Some Catholics who attend the Traditional Latin Mass are awaiting the next steps from their bishops after the Vatican ordered the dioceses to get approval from the Holy See before they can authorize Latin Mass celebrations within parish churches.
After Pope Francis issued an apostolic letter on July 16, 2021, to restrict the Latin Mass, bishops from across the country enforced the mandate in a variety of ways. The letter, titled Traditionis custodes, directed bishops to designate one or more locations in which priests can celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass. However, the letter states those locations cannot be within an existing parish church and the bishop cannot erect a new “personal” parish for those celebrations.
In some dioceses that already had thriving Latin Mass communities within parish churches, bishops granted broad dispensations that allowed parishes to continue offering the Latin Mass as before. Many of these bishops invoked Canon 87 of the Code of Canon Law, which allows a bishop to dispense the faithful from certain disciplinary laws within his jurisdiction “whenever he judges that it contributes to their spiritual good.” In some cases, the dispensations were temporary; in other cases, they were meant to be permanent.
Even though many bishops believed they had this authority, Canon 87 adds that a bishop cannot invoke this authority when dispensations are reserved to the Holy See. On Tuesday, Feb. 21, the Vatican issued a clarification to Traditionis custodes to halt this approach. Cardinal Arthur Roche issued a rescript, a form of official clarification in response to a question or request, on behalf of the Vatican, which states that any dispensation to use or erect a parish church for the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass is “reserved in a special way to the Apostolic See,” which means bishops alone cannot dispense these parishes.
Cardinal Roche ordered bishops who issued dispensations without Vatican approval “to inform the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, which will evaluate the individual cases.”
CNA reached out to several dioceses whose bishops did not consult the Vatican before offering dispensations to parishes that celebrate the Latin Mass. Only the Archdiocese of Denver responded by the time of publication, stating, “the Archdiocese of Denver will comply with what is asked.”
Monsignor Charles Pope, who serves as coordinator for the celebration of the Latin Mass in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., told CNA that there were “two points of view” within the Church: Some believed that bishops could invoke Canon 87, while others believed Vatican approval was needed.
Msgr. Pope said the rescript clarified that those who believed “the bishop could simply invoke Canon 87 … were wrong [and] shouldn’t have done that.” He said they are “expected now to directly ask the Holy See for this dispensation to be granted.”
Bishops who have not received Vatican approval “might have to now revisit this with the Holy See,” Msgr. Pope said. He added that he hopes the Vatican will “be gracious in granting the dispensations even if [the bishops requested them] later than the Holy See wanted.” He said he is not aware of the Vatican denying any requests for dispensation, but noted the dispensations were “only for a period of time,” rather than permanent.
Some bishops, such as Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Diocese of Arlington, already received Vatican approval to dispense certain parishes from Traditionis custodes. However, these dispensations are not permanent, but instead are only guaranteed for a temporary period, at the end of which they will be re-evaluated. In Arlington’s case, the dispensations applied to three parishes, but only last two years. For the time being, the parishes that can celebrate the Latin Mass are St. Anthony Mission in King George County, St. Rita in Alexandria, and St. John the Beloved in McLean. Latin Mass goers were also given five other options that are not within a parish church.
Msgr. Pope encouraged “mutual patience” between Latin Mass goers and bishops who are trying to comply with the orders from the Vatican. He urged “creative solutions” for situations in which new locations are “too crowded or extremely inconvenient” and said they should be addressed “with a sense of urgency that these needs be reasonably met.”
Larry Chapp, a retired theology professor from DeSales University, told CNA that some bishops have found ways to protect the Latin Mass without violating the Vatican’s orders. He cited Diocese of Winona-Rochester Bishop Robert Barron’s decision to move a Latin Mass to a school chapel that is not an official parish.
“[Bishops should] try to maximize the ability to attend this liturgy to the extent that the letter of the law allows them to,” Chapp said. “This is going to require leadership from the bishops.”
However, Chapp expressed some pessimism about what the Vatican’s plans might be. He cautioned that “whatever dispensations are given [should be viewed as] a temporary measure,” and said the pope may put further restrictions on the Latin Mass in the future, now that the authority has been centralized.
This article originally appeared here at the National Catholic Register.