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D.C. 'Traditionis custodes' plan to publish Friday

St. Matthew’s Cathedral, Washington, DC. Credit: wikimedia/ CC BY SA 3.0

The Archdiocese of Washington will publish Friday its implementation plan for Traditionis custodes, a set of 2021 papal restrictions on the use of liturgical books that precede the Second Vatican Council.

The plan will restrict use of the preconciliar liturgy texts at Sunday Mass to three locations in the archdiocese and call for “pastoral outreach” toward Catholics with an attachment to the older form of the liturgy, often called the “Extraordinary Form” or the “usus antiquior.”

“In the time I have served as Archbishop of Washington, I have discovered that the majority of the faithful who participate in these liturgical celebrations in the Archdiocese of Washington are sincere, faith-filled, and well-meaning. Likewise, the majority of priests who celebrate these liturgies are doing their very best to respond pastorally to the needs of the faithful,” Cardinal Wilton Gregory wrote in a letter to priests, set to be issued July 22.

“It is clear that the Holy Father’s sincere intention is to bring about greater unity in the Church through the celebration of the Mass and sacraments according to the 1970 Roman Missal of Pope Paul VI, which was the fruit of the renewal in the liturgy that the Second Vatican Council called for,” Gregory added to his letter - a copy of which was obtained by The Pillar from sources inside the archdiocesan chancery.

“As my predecessors in the Archdiocese of Washington have followed the intentions of the Holy Father in regards to the celebration of the Mass according to the 1962 Roman Missal, I, too, desire to follow the path most recently traced out for us by Pope Francis,” the cardinal wrote.

Gregory’s letter accompanies a seven-page policy which outlines restrictions on the celebration of the Extraordinary Form in the Washington archdiocese.

The text will require priests and deacons to request and receive written permission “to celebrate the Eucharist using the Roman Missal of 1962, either privately or publicly, in the territory of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.”

Clerics requesting permission must “explicitly affirm in writing, ‘the validity and legitimacy of the liturgical reform dictated by the Second Vatican Council and the Magisterium of the Supreme Pontiffs,’ and demonstrate an appreciation ‘of the value of concelebration, particularly at the Chrism Mass,’” the decree explains.

Requests for permission must also note the frequency with which a cleric intends to offer or assist at Mass using the preconciliar texts, and note the location at which Masses will be offered.

The decree provides three locations in the Washington archdiocese where Masses in the Extraordinary Form may be offered - the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in Washington, D.C., the chapel at St. John the Evangelist in Forest Glen, a Washington suburbs, and the mission church of St. Dominic in Aquasco, Maryland, in the southern part of the state.

While Sunday Mass may be offered in those locations, the policy explains that weddings or baptisms in the Extraordinary Form will not happen in the archdiocese.

“All other sacraments are to be celebrated using the liturgical books of Paul VI,” the text stipulates.

The decree also explains that all liturgies on Christmas, Easter Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, or during the Sacred Triduum, “are to use exclusively the liturgical books promulgated by Saint Paul VI and Saint John Paul II, either in the vernacular or in Latin.”

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The cardinal’s letter explained that during a series of archdiocesan listening sessions conducted as part of the Church’s global “synod on synodality,” Gregory heard from Catholics who attend Extraordinary Form liturgies. And both in his letter and his policy, Gregory emphasized the importance of pastoral care to such Catholics.

“It is … my desire, following the intention of Pope Francis, to ensure that those who celebrate the Mass according to the 1962 Missal continue to be provided for in our archdiocese, a plea that was expressed in our Synod listening session,” the letter said.

The policy decree urges diocesan offices to “assist pastors in accompanying our brothers and sisters who share that devotion.”

“This assistance can take various forms, including but not limited to a pastoral implementation plan, personal pastoral visits, and catechetical resources that explain the Second Vatican Council’s principles of liturgical renewal and the beauty of the reformed Mass,” the decree explains.

“Additionally, those devoted to the Mass celebrated according to the Roman Missal of 1962 can celebrate the reformed Mass using the approved rubrics, which include reverent movement and gestures, Gregorian chant, Latin, incense, and extended periods of silence.”

However, Masses celebrated according to recent liturgical texts, “either in the vernacular or in Latin will follow the prescribed rubric for ‘versus populum’ unless permission is granted otherwise by the Archbishop of Washington.”

The text did not specify what rubrics mandate the versus populum posture during the celebration of the Mass. While that posture has become predominant in the post-conciliar period, some liturgists argue that it is not mandated by liturgical norms.

“The intention of these requirements is to foster and make manifest the unity of this local Church, as well as to provide all Catholics in the Archdiocese an opportunity to offer a concrete manifestation of the acceptance of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and its liturgical books,” the policy explains.

An implementation plan in the Archdiocese of Washington comes just days after the anniversary of Traditionis custodes’ 2021 promulgation. It comes into effect Sept. 21, and will be reviewed three years from now.

The papal policy has been controversial, with theologians and interested parties offering markedly differing accounts of the motu proprio and its impact on the Church.

Andrea Grillo is an Italian professor of sacramental theology sometimes described as “the mind behind the motu proprio.”

Grillo told The Pillar last week that Traditionis custodes restored “the ‘elementary’ and ‘healthy’ logic of the universal validity of a single Roman rite, without any possibility - unless exceptional or personal - of the parallel validity of an ‘earlier’ form of the Roman rite.”

But Gregory DiPippo, editor of the New Liturgical Movement website, disagreed.

DiPippo told The Pillar that “Traditionis custodes was an act of desperation on the part of a revolution that knows that this state of continual war is unappealing to the majority of serious Catholics, and seeks to do by force what it cannot do by persuasion. Its biggest impact has been to give the Church’s shepherds official permission to treat some of their most devoted sheep very shabbily, and some have availed themselves of that permission.”

While many metropolitan archdioceses in the U.S. have already published implementation plans for the papal policy, Gregory’s letter explained that the cardinal wanted to wait until after archdiocesan synodal listening sessions had concluded.

Senior clerics in the archdiocese told The Pillar last month that a policy had actually been prepared several months ago, but it is not clear whether that text was revised in light of the synod on synodality sessions.

At those listening sessions, Gregory’s decree explained, “a recommendation…called for pastoral outreach to and accompaniment of those who have a devotion to the Mass celebrated according to the Roman Missal of 1962.”

During at least one session, that recommendation carried a highly emotional plea.

According to one account published in May, members of the parish of St. Francis de Sales in Washington held a vigil outside a synodal listening session attended by Gregory on May 14. The vigil-goers asked the cardinal to reconsider the widely-rumored plan that would discontinue the popular Extraordinary Form Mass offered at that parish

One synodal delegate, a recently widowed mother of seven, reportedly told the cardinal in front of the synodal assembly that “I just buried my husband two days ago, please don’t make me lose my parish.”

While the Extraordinary Form will no longer be offered at St. Francis de Sales, Gregory wrote that he is praying for the parishioners impacted by Traditionis custodes.

“As we begin to implement Traditionis custodes and these norms, please be assured of my constant prayers for the faithful who share a deep devotion to the celebration of the Mass according to the 1962 Missal,” the cardinal wrote.

Editors’ note: Due to a typographical error, this report initially referred in one place to the 1979 Missal of Paul VI, rather than that of 1970. The error has been corrected.

This report has been updated since publication.

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