Catholics Thinking – Like charity, Christian unity begins at home

WelCom August 2022 The following article by Bishop Peter Cullinane coincides with Pope Francis’ desire for our parish liturgies to be as they should be, and for the Catholic people…

WelCom August 2022

The following article by Bishop Peter Cullinane coincides with Pope Francis’ desire for our parish liturgies to be as they should be, and for the Catholic people to receive on-going liturgy formation. Pope Francis’ most recent Apostolic letter, Desiderio Desideravi – ‘I have desired with a great desire’ [Lk 22:15]), published on June 29, 2022, deals with this. It is a follow-up to his letter, Traditiones Custodes – ‘Guardians of the Tradition’, issued nearly one year earlier on July 16, 2021, in which he called for the Traditional Latin Mass to be terminated. Bishop Peter’s article brings these two concerns together and is presented in WelCom as a three-part series. 

Part 1: Unity Matters

Bishop Peter Cullinane.


When Jesus’ first disciples were signing on, Philip found Nathaniel and said ‘we have found the one Moses wrote about…Jesus from Nazareth’. Faced with Nathaniel’s scepticism, Philip simply said ‘come and see’ (John 1:43-46). And that did it.

If this same Jesus is now ‘Christ among you…’ (Col.1:27), then people’s experience of Christian lives, Christian community and Christian worship should have the same effect. And it does, as many have testified. But it doesn’t when we obscure his presence, even just by carelessness.

In fact, whether people would even recognise him as the one sent by the Father depends on us: ‘Father…may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me’ (Jn 17:21).

Unity matters that much. And that is what we put in jeopardy by disunity. That is also why Pope Francis’ Decree Traditionis Custodes [2021] matters so much.

I can understand why some would ask: why would Pope Francis withdraw permission to use the 1962 Missal which means so much to a small community of devout people who are not seeking disunity…? And, why can’t the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) and the revised Missal (Novus Ordo) simply co-exist in the same way the Church allows various rites to co-exist…?

I am sure there some adherents of the TLM who think of the TLM as a kind of harmless pluralism. Perhaps this even accounts for a go-slow response by some bishops, hoping it might not be necessary to upset people who are finding comfort in this expression of their faith. But there is an element of wishful thinking here. The situation is more serious than that, both overseas and in Aotearoa
New Zealand.

Papal intervention 

Pope Francis’ Decree Traditionis Custodes called for an end to division within the Catholic community’s worship.

When Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI allowed, under certain conditions, Mass to be celebrated according to the 1962 Missal, it was – in both cases – regarded as a concession to special needs, not a turning back from the liturgy reform. To emphasise the point, Pope Benedict even called it an extra-ordinary way of celebrating the Roman rite – not on a par with the ordinary form. The Council had serious reasons for renewing the liturgy. It would have contradicted its own intentions if it had intended the existence of a revised Missal and an unrevised Missal ‘in parallel’, as if the renewal were merely optional. 

Contrary to the explicit intentions of both these popes, some have not wanted to accept that these provisions were special ‘concessions’. They have treated the extraordinary form as another ordinary form of the Roman rite. Some even claim that Mass according to the 1962 Missal is the only truly Catholic form of the Mass. 

Further, the 1962 Missal has become a flagship for wider dissent, including an un-Catholic disregard for the Council itself, even claiming it betrayed Tradition and the ‘true Church’ – a Council that has been explicitly endorsed by every pope since. Those of us who have tried to explain the reasons for Pope Francis’ Decree have been met by hard-line opposition and very dismissive attitudes, not to mention derogatory attitudes towards Pope Francis himself, and disregard for his role. In many cases, the protagonists (both lay and ordained) are taking their cue from websites emanating from the USA. Division and confusion are the hallmarks of a different spirit, not the Holy Spirit.

“Division and confusion are the hallmarks of a different spirit, not the Holy Spirit.”

Pope Francis leads a Mass for the Solemnity of Ss Peter and Paul, 29 June. ‘Encountering the living Jesus in the community that celebrates,’ Pope Francis’ newest apostolic letter on the liturgy, Desiderio Desideravi – ‘I have desired with a great desire’, (Lk 22:15), reflects on the meaning of baptism, our understanding of mystery, inadequate liturgical approaches, the art of celebrating the liturgy and more. Image: Antoine Mekary/Aleteia

What eventually confronted Pope Francis was serious and increasing division. As the one whose core ministry is to preside over the unity of the Church, he could not ignore this. Nor can the college of bishops that shares responsibility with him for the universal Church. In implementing his Decree, bishops are asked ‘to proceed in such a way as to return to a unitary form of celebration….’. A ‘hands-off’ attitude is not consistent with what he expects of bishops. Delay in carrying out Pope Francis’ decree is not obviating division; it is entrenching it. 

A bigger challenge

A ‘bigger challenge’ is the need for the wider Catholic community always to celebrate the revised liturgy in a way that allows its true merit and beauty to become evident, and to not scandalise by carelessness. This need is at the heart of Pope Francis’ follow-up letter ‘On the Liturgical Formation of the People of God.’

It is fair to ask what is it TLM adherents feel is missing in the revised liturgy. In his Apostolic Constitution promulgating the revised liturgy, Pope Paul VI explained how the revised Missal is the former Missal, in an enriched form. Similarly, Pope Francis: ‘whoever wishes to celebrate with devotion according to earlier forms of the liturgy can find in the reformed Roman Missal…all the elements of the Roman rite…’. So, is it something else that is missing? 

I have listened to the concerns of TLM Catholics and recognised their love for the Mass and deep need for reverence; their strong attachment to family values; commitment to community, and experience of belonging, and care for one another. They rightly expect reliable leadership, though perhaps are too accepting of clericalism. And they want continuity with tradition, even if not always respecting Pope John Paul II’s explanation of the difference between Tradition and mere traditions.

I have also noted the aspirations of the wider Catholic community, much of it recently expressed in the synodal process. In common with TLM Catholics they want an experience of community that is real and caring. They, too, want good leadership, but of a kind that respects Pope Benedict’s teaching that lay and ordained are ‘co-responsible for what the Church is like and what it does.’ They rightly want closer collaboration, and they understand the need for ongoing formation. I see in the aspirations of TLM Catholics and the wider Catholic community underlying common ground, and potential for moving further towards the unity that any pope is entitled to expect of all of us. 

On-going formation

This brings us to the need for ongoing formation. Quite apart from liturgy, there is an obligation on all Catholics to continue their formation in the faith. The General Catechetical Directory promulgated by Pope St John Paul II, points out ongoing catechesis is for adults even more than it is for children. Acceptance of the need for ongoing formation should be common ground for all of us. It is a duty for all of us; and it is sign of good faith.

“Quite apart from liturgy, there is an obligation on all Catholics to continue their formation in the faith.”

Unfortunately, many Catholics became stuck in a childhood understanding of the faith. Their strong attachment to it echoes deep appreciation of those who handed the faith down to them, and a sense of responsibility for passing it on. For this we must respect them. Anyway, opportunities for adult learning about the faith were not usually available. Nevertheless, a childhood understanding of the faith is incomplete, and insufficient for adult Christian life. 

Lack of continued learning results in falling behind. Geographical isolation over time can affect whole societies in this way. Something similar happens to religious movements that keep mainly to themselves. Examples are not hard to find. The reason why monastic communities have not been affected like this is precisely because they do not starve themselves of intellectual formation. They have often been at the forefront of the scholarship that has led to the Church’s renewal.

An unintended side effect of Pope Benedict’s more extensive concessions was that TLM adherents felt no need to pursue a deeper understanding of the Council; it seemed that for them nothing had changed. Having put so much work into the Council as a theologian, and having endorsed it as pope, it is not surprising that Pope Benedict insisted on the need for all Catholics to further their understanding of the Council. 

Bishop Cullinane’s article will continue in the next edition of WelCom. It will clarify some of the areas where there is potential for misunderstandings, and superficiality.