by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace

July 31, 2022 — In March 2020, Pope Francis authorized a questionnaire for bishops’ conferences across the world concerning the results in parishes and other communities where the “Traditional Mass” was being celebrated. The findings caused the pope to state that this was “a situation which preoccupies and saddens me and persuades me of the need to intervene.”

Based on these findings, in July 2021 the pope issued an Apostolic letter, Traditiones Custodes (“Guardians of the Tradition”), in which he set out several requirements which, in effect, restricted the practice of the “Traditional Mass.” He elaborated on the reasons for these restrictions in an accompanying letter to the world’s bishops. The two communications clearly indicate that in Francis’ opinion, permission for the celebration of the Latin Mass, granted by Popes St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, has been “exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce divergencies and encourage disagreements that injure the Church, block her path and expose her to the peril of division.” 

This year on June 29, feast of Saints Peter and Paul, symbols of Church unity, Pope Francis wrote another Apostolic Letter, Desiderio Desideravi, insisting that Catholics need to better understand the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council and its goal of promoting the “full, conscious, active and fruitful celebration of the Mass.” He urged Catholics to stop exploiting the old Latin Mass for ideological reasons and to discover anew the beauty of the new liturgy that grew from the reforms of the Council.

One might consider this a minor issue (barely 15,000 U.S. Catholics regularly attend the old Latin Mass in about 700 venues). However, these continuing expressions of Pope Francis’ grave concern for liturgical unity point to a deeper problem. It is interesting to note that the Associated Press has said that “traditionalists attached to the old rite … have become some of the biggest opponents to Francis …” Indeed, in this latest letter, the Holy Father said, “I do not see how it is possible to say that one recognizes the validity of the Council and at the same time not accept the liturgical reform born out of it.”

For us in the U.S. Church, the conflict between traditional versus conciliar Eucharistic celebrations may well serve as a metaphor for yet a further danger: the appropriation of the Christian message by political forces in our country within and outside the Church. The discredited former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, is a vivid example of this situation. This week’s issue of La Croix, the respected international Catholic daily, carries a chilling account of Vigano’s connection with the notorious Steve Bannon at the time of the January 6, 2021 insurrection. Two days before that event, Bannon released an interview with Vigano in which the archbishop said: “It would be an irreparable disaster if Joe Biden… would be designated [note the omission of elected] as President of the United States.” He went on to say: “Each one of us has a role that Providence has entrusted and it would be culpable to shrink from. If the United States misses this opportunity, now, it will be wiped out from history.”

According to La Croix, Vigano’s comments went viral among right-wing Catholic publications – “Church militant”, “LifeSite News”, “Catholic Family News”, “Crisis Magazine” and “Remnant Newspaper” – and noted that Vigano was positioned to be an especially potent weapon for the effort to scuttle the election.

Pax Christi USA can serve as a healthy counterweight to this total misrepresentation and perverted use of the Christian message. We are the People of God in the United States, present at every level of the Church. Traditionally our focus has been on extra-ecclesial issues. This intra-ecclesial crisis is equally worthy of our attention.

Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.

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