You Cannot Kill Tradition: A Brief Statement In Response to the Motu Proprio ‘Traditionis Custodes’

July 16, 2021

Dear Readers,

The Catholic church was today thrown into turmoil by the publication of a motu proprioTraditionis Custodes, that in essence reverses the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum of Pope Benedict XVI and places heavy restrictions on the celebration of the traditional Latin Mass. Further, for all practical purposes, the traditional Mass is abrogated as a legitimate expression of the Roman Rite, though celebrations will be tolerated on a limited basis. The Novus Ordo Missae is now considered the only legitimate expression of the Roman Rite. The mood is heavy in response to this draconian measure, and reactions from faithful Catholics who love the traditional Roman Mass have varied from deep grief, to anger, to bitter disillusionment.

At the Catholic Gentleman, I have striven to avoid polemics or commentary on the latest headlines since the beginning, seeking instead to inspire in followers a love of the good, the true, and the beautiful. But this attack on the traditional Mass, which has sustained my faith through all the storms of life since my conversion ten years ago, is grievous, and I believe it requires at least some response.

In short, I believe this attack on the living tradition of the faith is grievous, disastrous, and wrong. Here are three simple reasons.

First, with a few notable exceptions, traditional communities and religious orders are the only ones that are growing. Admittedly, this statement is largely anecdotal, but parish closures and consolidations are commonplace in the great majority of dioceses. Vocations have plummeted in recent decades, and it is not unusual for overworked priests to be managing three or more parishes at one time. Meanwhile, my traditional parish, and every traditional parish I have ever visited, is bursting at the seams and running out of room. One parish I visited on a recent business trip offers five masses per Sunday, with each Mass filled to capacity. This does not include people occupying an overflow room. Likewise, traditional religious orders, like the monastery near where I live, have to turn people away because they have no more room available.

The wonderful thing is, this growth is entirely organic and the product of the profound attraction of tradition. Most of these communities and religious orders don’t have vast sums of money at their disposal, nor do they have many high-ranking patrons in the hierarchy. They simply grow steadily as people discover that Catholicism has profoundly rich treasures of tradition to offer. In an age of ecclesial decline, this rapid, organic growth should be a sign of hope and a reason for celebration for the church, including prelates who at least profess to be concerned about evangelization and growth.

Second, this will tragically only increase division In the Church rather than heal it. Traditional Catholics number in the hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions by now, and they are a growing percentage of faithful, Mass-going Catholics. In many cases, they are the ones most passionately in love with their faith–something that again should encourage any bishop who remotely cares about the future of the Church. Recognizing the pain the misguided suppression of tradition caused following Vatican II, Pope Benedict attempted to heal a painful wound in the Church with Summorum Pontificum. This new motu proprio undoes all the progress that was made in the last 14 years. The war in the church will only grow more bitter, as factions entrench themselves behind polemical walls. Many will experience a crisis of faith, and even vocations to the priesthood may be lost.

There is so much hostility to the faith outside the Church, but this can be withstood if you know you have a safe haven to worship and pray within the Church. Thus, it is severely painful to experience attacks from our own hierarchs. And regardless of the talking points, this feels like an attack. Many faithful Catholics I know feel betrayed by this decision, as if everything they love about the faith has been undermined and delegitimized yet again. This makes things so much worse, not better. It will heal nothing, only tear the bandages off of wounds that were just starting to heal.

Third, this act further wounds trust in our leadership. The church has been reeling for decades from sexual and financial abuse scandals that devastated the trust of the faithful. Rather than addressing this internal rot, however, our leaders seem more interested in crushing traditional Catholics who have stayed faithful to Christ in the Catholic Church despite the deep pain and disillusionment they feel. Do they really have our best interest at heart?

With all the possible problems in the church that the Pope could have addressed strongly and firmly, it is staggering that the growth of tradition is what he chose to clamp down on. Where is the mercy, tenderness, and pastoral care for traditional Catholics? This measure is by all definitions draconian. Moreover, this strong rebuke to Summorum Pontificum was promulgated while the pope’s predecessor is still alive, an act which shows a grave disrespect for the former pontiff and what he was trying to accomplish. There was a time when Popes at least attempted to show continuity with their predecessors on faith and morals. It seems that is no longer worthy of striving for.

In conclusion, this motu proprio will no doubt dampen the growth of tradition in the short term. But there is no question in my mind that it will not eliminate it. Tradition is vital and alive. It is the soul of the Church. You cannot kill it. Why? Because it is not just a fabricated set of “rites” or humanly concocted forms of worship that we can change at a whim. The Mass is a living symbol of spiritual realities that participates intimately in the realities which it reveals. Every gesture, every word has an inner life that corresponds to a spiritual reality that is made present in time. Such a living symbol is sustained from above and can only be treated with the greatest reverence, the reverence you would bring to a living organism. Therefore, the traditional Roman Mass has a life of its own that cannot be extinguished by any human effort.

We care about the Mass because we love Christ, and Christ is made present to us in the Mass. Nothing could be more significant, nothing more profound. There is much more that could be, and no doubt will be, said, but I will conclude here.

May the God of all peace sustain us in these difficult times, and may we never lose heart.

Sam Guzman

Sam Guzman


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Reader Interactions


    • Angel says

      This is my thought. The TLM is exactly that: part of our Catholic tradition that can never be changed or altered. When Vatican II appeared, it was they that separated from the True Catholic and Apostolic Church. They said it when the Credo was changed from “ I believe is the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” to “ I believe in the Catholic Church”. They separated then. The Novus Ordo is the church in Schism and not the Traditional Church. We as traditional Catholics are still the true church.

  1. Dontex says

    Why is Pope Francis so fearful of the traditions of the Church? His claim that restricting the TLM will bring unity is totally off base. Time was when you could go to any Catholic church in the world and understand the Mass even if it were in Latin.

    The harshness of tone in this latest muto proprio certainly lacks the charity he expects us to have for each other.

  2. Kathleen Arreola says

    The Pope has expressed concern that there are some groups and factions that have broken away from the church since Vatican II and instead have clung to the Latin Mass. Having the Mass in the language of the people brings people closer to God and His Word and the meaning of the holy prayers. I am sorry to read this, that some Catholics may feel that the Mass is not as Holy without using Latin. The concluding sentences sound as though the “more traditional” Catholics who do not respect the changes of Vatican II are the only Catholics who “care about the Mass, because Christ is made present to us in the Mass.” Christ is also present in our brothers and sisters. Catholics who follow the changes of Vatican II truly care about the Mass and believe that Christ is made present to us in the Mass, made more accessible to children and us all when shared in our common language.

  3. Bob Ewald says

    I was born when the Latin Mass was the only Mass; lived through the initial shock & confusion while Vatican II was in progress and the norms of the Mass were changing (along with many other things); I’ve had my own confusion in younger days and done my best to guide my children into adult faith due to poor catechesis in the Catholic schools (we’ll see how that ends up). I wish the Pope had done what Fr. Richard Heilman suggested (see his statement about the Motu Proprio) but he didn’t. So I am left with a few thoughts: first, the statement is not pastoral or merciful in tone. It is more political and yet I don’t think that Machiavelli would have recommended it as it sounds more like a control diktat than a statement promoting unity. Second, why did the Holy Father feel compelled to state that he consulted with the Bishops? Was he looking for cover before issuing what he knew would be a potentially hurtful & divisive statement? Remember that many of these Bishops are promoting a Synodal path, confusing their flocks when it comes to abortion & Communion, and generally not leading a rebirth of faith in their dioceses. So having their approval is of no moment or solace to the faithful. Third, if it weren’t meant in those veins, the Pope must, in the future, have someone review his statements before publication to avoid any misunderstanding . There are many who love either the Latin Mass or the Novo Ordus in the more traditional/Latin form who are faithful to the Pope and the Church who may well be turned off to such an extent that they leave, perhaps for an Eastern Rite Church (as Fr. Heilman notes) which unnecessarily diminishes the Body of Christ. Nevertheless, we must take heart, for we know that Christ and his Church will triumph according to His will.

  4. Tony says

    I have read through the Moto Proprio, and I have experienced a singular mean-spiritedness.

    There are a small percentage of TLM-loving Catholics, and an infinitely smaller percentage of those who deny the validity of Vatican II, the Novus Ordo or the Pope, himself. This seems to be swatting a mosquito with a bazooka.

    I notice in the MP, he refers to the Catholic Church as the “Roman Church” (not the “Latin Church”). So if this is the case, and we have the Eastern Rites of the “Roman Church”, maybe it’s time for a new church sui iuris. The first “Western Rite” which would be the “Latin Rite of the Roman Church”.

    This Latin Rite would have pre-dated Vatican II, much like the current Eastern Rites and the Anglican Personal Prefecture.

  5. López Guillermo Ricardo says

    St. Catherine of Siena (Doctor of the Church): Even if the Pope were Satan incarnate, we ought not to raise up our heads against him, but calmly lie down to rest on his bosom. He who rebels against our Father is condemned to death, for that which we do to him we do to Christ: we honor Christ if we honor the Pope; we dishonor Christ if we dishonor the Pope. I know very well that many defend themselves by boasting: “They are so corrupt, and work all manner of evil!” But God has commanded that, even if the priests, the pastors, and Christ-on-earth were incarnate devils, we be obedient and subject to them, not for their sakes, but for the sake of God, and out of obedience to Him.

    Please read full article of Michael Warren Davis, US Editor of the Catholic Herald:

  6. Larry says

    “There are a small percentage of TLM-loving Catholics, and an infinitely smaller percentage of those who deny the validity of Vatican II”

    For at least twenty years, it’s a rare article on a Catholic website – on ANY topic – where the comment thread does not eventually get invaded by TLM ranting.

    I’m not saying that the Pope sits around reading Catholic websites all day long. But surely he is sick of the ranting and divisiveness too.

    If the typical TLM attendee does not whine about Vatican II or the new mass, that may well be true, but surely you were aware of the loud and toxic attitude among your “traditionalist movement”. You had many years to try to stop the whining among your peers, and you simply did not. You knew this day was coming.

  7. Bill says

    I spent many years recognizing and attending the NO and the TLM. I saw, much as Benedict did, the different colors of our Faith, and was delighted that they could co-exist.

    Last week, I cancelled my weekly tithe to the Novus Ordo Parish in Western Washington I had been attending.
    I wrote an email to the Diocese, informing them of this. I do not expect a reply.

    I now drive across a state line to attend the TLM, at a diocesan parish. That is where my time and treasure now go.
    If my diocesan TLM is threatened, I will go first to a FSSP parish, and then if that is threatened, I will go the SSPX parish in my town. This is where my time and treasure will go.

    Call me schismatic if you like. This is the hill of Faith I will die on.

  8. Robert Armstrong says

    I have nothing against tradition. In fact, I like tradition. I also would love to experience a Latin Mass, something for which I have not yet had the pleasure to attend. But, I must express that if it was not for Vatican II, I never would have converted to the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, I have experienced some traditional Catholics looking down on me for enjoying the English Mass. They have expressed the opinion that I’m not really Catholic because I do not go to a Latin Mass. I don’t see why we can’t have both and choose the one that best meets our needs. Why do we have to have it one way or the other? Then, we need to support each other no matter what choice we make. I love being Catholic and I find the divisions very discouraging.

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