The Latin Mass is not beyond the Pope’s Authority

First, the traditional Latin Mass (TLM) is not Tradition itself. The TLM has both essential and non-essential elements. The Novus Ordo Mass and the TLM each have all the essential elements of a valid Mass. The TLM is more formal, more ornate, of greater antiquity, and has a different face to it. However, the core elements of the Mass are more important: Scripture and the Eucharist, prayer and worship, sacrifice and adoration. The TLM considered in its differences from the Novus Ordo Mass is non-essential. The whole of any traditional Latin Mass has both essentials and non-essentials. But if the Roman Pontiff brings the TLM to an end, and offers only the Novus Ordo Mass, nothing from Sacred Tradition is lost.

It is true that Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture are above the Magisterium. So when the Roman Pontiff teaches under the Magisterium, he teaches from Tradition and Scripture (and also from natural law). The Pope cannot change the truths of Divine Revelation in Tradition and Scripture. However, it is the Roman Pontiff, or the body of Bishops teaching with the Roman Pontiff (in an Ecumenical Council or in the ordinary universal Magisterium) who decide what is and is not a Truth found in Tradition or Scripture. No one can say to the Roman Pontiff, “You can’t teach that because we judge it is contrary to Tradition or Scripture”, for the Roman Pontiff has the final say on what is and is not a truth of that Revelation.

So even though Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture are above the Roman Pontiff and the Magisterium, he has divine assistance in teaching from Tradition and Scripture, such that his infallible teachings never err at all, and his non-infallible teachings never err gravely. What is happening today is that a certain subculture, which has both a traditionalist and a conservative (non-traditionalist) head, like a two-headed monster, is opposing the teachings of the Popes and Councils. It is attempting to submit the faithful to its own decisions on every subject, not only doctrine and discipline, but also politics and medicine as well. And whenever the Popes or Councils disagree, this subculture attacks the Church: calling Popes idolaters or heretics, accusing a Council of teaching heresy, claiming that the Church has been successfully infiltrated at the highest levels by an evil conspiracy, and other lies.

Since one part of this group of heretics and schismatics uses the TLM as a way to attract the faithful and lead them into traditionalist heresies and schism, the Roman Pontiff has restricted that form of the Mass. This form of the sacred liturgy is innocent and beautiful. But as it is being used as bait to lure those who are weak in faith, or proud, or ignorant of Catholic teaching into grave errors, the Pope rightly restricts it. The TLM belongs to the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. It is a family heirloom. The prodigal sons, who have departed from unity with the family, may not take it with them. I don’t believe that the TLM will be entirely taken away. Is it restricted for a time because it is being misused. When children treat a family heirloom like a toy, and begin to use it to strike the members of the family or the father, then it is taken away for a while.

An article at First Things, quoted again at Rorate Caeli:

“Tradition stands above the pope. The old Mass is as a matter of principle beyond the pope’s authority to prohibit.” Martin Mosebach

Mosebach has no authority to decide what the limits of the authority of the Supreme Pontiff may be. No magisterial document states that the TLM is beyond the authority of the Roman Pontiff. And it is intellectual dishonesty to pretend that a particular form of the Mass is the same as Sacred Tradition. What is essential in the Mass goes back to the Last Supper, when the first Mass was celebrated. Authority over the Mass was given by Christ to the Apostles and their successors, not to the traditionalist or conservative subculture.

The Roman Pontiff “possesses supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he is always able to exercise freely.” [Canon 331] One cannot meld the exterior elements of the TLM with infallible Sacred Tradition, and then declare those non-essential elements of the Mass to be above the authority of the Church. The arguments being used by opponents of Pope Francis have become quite ridiculous. There is no real theological argument requiring a response. Their claims are patently absurd, like the claims by Cardinal Brandmuller that laws must be accepted in order to be valid.

I read another article, I forget off-hand which one, which quoted Pope Pius XII in Mediator Dei. That article misquoted Pius XII and misled its readers about the contents of that document. See my article on Mediator Dei and the Mass here. Some quotes from Mediator Dei follow:

“44. Since, therefore, it is the priest chiefly who performs the sacred liturgy in the name of the Church, its organization, regulation and details cannot but be subject to Church authority.

“58. It follows from this that the Sovereign Pontiff alone enjoys the right to recognize and establish any practice touching the worship of God, to introduce and approve new rites, as also to modify those he judges to require modification.

“Private individuals, therefore, even though they be clerics, may not be left to decide for themselves in these holy and venerable matters…. For the same reason no private person has any authority to regulate external practices of this kind, which are intimately bound up with Church discipline and with the order, unity and concord of the Mystical Body and frequently even with the integrity of Catholic faith itself.

“60. The use of the Latin language, customary in a considerable portion of the Church, is a manifest and beautiful sign of unity, as well as an effective antidote for any corruption of doctrinal truth. In spite of this, the use of the mother tongue in connection with several of the rites may be of much advantage to the people. But the Apostolic See alone is empowered to grant this permission. It is forbidden, therefore, to take any action whatever of this nature without having requested and obtained such consent, since the sacred liturgy, as We have said, is entirely subject to the discretion and approval of the Holy See.”

“61. The same reasoning holds in the case of some persons who are bent on the restoration of all the ancient rites and ceremonies indiscriminately. The liturgy of the early ages is most certainly worthy of all veneration. But ancient usage must not be esteemed more suitable and proper, either in its own right or in its significance for later times and new situations, on the simple ground that it carries the savor and aroma of antiquity. The more recent liturgical rites likewise deserve reverence and respect. They, too, owe their inspiration to the Holy Spirit, who assists the Church in every age even to the consummation of the world. They are equally the resources used by the majestic Spouse of Jesus Christ to promote and procure the sanctity of man.”

“Just as obviously unwise and mistaken is the zeal of one who in matters liturgical would go back to the rites and usage of antiquity, discarding the new patterns introduced by disposition of divine Providence to meet the changes of circumstances and situation.”

“64. This way of acting bids fair to revive the exaggerated and senseless antiquarianism to which the illegal Council of Pistoia gave rise.”

“65. Let no one arrogate to himself the right to make regulations and impose them on others at will. Only the Sovereign Pontiff, as the successor of Saint Peter, charged by the divine Redeemer with the feeding of His entire flock, and with him, in obedience to the Apostolic See, the bishops “whom the Holy Ghost has placed . . . to rule the Church of God,” have the right and the duty to govern the Christian people. Consequently, Venerable Brethren, whenever you assert your authority – even on occasion with wholesome severity….”

~ So we see from the above quotes from Pope Pius XII that the Church, and most especially the Roman Pontiff has full authority over the holy Mass. Individuals commenting online have been arrogating to themselves the right to determine what form of the Mass will be best and, what is worse, the right to judge and rebuke the Roman Pontiff. They have no such authority over the Mass or the Pope. “Only the Sovereign Pontiff as the authority to regulate the Mass.

And Pius XII rejects the idea that we must go back to the rites and usage of antiquity indiscriminately. The Holy Spirit guides the Church, and the Church decides the form of the Mass and other liturgical rites. And all we need to do is to trust in Christ and in His Church.

The Latin Mass is a family heirloom, that might be set aside for a time, but will not be lost. The only issue is the misuse of the TLM to gather a schismatic group in opposition to Vatican II and the recent Popes. But if you love the traditional form of the Mass, surely your faith has sufficient backbone to stand on its own without the exterior elements of that particular form of the sacred liturgy. If not, then you have become overly attached to one particular form of the Mass, and you have therefore erred. We must always love the Lord Jesus more than any form of the liturgy, more than any particular priest, more than any particular Pope or Bishop or Saint. Excessive devotion to the TLM borders on idolatry. And the Roman Pontiff is right to restrict the TLM for a time.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.

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2 Responses to The Latin Mass is not beyond the Pope’s Authority

  1. Joseph Ramsak says:

    What are their arguments for questioning Benedict XVI’s document?
     Fr. Barthe: They are laid out clearly in the accompanying letter. They can also be found on the blog of Andrea Grillo, a lay professor of liturgy at St. Anselm’s who has been extremely hostile to Summorum Pontificum. His idea, taken up by the Pope and the crafters of the recent motu proprio, is that the traditional Mass represents a state of doctrine prior to Vatican II while the new Mass represents the doctrine of Vatican II – something we all already knew. Therefore, it was no longer necessary for the traditional Mass to be a right, but only a tolerance, and even then a tolerance only granted to faithful and priests to help them gradually transition to the new Mass.

    • Ron Conte says:

      In my understanding, Vatican II contains no errors on faith or morals whatsoever. There is nothing discontinuous about Vatican II; it is entirely consonant with all past magisterial teachings. It does not give excessive authority to Bishops, as is clear from LG 22. So therefore the Novus Ordo Mass does not represent a change in doctrine. The NO is simply a continuation of the sacred liturgy, which began at the Last Supper, probably in Hebrew and Aramaic. The NO could benefit from some changes going forward, such as limits on changing the form, regulation of hymns, an end to experimentation in the form of the Mass, etc. Perhaps the NO could benefit from changes making it more like the TLM. But I don’t think there is a representation of pre- and post-Vatican II doctrine in the TLM and NO Mass.

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