WITH SO MUCH commentary on Traditionis custodes (TC) buzzing around the ether at the moment, it will not be hard for the reader to find examples ranging from those belligerently outraged by TC to those passionately pleased. The large middle ground is composed of those trying to make sense of a document so poorly composed, quite apart from the propriety of its intentions. With some of these commentaries in mind, as well as conversations with people both well-formed and well-informed, a few things seem to be settling into place, in my mind at least.
More and more it is clear that the problem is not the vetus ordo of the Mass per se. TC did not say a word against it. Of course, how could it, since it was this Mass, with small variations, that nourished the Church for over a millennium and a half. So what was the problem? If one accepts that TC is not a tissue of lies (as I do), notwithstanding its imperfections, inaccuracies, loaded terminology and “editorial bias,” then one must take it at its word:
the concord and unity of the Church…“[and the] ecclesial communion of those Catholics who feel attached to some earlier liturgical forms”para 2
And in particular, regarding those so “attached,” of concern is a perceived tendency among some to:
deny the validity and the legitimacy of the liturgical reform, dictated by Vatican Council II and the Magisterium of the Supreme Pontiffsibid.
The Letter from Pope Francis to the world’s bishops, which accompanied TC and serves as a sort of interpretive lens for it, has a gentler and more expansive tone. For the sake of balance, it seems necessary to ensure that any analysis of TC includes this papal letter. The sixth paragraph of the Letter is, for me, crucial. In it Francis states that he is
saddened by abuses in the celebration of the liturgy on all sides. In common with Benedict XVI, I deplore the fact that “in many places the prescriptions of the new Missal are not observed in celebration, but indeed come to be interpreted as an authorization for or even a requirement of creativity, which leads to almost unbearable distortions”. But I am nonetheless saddened that the instrumental use of Missale Romanum of 1962 is often characterized by a rejection not only of the liturgical reform, but of the Vatican Council II itself, claiming, with unfounded and unsustainable assertions, that it betrayed the Tradition and the “true Church”…To doubt the Council is to doubt the intentions of those very Fathers who exercised their collegial power in a solemn manner cum Petro et sub Petro in an ecumenical council,  and, in the final analysis, to doubt the Holy Spirit himself who guides the Church.
TC is a juridical instrument, and one cannot expect too much from it by way of commentary or rationale. The Letter provides these. The issue central to TC, as Shaun Blanchard recognized, is the reception of Vatican II. For all their irreverent and secularising antics, “creative liturgists” nevertheless cite (however misguidedly) Vatican II as their authority, and they in no way deny the validity of the Council’s decrees. They might twist and distort them, misapply and misread them, but they accept them and the Council unquestioningly. Some will complain that the Council remains unfinished business, but in doing so they accept that its business as begun was valid. However doctrinaire or even strategic their appeal to Vatican II, their acceptance of it is not in doubt.
This is the thing that Pope Francis, in light of the bishops’ responses to the survey on the implementation of Benedict XVI’s Summorum pontificum (2007), finds too often absent at the other end of the liturgical spectrum. Now, many have (rightly) opined that the ordinary congregant at old Masses has no problem with the Council’s decrees, only their implementation, especially in the liturgical sphere. Most with any knowledge of the matter would agree.
The ordinary old Mass-goer is not the problem, clearly. Nor is the old Mass. What Francis is doing is distinguishing the pastoral provision of the old Mass to those who accept Vatican II but are “attached” to the old Mass, from the promotion of the old Mass, often by those who implicitly reject the conciliar reform as delivered, not in its validity (they would claim) but in its efficacy and legitimacy. These would assert that the new Mass is (barely?) valid but barren. A few go further and cast in doubt the very call for liturgical reform as envisaged by the Council Fathers.
Thus some who promote the Mass in use before the Council end up weaponizing it against the Mass that was promulgated as the conciliar reform. Paul VI, in his Agatha Christie indult, allowed continued celebration of the old Mass as adapted in light of the Council in the Ordo Missae of 1965 (OM65), further adapted in 1967. In 1988 the 1962 Missale Romanum was the instrument of a more generous accommodation of those troubled by the 1970 Missale Romanum as celebrated, and corrupted, in all too many places. Benedict XVI sought to regularise and integrate the growing number of adherents to the old Mass by clarifying the relationship of the old and new Masses within the one Roman Rite.
So, as the provision of the pre-conciliar liturgy was ever more generously extended, and its adherents called in from the peripheries of the Church, the expected decrease in agitation against the Council did not materialize. As Francis, and apparently many bishops, saw it, the Church’s generous provision of the old Mass was met with increasing promotion of it, to the detriment of the new Mass. The more zealous promoters of the old Mass derided, or at least devalued, those who were advocating a “reform of the reform” in order to establish a reformed liturgy faithful both to the Council and to the Tradition leading up to the Council. For the zealous promoters, it was 1962 or bust.
In fact, the zealous were not content with 1962. Soon came calls for a restoration of the Holy Week liturgy prior to the reform of the mid-1950s under Pius XII. And indeed, this has been celebrated in the last few years, with indults from a generous Prefect for Divine Worship. The Divine Office/Liturgy of the Hours has also been subject to the same influences, with the zealous promoting the breviary in use use prior to the reforms decreed by Pius X, in 1911. The Sarum Missal, which fell out of use in the wake of the Council of Trent, is now being adopted by some.
Thus, it seems that Francis, and apparently a goodly number of bishops, are worried by the tendency of some promoters of the pre-conciliar liturgy to go further and further back in time for an ever more pristine liturgy, untouched by the grubby fingers of the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Liturgical Movement, Annibale Bugnini or the Consilium. Perhaps accurately, they discern in this the activity of an Unquiet Heart that will never be satisfied. The irony is that this reaching back further into Christian history for a pristine liturgy is the same dynamic behind the conciliar reforms.
Please do not get me wrong. I remain troubled by TC, which appears too readily as a sledgehammer aimed at cracking a nut. There is in it the ulterior motive, not often noted, of controlling the collegiality of the bishops by a centralizing papacy, even down to the selection of seminarians and the granting of liturgical permissions to young clergy. This is a lens, to be sure, by which synodality mania needs to be viewed. If allowed its head, bishops will be the big losers, a centralising papacy the winner.
It is all too easy to enjoin greater humility on others, while disregarding one’s own need for humility. This reservation notwithstanding, perhaps the more zealous promoters of the pre-conciliar liturgy might need to employ a little humility in reflecting on their promotion of the old Mass, and to assess honestly whether there has not been in it a vein, intended or not, of conciliar repudiation, and even for some a sense of superiority over those who slog along obediently with the new Mass. In short, have the promoters of the old Mass too often overplayed their hand?
This desire to contain the zealous and indiscreet promotion of the old Mass while maintaining its provision for the ordinary faithful who adhere to it is repeated near the end of the Letter. There is here, too, an implicit encouragement to those who seek to reform the reform, not overturn it, and to constrain those who abuse the reformed liturgy with their own personal adaptations and interpretations, often creating what is in essence an altogether new rite:
Indications about how to proceed in your dioceses are chiefly dictated by two principles: on the one hand, to provide for the good of those who are rooted in the previous form of celebration and need to return in due time to the Roman Rite promulgated by Saints Paul VI and John Paul II, and, on the other hand, to discontinue the erection of new personal parishes tied more to the desire and wishes of individual priests than to the real need of the “holy People of God.” At the same time, I ask you to be vigilant in ensuring that every liturgy be celebrated with decorum and fidelity to the liturgical books promulgated after Vatican Council II, without the eccentricities that can easily degenerate into abuses. Seminarians and new priests should be formed in the faithful observance of the prescriptions of the Missal and liturgical books, in which is reflected the liturgical reform willed by Vatican Council II.
Finally, a sop to my own intuition and obsession: in the Letter as in TC itself, there is a similar wideness of scope as to what constitutes the ordinary expression of the liturgy reformed by mandate of the Council (emphases mine):
[in light of the Council] a reform of the liturgy was undertaken, with its highest [n.b., not exclusive] expression in the Roman Missal, published in editio typica by St. Paul VI  and revised by St. John Paul II…
…[I] declare that the liturgical books promulgated by the saintly Pontiffs Paul VI and John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of Vatican Council II, constitute the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite…[n.b. this definition includes OM65, promulgated under Paul VI]
I ask you to be vigilant in ensuring that every liturgy be celebrated with decorum and fidelity to the liturgical books promulgated after Vatican Council II, without the eccentricities that can easily degenerate into abuses. Seminarians and new priests should be formed in the faithful observance of the prescriptions of the Missal and liturgical books, in which is reflected the liturgical reform willed by Vatican Council II. [n.b. O65 is permissible within the scope of this admonition]
The candle in the apparent darkness for me is that in restricting the promotion of the pre-conciliar liturgy, promotion of all the post-conciliar liturgy is enabled, including the Ordo Missae 1965, which is recognisably both traditional and conciliar.
If “this unity I [i.e. Francis] intend to re-establish throughout the Church of the Roman Rite” is founded on the “liturgical books promulgated after Vatican Council II,” then it seems entirely consistent for those who wish to be manifestly in unity with the Church and to celebrate the liturgy in a way that is worthy, conciliar and traditional, then the use of the OM65 within the context of celebration according to the Roman Missal of 1970/2008 seems both legitimate and desirable wherever it can be done.
Perhaps OM65 needs to be reprinted and made available again.
**N.B. there are rumours that clarifications on TC will be issued imminently. These may scupper the scope for OM65 found at present in TC!**