Fr. John Boyle
Fr. John Boyle
Catholics in western Oregon who attend the traditional Latin Mass likely will notice no modifications to their worship following Pope Francis’ apostolic letter restoring limits on the long-used liturgical form and returning greater authority to bishops regarding its use.

Archbishop Alexander Sample spent several months studying the pope’s decree, “Traditionis Custodes” (“Guardians of the Tradition”), issued July 16, and in November shared how it would be fulfilled in the Archdiocese of Portland. The pope gave bishops significant discretion as to how they could implement the law locally.

In the Portland Archdiocese the changes primarily are protocol-based: Priests now need permission to celebrate the Mass according to the Roman Missal of 1962 (often referred to as the traditional Latin Mass), and Father John Boyle, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Cottage Grove, will oversee the use of the 1962 missal in the archdiocese on behalf of the archbishop.

Archbishop Sample had promised “Traditionis Custodes” would be implemented after careful consideration and prayer. He sought input from fellow bishops, clergy and laypeople and “reflected deeply on the needs of the faithful, the preeminence of the Mass in the life of our particular church and the guidance of the Holy Father,” the archbishop said in his Nov. 1 decree.

The long-used Latin Mass has ancient roots. It was codified in 1570 and was the primary liturgy celebrated for nearly 400 years. It was revised several times, the last being in 1962 by Pope John XXIII.

After the Second Vatican Council, another form of the Mass, referred to as the novus ordo, or new order, was promulgated in 1969. With it, the church attempted to simplify the traditional Latin Mass and reflect the earliest Christian worship, which often took place around a table in homes. The novus ordo generally is celebrated in the vernacular but also can be celebrated in Latin.

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI liberalized the use of the 1962 Roman Missal in an attempt to “recover the unity of an ecclesial body with diverse liturgical sensibilities,” Pope Francis wrote in his letter accompanying “Traditionis Custodes.” Pope Benedict allowed priests, without having to seek the permission of their bishop, to celebrate the traditional Latin Mass “in parishes where a group of the faithful attached to the previous liturgical tradition stably exists.”

According to Pope Francis, this liberalization unfortunately had been “exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce the divergences and encourage disagreements that injure the church, block her path and expose her to the peril of division.” He said it had led some to deny the validity and legitimacy of liturgical reform and restorations worked out at Vatican II.

The pope’s assessments were in part informed by a survey he’d sent out to the world’s bishops in 2020. “Traditionis Custodes” was issued to address his concerns and promote unity, while giving each bishop — “as moderator, promoter and guardian of the liturgical life of the church” — authority to apply it based on their judgment and the character of their dioceses.

Archbishop Sample said groups in western Oregon attached to the traditional Latin Mass accept the legitimacy of the Second Vatican Council and the priests who embrace the Mass also celebrate liturgies using the novus ordo.

It is apparent that in the Archdiocese of Portland “diversity in good liturgical practice exists but is not divisive since it is carried out in fidelity to the norms of the Church and oriented toward communion,” the archbishop said in his decree. Currently nine parishes in the archdiocese offer the traditional Latin Mass.

The archbishop said there naturally will be divergence in how the law is applied in one diocese compared to another “since the expressions of faith and character of the people varies from place to place.”

In the decree Archbishop Sample appointed Father Boyle as episcopal vicar for the usus antiquior (“the ancient usage”). In this role he is authorized to celebrate the sacraments according to the 1962 missal, designate or confirm places and times where that previous form of the Mass can be celebrated, offer pastoral care for those who attend the traditional Latin Mass, and grant priests permission to celebrate the Latin-rite Mass. He is charged with ensuring the novus ordo is not undermined.

“It has really set in place an oversight, which can only be to the good; it prevents disorder,” said Father Boyle. “And now priests can have someone specific to call if they have questions.”

Diocesan and religious priests in the archdiocese who already use the 1962 missal are authorized to continue but must notify Father Boyle. Priests ordained after the promulgation of “Traditionis Custodes” and seeking authorization also must direct requests to the priest.

Father Boyle was introduced to the traditional Latin Mass some 15 years ago by laypeople. “They patiently asked me to consider providing it for them,” recalled the priest. “I resisted for a long time.”

He is grateful they persisted, he said, because it is “a Mass that is transcendent, a Mass that is richly adorned with beautiful prayers and, when it is sung, with beautiful chant.”

In a certain sense, the traditional liturgy “is the memory and vessel of Western civilization and I think it would be a great loss if it were to fall into disuse.”