Nichols, the archbishop of Westminster and president of the English and Welsh bishops’ conference, asked Roche six questions regarding Traditionis custodes. They included whether the Vatican would issue further guidance on the motu proprio’s application, if the document applied to other sacraments such as baptism, and how the term “groups” should be understood.
He wrote: “Although the Motu Proprio has come into immediate effect, we are aware that its correct and lasting application will take time.”
“From the combination of the Motu Proprio text and its accompanying letter, it is clear that the Holy Father wishes a unity of liturgical prayer, expressed through ‘the unique expression of the lex orandi [law of prayer] of the Roman Rite.’”
“In pastoral attentiveness, we will have to accompany people who are firmly attached to the Missal of 1962 towards the Missal of Popes Saints Paul VI and John Paul II.”
Roche, the 71-year-old former bishop of Leeds, northern England, was appointed prefect of the Vatican’s liturgy department in May, succeeding Cardinal Robert Sarah.
In the letter also signed by the congregation’s secretary, Archbishop Vittorio Francesco Viola, Roche told Nichols that his congregation was still “attentively studying the implications of the Motu Proprio,” but he was nevertheless happy to “share with you our present understanding regarding the matters you raise.”
“It is clear that the principal commentary on the new law governing the granting of the use of antecedents liturgical texts, by way of exceptional concession, and not by way of promotion, is the accompanying letter from Pope Francis to the Bishops,” he wrote.
“It is also evident that these exceptional concessions should only be granted to those who accept the validity and legitimacy of the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council and the Magisterium of the Supreme Pontiffs. All that is in the new law is oriented to the return and stabilization of the liturgy as decreed by the Second Vatican Council.”
He confirmed that the motu proprio transferred responsibility for matters related to the Traditional Latin Mass from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life.
“They alone now exercise competence within their given fields,” he wrote.
Regarding whether the document applied to all other sacraments, he said it was clear “that the new law abrogates what was previously given by way of exceptional and limited concession.”
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“Pastoral prudence, however, may determine for a very limited time only, and with a view to increased ecclesial communion, a full implementation of the Motu Proprio, but which would require careful monitoring and clear guidance towards that end,” he wrote.
“Traditionis custodes speaks only of the use of the Missale Romanam [Roman Missal] of 1962 and Eucharistic celebrations. There has been considerable misinterpretation of previous provisions with growing practices, developments, and promotion, which in no small part has encouraged a growth that was not foreseen or sanctioned by previous Pontiffs.”
“A former underplaying of the Second Vatican Council's role of the Local Ordinary as moderator, promotor, and guardian of the liturgy has proved to be unhelpful in this matter for which reason the Holy Father now stresses the importance of the Bishop’s role in fully applying the new law.”
Roche clarified that the term “groups” in the motu proprio referred “to the personal parishes that were previously erected for the concessionary use of the antecedent liturgy, and to those gatherings of people who have been regularly meeting for the celebration of the Eucharist using the Missale Romanum of 1962.”
The correspondence between Nichols and Roche also touched on the so-called “Agatha Christie indult,” with which Pope Paul VI granted permission for the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass in England and Wales following the revision of the Mass after the Second Vatican Council.
Nichols noted that the indult was granted to Cardinal John Heenan, the then archbishop of Westminster, in 1971. Heenan is believed to have made the request after a petition in favor of an indult was signed by cultural luminaries such as art historian Kenneth Clark, pianist and conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy, poet Robert Graves, and detective novelist Agatha Christie.