Since the late 19th century, Catholics have recited the Prayer to St. Michael when facing disease, disaster and despair.
It proclaims, in part: “St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. ... O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.”
Before Vatican II, this prayer was often recited after Mass, although it wasn’t in the rubrics. In 1994, St. Pope John Paul II urged Catholics to embrace it – while preaching on threats to the unborn.
The faithful at St. Joseph’s Parish in Libertyville, Illinois, stopped reciting the Prayer to St. Michael aloud after Masses this past summer. While debate continues about what the Archdiocese of Chicago instructed, livestreamed remarks by the associate pastor went viral during a “worship wars” surge in modern Catholicism.
“What I’m going to say, I’m going to say this with a lot of respect. Following the directive of Cardinal Cupich, we want to remind everyone that the Prayer of St. Michael is not to be said publicly following Mass,” said Father Emanuel Torres-Fuentes. “As a priest, I have to obey, and I obey this at peace.”
While Cardinal Blase Cupich’s actions have made news, this drama opened in July with a Pope Francis apostolic letter entitled “Traditionis Custodes (Guardians of the Tradition).” It restricted use of the old Latin Mass, thus undercutting “Summorum Pontificum (Of the Supreme Pontiffs)” by the retired Pope Benedict XVI. That document said the post-Vatican II Novus Ordo was the “ordinary form” for the Mass, but the Tridentine rite was an “extraordinary form” that could be encouraged.
The Pope Francis letter appeared to give local bishops some freedom to control use of the old Latin Mass. Then the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship released guidelines on Dec. 18, explaining the pope’s edict.
Many bishops, for example, had granted dispensations allowing some diocesan parishes to use the Latin Mass. But Rome’s new guidelines said this was not permitted – only the Vatican could grant exceptions. Also, any parish allowed to celebrate the Tridentine Mass could not list this service in printed or online Mass schedules.
On Christmas Day, Cardinal Cupich issued his own guidelines, building on the rules from Rome. For starters, any parish or group allowed to use the old Latin Mass would also be required to use the Novus Ordo once a month, as well as on Easter, Christmas and selected feast days.
Vatican News reported that Cardinal Cupich sent priests a letter stating that his goal was to help Catholics “come to a better understanding and deeper acceptance of the restored and renewed liturgy that is part of the precious heritage of the Second Vatican Council.”
The cardinal’s critics also posted online critiques of his decision requiring priests to secure his permission to celebrate any Mass in a traditional “ad orientem” stance, as opposed to the modern “versus populum” option in which clergy, while at the altar, face their congregations.
“Restrictions in Chicago extend not only to the old rite, but to celebrations of the Novus Ordo that too closely resemble the old rite,” wrote Stephen White at The Catholic Thing.
For progressives, the key is that any use of the Latin Mass has strengthened Catholic conservatives, according to Rita Ferrone, author of “Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium.” This helped fuel bitter debates about the sacramental status of President Joe Biden and others who oppose church doctrines on abortion, gay marriage and related issues.
“Opening up more space for the older rites has deepened conflict in the Church and led to politicization of the Eucharist,” noted Ferrone, writing for Commonweal Magazine. “Opposition to Pope Francis has also found a base in traditionalist communities. His teaching on marriage and family, his call for pastoral accompaniment, and especially his commitment to ecological responsibility and economic justice, have been virulently opposed in such circles.”
In one typical Twitter exchange on these matters, Christopher Lamb of The Tablet noted: “We have a Pope from Latin America determined to implement the Second Vatican Council, in both word and spirit. This still confuses some in the Church.”
Michael Brendan Dougherty of National Review responded: “Nobody is confused about what’s happening. Hey, when does he implement the Council’s call for maintaining Gregorian chant in the liturgy?”