I am of two minds about Pope Francis’s apostolic letter, Traditionis custodes, which reimposes restrictions on the use of the traditional Latin Mass that were removed by Pope Benedict. On the one hand, I believe liturgical pluralism is usually a good thing. In fact, the Catholic Church has long recognized the legitimacy of the Eastern rites of the Melkite, Maronite, Greek Catholic, and other Churches in communion with Rome. Shouldn’t the traditional Latin Mass, like these liturgical traditions, be judged only by whether it builds up the Church?
On the other hand, I understand that having a stark division in the principal liturgical rite in the Catholic Church raises serious concerns about ecclesial unity. Certainly some, if not most, of those devoted to the Tridentine Mass tend to see themselves as a church within the Church, and even perhaps as a holy remnant. The pope’s principal concern is the threat of disunity posed by such enclaves, increasingly led by younger, self-styled “orthodox” priests, who, like many of their congregants, question the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. In his letter, Francis insists that those attending Tridentine liturgies must explicitly profess the “validity and the legitimacy” of Vatican II’s reforms. He also forbids the groups from using parochial parishes when celebrating the Tridentine rite, which is clearly an effort to stymie the appeal and growth of Latin Mass communities.