The Authority of the Roman Pontiff over the Traditional Latin Mass

Jesus Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth.

{28:18} And Jesus, drawing near, spoke to them, saying: “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.
{28:19} Therefore, go forth and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
{28:20} teaching them to observe all that I have ever commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, even to the consummation of the age.”

When Jesus ascended to Heaven, He gave His full authority to Peter and his successors, to each successive Roman Pontiff, and to the other Apostles and their successors, as a body, the Apostolic College. But the Bishops have no authority apart from, or in opposition to the Roman Pontiff.

“But the college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head. The pope’s power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff and never without this head. This power can be exercised only with the consent of the Roman Pontiff. For our Lord placed Simon alone as the rock and the bearer of the keys of the Church, and made him shepherd of the whole flock….” [Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 22

So the Roman Pontiff has supreme authority over the whole Church, and even over the body of Bishops. Though he teaches and leads the Church with the Bishops, their authority is derived from his, and without his consent, communion, and authority, they have no authority at all.

But the authority of the Roman Pontiff, whether he decides with the Bishops or by himself, is over doctrine and discipline, over all the faithful immediately and directly. And there is no appeal from his decisions to any person or group of persons in the Church.

“Since the Roman Pontiff, by the divine right of the apostolic primacy, governs the whole Church, we likewise teach and declare that he is the supreme judge of the faithful, and that in all cases which fall under ecclesiastical jurisdiction recourse may be had to his judgment. The sentence of the Apostolic See (than which there is no higher authority) is not subject to revision by anyone, nor may anyone lawfully pass judgment thereupon. And so they stray from the genuine path of truth who maintain that it is lawful to appeal from the judgments of the Roman pontiffs to an ecumenical council as if this were an authority superior to the Roman Pontiff.” [Vatican I, Pastor Aeternus, chapter 3, n. 8.]

The Pope does not only have authority to teach. He also has full authority over discipline and judgments of the prudential order. He has authority over every religious order, every diocese, every parish, and every individual. And this authority is not subject to revision or appeal, not even appeal to the entire body of Bishops.

“So, then, if anyone says that the Roman Pontiff has merely an office of supervision and guidance, and not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole Church, and this not only in matters of faith and morals, but also in those which concern the discipline and government of the Church dispersed throughout the whole world; or that he has only the principal part, but not the absolute fullness, of this supreme power; or that this power of his is not ordinary and immediate both over all and each of the Churches and over all and each of the pastors and faithful: let him be anathema.” [Vatican I, Pastor Aeternus, chapter 3, n. 9.]

The Pope teaches on faith and morals; he rules over discipline and government of every kind in the Church. And he has authority over the Sacraments as well as every type of liturgical service or devotional practice. He can issue indulgences, or withhold them. He can be merciful or severe. And no one but God has the right to judge his decisions.

Saint John Henry Newman on the Roman Pontiff:

“I have said that, like St. Peter, he is the Vicar of his Lord. He can judge, and he can acquit; he can pardon, and he can condemn; he can command and he can permit; he can forbid, and he can punish. He has a Supreme jurisdiction over the people of God. He can stop the ordinary course of sacramental mercies; he can excommunicate from the ordinary grace of redemption; and he can remove again the ban which he has inflicted. It is the rule of Christ’s providence, that what His Vicar does in severity or in mercy upon earth, He Himself confirms in heaven.

“in his administration of Christ’s kingdom, in his religious acts, we must never oppose his will, or dispute his word, or criticize his policy, or shrink from his side… We must never suffer ourselves to doubt, that, in his government of the Church, he is guided by an intelligence more than human. His yoke is the yoke of Christ, he has the responsibility of his own acts, not we; and to his Lord must he render account, not to us. Even in secular matters it is ever safe to be on his side, dangerous to be on the side of his enemies.” [The Pope and the Revolution, Sermons Preached on Various Occasions, Sermon 15]

The Roman Pontiff has the full authority of Christ over the Church.

If the Pope wishes to suppress a religious order, he can do so. If he wishes to prohibit a Saintly priest from saying Mass at all (e.g. Padre Pio), he has the authority to do so. If he decides that a young Saintly girl (Therese Martin) is too young to enter the religious life, then she may not enter. If he decides to change the Catechism, he can do so. If he wishes to change the Our Father, he has the authority.

All of the above establishes that the Roman Pontiff, Pope Francis, has full authority to decide what forms of liturgical service may be used for the Mass and other Sacraments. If Pope Francis wishes to suppress the Novus Ordo Mass, he has the authority. If he wishes to suppress the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM), he has the authority. If he wishes to have both forms, he can permit both forms. If he makes changes to the Novus Ordo, or to the TLM, the changes will be made.

Can one Roman Pontiff bind future Roman Pontiffs to a decision of discipline? No, he cannot. For every Pope has the same full authority given by Christ to Saint Peter. If one Pope could bind future Popes to his decision of discipline, then each successive Pope would have ever less authority, being bound to disciplines from which his predecessors were free. Therefore, when a Pope issues a decision of discipline, no matter what the wording may be, it can be changed by future Popes.

For example, Pope Sixtus V issued a version of the Bible in Latin, which he himself worked on as one of the principle editors. And when completed, he forbid anyone to make any changes to it, other than obvious typographical errors. Yet his successor, Pope Clement VIII, issued three new versions of that Bible, including thousands of changes.

Pope Paul IV tried to bind future Popes to rules about who could become Pope, and whether that choice of Pope were valid (in the document “Cum Ex Apostolatus Officio”). His attempt failed, and was not kept in force by future Popes. An Ecumenical Council attempted to make rules saying that, in the future, a general Council would be held every so many years. That rule failed, and was not followed by future Popes or by the body of Bishops.

When Pope Saint Pius V established the Latin Mass, no matter what wording he used, that Mass is changeable and dispensable. It can be changed in any way that the Roman Pontiff sees fit. It can be suppressed temporarily, or for the entire length of each Pope’s reign, until a future Popes decides to reinstate the TLM.

The bad news for adherents of TLM is that Pope Francis can place whatever restrictions he wishes on that form of the Mass; he can even suppress it entirely. The good news is that any future Pope can restore the TLM.

It is not possible to say that this particular form of the Mass is a right, or that it has been used for so long that it has become like a dogma, unable to be changed or taken away. The Lord Jesus Christ established the Mass at the Last Supper, but He did not establish the Mass in immutable specifics. No one thinks that the only legitimate form of the Mass is the Last Supper type of Mass. A lamb and unleavened bread supper every Sunday and holy day? No, that will not work.

The Church and specifically the visible Head of the Church, the Roman Pontiff, has the authority to decide the form of the Mass. No past document from any Pope or Council can bind the Pope to the TLM, nor prevent him from restricting it or suppressing it.

* Quo Primum, Promulgating the Tridentine Liturgy, Pope Pius V – 1570
* Pope Benedict XVI, Summorum Pontificum, 7 July 2007

They say the TLM was never abrogated. That is irrelevant. Each Pope has the authority to change decisions of discipline of past Popes and Councils.

Pope Saint Pius V: “This ordinance applies henceforth, now, and forever…. All other of the churches referred to above, however, are hereby denied the use of other missals, which are to be discontinued entirely and absolutely; whereas, by this present Constitution, which will be valid henceforth, now, and forever, We order and enjoin that nothing must be added to Our recently published Missal, nothing omitted from it, nor anything whatsoever be changed within it under the penalty of Our displeasure.” [Quo Primum]

One problem with the claim that the above decision of Pius V is unchangeable is that no one celebrates the Mass of Pius V; they celebrate the Mass of Pope Saint John XXIII, the so-called 1962 Mass. So the Mass has been changed. It is contradictory to say it cannot be changed forever, and then to insist that this authorizes a different form of the Mass, from centuries later.

And, as already explained, other Popes have tried to institute a decision of discipline “forever” and have failed. No Pope has the authority to bind future Popes to his decision. To claim otherwise is to make Pope Saint Pius V into some type of super-Pope with greater authority than other Popes. For if Pius V has the authority to end past forms of the Mass, why can’t his successors end his form of the Mass, or change it? Pius V cannot have an authority that other Popes lack. So his attempt to institute this form of the Mass, this Missal, forever fails. He lacks the authority to bind future Popes.

Pius V: “in virtue of Our Apostolic authority, We grant and concede in perpetuity that, for the chanting or reading of the Mass in any church whatsoever, this Missal is hereafter to be followed absolutely, without any scruple of conscience or fear of incurring any penalty, judgment, or censure, and may freely and lawfully be used.” Quo Primum

The wording seems clear and compelling. But if it were true that no future Pope could change the Latin Mass of Pius V, then subsequent Popes would not have the full authority that the Ecumenical Councils teach that they have, including: the fourth Council of Constantinople, the second Council of Lyons, the Council of Florence, First Vatican Council, Second Vatican Council.

Another argument is that, if Pius V has the authority to implement a form of the Mass not to be changed by any future Pope, from where did he get that authority himself? For he abrogated the form of the Mass that was in use at the time. Is it simply that the first Pope to say “forever” gets dibs on the Mass? What if Pius IV, Paul IV, Eugene IV, or Martin V had instituted a form of the Mass with the same wording: “in perpetuity” and “hereafter to be followed absolutely” and “forever”?? Would then Pius V be powerless to institute his form of the Mass? That cannot be the case. Therefore, no matter what wording a Pope uses about a decision of discipline, once his Pontificate ends, and the next begins, his decision can be changed.

Should Pope Francis Restrict the Latin Mass?

There is nothing wrong with the TLM. And Pope Francis does not seem to have any objections to that form of the Mass, the Vetus Ordo. What does concern him is the subculture that has grown up around the TLM, a culture which is rigid in its beliefs, which does not accept the authority of the Roman Pontiff over them, which disdains the Novus Ordo Mass and the Bishops who say the Novus rather than the Vetus form. This culture has reached a point where it rejects Ecumenical Councils and Roman Pontiffs. It is a schismatic and heretical culture. It rejects the papal charisms. It rejects the authority of Pope Francis. Many of the members and leaders of this culture reject Pope Francis utterly. And they teach everyone in their subculture to hate Vatican II, to hate the Novus Ordo Mass, to hate the Bishops who are “liberal”, and to hate Pope Francis. And you can see this hatred in the “commboxes” of blogs and videos about traditionalism.

So the Latin Mass is being restricted because of the behavior of those who favor that order of the Mass.

Is there a better way to correct that subculture? There is no way to correct them. They have put themselves above Popes and Councils. They are uncorrectable, unteachable schismatics. All that is left is for them to be expelled from the Church, until they repent.

Faithful Traditionalist Catholics

I don’t know what the percentages are. I suspect from what I read online that a majority of those who regularly attend the Latin Mass are in a state of schism, of refusal of submission to Pope Francis. But in any case, there are many faithful Catholics who attend the Latin Mass and who are traditionalists. This is a difficult situation for them. I would suggest finding a Latin Mass led by a priest who is not opposed to Pope Francis. Failing that, it might be better to suffer through the Novus Ordo Mass, rather than be yoked with sinners in a community that holds the Vetus Ordo Mass, but rejects Church teaching and authority.

When Will This Happen?

When will Pope Francis restrict the Traditional Latin Mass? I would expect this to occur sometime in July. That is when Pope Benedict XVI released Summorum Pontificum. That is also the month when the Great Schism occurred, July of 1054. I do expect an outcry from the traditionalist Catholics, no matter what the restrictions might be.

As strange as this might seem, restrictions on the Latin Mass could be the last straw for the far right. They might depart from communion with the body of Bishops. Many have already utterly rejected Pope Francis. But they remain in communion with their local Bishops and priests, so they seem to be Catholics in good standing. (In reality, their refusal of submission to Pope Francis is formal schism. Then there are several heresies that they reject regarding the papal charisms.) Rather than try to comply with the new rules or restrictions, I think some priests and their adherents will break away from the body of Bishops altogether. It will be like the SSPX all over again.

As for the issue of women deacons, that might be settled in September; the 3rd of that month is the feast day of Saint Phoebe. These kinds of documents tend to be released on some feast day related to the topic of the document. If the restrictions on the Latin Mass do not drive the schismatics out of the Church, then women deacons will do so.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.

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6 Responses to The Authority of the Roman Pontiff over the Traditional Latin Mass

  1. Kieran says:

    Thank you for this very helpful article, Ron!

    I attend the Latin Mass because I personally find it more reverent and helpful to my faith. I also submit to the Pope’s authority over the Mass.

    I have experienced a subculture within Latin Mass communities (not sure of the percentage) that seems to reject aspects of Pope Francis and Vatican II and agree that this is a problem.

    Part of what I am confused about though, and what I believe leads many Catholics to fall into error regarding Pope Francis and Vatican II, is why it seems Pope Francis is not concerned with Catholics who seem to be too ‘liberal’ – to the point of also being in error. Is that something you would acknowledge as being true or possibly be able to address as to why it is false?

    I think many ‘traditionalist’ Catholics feel marginalised/oppressed by the Pope/Church because they believe ‘liberals’ in the Church are given free rein to promote error while those trying to stay faithful to ‘tradition’ are punished.

    Thank you again for your helpful guidance on these issues.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Pope Francis is focusing on correcting problems on the right in Catholicism. He has not only focused on the right; some of his teachings correct the left. He has opposed the liberal German Synodal Way. He has corrected an error on the left, in Laudato si’, that puts the environment above the needs of people. Francis’ integrated ecology combines concern with the environment with concern for human needs, and gives each its proper place in the scale of values. In Amoris Laetitia, Francis makes it clear that grave sins cannot be approved of, even when sinners (who might be in a state of grace due to reduced culpability) are treated with mercy. Francis has spoken against abortion, and has refused to allow same-sex couples to be blessed — even though liberals rejected this decision and defied him.

      But Francis is focusing on correcting the right, more than the left. He is a liberal Pope, and that seems to be the will of God, to correct the conservatives. I believe the next Pope will be conservative, and will correct the liberals.

  2. sc says:

    Hi Ron,
    just one minor observation. It is probable that in the above sentence: “Therefore, when a Pope issues a decision of discipline, no matter what the wording may be, it can be changed by future Popes.” by ‘can’ you really meant to write ‘cannot’. No need to post this observation. Please keep up your efforts in defending the Pope and the faithful College of bishops ! Thanks

    • Ron Conte says:

      No, I meant to write “can be changed” by future Popes. A decision of discipline is changeable. A definitive decision on doctrine is not changeable.

  3. Thomas Mazanec says:

    If he wishes to change the Our Father, he has the authority.

    Wouldn’t this be very limited, such as just to translation? IIRC, The Our father was given to us by Christ Himself.

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