How divisive is the Old Mass?


Over the last few days, much has been said about the injustice of the accusations contained in the accompanying letter to Traditionis Custodes – as well as in the Motu Proprio itself – claiming that those who attend the Old Mass are responsible for divisions within the Church. It is difficult to understand how those who have continued to worship according to what was normal Church discipline for more than a millenium, should now be labeled as divisive, in contrast to those who have opted for a form that was – as a surpise to many – suddenly introduced fifty years ago and that, as Pope Francis himself admits in his accompanying letter to Traditionis Custodes, is prone to abuse. In fact, experience has shown that making allowances for the use of the Old Mass has contributed greatly – especially since Summorum Pontificum – to the unity of the Body of Christ.

Before 2007, many Old Rite communities were small, isolated groups without much significance to the Church at large. However, since then, communication and collaboration between the faithful of such communities with those of a New Rite background have increased considerably. One need only look at the many pro life and pro family initiatives that have sprung up over the last few years – and that have in some cases gathered millions in the streets – where Catholics of both liturgical preferences work together harmoniously and to great effect.

The impressive growth of the famous Chartres pilgrimage and other such gatherings of the faithful, in which many Catholics who attend the New Mass also participate, is further proof of this. Furthermore, virtually no evidence has so far been offered for the claim that celebrations according to both forms have been a source of conflict within parishes. Even assuming that such conflicts do occasionally crop up here or there, such harsh restrictions as those contained in Traditionis Custodes are hardly justified. There is also no reason to assume that such conflicts – supposing that they actually exist – should always automatically be the fault of those who attend the Old Form. In addition, the many conversions, vocations and new foundations directly linked to Summorum Pontificum are also completely ignored by Traditionis Custodes.

A visit to any Old Rite community anywhere in the world will also likely convey a very different impression from what is suggested in Traditionis Custodes and the accompanying letter. In fact, the love for the Traditional Mass is shared by people from all walks of life, many who attend it are very young or have many young children. They are instrumental to the survival and growth of the Church. It is hard to believe that the questionnaires filled out by the bishops could have led to any other conclusion. As long as these are not made public – as was requested among others by Cardinal Burke – this matter will remain a source of dispute. Whether or not this will contribute to unity remains to be seen.

But in what way will the new measures actually prevent division? Those who up until now have rejected “the Church and her institutions in the name of what is called the ‘true Church’”, are unlikely to be deterred by the new Motu Proprio. It is precisely those who have remained faithful to the Church and the Pope throughout the disputes surrounding the reform of the liturgy since Vatican II that will suffer most. In fact, not much will change: those who have separated themselves from the Church will remain separated, those who have remained loyal will remain so. The former are mostly small, often sedevacantist groups, whose influence on traditional Catholics loyal to Rome will remain negligible, regardless of whether access to the Old Mass is restricted or not.

Following the same logic, one could for instance also argue for restrictions to be placed on the rite of St. John Chrysostome, since it is so widely spread among Orthodox Christians, who also reject “the Church and her institutions in the name of what is called the ‘true Church’”. Should the Pope, however, not have been referring to sedevacantists but to the Society of St. Pius X, it is hard to understand why the new restrictions apply only to all the other Old Rite communities, whereas the concessions made to the Lefebvrians (concerning confession and marriage) remain in place.

Regarding divisions originating from progressive Church groups, it is also hard to see how Traditionis Custodes could help heal such conflicts. On the contrary, it is likely to further the often quite absurd prejudices that exist within liberal circles with regard to tradition-friendly Catholics.

To conclude on a conciliatory note, one could say that the new restrictions placed on the celebration of Holy Mass according to the 1962 missal could offer a chance for the faithful to “dialogue“ openly with Church leadership as has so often been called for by Pope Francis. This way, many misunderstandings could perhaps be clarified and those who wish to continue attending the Old Mass could be properly heard, which up until now has unfortunately not been the case at all. The way things are now, many traditional Catholics feel deeply offended – another circumstance unlikely to prove beneficial to unity.