29 February 2024, The Tablet

Archbishop of Westminster refuses permission for old rite Triduum

“Catholics attached to the older liturgy are being punished for misdemeanours that Cardinal Nichols believes they have not committed.”

Archbishop of Westminster refuses permission for old rite Triduum

The altar of St Mary Moorfields, the only Catholic church within the Square Mile of the City of London.
Fr James Bradley / flick | Creative Commons

The Archbishop of Westminster has refused permission to celebrate the Easter Triduum according to the old rite in the diocese this year.

In response to a request from Fr Michael Cullinan to hold the Triduum in St Mary Moorfields – the only Catholic church in the City of London – with the “stable group” the attends the old rite Mass at St James’s Spanish Place, Cardinal Vincent Nichols said in an email on 23 February that “for the sake of the wider provision, I have to decline your suggestion”.

The Latin Mass Society (LMS) said it was “grieved” by the decision. In a statement issued on 27 February, it said the Triduum had been celebrated in the Archdiocese of Westminster according to the pre-Vatican II liturgy since the 1990s, with recent services at St Mary Moorfields attracting congregations of up to 200 people.

It said that Catholics who regularly attend an old rite Mass “will be denied the chance to attend the most important liturgical days of the year according to this liturgy in the Archdiocese of Westminster”.

The chairman of the LMS, Dr Joseph Shaw, confirmed that an old rite Triduum “will still be celebrated in London” but not within the bounds of the Archdiocese of Westminster. He told The Tablet that the policy towards the old rite was “anything but pastoral”.

In refusing Fr Cullinan’s request that “the Spanish Place stable group could transfer to St Mary Moorfields”, Cardinal Nichols said: “I realise that this will disappoint some people but I have to keep the wider picture in view.”

As Dr Shaw noted, this decision follows the suspension last year of the LMS’s two annual old rite Masses at the high altar of Westminster Cathedral. In January 2022, the cardinal ended an arrangement whereby an auxiliary bishop each year celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation according to the 1962 liturgical books.  

Masses in the old rite continued in the Archdiocese of Westminster after the liturgical reforms of 1970, on a greater scale than elsewhere in the Church. Paul VI granted the “English Indult”, after Cardinal Heenan presented him with a petition signed by a number of intellectuals and writers, to permit the old rite at the archdiocese’s discretion.

Traditionis Custodes, Pope Francis’ motu proprio of July 2021 that restored restrictions on the old rite lifted under Benedict XVI, specified that it abrogated all “norms, instructions, permissions and customs” that exceeded its provisions.

In his accompanying letter to bishops – to whom the motu proprio designated liturgical regulation – Pope Francis said that the choice of old rite liturgies over the Novus Ordo was often connected to “comportment that contradicts communion and nurtures the divisive tendency”.

Writing to diocesan clergy shortly after, Cardinal Nichols said: “In my judgement, these concerns do not reflect the overall liturgical life of this diocese. They are, however, warnings of which we should be on our guard.”

He also affirmed his intention “to grant faculties” for priests requesting to celebrate the old rite, provided they accorded with the conditions of Traditionis Custodes.

A “rescript” of the motu proprio in February 2023 listed “dispensations [which] are reserved in a special way to the apostolic see”, making them subject to the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, whose prefect is Cardinal Arthur Roche, the former Bishop of Leeds.

These dispensations included “use of a parish church or the erection of a personal parish” for the celebration of the old rite.  Westminster is among the dioceses which have submitted requests to the dicastery for such dispensations.

In his response last week to Fr Cullinan, Cardinal Nichols said: “My approach to these matters is to be within the parameters laid down by the Holy See while waiting for the judgement of the Holy See on which, if any, parish church may be used for the celebration of Mass according to the Missal antecedent to the reform of 1970.”

In his statement, Dr Shaw said it seemed that “Catholics attached to the older liturgy are being punished for misdemeanours that Cardinal Nichols believes they have not committed”.

He told The Tablet: “It is clear that Cardinal Nichols is not the only factor in the situation, but it is difficult to be grateful for being allowed to retain some scraps of what we had formerly had. I am not aware of anyone complaining about these Triduum services, and why should they? They harmed no one, and benefitted hundreds.

“The policy flowing from Traditionis Custodes is anything but pastoral.”

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