Can the Vatican Ban the Latin Mass? Catechism Says “No”

Lately in Rome, the city where rumors are often reliable news, murmurs have been circulating that the Vatican may soon impose a more rigorous edict of suppression for the Traditional Latin Mass, and perhaps for other rites as well (e.g., the sacraments and divine office).

Should such an edict appear, it will once again raise two major questions of “practical theology” for universal debate, namely: (a) Does the Roman Pontiff have authority to prohibit the offering or attendance of the traditional Roman Rite? (b) If the pope were to declare such a prohibition (validly or not), would the faithful be obliged in conscience to comply, per the virtue of holy obedience?

In lieu of an extensive theological treatment, we might engage the simple wisdom of any First Communicant and “look it up in the catechism.”

After thousands of hours analyzing scores of catechisms from across the centuries,1 the current state of research behind the Tradivox project indicates that, whereas many catechisms have answered the second question (and/or the first only indirectly), only one official Catholic catechism has ever answered both questions directly.

Before exploring those answers, we should point out that over the past few generations, the virtue of obedience has been widely conflated with external compliance—especially with the directives of the higher clergy.2 Although the continuing scandal of clerical abuse and cover-ups has rightly shaken this simplistic conception, one needn’t look further than the great catechisms of yesteryear to find the notion of “obedience=compliance” flatly rejected.

Instead, perennial Catholic catechesis maintains that we must respectfully comply with the commands of all legitimate superiors in the family, state, and Church unless they are inducements to sin. While the explanations and examples of what qualifies as a sinful command provide a fascinating study in the catechetical tradition (something beyond the scope of this article), we may sum them up neatly: any order that undermines or contradicts right reason, natural or positive divine law, or the received doctrine, morals, and rites of the Church must not be obeyed.

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