In the ninth year of his pontificate, on July 16, 2021 (liturgical feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel), Pope Francis issued his “Motu Proprio” – “Tradicionis Custodes” (On the Use of the Roman Liturgy Prior to the Reform of 1970). As a result, many reactions have erupted in various regions, ranging from “conservative” Catholics and “progressives.” Nigeria is not left out, at least I’ve heard some misguided comments from some concerned young Catholics who most probably haven’t read the “Apostolic Letter” (Traditionis Custodes – Guardians of the Tradition) of the Holy Father, and out of hearsay, have misunderstood the as a ban/restriction on the “Latin Mass” celebrated in the Ordinary Form (Novus Ordo) on the first Sunday of the month in parishes across the country, simply because they have no idea of what the Extraordinary Form (Tridentine Mass) is all about. Likewise, I’ve received questions from Nigerian Catholics recently, such as: “What is the difference between the Tridentine Mass and Novus Ordo?” “Why is one called an extraordinary form and another an ordinary form?” “Are there now two different kinds of Holy Mass celebrated?” “What is Motu Proprio?”
This article, therefore, is set to concisely clarify the minds of the Nigerian Catholics and others who do not understand the “Motu Proprio” (Traditionis Custodes) of Pope Francis and consequently other questions highlighted already in this article. To begin with, this Apostolic Letter (Traditionis Custodes) of the Holy Father is apparently his “Motu Proprio.” According to Britannica (online), Motu proprio, (Latin: ‘on one’s own initiative’), in the Roman Catholic church, “is a papal document personally signed by the pope to signify his special interest in the subject, less formal than constitutions and carrying no papal seal. Its content may be instructional (e.g., on the use of plainchant), administrative (e.g., concerning a church law or the establishment of a commission), or merely to confer a special favour. The words motu proprio always introduce the document.” Explaining further, the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia reveals: “The name given to certain papal rescripts on account of the clause motu proprio (of his own accord) used in the document.
The words signify that the provisions of the rescript were decided on by the pope personally, that is, not on the advice of the cardinals or others, but for reasons which he himself deemed sufficient. The document has generally the form of a decree: in style it resembles a Brief rather than a Bull, but differs from both especially in not being sealed or countersigned. It issues from the Dataria Apostolica, and is usually written in Italian or Latin. It begins by stating the reason inducing the sovereign pontiff to act, after which is stated the law or regulation made, or the favour granted, It is signed, personally by the pope, his name and the date being always in Latin.” Having understood this, the issue at hand becomes clearer – the Holy Father, out of his own accord, issued a motu proprio that restricts the celebration of the extraordinary form of the Mass (Tridentine Mass), that is, the Roman Liturgy Prior to the Reform of 1970.
This gives birth to another curiosity in the average Nigerian mind on how the nature of the Roman Liturgy prior to 1970, and the need to clarify some terms such as Tridentine Mass, extraordinary form, etc. Let us begin with the name “Tridentine.” Tridentine is derived from the Latin Tridentinus, related to the city of Tridentum (modern-day Trent, Italy), where the Council of Trent was held. In response to a decision of that council, Pope Pius V promulgated the 1570 Roman Missal, making it mandatory throughout the Latin Church. This Mass, as we are told, came to be known as Tridentine Mass. This Mass was celebrated in Latin which often uplifts the soul; the position of the altar is also something to take note of – the congregation and the priest face the same direction (ad orientem), with the “high altar” raised up three steps from the floor, attached to the east wall of the church, having the tabernacle at the centre.
The Church architecture and icons of saints are awesome, reflecting the heavenly ambience. Altar servers are only comprised of males, since this is attached to priesthood that are only associated with men. Technically, each altar server is considered for priesthood. Traditionally, the congregation will only sing entrance and exit hymns, at times communion hymns, and will stay silent the rest of the mass. Altar rails are used to separate the altar that represents heaven, to the rest of the church that represents Earth, while communion was received on the tongue while kneeing. The dismissal comes before blessing and is followed by the reading of the Last Gospel, which is the name given to the Prologue of St. John’s Gospel (John 1:1–14). Thus, the Tridentine Mass became the most widely used Mass liturgy in the world until the introduction of the Mass of Pope Paul VI at Vatican II in 1970 known as the Novus Ordo Missae – New Mass, which is largely celebrated today.
For this reason, the Tridentine Mass became often described as “the (Traditional) Latin Mass” or the “Extraordinary Form” of the Church’s Liturgy (as described by Pope Benedict XVI in his Summorum Pontificum), while the Mass of Paul VI (the Novus Ordo Missae – New Order Mass) that replaced it as the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. In the Novos Ordo, the Mass is celebrated in the common language(s) of the country where the mass is held. During the Mass, the priest faces the people. Altar servers are not only male but female inclusive. Novus Ordo encourages full, conscious, and active participation of the people through responses and minor roles at Mass, as reflected in the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) (#14), for “Such participation by the Christian people as ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people’ (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4-5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.” With the Novus Ordo, altar rails are taken down in most parishes.
This is also one of the reasons why reception of holy communion has varied. At the end of the celebration, after the final blessing, the priest says “Go forth; the Mass is ended” while the people answer “Thanks be to God”. The reading of the ‘Last Gospel’ is omitted here. We should not be oblivious of the fact that the Novos Ordo has its official text in Latin and is sometimes celebrated in Latin as most parishes do once in a month in Nigeria. This should not be confused to be the Traditional Latin Mass whose style of celebration is apparently different. Since the introduction of the Novus Ordo Mass did not abolish the Traditional Latin Mass (Tridentine Mass), some Catholics still participate in the Tridentine Mass today through the pastoral provisions made by the Pope John Paul II in his Indult “Quattuor Abhinc Annos” (Latin: Four Years ago) in 1984, and Moto Proprio “Ecclesia Dei “ (Latin: God’s Church) in 1988; and ultimately by Pope Benedict XVI through his “Motu Proprio” “Summorum Pontificum,” (Latin: Of the Supreme Pontiffs) in 2007, accompanied by a letter to the world’s bishops, authorizing use of the Tridentine Mass by all Latin Rite Catholic priests in Masses celebrated with or without the people.
However, with the recent Motu Proprio of Pope Francis, some Cover Understanding “traditionis custodes”… Continued from PAGE 01 restrictions were imposed on the Roman Liturgy prior to the Reform of 1970; that is, the Tridentine Mass (the extraordinary form). This, according to the Holy Father, was “in the constant search for ecclesial communion,” in order to ensure that those who are still attached to the extraordinary form do not deny the validity and the legitimacy of the liturgical reform dictated by Vatican Council II and the Magisterium of the Supreme Pontiffs. No doubt, some persons and schismatic groups who participate in the extraordinary form are of the opinion that the Novos Ordo is invalid, denying the outcome of Vatican II, and remaining attached to the Roman Liturgy prior to the Reform of 1970; these are known as the sedevacantists, etc.
And according to the outcome of a recent consultation of the bishops in 2020, the Church feared that some persons in the Roman Rite manifest the attitudes of the schismatic groups, and doubters of the efficacy of the Vatican II Reformation; as a result, the Supreme Pontiff has ordered that:
Art. 1. The liturgical books promulgated by Saint Paul VI and Saint John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of Vatican Council II, are the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.
Art. 2. It belongs to the diocesan bishop, as moderator, promoter, and guardian of the whole liturgical life of the particular Church entrusted to him, to regulate the liturgical celebrations of his diocese. Therefore, it is his exclusive competence to authorize the use of the 1962 Roman Missal in his diocese, according to the guidelines of the Apostolic See.
Art. 3. The bishop of the diocese in which until now there exist one or more groups that celebrate according to the Missal antecedent to the reform of 1970:
§ 1. is to determine that these groups do not deny the validity and the legitimacy of the liturgical reform, dictated by Vatican Council II and the Magisterium of the Supreme Pontiffs;
§ 2. is to designate one or more locations where the faithful adherents of these groups may gather for the Eucharistic celebration (not however in the parochial churches and without the erection of new personal parishes);
§ 3. to establish at the designated locations, the days on which Eucharistic celebrations are permitted using the Roman Missal promulgated by Saint John XXIII in 1962. In these celebrations the readings are proclaimed in the vernacular language, using translations of the Sacred Scripture approved for liturgical use by the respective Episcopal Conferences;
§ 4. to appoint a priest who, as delegate of the bishop, is entrusted with these celebrations and with the pastoral care of these groups of the faithful.
This priest should be suited for this responsibility, skilled in the use of the Missale Romanum antecedent to the reform of 1970, possess a knowledge of the Latin language sufficient for a thorough comprehension of the rubrics and liturgical texts, and be animated by a lively pastoral charity and by a sense of ecclesial communion. This priest should have at heart not only the correct celebration of the liturgy, but also the pastoral and spiritual care of the faithful;
§5. to proceed suitably to verify that the parishes canonically erected for the benefit of these faithful are effective for their spiritual growth, and to determine whether or not to retain them;
§ 6. to take care not to authorize the establishment of new groups.
Art. 4. Priests ordained after the publication of the present Motu Proprio, who wish to celebrate using the Missale Romanum of 1962, should submit a formal request to the diocesan Bishop who shall consult the Apostolic See before granting this authorization.
Art. 5. 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.
Art. 6. Institutes of consecrated life and Societies of apostolic life, erected by the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, fall under the competence of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies for Apostolic Life.
Art. 7. The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, for matters of their particular competence, exercise the authority of the Holy See with respect to the observance of these provisions.
Art. 8. Previous norms, instructions, permissions, and customs that do not conform to the provisions of the present Motu Proprio are abrogated. Having exposed the Traditionis Custodes of Pope Francis, it is also important to note that before 1570 (the introduction of the Tridentine Mass), there was something called “Pre-Tridentine Mass” referring to the variants of the liturgical rite of Mass in Rome. The earliest surviving account of the celebration of the Eucharist or the Mass outside the Bible – Apostles (cf. 1Cor 11, etc.) was in Rome. We come to know about this from the writings of Saint Justin the Martyr (who died c. 165 AD), in chapter 67 of his First Apology. It goes thus: “On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things.
Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons.” Having been through these expositions, we can see the richness and beauty of the Church’s Liturgy, even prior to the reform of Vatican II. It is important to note that not all who are still attached to the extraordinary form are the doubters of the Holy Spirit in Vatican II, some do so out of their great love and reverence for the Holy Eucharist and do not manifest any schismatic attitude. Therefore, while we remain loyal to the motu proprio of the Holy Father, we are still convinced that the Holy spirit has not abandoned the Church, trusting in the words of our infallible Saviour: “I’m with you always until the end of time” (Mat. 28:20); and that “the gates of hell will not prevail over the Church” he founded on Peter’s faith (cf. Mat. 16:18).