11 January 2022, The Tablet

Traditionalists question curial authority as Latin Mass dispute continues

The Responsa, authored by Archbishop Arthur Roche, has been heavily criticised by liturgical traditionalists.

Traditionalists question curial authority as Latin Mass dispute continues

A worshipper uses a missal during a Tridentine Mass at St Michael the Archangel Chapel in Farmingville, NY.
CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

Catholic traditionalists have criticised a document authored by Archbishop Arthur Roche, the Vatican’s head of liturgy, on issues around the Tridentine Mass. 

Some traditionalists have argued that Archbishop Roche’s Responsa, a follow-up document to Pope Francis’ controversial letter Traditionis Custodes, has no binding force in the law of the Church.

Supporters of Traditionis Custodes, which has significantly limited the celebration of the liturgy according to the Missal of 1962, have responded that critics of the motu proprio are refusing to accept the reforms of Vatican II.

Archbishop Roche, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW), the Vatican’s liturgy office, issued the Responsum ad dubium, a response to questions, commonly known as a Responsa, last month. In the Responsa, addressed to the presidents of the conferences of bishops, Roche presented answers to questions about the implementation of Traditionis posed to his office by bishops.

His answers, ranging from an effective bar on ordinations and confirmations in the older form, to a ruling that Masses in the older, Tridentine liturgy should not be listed on parish schedules, attracted heavy criticism from traditionalists.

Now one traditionalist group, the Latin Mass Society (LMS) of England, has argued that Roche’s document lacks binding authority over bishops. In the eyes of the LMS, because the Responsa was issued by a curial official and not by the Pope himself, the document is not technically an extension of Traditionis.

A statement by the group outlines that - in the opinion of the canonists advising the society - the new document lacks authority to overrule the judgements of bishops in their own diocese. 

 Speaking to the Tablet, Joseph Shaw, Chair of the LMS, said that the "aggressive tone” of the Responsa was belied by the documents' lack of legal force.

“As an interpretation of Traditionis Custodes,” Shaw added, the answers “clearly do not have the power to revoke the authority of bishops to permit bination” – the celebration of two masses by the same priest, on the same day – “or to waive universal laws for the good of souls”.

Supporters of the Responsa were unsympathetic to these arguments however.

Liturgist Fr Anthony Ruff, speaking to The Tablet, dismissed the LMS’s case as a “canonical squabble”.

“Rome is making clear its understanding of Vatican II and liturgical reform,” said Ruff, and  those who celebrate the liturgy that Vatican II did away with are, at some level, rejecting the Council – or accepting it only in a very “minimal sense”.

The Pope, Ruff concluded, “wants the entire Church to accept the Council in the full sense”.

Another supporter of Traditionis’s restrictions on the pre-1962 liturgy, Adam Rasmussen, a lecturer in Theology at Georgetown University, agreed that the distinction between the CDW and the Pope made by the LMS was, in practice, not meaningful. Although the Pope was not likely to issue “formal sanctions” to bishops who don’t implement his preferred guidelines, Rasmussen continued, “now everyone knows where Rome stands”.

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