Healing and unity, or confusion and obfuscation? A reply to Cardinal Cupich

Since Pope Benedict’s words appear to be a manifesto precisely for “the promotion of the former liturgy as a parallel option in celebrating the Eucharist”, I would humbly ask what we in the movement which supports the ancient Mass have been doing wrong since 2007.

Father Stephen Saffron, parish administrator, elevates the Eucharist during a traditional Latin Mass July 18, 2021, at St. Josaphat Church in the Queens borough of New York City. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Editor’s note: The following is a response to Cardinal Blase J. Cupich’s essay “Pope Francis’ Latin Mass reforms are necessary to secure Vatican II’s legacy”, published by America magazine on Nov. 10, 2021.

Cardinal Cupich begins the story with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, in “the early 1970s”. It is worth noting that by the time the SSPX became headline news, with its canonical suppression in 1975 and unauthorised ordinations in 1976, lay groups had been campaigning for the ancient Mass for more than a decade, and had achieved a symbolic, if limited, concession in Pope Paul VI’s Indult for England and Wales which was signed in November 1971, exactly fifty years ago. It was, similarly, the desire of the Faithful, not of SSPX clergy, which was recognised by Pope John Paul II’s world-wide indult of 1984, which does not mention the SSPX, and these Faithful who are again noted as a motivation for Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum.

This is worth emphasizing because, although they share an attachment to the former Missal, the International Una Voce Federation (founded in 1965) and its member associations around the world, and the SSPX, are clearly distinct phenomena, and have suffered quite different fates in recent years. In 2016 Pope Francis gave priests of the SSPX special faculties to hear confessions, and in 2017 he made provision for them to officiate at marriage services. They still enjoy these privileges today. Priests serving the faithful within the structures of the Church, on the other hand, have just been forbidden to do either thing using the older books used by the SSPX in the very diocese of Rome. If Traditionis Custodes is motivated by disappointed hopes for “healing and unity” with the SSPX, it seems to have sadly mistaken its target.

However, Cardinal Cupich’s phrasing does not make it quite clear whether he is still referring to the SSPX situation when he laments the lack of “healing and unity”, or whether his thoughts have moved on to other actors in the Church. He next suggests that the Bishops’ responses to the questions sent out by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith indicated that the provisions of Summorum Pontificum were being “used to promote the former liturgy as a parallel option in celebrating the Eucharist”. At this point, we clearly have in mind not the SSPX but those people referred to by Pope Benedict, when he wrote of “individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church”, “young persons too [who] have discovered this liturgical form, felt its attraction and found in it a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, particularly suited to them”, and when he exclaimed:

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. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.

Since Pope Benedict’s words appears to be a manifesto precisely for “the promotion of the former liturgy as a parallel option in celebrating the Eucharist”, I would humbly ask Cardinal Cupich what we in the movement which supports the ancient Mass have been doing wrong since 2007.

In the Summorum Pontificum period the ancient Mass was allowed; priestly institutes dedicated to it were founded, and their constitutions solemnly approved; hundreds of priests and religious gave their lives to Christ and the Church under these terms; the teaching of this Mass in seminaries was officially encouraged, enixe, “strenuously”, in the 2011 Instruction, Ecclesia Dei, Article 21. Pope Francis gave the traditionalist Institute of Christ the King the use of a beautiful minor basilica in the heart of his own diocese last October; he made provision for the celebration of newly canonized saints in the older calendar in March of this year. Today we are told that the people who have accepted these gifts with gratitude and used them for the good of souls have been promoting disunity by doing so.

Or has it been some other activity of theirs which is the source of the problem? Or has it been a different set of people who are at fault? Cardinal Cupich does not specify, and it remains obscure. Archbishop Augustine Di Noia suggested that the problem was to be found in England, America, and France. On the other hand, the English Cardinal, Vincent Nichols of Westminster, told his priests in a public statement that “these concerns do not reflect the overall liturgical life of this diocese.” A number of American bishops have said the same thing, and the bishops of France have been in not hurry to close down communities which, they said in a joint statement, they regard with “esteem”.

In fact, it would appear that a majority of the responses received from the 30% of the bishops around the world who responded to the survey were either positive or neutral. The harder we look, the harder it is to find this schismatic, disobedient, and theologically problematic phenomenon.

In the meantime, bishops now find themselves with a markedly reduced range of options in dealing with the phenomenon of Catholics attached to the ancient Mass, which has been labelled as negative regardless of the specifics of each diocese. Perhaps, though, it is not really the activities of specifiable human beings, lay or clerical, which is really the problem, because Cardinal Cupich, rather than going into greater detail, notes the danger of division, the authority of the Holy Father, and, connecting the two things, the duty of every bishop to “keep in mind his more fundamental responsibility as a guardian of tradition to re-establish a single and identical prayer that expresses the unity of the church in the Roman Rite reformed by the decrees of Vatican II.”

For if the unity of the Church is expressed by liturgical uniformity, then the liturgical diversity permitted by Summorum Pontificum is going to be a problem regardless of the words and actions and attitudes of those who availed themselves of the opportunities it created.

This is an interesting possibility, but it creates difficulties of its own. First, it relies on the argument that, because the reform was mandated in light of the Council, the authority of the Council is negated in some way by the continuing existence of the older Mass. But the connection between the Council document on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, and the Mass as promulgated, and still more the reformed Mass as actually celebrated, is a complex one. I don’t see liturgical progressives being criticised for proposing a more radical reading of the document and therefore a more radical reform.

Similarly, the discussions which lay behind the changes which have been made in successive editions of the reformed Missale Romanum (the restoration of a number of ancient feast-days, for example) and to the 2011 English translation (the advance of the idea of a “hieratic” liturgical English) were also, presumably, legitimate. It must be similarly open to traditionally-minded Catholics to point out that the reform was not faithful to the Council’s demand that “Latin be retained” (36.1) and that Gregorian Chant be “given pride of place” (116), and that the abolition of Septuagesima failed to “preserve” the liturgical seasons (107). In these respects, if not in others, the older Mass is more faithful to the Council than the new, and we must remember that it was the older Mass which was celebrated throughout the Council itself.

Another difficulty with this argument is that it appears to suggest that Pope Benedict’s action, albeit motivated by good intentions, was intrinsically theologically problematic, and not simply misused. The indelicacy of this suggestion perhaps explains why Cardinal Cupich appears to waver between the two possibilities. But it is not just Pope Benedict who falls under suspicion. The phrase “a single and identical prayer” seems at odds with the Second Vatican Council, when it proclaimed that “even in the liturgy, the Church has no wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not implicate the faith or the good of the whole community” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 37).

This principle is reflected in the fact that the reforms of Vatican II encompassed the Mozarabic, Ambrosian, and Carthusian Missals. Pope Francis has himself added to this liturgical pluralism by authorizing the liturgy of the Ordinariate, Divine Worship, in 2015, and the development of the “Rite of Zaire” in 2019.

Cardinal Cupich seeks to link the question of uniformity, however, with the chronology of reform: reform means “adopting a new form and putting aside the earlier one, and so it must be with regard to liturgical reform.”

On a strictly chronological basis we would all have put aside the Roman Rite to adopt Divine Worship in 2015, and four years later set this aside for the new version of the Rite of Zaire. We did not do this because these rites were reserved for specific groups of people. In the same spirit, the former edition of the Roman Rite has been preserved for those individuals who find in it “a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, particularly suited to them”. Such things are common in the history of the liturgy: older forms are not replaced by the newer, but preserved alongside it, as were the regional Missals and those of religious orders which continued to be said for centuries, alongside the new edition of the Roman Rite produced in 1570, whose texts had been corrected in light of some old Missals.

If the unity of the Church in the Tridentine era was not endangered by the existence of multiple liturgical forms, all with their supporters, all with their pros and cons, then it seems surprising that the Church of the 21st century, which fosters a somewhat smaller selection of liturgical forms, would be harmed rather than enriched by allowing the continued celebration of the Missal officially approved until such a short time ago.

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About Joseph Shaw 1 Article
Dr. Joseph Shaw is Senior Research Fellow in Philosophy at St. Benet's Hall, Oxford University. He is the Chairman of the Latin Mass Society in England and Wales, President of the Foederatio Internationalis Una Voce, and author of The Case of Liturgical Restoration: Una Voce Studies on the Traditional Latin Mass (Angelico Press, 2019).


  1. I give much weight to Dr. Shaw’s views whenever he addresses the ancient Mass. He works very hard and charitably here, but surely knows that the supporters of Latin Mass reforms have worked backwards from a desired outcome, while not able to make past and current documents and statements cohere.

  2. Another difficulty with this argument is that it appears to suggest that Pope Benedict’s action, albeit motivated by good intentions, was intrinsically theologically problematic, and not simply misused.

    Certain people at San Anselmo and PraytellBlog of course have been saying this *explicitly*, for years. It’s curiously pliable ultramontanism we find these days.

  3. What celebrations did Cardinal Cupich organise in Advent 2019 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Novus Ordo? None at all, and the rest of the Church likewise. The implication is that there was nothing to celebrate.
    Despite the almost universal adoption and acceptance of the new Mass, almost nobody attempts to claim its superiority to the Vetus Ordo. It seems to be acknowledged that the new Mass is popular because it is a simplification and
    dilution of the old.

  4. The legacy of the Second Vatican Council? What is it but a Church devoid of faith and devotion, families bereft of the religious and moral support once provided by a local parish with more than a one priest, a now lost memory of flourishing parochial schools staffed by sisters and Roman Catholic faithful, empty seminaries and novitiates?
    The legacy of the Second Vatican Council is a cadaver of the uncatechized at war with itself. Sweet talk, false mercy, duplicity and self-deceit.
    The Titanic disaster of 1912 is increasing revealed as a prophetic pronouncement not only upon society but the Barque of Peter as well. If the USCCB really wants to know the sense of the faithful it does not require costly synodal conclaves, it merely requires observation of comments provided by those who care enough to participate in discussions across the spectrum of the Catholic web — at least at those sites which allow comments or don’t censor those found awkward for the episcopate.
    But then, are they able or, more importantly, willing to read the writing on the wall?
    We are subsumed in an ecclesiastical theater of the absurd. The remedy required is for the living magisterium to authentically provide its total faithful submission to the perennial Magisterium and lead…but that appears to be above their faith quotient.
    The Second Vatican Council has long been revealed as a catastrophic dress rehearsal for Woodstock 1969. Time to disengage from the smoky nightmare.

  5. I think many of us know in our hearts that the Vatican II Council was the equivalent of the Titanic hitting the iceberg on that dark night, and not just regarding liturgy but the whole enchilada. The great ship of the Church hasn’t sunk, but is is badly damaged and has taken on water and is in danger. The survivors of the Titanic’s catastrophe were rescued by a ship named the S.S. Californian. Many of us awaiting for our S.S. Californian to rescue us survivors from the “renewal” of the Vatican II Council, and to restore to the Church its efficacy at saving souls and guiding nations. Pope Benedict XVI had seemed to be on track to do that, but then he hit his own iceberg.

    Pope Benedict XVI declared and established for all time that there is no necessity for any Catholic to accept or endorse the doctrinal and liturgical innovations found in the documents of Vatican II Council.

    When did Pope Benedict XVI establish and declare that?

    On January 21, 2009, when Pope Benedict XVI voided the excommunications of the four bishops of the SSPX who refused and still refuse to accept or endorse the doctrinal and liturgical innovations found in the documents of Vatican II Council.

    This papal act meant, beyond all reasonable doubt, that one can be a Catholic (and even a Catholic bishop or priest) who is undoubtedly WITHIN THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH, even if he or she refuses to accept or endorse the doctrinal and liturgical innovations found in the documents of Vatican II Council.

    This meant that the doctrinal and liturgical innovations found in the documents of Vatican II Council are NOT necessary for salvation, and are NOT “de fide” (necessary matters of doctrine).

    What Pope Benedict did on January 21, 2009 extinguished, once and for all, the legend and myth, furiously promoted by a powerful faction within the Church, that the doctrinal and liturgical innovations found in the documents of Vatican II Council are necessary for salvation, and are “de fide.”

    And so, we now know that the doctrinal and liturgical innovations found in the documents of Vatican II Council are nothing but practical, pastoral measures that can, at any time, be evaluated and disposed of by Church authorities.

    • Very practical, indeed. Those reforms enabled Uncle Ted infiltrates to destroy the wooden confessional barrier between priest and little boy creating hands on reconciliation chambers instead. Tradition protected priest and penitant… alike.

  7. “Cardinal Cupich seeks to link the question of uniformity with the chronology of reform” [Shaw], so he asks [Why] would [reform] be harmed rather than enriched by the TLM? As is often the answer is embedded in the question of reform. It’s not at all about enrichment on his [Shaw’s quite valid] terms, rather it’s to advance a more radical concptualizion of the intended reforms of Vat2. Reform as intended by this pontificate as it continues to disclose, is centered on greater, virtually universal accessibility to the Eucharist that requires a transformation of the traditional family and with that a liturgy that identifies with that Apostolic tradition centered on the traditional family. Uniformity for Cardinal Cupich, who represents the mind of Pope Francis on reform, means absence of tradition and inclusion of diversity in belief and practice. “May 2, 2016 Archbishop Forte [Synod secretary], speaking in the theater of the city of Vasto related the answer that Francis had given him on the eve of the synod, to his question on how to proceed on the burning question of communion for illegitimate couples: ‘If we speak explicitly of communion for the divorced and remarried, these [that is, the cardinals and bishops against] do not know what a mess they [will] make us! So let’s not talk about it directly, you make sure that the premises are there, then I will draw the conclusions’. After which Forte commented, amid the smiles of the audience: Typical of a Jesuit” (Sandro Magister Francis Supreme Legislator? No. Destroyer of the Right in L’Espresso 11.2 21). Archbishop Forte was duly sacked by Francis after this disclosure.

    • This comment by Fr Peter Morello, PhD points out the obscurantist, clandestine, and conspiratorial nature of the activity of the “reformers” in the Church.

      Honest men do not proceed in this manner.

      According to some of the books I’ve read about the proceedings of the Vatican II Council, some of the liberal bishops at the Council were heavily involved in obscurantist, clandestine, and conspiratorial activities. As such, the conservative and moderate bishops were often misled about the meaning and nature of the documents that there were voting for.

      How can honest people compete with the dishonest people?

      Don’t the ruthless and conscienceless have a huge advantage?

      They can lie, deceive, and mislead, make false accusations and defamations, spin tales, myths, and hoaxes, and use good acting skills to pretend to be sincere and benevolent, and they never feel guilty it all, but instead they simply feel gloriously triumphant.

      It’s tough situation, I think.

    • Forte’s recollection is the quintessential estimation of the Bergoglian operation. It comes to my mind whenever I am engaged with the reality presently holding pride of place in the Universal Church. I might add that in my experience the comportment cited by Archbishop Forte has been widely on display since I was a youth during the Second Vatican Council. The wink, the nod, the knowing smirk exhibited by far too many priests and sisters at that time was telling indeed. They reminded me then of the adolescent behavior in which anyone of my age was submerged.
      We are in the hands of protracted adolescents working out issues which should have been resolved multiple decades ago. There is no need to wonder why the Church is dealing with the cognitive impediment and behavioral issues we shoulder — it can be attributed to stunted personal development. The episcopate is boldly hell-bent on being woke. It is pathetic.

  8. Numbers don’t lie. Promoters of the old pre-Vatican II mass often use deceptive presentations like this article mainly by giving the false impression that lovers of this mass are massively huge worldwide when in reality it is not, they just strive to always shout out loud. The old pre-Vatican II mass is celebrated in only about 1,700 out of the around 225,000 parishes worldwide – and of these 1,700, some 700 are in the U.S.. Also, these parishes with the Tridentine masses celebrate them side by side with the Vatican II masses. The American numbers of 700 parishes with the old pre-Vatican II mass is a tiny tiny minority in a total of about 18,000 parishes nationwide.

    • You’ve made this same comment a number of times here, even though no one has claimed anything resembling what you attribute to other commenters. In any case, if the EF of the Mass is so miniscule and of such minor importance, why was it necessary for the Pope to impose such drastic restrictions on something that, in your telling, could not possibly be a threat to anyone? What do you say?

      • Think of the parable of the lost sheep. Pope Benedict XVI’s theological gymnastics of introducing two forms of the Roman rite has brought the unintended result of threatening the unity of the Church with the tiny tiny minority losing their way and emboldened to reject not only the mass of but the whole of Vatican II teaching. Their reaction to Traditionis Custodes has just confirmed that. Pope Francis as universal shepherd is bringing the one lost sheep back into the fold and rejoin the ninety-nine into a united sheepfold to eventually celebrate only one form of the mass, that is the Vatican II mass, of the Roman rite, and to fully receive Vatican II.

        • But since, as Richard M points out in his comment, the Church has many approved liturgical rites, why is this one so threatening? We have never had “one rite of the Mass,” why should that be changed now, so suddenly?

          • Your confusion is one of the many ill effects of the liturgical-theological stunt made by Pope Benedict XVI in Summorum Pontificum. You conflate “rite” with “form” which are distinct. In an unprecedented move BXIV, in order to in a way take back the Vatican II liturgical reform – euphemistically called “reform of the reform”, introduced this distinction between the Extraordinary and Ordinary Forms of the Roman rite. This, Pope Francis corrected and rescinded in Traditionis Custodes by going back to the age old Church practice of having only one unitive form of liturgy for each rite in any given time. In our Roman rite, this is the current Vatican II mass as a result of the reforms made by Vatican II. Our Roman rite can then be differentiated from the liturgical rites of other particular churches like that of the various Gallican and Eastern churches.

        • Emmanuel, the overwhelming majority of people do not attend Mass at all — so it is not like they are flocking to the Novus Ordo. What are Pope Francis or Cardinal Cupich doing to bring THEM to the Novus Ordo, or to any Mass at all? It seems odd that Cupich is so worried about people going to the “wrong” Mass, when he should be happy they are going to a Mass at all.

          • You have made a bullseye.
            I remember the chaos in our house in New Jersey in the late fifties early sixties to hurry up and get ready for Mass or we wouldn’t get a parking space or a seat. Most Masses were packed — and there were six of them each Sunday — 6, 7, 8, 9, 10:30 and 12. Obviously 6 and 7 were optimal seating but, from there on seats were at a premium and the Church building must have been able to accommodate 500. And there were no shortage of parishes — one every few miles.

          • Yes, Catholic religious observance has largely disappeared in most of Western Europe since V2. And a gentle decline before V2 turned vertiginous. The loss of priests and religious actually outpaced the desertion of the faithful in many places. Belgium has fallen from over three quarters of Catholics going to Mass regularly to under one twentieth in 2009, after which there are no stats. After an effort to reverse this Francis oversaw a crushing of efforts at revival using tradition. Every country of the EU has seen the same variation of either massive retreat to the near disappearance in Germany or Belgium. Some commenters mentioned the Titanic. Francis is in essence arranging the deckchairs on bit of the Titanic above the water. Outside Europe there is deceptive strength, but as in Brazil, any strong effort by non Catholics resulted in a decline into minority status.


            You mention ‘form’ which was a made-up, but useful category of Benedict. The Church has rites and uses (these descriptors mean largely the same) aplenty from Dominican to Ambrosian, using both old and new forms. Paul VI granted bishops in England and Wales the right to authorise the traditional Mass, and many priests and bodies of priests were given authorisation to offer the old Mass. Pope Francis can be seen as trying to crudely trying to impose a particular reading of Sacrosanctum Concilium on the Church, going against all Conciliar predecessors. Francis canonised two of them, but ignored their efforts at nuance. SC was loosely phrased but the present horror of a timid old man in tie dyed polyester in the middle of a small army of women and girls, is wholly out of conformity with anything envisaged by the Fathers of the Council. What we have now is a weird break from everything that has gone before the Council, the Super Dogma (as understood by the Bergoglian inner circle) that trumps even the bible, and certainly tradition.

    • What traditionalist has claimed the TLM Is “massively huge worldwide?” Who?

      What’s your point, Emmanuel? That if the numbers aren’t massive, we have no rights? That this rite has no place in the Church? If so, a number of Eastern Rites are in bg trouble.

  9. Cardinal Cupich considerd banning the Mass in Lain as necessary to secure Vatican IIs legacy? Did he not stand in for his former flatmate Uncle Ted at the second abuse summit?? The legacy of Vatican II is being secured big time the courts… The Vatican II mass is associated with the filthiest, most disgeaceful ecclesial collapse in 2000 years. What planet does tje Sankt Gallen Network live on??

  10. I’m happy that in my own diocese our bishop has given parishes dedicated to the Latin mass a dispensation from the pope’s decree.

  11. While both sides of this issue are passionate, somehow, only those in opposition to the authority of the Church protest vociferously and without regard for others. The extraordinary form of the mass could remain if their vociferous protest against those who prefer the ordinary form of the mass was less obnoxious. Our numbers of American Catholics have declined — but not yet at the numbers of the declination in Europe prior to the 2nd Vatican Council. Creating a firestorm does not evangelize! I don’t care if you keep your EFM, but quit attacking please.

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