Traditionis Custodes: Serpents over Fish

Crisis Magazine
July 16, 2021

The bomb has been dropped. Today Pope Francis issued his motu proprio Traditionis custodes severely restricting the celebration of the traditional Latin Mass. In effect, it wipes out Pope Benedict’s 14-year-old motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum, which was issued in order to help those faithful who “continued to be attached with such love and affection to the earlier liturgical forms which had deeply shaped their culture and spirit.” Apparently Pope Francis doesn’t think that’s necessary anymore.

I’m not going to analyze the details of the new motu proprio here—you can find that elsewhere. Instead I’d like to share my initial reaction and address the practical impact on pew-sitting Catholics.

One of my first thoughts when reading the Pope’s decree was our Lord’s words, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent?” (Luke 11:11) A growing number of Catholics have been asking to be fed by the “fish” of the TLM; now the Holy Father has given them instead a serpent. 

These divine words come to mind because I think of all the people I’ve met in recent years who have discovered the traditional Latin Mass and found it to be a source of strength and comfort in their spiritual pilgrimage here on earth. They don’t reject Vatican II; they don’t think they are better than Novus Ordo Catholics; they don’t hate the pope. By and large, they don’t concern themselves with Church politics. They simply love the beauty and reverence and richness of the traditional Latin Mass—a beauty, reverence, and richness they could not find at their local parish.

I also think of my Anglo-Catholic friend, who is considering conversion. He told me that the motu proprio is like “a door slammed in his face.” He has been off-and-on attending the Latin Mass at my parish, and he recognizes its timeless value. But now he hears the leader of the Catholic Church talk about it as if it’s a bad thing, something dangerous that needs to be hidden and locked up in the closet. He knows this isn’t true, and it makes him hesitant to swim the Tiber.

I think of those Catholics who have attended the traditional Latin Mass for years, even decades. They have been formed by its piety and spirituality. It’s not a “preference” for them to attend the TLM; it’s a core part of the practice of the Faith. And lest we be too quick to negatively judge them for this fact, let’s remember the words of Pope Benedict, “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.” How is Pope Francis showing fatherly care to these faithful Catholics? He has made them second-class sons, unworthy to sit at the father’s table.

I think also of those Catholics who are tired of being vilified by the pope and will now be tempted to leave the Church, to go to Eastern Orthodoxy, or fall into sedevacantism (the belief that there is no reigning pope), or look to some other “independent” Catholic chapel. It’s easy to tell them to shut up and obey, but what loving father would treat his children like that? A loving father would be accommodating as much as possible, particularly when the only “sin” is a love for what millions of Catholics have loved for centuries.

And I think of my own embrace of the traditional Latin Mass. I am a reluctant devotee of the TLM. I only started regularly attending the Latin Mass a decade ago because we moved and couldn’t find a reverent Novus Ordo parish within driving distance. But there was an FSSP parish about 25 minutes away. We didn’t go there for the Latin, or the prayers, or the ad orientem. We went there just because we wanted our kids to know it was important to reverently worship God. Since then we’ve found in the TLM a home where our Catholic faith is nourished and enriched. How is this a bad thing, Holy Father? Why should this path be closed off to Catholics?

“What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent?” Indeed. Holy Father, countless Catholics are asking to be fed by the traditional Latin Mass—to be able to worship God as previous generations of Catholics worshiped Him. Why are you giving us a serpent instead?

Eric Sammons is the editor-in-chief of Crisis Magazine. His most recent book Deadly Indifference (May 2021) examines the rise of religious indifference and how it has led the Church to lose her missionary zeal.

© Copyright 2021 Crisis Magazine. All rights reserved.


Cardinal Gerhard Mueller (Former CDF Prefect) on the New TLM Restrictions: Unity is not sterile uniformity. “The clear intent is to condemn the Extraordinary Form to extinction in the long run.”

— Traditionis custodes: Best, worst, and middle case scenarios in the short term (Catholic World Report)

FSSP: “We must strive to see this Cross as a means of our sanctification, and to remember that God will never abandon His Church. Our Lord Himself promises us the necessary graces to bear our Crosses with strength and courage. We must not, however, neglect to do our part as faithful Catholics; let us pray and offer sacrifices in our daily lives, and trust in the intercession of Our Lady, St. Joseph, and our patron, St. Peter.”

— Archbishop Cordileone, Others: Traditional Latin Mass Will Continue

Five Consequences of the New Motu Proprio Curtailing the Latin Mass by Father Raymond J. de Souza

“Pope Francis took “the firm decision to abrogate all the norms, instructions, permissions and customs” issued by St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI regarding the “Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite,” often called the “Traditional Latin Mass” using the Roman Missal of 1962 promulgated by St. John XXIII.”

Many bishops issue statements on Latin Mass following papal document, Etc.

George Weigel: “… theologically incoherent, pastorally divisive, unnecessary, cruel — and a sorry example of the liberal bullying that has become all too familiar in Rome recently.

EWTN: Cardinals Gerhard Mueller and Raymond Burke

—Dr. E. Michael Jones, Vatican II, and Francis’ Motu Proprio

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s (Benedict XVI) book The Spirit of the Liturgy

2018 Preface by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

I heartily congratulate Ignatius Press on its forty years of existence. For me this is an occasion for giving very personal thanks, since it was Ignatius Press that first opened for me the door to America and gave me a voice in American Catholicism. But my gratitude goes far beyond the merely personal, for Ignatius Press has rendered, and at present continues to render, an important service in the spiritual struggle, particularly that of the Catholic Church in America and the rest of the world. The question of what it means to be Catholic, of what fundamental spiritual decisions today’s Catholic must make, has been asked since the Second Vatican Council with a new radicalness. The older Catholic publishing houses were seized worldwide by the new climate, and in part they surrendered to it, then only to disappear or to rise anew. New publishers, among them Ignatius Press, appeared and have left a decisive mark on the spiritual struggle. The names of Hans Urs von Balthasar, Adrienne von Speyr, Louis Bouyer, Josef Pieper, and Joseph Ratzinger are a clear expression of a decision on behalf of a faith that always includes the humility of obedience to the Church. But, precisely for this reason, it is also a faith that investigates bravely the full breadth of truth and can therefore fearlessly oppose the spirit of the times.

It gladdens me, of course, that the editor wishes to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of his publishing house with a new edition of my book The Spirit of the Liturgy.

The postconciliar drama was largely marked by the battle around the correct renewal of the liturgy. At first a person could have thought that the whole thing was but a paltry internal conflict among Christians concerning, for instance, the question of whether Latin should remain the language of the liturgy or whether it was necessary to admit all the languages of the world. It soon became obvious, however, that a Church that could no longer mediate the encounter with the living God, but instead only enabled little groups to celebrate themselves, would be a meaningless Church. And it became evident as well that this issue concerned far more than just the community of believers. Rather, it was seen that the collapse of the Church, considered a possibility by sociologists, would represent a catastrophe of unforeseeable proportions for the whole of mankind.

For this reason, I am also glad to know that the Press intends to publish a small programmatic writing of Romano Guardini’s entitled The Spirit of the Liturgy. This is as well the book that for me personally opened the door to the understanding of the liturgy, which is why I retained Guardini’s title for my own book. Above all I would like to address a word of thanks to the founder of Ignatius Press, Father Joseph D. Fessio, S.J. I shall never forget the first visit he paid me. Father de Lubac had commended him to me as a “true Jesuit”. And that was my immediate experience of him. During my encounter with him, what kept coming to mind was the Ignatian meditation “On the Two Standards”. Father Fessio has always seemed to me to be a man of the “decisive decision”, something that for Heinrich Schlier belongs to the very essence of Catholicity.

This decision Schlier interprets as the decisive Yes of man to God’s definitive decision for man in the incarnate Word. Father Fessio follows the lead of the Ignatian definition of the decision for the Standard of Jesus Christ. As such, he has always appeared to me a man who strives to live the three steps of poverty of which the Exercises speak: poverty over against riches, poverty over against contempt, poverty over against arrogance.1 In my eyes, Father Fessio has something combative about him, combative in the sense defined by Josef Pieper.

In his first small book, written in the middle of the Nazi period, Pieper wanted to show, over against the Nazi concept of valor, that true valor does not consist in inflicting blows on others but, rather, in the courage and humility to receive th blows oneself. Father Fessio has received many blows, and it is precisely in this way that he has made credible the tidings for which he stands. From my heart I wish Ignatius Press another forty years of blessings!

Benedict XVI, Vatican City, Mater Ecclesiae Monastery, February 2, 2018

Published by SH

No pretense to scholarship here, nor to even being a writer. But another witness in our challenging time to the Christian world view. Related site: Email:

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