there positive or negative aspects of the use of the Extraordinary Form?" it asks, probing further if the Latin Mass in the diocese responds to "a true pastoral need" or is being "promoted by a single priest."
Further, the survey seeks information on how far "the Ordinary Form has adopted elements of the Extraordinary Form" of the Mass. Bishops are told to submit the completed questionnaire by July 31.
An informed source told Church Militant that Pope Francis is keen to abolish the Latin Mass soon after Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI passes away. The source also revealed that as far as the Italian bishops were concerned, the pontiff would face little or no opposition if he ended the Old Rite.
In the words of a senior retired prelate, who revealed how the Italian bishops would respond:
Not all of them are convinced liberals: Many realize the enormities of this pontificate and are waiting for the wind to change. Then they will change too. At the moment, they just rack their brains to find ways to please the Vatican and will even do more than they are asked, trying to anticipate what is expected of them.
The traditionalist Italian blog Messa in Latino reported that at the Italian Bishops' Conference meeting in 2018 an attack was mounted on Summorum Pontificum led by Abp. Redaelli of Gorizia, who argued that the Mass was, in fact, abrogated and that it cannot be considered to be universally permitted.
In 2016, Pope Francis acknowledged openly his misgivings about liturgical traditionalists: "I always try to understand what's behind the people who are too young to have lived the pre-conciliar liturgy but who want it. Sometimes I've found myself in front of people who are too strict, who have a rigid attitude."
"And I wonder: How come such a rigidity? Dig, dig — this rigidity always hides something: insecurity, sometimes even more ... Rigidity is defensive. True love is not rigid," he said in an interview.
A year later, Andrea Grillo, professor of sacramental theology at the Pontifical Atheneum of Saint Anselm, revealed that in the long term, Pope Francis was planning to abolish Summorum Pontificum.
"But he will not implement this while Benedict XVI is alive," Grillo, a layman who is known to be close to the pontiff, disclosed.
"Trying to 'sweeten,' to 'water down,' to 'select' in the documents of the [Second Vatican] Council what binds everyone and what binds only 'enthusiasts' — to arrive at a 'memorandum of understanding' is an operation that massacres the common tradition," he wrote, in a polemic against Summorum Pontificum.
However, there are some who believe that Pope Francis' pragmatism would lead him to adopt a policy of "live and let live" when it came to the Extraordinary Form.
At a meeting with a contemplative-missionary community, the pontiff had spoken in favor of tradition: "To be modern, some believe that it is necessary to break away from the roots. And this is their ruin, because the roots, the tradition, are the guarantee of the future."