After Pope Francis released his July 16th motu proprio Traditionis custodes, which placed restrictions on the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, was one of the first American bishops to quickly respond. In a July 19th decree, Bishop Paprocki offered a dispensation allowing the Traditional Latin Mass to continue without restrictions at two parishes in his diocese, and subsequently another decree allowing it to continue at a third of the 129 parishes he oversees.
Bishop Paprocki, 68, was born and raised in Chicago, and was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1978. He was ordained an auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese in 2003, and became Bishop of Springfield in 2010. He is a canon lawyer and teaches canon law at Notre Dame Law School.
He recently spoke with CWR.
CWR: When you’ve visited the parishes in your diocese which offer the Traditional Latin Mass, what experiences have you had with their priests and lay people?
Bishop Paprocki: I first celebrated that Traditional Latin Mass in 2010 for the Latin Mass community of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Quincy, which is staffed by the priests of the Fraternity of St. Peter. I also did another time for St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Springfield, which encompasses two churches, one that offers the Ordinary form Mass in English and Spanish and another that offers the Extraordinary form. The priests who offer the Extraordinary form are from the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius. Both locations attract people who have an affinity for the Mass being celebrated in the Extraordinary form; they appreciate the Latin, and the sense of mysticism they experience. But in neither location did I experience people who had a sense of superiority over the rest of the Church or who reject the Second Vatican Council.
CWR: You indicated in your decree that you thought the Traditional Latin Masses contributed to the spiritual good of the diocese.
Bishop Paprocki: Yes. We have to remember that even in the Ordinary form, there is a diversity of liturgical styles. At one parish, you may find Mass accompanied by folk music, with guitars and drums and other contemporary instruments, and in another you might find an organ and choir singing traditional hymns. In our world today, people are mobile. If they don’t like what they find in one church, they can easily go to another.
The Extraordinary form is a different style. I’ve often wondered what attracts people to it. Is it that they like the Tridentine rite, or the accompanying features that go with it, such as incense, Gregorian chant and the architectural style? When I was in Chicago, I had the experience of going once a month to celebrate Ordinary form Mass in Latin at St. John Cantius Church which had many of the features of the Tridentine rite, including Latin, celebrating Mass ad orientem and the beautiful Gregorian chant.
CWR: You released your decree immediately after the release of Traditionis custodes. Was this motu proprio something you were expecting, or did it come as a surprise? And, why did you respond to it so quickly?
Bishop Paprocki: It did come as a surprise. I heard about it from one of the priests in my diocese who celebrates the Mass in the Extraordinary Form. He sent me an email, and asked how it would affect him. He included a link to the Vatican news service where the announcement of the motu proprio was made.
I thought the way the release of the motu proprio was handled was unfortunate. It was telling the diocesan bishops that it was their responsibility to handle the regulation of the Extraordinary form Mass. I would have appreciated some advance notice.
I received the news on a Friday, and I issued my decree the following Monday. For me, I thought I was actually delaying my response a few days, as you had bishops issuing statements about it on Saturday and Sunday. But it did give me the chance to think it over canonically for a few days. One reason I responded on Monday is that I was receiving inquiries, such as from the priest I mentioned, asking, “How does this affect me?”
There was particularly one provision in the motu proprio I needed to address, article 3, paragraph 2, which says the bishop “is to designate one or more locations where the faithful adherents of these groups may gather for the eucharist celebration (not however in the parochial churches and without the erection of new personal parishes)” (emphasis added).
In both situations I’ve mentioned, St. Rose and St. Katharine, the Extraordinary form Mass is being celebrated in parish churches. The priests there wanted to be obedient and asked what they were to do. One priest who emailed me on Friday indicated that he had an Extraordinary Mass scheduled the next morning.
Normally, when a new law is promulgated, there is a period of time of about a month in which people are informed of the law and can make adjustments. This motu proprio was effective immediately, and our priests had Extraordinary form Masses scheduled for the next day and Sunday. I told them to go ahead, and issued the decree on Monday issuing a dispensation so that they could continue offering the Mass in the future. Although we’re not familiar with it in American law, the law of the Church is based on European law which allows for such a dispensation in particular cases. This motu proprio immediately affected two of our parishes, then a third, for which I offered a separate decree. The decree is not a blatant disregard for the motu proprio, but a dispensation that allows us to continue what we’ve been doing.
Parts of the motu proprio are confusing. We have article 3, paragraph 2, which I have just quoted, and then we have article 3, paragraph 5, which says the bishop is “to proceed suitably to verify that the parishes canonically erected for the benefit of these faithful are effective for their spiritual growth, and to determine whether or not to retain them”.
If I am authorized to retain Masses in the Extraordinary form, where would they be celebrated if not in parochial churches? I don’t believe it is the intention of the Holy Father to kick people out of the churches and make them have Mass in a gym or parish hall, or to have us re-designate churches as shrines or oratories. I am trying to reconcile these paragraphs in the easiest and most beneficial way.
CWR: Are the Traditional Latin Mass communities grateful for your decree?
Bishop Paprocki: Yes. They were very happy to receive the news that their Masses would continue as before.
CWR: As you’ve had time to read and reflect on Traditionis custodes. What are your thoughts on it?
Bishop Paprocki: I’ve talked to a lot of people about it. Whoever advised the Holy Father on this motu proprio did not advise him well. As a canon lawyer who teaches at Notre Dame Law School, I can say that this is not a well-written document.
I also believe that there is a misunderstanding about what people who go to the Extraordinary form Masses think. In my experience, they don’t reject the Second Vatican Council or the validity of the new rite of the Mass.
I’d like to point out that there is a difference in between accepting the validity of the Second Vatican Council and believing that it has failed in its objectives. Stephen Bullivant, Professor of Theology and the Sociology of Religion at St. Mary’s University in London, wrote the 2019 book Mass Exodus, which is a sociological analysis of the Second Vatican Council. He is a young man in his 30s, not motivated by a sense of nostalgia, who said that if the objective of the Second Vatican Council was to bring more people into the Church and revivify the Catholic faith, it did not do that. If you look at the numbers of people attending Mass today versus before the Council, the numbers declined dramatically; if you look at the numbers of people interested in pursuing a vocation to the priesthood or religious life today versus then, the numbers declined dramatically. He concludes that the Second Vatican Council has failed in its objectives, but that is a different thing than saying that the Council itself was invalid. If you read the documents of Vatican II, they express things that we should be doing, but unfortunately have not implemented.
I’d also like to point out that many who are attracted to the Mass according to the 1962 missal tend to be young. It is a mistaken notion that those who attend it are merely nostalgic; that has not been my experience at all. Many of the older folks who lived through the Council have moved on and are fine with the New Mass, while the younger people are discovering the older liturgy. Anyone who thinks that when the older generation dies off that the Latin Mass will fade away is not being realistic.
CWR: In releasing the motu proprio, the Holy Father indicated that Rome had surveyed bishops throughout the world regarding the Traditional Latin Mass. Were you one of the bishops surveyed?
Bishop Paprocki: I do not recall getting that questionnaire. The Holy Father referenced it in releasing this motu proprio, so I was wondering about receiving it myself. So I went through the USCCB website and did find it there, dated April 2020. But I did not receive anything in the mail nor by email that called my attention to it. You would really have to be proactive in following the USCCB website to have seen it. Additionally, we had lots going on at that time with the beginning of COVID. The Vatican and the USCCB have the capacity to send information directly to the bishops, and if it is something important, to call our attention to it. So I did not see it nor did I complete it.
CWR: With all the issues the Church is facing, including the disruption caused by the pandemic, what do you think prompted the release of the motu proprio at this time?
Bishop Paprocki: I don’t know, nor do I have any insight into its timing.
CWR: What impact do you think this motu proprio will have on those who attend the Traditional Latin Mass and the Church in general in the upcoming months and years?
Bishop Paprocki: I believe the long-term objective of both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis was to have one rite or form in the Latin Church, but they have different approaches as to how that might come about. Pope Benedict set up two forms on parallel tracks, in hopes that someday a future pope would merge them into one form. Pope Francis’ approach is to restrict the Traditional Latin Mass in hopes that it will one day fade away. However, I don’t think it will fade away.
The problem has not been solved, but tensions have been heightened. Had the motu proprio not been issued, the Traditional Latin Mass would have gone on quietly, but now it’s been brought to the forefront.
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