Cardinal Burke has questioned the pope’s authority to eliminate the Latin Mass.

In a 19-point statement regarding Pope Francis’ motu proprio Traditionis Custodes, Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke called the restrictions on the Traditional Latin Mass “severe and revolutionary,” and questioned the pope’s authority to revoke use of the rite.

Cardinal Burke, in his July 22nd statement on the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, asked if the pope could “juridically abrogate” the Traditional Latin Mass. The July 16 motu proprio Traditionis custodes, he said, “places restrictions” on the Traditional Mass “which signal its ultimate elimination.”

He argued that “the fullness of power (plenitudo potestatis) of the Roman Pontiff is the power necessary to defend and promote the doctrine and discipline of the Church,” but “is not ‘absolute power’ which would include the power to change doctrine or to eradicate a liturgical discipline which has been alive in the Church since the time of Pope Gregory the Great and even earlier.”

Cardinal Burke’s lengthy statement, published on his personal website, strongly defends the validity of what Pope Benedict XVI called the “extraordinary form” of the Roman Rite, and which he calls the “Usus Antiquior” [UA], or “more ancient usage.”

Cardinal Burke points out that there are “significant texts in the English version” of the motu proprio “which are not coherent with the Italian version” – which he assumed was the “original text” of the document.

For instance, he said in Article 1 of the document, the important Italian adjective “unica” is translated into English as “unique”, instead of “only.” In Article 4, the important Italian verb “devono” is translated into English as “should”, instead of ‘must.'”

“It is apparent from the severity of the document,” the cardinal wrote, “that Pope Francis issued the Motu Proprio to address what he perceives to be a grave evil threatening the unity of the Church, namely the UA. According to the Holy Father, those who worship according to this usage make a choice which rejects ‘the Church and her institutions in the name of what is called the ‘true Church’,” a choice which ‘contradicts communion and nurtures the divisive tendency.”

Later in his statement, the cardinal asked, “from whence comes the severe and revolutionary action of the Holy Father?”

“The Motu Proprio and the Letter indicate two sources,” he said, “first, ‘the wishes expressed by the episcopate’ through ‘a detailed consultation of the bishops’ conducted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2020, and, second, ‘the opinion of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.'”

In 2020, the Vatican sent the bishops of the world a questionnaire on how Summorum Pontificum was being applied in their dioceses. That landmark 2007 document had acknowledged the rights of all priests to offer Latin Mass according to the 1962 Missal.

Pope Francis cited the results of the questionnaire as part of his decision to issue the restrictions on the Traditional Latin Mass.

“Given the importance attributed to the ‘detailed consultation’ or ‘questionnaire’ and the gravity of the matter it was treating,” Cardinal Burke argued, “it would seem essential that the results of the consultation be made public, along with the indication of its scientific character.”

Cardinal Burke, elaborating on his long experience with Catholics celebrating in the Extraordinary Form, said he never found any attitude among the faithful professing to be “the true Church” as opposed to Catholics attending Novus Ordo Masses.

“On the contrary, they love the Roman Pontiff, their Bishops and priests, and, when others have made the choice of schism, they have wanted always to remain in full communion with the Church, faithful to the Roman Pontiff, often at the cost of great suffering,” he wrote.

“They, in no way, ascribe to a schismatic or sedevacantist ideology.” he added.

In his statement the Cardinal admitted that “yes, there are individuals and even certain groups which espouse radical positions, even as is the case in other sectors of Church life, but they are, in no way, characteristic of the greater and ever increasing number of faithful who desire to worship God according to the UA.”

“The Sacred Liturgy,” he explained, “is not a matter of so-called ‘Church politics’ but the fullest and most perfect encounter with Christ for us in this world.”

“The faithful, in question, among whom are numerous young adults and young married couples with children, encounter Christ, through the UA, Who draws them ever closer to Himself through the reform of their lives and cooperation with the divine grace which flows from His glorious pierced Heart into their hearts,” he said.

According to Cardinal Burke, “if there are situations of an attitude or practice contrary to the sound doctrine and discipline of the Church, justice demands that they be addressed individually by the pastors of the Church, the Roman Pontiff and the Bishops in communion with him. Justice is the minimum and irreplaceable condition of charity.”

“A schismatic spirit or actual schism are always gravely evil, but there is nothing about the UA which fosters schism,” he said.

Article 1 of Traditionis custodes states that the “liturgical books promulgated by Saint Paul VI and Saint John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of Vatican Council II, are the unique expression of the lex orandi [“the law of prayer”] of the Roman Rite.”

“The correct interpretation of Article 1 cannot be the denial that the UA is an ever-vital expression of ‘the lex orandi of the Roman Rite,’” Cardinal Burke wrote in response. “Our Lord Who gave the wonderful gift of the UA will not permit it to be eradicated from the life of the Church,” he added.

“The severity of these documents naturally generates a profound distress and even sense of confusion and abandonment. I pray that the faithful will not give way to discouragement but will, with the help of divine grace, persevere in their love of the Church and of her pastors, and in their love of the Sacred Liturgy,” he wrote.

Cardinal Burke concluded by asking Catholics to pray for Pope Francis.

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