ARLIER THIS WEEK, Arthur Cardinal Roche (who currently serves as CDW prefect) claims to have personally received new legislation from Pope Francis. Specifically, it’s a document dated 20 February 2023, signed by Cardinal Roche, which is being referred to as “Roche’s Rescript.” This document makes a significant modification to TRADITIONIS CUSTODES, an apostolic letter (16 July 2021) which attempted to hinder the growth of the Extraordinary Form. TRADITIONIS CUSTODES had declared: “It belongs to the diocesan bishop, as moderator, promoter, and guardian of the whole liturgical life of the particular Church entrusted to him, to regulate the liturgical celebrations of his diocese.” However, according to the new legislation, Cardinal Roche claims that authority to allow the Extraordinary Form to be celebrated in a parish church belongs to Roche alone, and not to the local bishop.
What is the canonical status of Roche’s Rescript? Some considerations:
(1.) Those who apply any legislation are supposed to take into consideration what is known as “the mind of the lawgiver.” Therefore, it should be remembered that Pope Francis recently (26 September 2021) declared that: “The Holy Spirit does not want closedness; He wants openness, and welcoming communities where there is a place for everyone.”
(2.) When it comes to the mind of the lawgiver, Pope Francis recently (3 February 2023) declared about Canon Law: “We must observe the code, because it is serious, but the heart of the pastor goes beyond it.”
(3.) When it comes to the mind of the lawgiver, Pope Francis approved “Quo Magis” (22 February 2020), which adds to the Extraordinary Form a PREFACE for the dedication of a new church.
(4.) The Church teaches that “salvation of souls is the greatest law.” Bishops must consider the serious scandal that would be caused if Catholics who (literally) paid to have certain parishes built—and I know of many—were kicked out of their own parish just because Cardinal Roche says they must be kicked out. Cardinal Roche doesn’t even know these people! This new requirement seems absurd, unworkable, and contradictory.
(5.) It seems almost satanic to say that parish churches may be used for all kinds of other things (concerts, elementary school pageants, awards ceremonies, and so on) but not for the Sacrifice of Calvary, wherein the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity becomes present on our altars and offers Himself to His Heavenly Father.
What is to be done?
(A.) It is helpful to remember that bishops must use common sense. In every single diocese, bishops are ignoring liturgical laws. To give just one example, Vatican II explicitly mandated that “the Latin language is to be retained by clerics in the divine office” (SC §101). But bishops currently claim that—due to circumstances that have evolved—it would be imprudent to impose that law immediately. Therefore, they dispense their people from it, along with billions of other items they don’t follow. [Several are listed here.] Bishops justify such actions by saying: “It is impossible to follow this law at this moment.” If ever there were a case that merited such justifications, surely the “Roche Rescript” presents such a circumstance.
(B.) Walk into any parish, and you will hear “other texts” replacing the Proprium Missae mandated by the Ordinary Form. If somebody replaces those texts, they are supposed to have explicit permission from the EPISCOPAL CONFERENCE or from the local bishop. Yet, no bishop follows this rule. I’m serious! Walk into any church and listen to what replaces the prescribed Entrance Chant. Listen to what replaces the prescribed Offertory Chant. Listen to what replaces the prescribed Communion Chant. How is such a thing allowed? Again, the bishops say: “It is impossible to follow those laws at this moment owing to certain customs that have developed and therefore trump the letter of the law; we must use prudence.” Indeed, this deplorable, widespread, near-universal abuse of the Proprium Missae makes it absolutely impossible to accept that TRADITIONIS CUSTODES has anything to with maintaining ritual unity.
(C.) On 20 November 2012, the USCCB secretariat for Divine Worship made the astounding claim that church musicians are free to assume a bishop’s (constant and continuous) approval of things he doesn’t even know about. (!) As far as I know, Cardinal Roche has done nothing whatsoever to address this situation. Therefore, some have argued the same procedure—“tacit permission”—could be used with this new system Roche is attempting to implement, wherein Cardinal Roche attempts to act as “moderator, promoter, and guardian of the whole liturgical life” for each diocese instead of each local bishop.
(D.) Any bishop can redesignate churches as “non-parochial” if he feels so inclined. Some bishops have already done this, because they noticed that Cardinal Roche was attempting to arrogate to himself more and more of their rightful authority.
(E.) In terms of the 20 February 2023 “rescript” by Cardinal Roche, this seems to have an impact going forward only. In other words, parishes which already received the ‘dispensation’ from their local bishop before 20 February 2023 would not be affected by this new legislation.
(F.) The local bishop—and not Arthur Cardinal Roche—is the “moderator, promoter, and guardian of the whole liturgical life in his diocese.” The local bishop can lawfully allow the Extraordinary Form in any parish church—just as when parish churches are used for concerts, elementary school pageants, awards ceremonies, and so forth.
Conclusion • We live in a confused world. All of us our sinners. Unfortunately, church laws sometimes contradict one another. Father Valentine Young once told me (I’m paraphrasing): “Disciplinary church laws are made by sinful men, and that’s why they often have to be replaced with new laws. If it were otherwise, we would not need new legislation.” Saint Paul wrote:
“At present, we are looking at a confused reflection in a mirror; then, we shall see face to face; now, I have only glimpses of knowledge; then, I shall recognize God as he has recognized me.” (I Corinthians 13:12)
I wish I could join a diocese in which the local bishop obeys 100% of the laws of the church—but such a diocese does not exist. It is puzzling to see certain bishops ignore laws they don’t like yet embrace laws they do like. Immediately after Vatican II, in spite of what the Council explicitly mandated, certain bishops completely banned Latin in their dioceses! Monsignor Johannes Overath made a list of them (cf. “Crux et Cithara,” 1983). It must have been very confusing to be a priest in such a diocese. I hope these considerations help put things into perspective. At a minimum, there is doubt about how a bishop should view this recent “update” Cardinal Roche says he received.
Finally, we must remember that Canon Law (932 §1) stipulates:
M The eucharistic celebration is to be
M carried out in a sacred place,
M unless in a particular case
M necessity requires otherwise;
M in which case the celebration
M must be in a fitting place.