New Vatican document tightens controls on traditional Latin Mass

February 21, 2023

Pope Francis has issued a rescript formally confirming restrictions that the Dicastery for Divine Worship had already placed on the celebration of the traditional Latin Mass.

The rescript, issued February 21, says that a parish church cannot be used for the traditional liturgy, nor can a newly ordained priest celebrate that liturgy, without permission from the Dicastery for Divine Worship.

In December, Cardinal Arthur Roche, the prefect of that dicastery, had written to an American bishop, saying that a diocesan bishop did not have the authority to grant dispensations from the terms of Traditionis Custodes, the document in which Pope Francis had limited the use of the traditional liturgy. Canon lawyers had responded to the release of the cardinal’s letter by pointing out the that Code of Canon Law (#87) gives diocesan bishops the authority to grant such dispensations, except in cases when the dispensation is “reserved to the Apostolic See”—a provision that had not appeared in Traditionis Custodes. The release of the new rescript implicitly acknowledges that Cardinal Roche lacked the canonical authority to demand that diocesan bishops seek his approval for dispensations.

But with the rescript, that authority is now established in canon law. The February 21 document explicitly states that “bishops are not to invoke canon 87” to grant dispensations. And the effect of the document is retroactive: “Should a diocesan bishop have granted dispensations… he is obliged to inform the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, which will assess the individual cases.

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I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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