Since the promulgation of Traditionis Custodes (hereafter abbreviated TC), many priests, including myself, have sought permissions to celebrate the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (hereafter abbreviated “EF Mass”).1 Many laypersons, including a number of my own friends and acquaintances, have also written to their bishop in the hope of proactively seeking generous provisions for the EF Mass in their diocese.
If TC has given you cause for concern about future provisions for the EF Mass in your diocese, writing to your bishop is a productive way of acting on this concern. Many bishops, including your own, will be carefully discerning what the needs of the EF Mass community are, and what permissions for the EF Mass are most prudent in the wake of TC. Honest and carefully considered letters from the EF Mass community may serve to assist your bishop in his discernment.
Some of you who are deeply hurt or angered by TC may feel as though letter-writing is a futile exercise, and that no good could possibly come from reaching out to your local bishop or seeking dialogue with the post-Vatican II Church. If you feel this way, letter-writing may in fact be the perfect opportunity for you to slow down and re-examine your conscience and attitudes toward the post-Vatican II Church and your local bishop. Bishops need to see and hear that those who have been angered and hurt by TC are not lunatics incapable of civil discourse, but rather reasonable and good-willed members of their diocese.
In what follows I share some suggestions for what to include in a letter to your bishop. These suggestions are my own personal opinion, reflecting my own experiences in my diocese. They may not apply to your context or EF Mass community. Nevertheless, they may provide useful guidelines as you think about how best to communicate your concerns to your diocesan bishop.
• Explicitly flag in your letter that you, as an EF Mass attendee, affirm the validity and legitimacy of the liturgical reforms mandated by Vatican II. Your bishop will be looking for this information, because according to TC §3.1, if the bishop cannot affirm that a given EF Mass community accepts the legitimacy of the liturgical reforms, he will not be well placed to support generous future EF permissions.
• On this note, anything you can say about yourself to reveal your acceptance of the validity of the liturgical reforms mandated by Vatican II, is worth mentioning. (For instance, if you have deep love for Sacrosanctum Concilium, or are active in your local Ordinary Form parish, say so). These things might sound trivial, but they provide concrete counter-evidence to the bishop and his diocesan curia that EF Mass attendees in the diocese are not accurately characterized by “a rejection not only of the liturgical reform, but of the Vatican Council II itself”.2
• If you are not prepared to say anything in support of the liturgical reforms mandated by Vatican II, at the very least do not highlight your quibbles with aspects of the post-Vatican II liturgical reforms. There is a time and place for sharing legitimate concerns about abuses and other issues in the Ordinary Form. But if you want to see liberal permissions for the EF Mass continue under TC, your goal at this point should be to help your bishop see that most members of the EF Mass community do in fact support the liturgical reforms mandated by Vatican II (see TC §3.1).
• Letters from groups rather than individuals, are always better (see TC §3.1). If possible, draft a community letter and gather signatures.
• If your practice has been to attend EF Masses in a parochial church on a regular or semi-regular basis, and the absence of such Masses (which TC §3.2 would appear to call for) would cause difficulty or hurt for you, say so. This will help the bishop recognize the need for creative solutions in the future.
• If you feel called to make a profession of obedience to your bishop, or to share with him your desire to be subject to him as “to Christ, even as Christ is to the Father,”3 this would be an excellent occasion to do so. If you show your willingness to trust your Bishop and cooperate in his mission, you give him in turn an opportunity to restore his trust in the EF Community and treat EF Mass attendees as allies in the goal of in bringing about “the concord and unity of the Church” (TC, para. 2).
If saying any of the above feels like “selling out” or being dishonest, then don’t say it. But it is worth bearing in mind two things.
First, don’t discourage others from doing saying positive things that you yourself are unable to say, if they can do so honestly and willingly. Fostering distrust in your local bishop is exactly the sort of thing that will decrease the likelihood of a generous implementation of TC in your diocese.
Second, remember that, underlying the genuine sufferings and evils you have encountered in the post-Vatican II Church, there are undoubtedly goods you have encountered as well. As St Thomas Aquinas says, “every evil is founded in some good.”4
Letter-writing, of course, is only a small way of taking action. It may not have any immediate effect. But it starts the ball rolling in the right direction, and it is an opportunity to exercise honesty and charity towards your diocesan bishop. Ultimately, if your bishop can see that EF Mass attendees in his diocese are engaged, obedient members of the local Church who are enthusiastic supporters of the principles of Vatican II, and if he has received a multitude of letters demonstrating this fact, it will be much easier for him to implement TC in a way that provides generous permissions for the celebration of the EF Mass.5
Best of all, your time spent letter-writing can be a wonderful opportunity to submit yourself to the will of God, and to seek the intercession of the Blessed Mother and your favorite saints for assistance in gaining a wiser and broader perspective on your experiences of the post-Vatican II liturgical reforms.
1 More accurately, I have sought permission not for the EF Mass but for the Dominican Rite, which at the time of this writing stands in an unclear relationship to the rulings of TC.
2 Francis, Letter to the Bishops on the occasion of the publication of Traditionis Custodes, para. 6.
3 Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrnaeans, §8.
4 STh., I q.17 a.4 ad 2.
5 Many thanks to Fr Joseph Vnuk OP for helpful feedback on this article.
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