The actual responses have not been made public. Only one document has been leaked: the summary report from France. It was fair-minded, yet also critical. Crucially, it observed that the goals of Pope Benedict’s project—reconciliation and enrichment—had not been reached. In a nice turn of phrase, the French bishops reported that those who desired the older rites were “pacified,” but not reconciled.
We’ve certainly seen harmful results in the United States, which has the world’s highest proportion of locations offering the older rites. Instead of promoting greater harmony with and closeness to the universal Church, broad availability of the older rites has been used as an opportunity to create a “Church within a Church,” a community apart from the mainstream. Dubious pastoral practices have attended this development, such as using the Baltimore Catechism instead of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or reading the Douay-Reims Bible in preference to modern Scripture translations. It is not just a matter of lace and Latin. A reactionary thought world is being cultivated as well.
One can hardly overstate the noise that freeing the older rites has introduced into liturgical discussions, even though the actual number of traditionalists remains small. A constant stream of criticism has poured forth from traditionalist enclaves challenging liturgical decisions flowing from the reform, such as use of the vernacular, Communion in the hand, women in the sanctuary, and the priest facing the people at Eucharist. This noisy opposition grabs attention and causes distraction. A graver problem is that some adherents of the older rites have sown doubts about the validity of the liturgical reform overall, and propagate the erroneous view that the reformed liturgy represents a betrayal of orthodoxy and a departure from “the true Church.” Rather than a softening, there has been a hardening of ideological opposition to the Council as a whole. This is no trivial matter. When someone attacks the liturgical reform, they attack the Council.
This situation is getting worse, too. Leading voices among traditionalists in America lately have totally abandoned Benedict’s project of “mutual enrichment.” There can be no real peace with the newer liturgical forms, they argue, because the reformed rite is fundamentally flawed, a modernist creation. It is not even a rite, they claim, but a mere “construction.”
In this context, Pope Francis’s move is one of great strategic importance. It corrects the balance. It safeguards the integrity of the Council. It decisively rejects frivolous claims (“this isn’t what the Council wanted”; “the reformed liturgy is irreverent and unorthodox”), and calls everyone back to one common path. It will not eliminate political conflicts or disagreements in the Church, but it deprives traditionalists of the possibility of using the Eucharist as a hub of resistance to the Council and its legitimate implementation.
Some have charged that Pope Francis acted autocratically in abrogating Summorum pontificum, but actually his actions have been far more collegial than those his predecessors took in expanding availability of the older rites. A brief look at the history reveals this. In 1980, when Pope John Paul II was considering giving an indult for celebration of the Tridentine Mass, he took a survey of the world’s bishops. Most expected it to cause division and were opposed. Only 1.5 percent were in favor. Nevertheless, he went ahead with it. He was hoping to effect a reconciliation with Archbishop Lefebvre and his followers who had broken with the Church because they would not accept Vatican II. This outreach proved unsuccessful.
When John Paul considered whether to broaden this permission in 1988, he didn’t ask the bishops. Instead, he consulted with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by then-Cardinal Josef Ratzinger. Once again motivated by hope for the healing a the wound caused by schism (which is why the motu proprio is called Ecclesia Dei afflicta), he expanded access further. Still, there was no reconciliation with Lefebvre’s group, the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX).
When Benedict XVI issued Summorum pontificum in 2007, he conducted no survey, but it appears that some bishops did voice doubts and try to dissuade him. He overruled them. History repeated itself; the overtures to the SSPX were again rebuffed. He said (in 2007) that the bishops could evaluate how Summorum pontificum was going in three years. But no evaluation was sought until 2020 when Francis sent out his survey.