The Dispatch: More from CWR...

Trying to make some sense of the responsa ad dubia

The responses to dubia published on Saturday make one wonder whether the haste was only apparent, and the sloppiness of the original a feature rather than a bug.

Archbishop Arthur Roche (left) is pictured with Cardinal Robert Sarah in this Jan. 14, 2020, file photo. The Vatican announced May 27 that Pope Francis has appointed the English archbishop to lead the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, succeeding Cardinal Sarah. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW) has published a set of responsa ad dubia regarding Pope Francis’s recent Apostolic Letter, Traditionis custodes.

Just in time for Christmas.

In case your memory needs jogging, Traditionis custodes was Pope Francis’s radical nullification of his predecessor’s liberalizing reform of the liturgical law regarding the use of older liturgical books and sweeping restriction of worship according to older prescriptions.

Traditionis itself showed almost every imaginable sign of haste in its composition, making it very difficult to understand. Indecipherable where it was not self-contradictory – as it was in almost every operative or dispositive part – the law was therefore frequently impossible to obey.

Suffice it to say Traditionis did not go over well, even in quarters broadly well-disposed to its purported goals and aims, which were (and are) the complete suppression of worship according to the ancient form of the Roman rite, in favor of the new order of worship Pope St. Paul VI first promulgated in 1969.

It’s hard to offer a straight report and analysis of the responses’ contents, and hard to resist the temptation to psychologize them, mostly because of the snark and pettiness that bleeds through almost every syllable. This Vatican-watcher will attempt the former, and apologizes for any excesses regarding the latter.

The responsa published Saturday make it clear that bishops are allowed to permit only Mass with the old books. There is some room for personal parishes erected under old dispositions, but not much. The responsa also create all sorts of hoops and hurdles, through and over which clerics who desire to celebrate Mass with the older books must now jump. That means even more headache for local ordinaries – bishops – who are responsible for enforcing Rome’s edicts.

The responses to dubia published on Saturday therefore make one wonder whether the haste was only apparent, and the sloppiness of the original a feature rather than a bug.

The CDW insists, for example, on taking a priest’s refusal to concelebrate, particularly at the Chrism Mass – that’s the special yearly liturgy usually celebrated on Holy Thursday morning, in which the bishop blesses the sacred oils that will be used for the Sacraments in his diocese throughout the year – as “express[ing] a lack of acceptance of the liturgical reform and a lack of ecclesial communion with the Bishop, both of which are necessary requirements in order to benefit from the concession to celebrate with the Missale Romanum of 1962.”

Now, the precise phrasing of the specific dubium supposes that a bishop is dealing with a priest who does, in fact, reject the validity and legitimacy of concelebration. Thing is, concelebration has been part of other ritual Churches’ standard practice for centuries, and has been licit for decades in the Latin Church. Permission to concelebrate is written into the 1983 Code of Canon Law. Any priest denying the “validity and legitimacy” of concelebration would have been in trouble before either Traditionis custodes or the responsa ad dubia.

That said, priests have a right – enshrined in law – not to concelebrate. In fact, canon 902 of the Code of Canon Law is written in a way to give permission for concelebration – i.e. when more than one priest celebrates the same Mass – precisely because the practice was virtually unheard-of in the Latin West until the second half of the last century.

How can a healthy mind see in the exercise of a right, any evidence of anything except knowledge of one’s right?

Another dubium regarding another matter – bination, or the celebration of more than one Mass of a given liturgical day – is even more consternating. “Can a Priest who is authorised to celebrate with the Missale Romanum of 1962,” the doubt runs, “and who, because of his office (parish priest, chaplain, etc.), also celebrates on weekdays with the Missale Romanum of the reform of the Second Vatican Council, binate using the Missale Romanum of 1962?”

In laymen’s terms, the questioner wants to know whether a priest who uses the new books can also celebrate weekday Mass with the old books, on the same day he’s already said Mass with the new ones.

The answer: Negative. “The parish priest or chaplain who – in the fulfilment of his office – celebrates on weekdays with the current Missale Romanum, which is the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite, cannot binate by celebrating with the Missale Romanum of 1962, either with a group or privately.”

The reason: “It is not possible to grant bination on the grounds that there is no ‘just cause’ or ‘pastoral necessity’ as required by canon 905§2: the right of the faithful to the celebration of the Eucharist is in no way denied, since they are offered the possibility of participating in the Eucharist in its current ritual form.”

The next dubium is related, and asks: “Can a priest who is authorised to celebrate using the Missale Romanum of 1962 celebrate on the same day with the same Missal for another group of faithful who have received authorisation?”

The answer: also Negative.

The reason: “It is not possible to grant bination on the grounds that there is no ‘just cause’ or ‘pastoral necessity’ as required by canon 905 §2: the right of the faithful to the celebration of the Eucharist is in no way denied, since they are offered the possibility of participating in the Eucharist in its current ritual form.”

To justify the response to that doubt, the CDW simply repeated, verbatim, the rationale offered for the former. More to the point, the CDW repeats its insistence that the prohibition is not denying the faithful the chance to hear Mass. Strictly, technically, that’s correct.

Still, there are innumerable reasons for which anyone might not be able to attend one Mass – earlier or later, old books or new – and if CDW denies bination with the old books for the reason given, it is hard to see how a bishop could reasonably permit bination at all, regardless of the books.

“There is no intention in these provisions to marginalise the faithful who are rooted in the previous form of celebration,” wrote Archbishop Arthur Roche – the Prefect of CDW – in explanation of one of the responsa. “[The provisions] are only meant to remind them that this is a concession to provide for their good (in view of the common use of the one lex orandi of the Roman Rite) and not an opportunity to promote the previous rite.”

What follows certainly is a reminder of that.

But if you have to say, so often and so forcefully, that you’re not doing a thing, it may just be that you are doing the thing. “Gaslighting” is a charge too frequently bandied about these days, but it seems to fit the CDW’s modus operandi here pretty well.

Even if one doesn’t like the term “gaslighting”, it is still difficult to avoid the conclusion that Pope Francis’s decree and CDW’s responsa – indeed, the whole project of imagining a major crisis of unity and creating restrictive rules for the amelioration of it and then requiring enormous expense of energy on the part of bishops and the curia for the enforcement of them – are themselves capricious and divisive.

If you’re not convinced, take CDW’s insistence that news of Traditional Latin Masses to be offered in ordinary parishes not be published in the church bulletins as part of the regular Mass schedule.

“When it is not possible to find a church, oratory or chapel which is available to accommodate the faithful who celebrate using the Missale Romanum (Editio typica 1962),” the dubium runs, “can the diocesan bishop ask the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments for a dispensation from the provision of the motu proprio, Traditionis custodes (Art. 3 § 2), and thus allow such a celebration in the parish church?”

The answer: Affirmative.

So, bishops can ask Rome for a dispensation in such cases. Reading the rationale CDW offers, however, one gets the impression that’s not really the point. “[S]uch a celebration should not be included in the parish Mass schedule,” CDW’s prefect wrote in explanation of his dicastery’s response, “since it is attended only by the faithful who are members of the said group.”

If bishops bother with the dispensations and approvals and permissions the responsa may or may not require, it will mean a lot of paperwork for CDW. That’s to say nothing about what this does to rule of law in the polity of the Church.

“Will you never cease prating of laws to us that have swords by our sides?” Plutarch’s Pompey says to the besieged and temporizing fathers of Messena, during Sulla’s civil war. The short version of the story behind the quip is that Pompey wanted the city fathers to surrender but they had an arguable paper right not to surrender without approval from Rome and also little desire to put themselves at Pompey’s mercy.

The sense of Pompey’s purported remark is that “paper” protections are useless against the naked fact of force. At least, paper protections are useless when men with power are willing to ignore them. History is replete with examples of men unable or unwilling to forebear the use of naked force when it suits them. That is why the line has become a maxim of realpolitik.

What if the law itself is the sword?

That’s the question with which this Vatican-watcher has been wrestling – one of them, anyway – ever since it became clear that some sort of instruction or clarification in these regards was coming down the pike.

If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

About Christopher R. Altieri 229 Articles
Christopher R. Altieri is a journalist, editor and author of three books, including Reading the News Without Losing Your Faith (Catholic Truth Society, 2021). He is contributing editor to Catholic World Report.


  1. It’s complicated. Complicated by the CDW aimed at prevention of reestablishing the conventional practice of Mass with the Missale Romanum of 1962 [MR62]. Example, prohibition of parish bulletin announcement of MR62 Masses, and of binary Masses including the MR62. A good rundown by Altieri of the Ad Dubia response that reveals intent [my opinion] to eventually eliminate MR62 practice. The clincher is in Traditionis, that any newly ordained priest must request permission from his bishop, his bishop in turn from Rome.
    +Although I don’t offer the traditional Mass I’m concerned with this policy of Custodes, which translates in context not preservation, rather taking the MR62 liturgy in custody, as would a criminal be placed in custody. On face value, it’s that aura of hostility toward the sacred that inspires alarm.

  2. This whole document is an exercise in lunacy, patently unenforceable. Further, as in the case of Traditionis Custodes, any diocesan bishop can dispense from any and all of the proscriptions in the current foolishness.
    That said, there are two cardinals still among us (Burke and Brandmuller) and two gone to their eternal reward (Caffarra and Meisner) still awaiting “responsa” to their dubia from half a decade ago. Perhaps the mail service to Archbishop Roche is faster than the one to Pope Francis.

    • The whole document is indeed an exercise in lunacy for several reasons which, even beyond the horror it properly engenders with regard to the traditional liturgy, should in their implications cause well-nigh apocalyptic “admiratio” by every faithful Catholic . In the first instance, its juridical form and content, as with Traditionis Custodes itself and Bergoglio’s accompanying letter, demonstrate a breathtaking ignorance, illiteracy, and incompetence in canon law by the one who is supposed to be the Church’s ultimate and sovereign legal authority. In the second instance, what can only be called the three documents’ collective theological psychosis explicitly and peremptorily seek to annihilate the entire bi-millenial liturgy of the Western Church and consign it to oblivion. In the third instance, these three documents unanimously and unequivocally avow and implement the heretofore radical “Bergamo school” thesis that Vatican II represents a complete rupture and deliberate discontinuity with all doctrine and dogma in the Church. To those who previously considered that Bergoglio was mistranslated or misinterpreted or misunderstood, these now undeniable facts can only lead to one conclusion. Chris Ferrara in his recent article “A Schismatic Pope?” states it with rare lucidity: “Today, there can be no denying that Bergoglio is the leader of an apocalyptic ecclesial coup d’état, an attempted conquest of the Church indeed. Its aim is nothing less than the formal creation of a new religion within the Church’s visible structure that would universally institutionalize, if it were possible, all the tendencies toward ecclesial dissolution and apostasy unleashed by that breach in the Church’s immune system known as the Second Vatican Council.”

    • Thank you, Fathers Stravinskas and Morello, for explaining briefly and clearly what is, or is not intended by the documents. As a layman with no training in canon law, theology, Scripture, or church history, I pray for all bishops and priests daily. There is comfort in knowing that the sacraments are still available, and Scripture remains unchanged. Godspeed.

      Merry Christmas.

    • I have grown used to ignorant Protestants calling our Pope all sorts of names. Now I have to get used to “Catholics” doing the same – childish tyrant, hypocrite, non-Catholic, Mason, Satan, idol-worshipper and the list of lies goes on.

  3. The language in Ab Roches contains so many signs of hatred and uncontrollable impulsive hatred. The worst is of course that we know that he has total support for this evil suppression by his boss.
    So this is what the Pope believes is the most important message to the .millions of faithful the world over. Before Christmas.

  4. Pope Francis has often expressed his desire to bring unity to the Church and the importance of charity for all . . . and then done things that seem incomprehensible, even divisive, and all in the name of unity and charity.

    To understand Francis’s actions, we may find the key in Msgr. Ronald Knox’s analysis of what he called “ultrasupernaturalism” or “enthusiasm,” which he defined as “an excess of charity [that] threatens unity.” If we assume (as we should) that Pope Francis is motivated by charity, many of his actions become at least consistent if we assume that he has let his sense of charity overcome or modify his sense of justice.

    This is quite common today, especially when dealing in religious matters and (as Knox pointed out) has always been a serious problem. More and more people forget that charity does not replace justice, but fulfills and completes justice. We cannot, as so many people today demand, reject strict justice because it doesn’t give us or make possible for us to have our immediate demands. Rather, in anything, we must first meet the demands of justice, and if that is not sufficient, add charity, which should have motivated justice as the first step.

    What happens today in many cases, however, is that people see that justice does not appear to be functioning or is not functioning in the way that gives them what they want immediately, and conclude that in the name of “charity” they must impose desired results, sometimes calling it charity and other times justice, although it is neither.

    Pope Francis sees problems in the Church, but appears — we must say “appears,” as we don’t really know his motives — to assume that justice has failed, so he must impose desired goals in the name of charity . . . thereby often making the problems worse instead of resolving them. This could explain his refusal to discuss the dubia, as well as his reliance on a very small number of advisors. By refusing to accept his “charitable” solution to a problem, anyone who questions him would in his or his advisors’ opinion, be acting uncharitably and thus not worth responding to; they have no right to say what they’re saying.

    This, as Knox pointed out in “Enthusiasm,” is a common attitude among those who regard themselves as morally superior to others, or at least more charitable. As Knox explained in the beginning and ending of his book, there is a fixed belief among enthusiasts that “the ungodly have no rights.” Anyone who disagrees with you is, obviously, ungodly, and therefore has no rights that the godly need respect. You need not speak to them, answer them, or even accord them minimal civility.

    Pope Francis may, of course, be doing what he is doing for entirely different reasons, but if we assume that he has succumbed to what Knox called enthusiasm, or even adopted its attitude of superiority, it would explain many things.

    • The simpler explanation is that the past almost 9 years confirm what was already known of him in Argentina by his Jesuit confreres and by Jesuit Superior General Hans Kolvenbach. As Henry Sire writes in his book “The Dictator Pope”: “Father Kolvenbach accused Bergoglio of a series of defects, ranging from habitual use of vulgar language to deviousness, disobedience concealed under a mask of humility, and lack of psychological balance; with a view to his suitability as a future bishop, the report pointed out that he had been a divisive figure as Provincial of his own order.”

      • Lots of things have been said about Pope Francis, the “Franciscan Jesuit”, some bad and some good. Many Jesuits did not like him because they considered him to be too conservative because he did not embrace liberation theology. But rather than pay attention to what his enemies might have said about him, I prefer to hear what the Pope does and says. Like this advice he gave a fellow Jesuit recently: “You reminded me of a movie I really liked when I saw it as a boy: The Soldier’s Return. A soldier came home tired, wounded, but with a smile at being home and having done his duty. How wonderful that there are Jesuits like you, with a smile and the assurance that the seed sown has borne fruit! As in life, so in death the Jesuit must give witness to the following of Jesus Christ. This sowing of joy, “shyness,” smiling, is the grace of a full, full life. A life with sins, yes, but full of the joy of God’s service. Go forth, and thank you for your testimony!”

    • The ‘Enthusiams’ of Knox’s study always tend against unity and toward schism. So yes, it would appear that Christianity a la Francis follows some paradigms of Knox’s

      Francis’ understanding of charity differs from that of the historical Church. The Church has understood charity according to Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the Deposit of Apostolic Faith. Francis understands charity according to Francis, and Francis acts accordingly. One problematic act is Francis’ handling of traditional Catholicism compared to his charitable openness to the world and its modern secular endeavors.

      ‘Alas, poor Jesus, has Francis ever known ye well?’ Such a tragedy, by definition, does not end well.

  5. If the bishop of my diocese tries to enforce any of this crap, the diocese will have one less member. Bishops need to understand that it is not their job to enforce papal decrees. Popes need to understand that their authority is conditional. If you starve and abuse the sheep, then you don’t get to be shepherd.

  6. This brings to mind once again, in connection with our current Holy Father, Saint John Henry Newman’s words: “There are those who … are wont to shrink from the contumacious, and to be valiant towards the submissive.” [Anglican Difficulties, v1 p152]

  7. Given the unfortunate problems in the church in recent decades, and here I refer to the sex abuse issue, we saw people leaving the church in droves. Then the church authorities, including the pope, cowered before civil authorities to the degree of SHUTTING our churches for Easter of 2020 and some months longer. And more people left. Volunteering at a ministry position at my church, I can tell you that a large chunk of parishioners have NOT returned post shut-down, even though the Sunday obligation has been re-instated. Now the pope wants to suppress a small minority of faithful Catholics who are happy to attend Mass and whose group is finding vocations??? I barely recall the Latin mass, the change having occurred when I was a small child, so I dont have a dog in this fight as such. But I believe the Pope is behaving in a petulant and damaging way regarding the Latin Mass. He has done a number of odd things since taking the helm, including his recent glad handing of Pelosi and Biden, the US’s most ardent and visible pro-abortion “catholic” politicians. The pope is old, and one day will have to account to God for his damaging actions.I wonder how THAT is going to go???

  8. For the life of me I don’t understand why saying the Mass in Latin is an issue? As an altar boy(that’ll date me!), pre Vatican ll, I was proud to have learned the Mass prayers in Latin. As a Catholic high school student I was proud to have taken four years of Latin language, taught by our Viatorian priest Principal. I recall post Vatican ll Mass still allowed/encouraged a blend of English and Latin languages and our parish did so. To this day I still believed that “mix” is allowed. I’m perfectly capable of fully participating in the sacrifice of the Mass as led by the priest. I love to attend daily Mass on EWTN and participate in that traditional mix of languages. I travelled extensively on business before retiring and whatever country I was in, I always found peace in the red altar light and Latin at Mass.
    Surely the Pope has more pressing issues to address?

  9. The idea that Rome needs to clarify when a notice of a Mass can be placed in a bulletin anywhere in the world, while the almost-never-actually-required “Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion” aren’t any of its concern is ludicrous. Why all this silly play-acting? It’s cruel. If the pope wants to ban it, he should just ban it and take the consequences. Instead he puts faithful Catholics–including priests and seminarians–through the wringer and pretends he’s not doing anything of the sort.

5 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Trying to make some sense of the responsa ad dubia – Via Nova Media
  2. Trying to make some sense of the responsa ad dubia – Catholic World Report – The Old Roman
  3. MONDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit
  4. New Liturgical Movement: First Roundup of Responses to the CDW’s Responsa Ad Dubia – The Old Roman
  5. Why Ecclesia Dei Communities Should Avoid Concelebrating the Chrism Mass – Via Nova Media

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments posted at Catholic World Report are moderated. While vigorous debate is welcome and encouraged, please note that in the interest of maintaining a civilized and helpful level of discussion, comments containing obscene language or personal attacks—or those that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative or inflammatory—will not be published. Thank you.