For those unfamiliar, the Tridentine Mass is the form of the Catholic liturgy established by Pope St. Pius V and the Council of Trent in 1570. In 1970, the Second Vatican Council and Pope St. Paul VI replaced the Tridentine Mass with the Novus Ordo, which is the form of the Mass most Catholics attend. Though the late Pope Benedict XVI liberalized the use of the Tridentine Mass in 2007, Pope Francis heavily restricted it with his 2021 apostolic letter Traditionis Custodes (Guardians of Tradition, ironically) and subsequent rescripts.
While meeting with Hungarian Jesuits, Francis was asked how Catholics are to reconcile the timeless Church with the postmodern world. The pope’s response is telling: he spoke only of the dangers of traditionalist schism.
Of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, Francis said that resistance to the decrees of the Second Vatican Council is “terrible.” He explained, “There is unbelievable restorationism, what I call indietrismo (backwardness)…. The danger today is indietrismo, the reaction against the modern. It is a nostalgic disease.”
It’s worth asking, of course, if “the modern” includes almost-universal approval for abortion, the promotion of drag shows for children, the normalization of gender mutilation surgeries, a total acceptance of ever-more-depraved types of pornography, and a whole host of other social, sexual, and cultural degeneracies previous centuries could have never dreamt of. Shouldn’t “the modern” be something a Catholic — or, indeed, any Christian with some common sense — ought to react against? Mightn’t that reaction be more than mere nostalgia for the days of yore?
Francis explained that this so-called disease of indietrismo is why he has restricted the celebration of the Tridentine Mass.
“After all the necessary consultations, I decided this because I saw that the good pastoral measures put in place by [Popes] John Paul II and Benedict XVI were being used in an ideological way, to go backward,” he said.
It is sadly true that there are some whose devotion to the Tridentine Mass is an ideological one: they reject the Second Vatican Council, they reject Pope Francis, and some even reject all popes since Pius XII, who died in 1958. Such devotees effectively choose a particular form of the liturgy — admittedly, a breathtakingly beautiful form of the liturgy, one long held in the highest of esteem — over unity with the Catholic Church, making them schismatic.
Irreverence at the Novus Ordo
But it is equally true that the Mass of Pope St. Paul VI, the Novus Ordo, which in Traditionis Custodes Pope Francis called the exclusive expression of the Mass, can also be used in an ideological way. In fact, one could argue that the Novus Ordo is more susceptible to ideological manipulation than the Tridentine Mass.
The Tridentine Mass, colloquially referred to as the Traditional Latin Mass, is almost entirely in Latin. Its form and rubrics are strict — what Pope Francis would call “rigid.” In contrast, the Novus Ordo is in the vernacular and the particularities of its form vary seemingly from parish to parish. Priests celebrating the Novus Ordo Mass have ridden scooters down the aisles of churches, played guitar at inappropriate times, rapped their homilies, and turned what is meant to be the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass into garish Broadway–style shows.
Those are only some of the more laughable examples of irreverence. Numerous Novus Ordo priests and parishes have been more expressly ideological. For example, the pastor at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Manhattan recently installed an “art” exhibition entitled “God Is Trans” next to the altar. That same priest also delivered a homily declaring that “Christ is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer.”
Jesuit Fr. James Martin is notorious in Catholic circles for his promotion of homosexuality, as is openly gay fellow Jesuit Fr. Bryan Massingale, who has said he would like to celebrate an LGBT wedding Mass, which directly contradicts Catholic Church teaching on both the Mass and marriage. Diocese of Lexington Bishop John Stowe has also supported legal protections for gay couples, and one of the chief parishes of his diocese, historic St. Paul’s Catholic Church, has a prominent LGBTQ wing. In addition, Chicago’s powerful cardinal Blase Cupich tried to water down a Vatican directive banning blessings for same-sex unions.
Earlier this year, Germany’s bishops approved a measure to violate that same Vatican ban and plow ahead with blessings for same-sex unions. Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg called on the Church to change its teaching on homosexuality. And countless Catholic priests have been caught using the gay hookup app Grindr, including at the Vatican.
The Church has long defined homosexuality as a disorder and condemned homosexual acts. With the advent of the pro-gay wing in the Church, there can be no argument that the Novus Ordo Mass is immune from ideology that is either anti-Catholic or, at the very least, contradictory to the Catholic faith.
So why is the Novus Ordo Mass not restricted or reformed? Instead, only the Tridentine Mass, the reformed edition of the Mass of Pope St. Gregory the Great, which dates back at least 1,500 years, receives that treatment.
In his 2007 letter liberalizing the celebration of the Tridentine Mass, the late Pope Benedict XVI wrote that the Tridentine Mass “must be given due honor for its venerable and ancient usage,” clarifying that “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.”
Perhaps it would behoove Pope Francis to reexamine his predecessor’s words.