Francis’ NEW “Desiderio desideravi” an Apostolic Letter “on the liturgical formation of the people of God” – an attempt to explain Traditionis custodes, to calm the storm

BEFORE ANYTHING ELSE… I urge those of you who are on the “trad” side of things (whether “mad, sad or glad”) not to run around with your hair on fire over this Letter which will  – unsurprisingly – contain some things you do not like.  Stay cool.

“Boy.. boy… crazy boy!  Stay cool, boy!  Gotta rocket in your pocket… stay coolie cool boy.”

There are good things in the Letter.  There are bad things in the Letter.

There are NOT new laws or rules or any new legislation.  These are “reflections”, “prompts”.

The papalotrous New catholic Red Guards will swoon and then shove this down everyone’s throats with gleeful shouts, “If HIMSELF said it, then it must be the new LAW! CRUSH THE OLDS!  DOWN WITH THE RESTORATIONIST BLACKSLIDERS!  PÒ SÌJIÙ!”  If they are asked why Francis himself says that these are only prompts and reflections, “SHUT UP!”, they will explain.

And in some 11K words, the Eastern Churches are not mentioned a single time in a Letter addressed effectively to the whole Christian Church, “To the Bishops, Priests and Deacons, to consecrated men and women and to the lay faithful” (that’s everyone).

The new “Apostolic Letter” gets its title – Desiderio desideravi –  from the opening words, in Latin, taken from Luke 22:15: “I have earnestly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer”.  Access it HERE.

It is appropriate that “suffer” is in the first words of the Letter, since the first paragraph explicitly refers to Traditionis custodes (the Plessy v. Ferguson-like legacy document of the Francis era).  The mention of TC sets the goal, which evolves more fully at the end of the Letter.  The phrase goes: in cauda venenum… the poison is in the tail.  This is not exactly “poison”, in the deadly sense since this promulgates nothing and merely offers reflections, but Francis’ clearest expression of what he is trying to do comes at the end.

Mechanics.  The Letter is clearly a pastiche, assembled from various writers and perhaps drafts that didn’t see the light of day for one reason or another.  The voices change, the orthography is uneven, and there are profound differences in the quality of thought from section to section.  Some bits are redolent of what Card. Sarah might write.  Others more likely from the Roche camp (present Prefect of Worship and inveterate enemy of traditional worship), with their betraying blather about “ordained ministers” instead of “priests”, a remnant of writers like Schillebeeckx and darker days.

Also, the Letter is not in anyway binding on anyone.  It does not promulgate or command.  It contains Francis’ claimed thoughts (written as they may have been by others).   It is not easy for me to conclude that Francis thinks all the things in this Letter.  But he signed it, so it is his.   Someone like Papa Ratzinger thought for long decades about liturgy.  I could believe that reflections on liturgical formation over his signature were his.  But from a Jesuit, who are famously non-liturgical?  The bottom line is that the bottom line is his: that’s where his signature is, so we say that what is above it is Francis’, even though there are clear different writers and there are internal contradictions.

If the Letter does not “bind”, neither does it “loose”.  It is a clear attempt to express the mens, the reasoning, behind Traditionis custodes, to justify it.  In that it expressed the “mens” of the one who gave the slapdash TC it is worth not nothing.

In my opinion, the Letter fails to justify Traditionis custodes because all of the very good reflections in the Letter, as well as its criticisms of abusive or haphazard worship, apply well to the Vetus Ordo.  As a matter of fact, in reading the idealistic reflections about worship in this Letter – and some of them are very good – it is apparent to anybody steeped in both the Vetus Ordo and the Novus Ordo that the Vetus Ordo does much of what Francis hopes for better than the Novus.   That’s the ironic twist.

I have in mind to look closely at sections of the Letter in the days to come.  Of course I have significant obstacles to doing that, including travel and the nature of the text itself.  However, let’s see the starting point and the ending point so that you have a feel of what Francis is up to.  Emphases mine.

Desiderio desideravi
hoc Pascha manducare vobiscum,
antequam patiar (Lc 22, 15)

1. My dearest brothers and sisters, with this letter I desire to reach you all – after having written already only to the bishops after the publication of the Motu Proprio Traditionis custodes – and I write to share with you some reflections on the liturgy, a dimension fundamental for the life of the Church. The theme is vast and always deserves an attentive consideration in every one of its aspects. Even so, with this letter I do not intend to treat the question in an exhaustive way. I simply desire to offer some prompts or cues for reflections that can aid in the contemplation of the beauty and truth of Christian celebration.  [Prompts and cues, not laws and commands.]


61. In this letter I have wanted simply to share some reflections [not legislation] which most certainly do not exhaust the immense treasure of the celebration of the holy mysteries. I ask all the bishops, priests, and deacons, the formators in seminaries, the instructors in theological faculties and schools of theology, and all catechists to help the holy people of God to draw from what is the first wellspring of Christian spirituality. We are called continually to rediscover the richness of the general principles exposed in the first numbers of Sacrosanctum Concilium, [That would certainly be paragraphs 1-4 and maybe ch. 1.  Hard to say. HERE] grasping the intimate bond between this first of the Council’s constitutions and all the others. [NB!] For this reason we cannot go back to that ritual form which the Council fathers, cum Petro et sub Petro, felt the need to reform, approving, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and following their conscience as pastors, the principles from which was born the reform. [The problem here is that the Novus Ordo is not consistent with the actual text of Sacrosanctum Concilium.  In order to squeeze the Novus Ordo out of the Council, you have to posit that there is an unwritten “spirit” of the Council that can be discerned.  That verges on the gnosticism that Francis criticizes perennially and in this Letter. The Council Fathers did NOT sign off on the Novus Ordo.  They made specific mandates that were completely violated in the artificial shaping of the Novus Ordo.] The holy pontiffs St. Paul VI and St. John Paul II, approving the reformed liturgical books ex decreto Sacrosancti OEcumenici Concilii Vaticani II, have guaranteed the fidelity of the reform of the Council. [Does that follow?  After all, Benedict XVI, who can be argued understood the Council and the liturgical reform that followed better than just about anyone, issued Summorum.] For this reason I wrote Traditionis custodes, so that the Church may lift up, in the variety of so many languages, one and the same prayer capable of expressing her unity.[23 Cf. Paulus VI, Constitutio apostolica Missale Romanum (3 Aprilis 1969) in AAS 61 (1969) 222.]  [Explain to us, please, how numerous languages, each with their own cultural underpinnings, express “unity”?]

As I have already written, I intend that this unity be re-established in the whole Church of the Roman Rite[In the body of the Letter, there is a section that describes unity in the terms that progressivists adopt: every one must do the same thing at the same time.  There is no room for, for example, some to stand and others to kneel. Everyone must conform in responses, gestures, etc.]

The Letter is an apologia of sorts.

That’s not the very end of the Letter, but it is the business end, as it were.  From this point on its “rekindle wonder” and be “formed in joy” and Sunday is important and…

“65. …. Let us abandon our polemics to listen together to what the Spirit is saying to the Church….”

I literally bowed my head in astonishment at that, given the abusive language he uses so often.

I have read through the Letter a couple of times now and will add this.

We sometimes have to cut through the language, which can be unfortunate, to see what there is of good.  I sometimes am moved to remind people that, for example, even if you run into a priest confessor who is a bit of a jackass or runs at the mouth with daisies and kitties for spiritual insight, you can almost always – if you work really hard – find something useful or helpful in what he says.  The same goes for really bad sermons: if you try, you can probably find something to challenge you, if you are willing.

This Letter isn’t as bad as a bad sermon or confessional advice.  It has very fine moments, no matter who penned them and wherein you read them.

With the exception of certain reference to “the Paschal Mystery”, I think there is a lot in here that priests of the SSPX could approve of and willingly reflect on!

You might be thinking that I should give you an example.  Okay.

2. “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” (Luke 22: 15) These words of Jesus, with which the account of the Last Supper opens, are the crevice through which we are given the surprising possibility of intuiting the depth of the love of the persons of the Most Holy Trinity for us. [I am reminded of an image I used perhaps hundreds of times here, from Ex 33, of Moses who, desiring to see God and not just know His Name, peers through the crevice in the rock as God passes by.]
3. Peter and John were sent to make preparations to eat that Passover, but in actual fact, all of creation, all of history — which at last was on the verge of revealing itself as the history of salvation — was a huge preparation for that Supper. Peter and the others are present at that table, unaware and yet necessary. Necessary because every gift, to be gift, must have someone disposed to receive it. In this case, the disproportion between the immensity of the gift and the smallness of the one who receives it is infinite, and it cannot fail to surprise us. Nonetheless, through the mercy of the Lord, the gift is entrusted to the Apostles so that it might be carried to every man and woman.
4. No one had earned a place at that Supper. All had been invited. Or better said: all had been drawn there by the burning desire that Jesus had to eat that Passover with them. He knows that he is the Lamb of that Passover meal; he knows that he is the Passover. This is the absolute newness, the absolute originality, of that Supper, the only truly new thing in history, which renders that Supper unique and for this reason “the Last Supper,” unrepeatable. Nonetheless, his infinite desire to re-establish that communion with us that was and remains his original design, will not be satisfied until every man and woman, from every tribe, tongue, people and nation (Rev 5:9), shall have eaten his Body and drunk his Blood. And for this reason that same Supper will be made present in the celebration of the Eucharist until he returns again.
5. The world still does not know it, but everyone is invited to the supper of the wedding of the Lamb (Rev 19: 9). To be admitted to the feast all that is required is the wedding garment of faith which comes from the hearing of his Word (cf. Rom 10:17). The Church tailors such a garment to fit each one with the whiteness of a garment bathed in the blood of the Lamb. (Rev 7:14). We must not allow ourselves even a moment of rest, knowing that still not everyone has received an invitation to this Supper or knowing that others have forgotten it or have got lost along the way in the twists and turns of human living. This is what I spoke of when I said, “I dream of a ‘missionary option’, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.” (Evangelii gaudium, n. 27). I want this so that all can be seated at the Supper of the sacrifice of the Lamb and live from Him.

Given this, how do we square Francis’ seeming resistance to trying to get people to convert?

Still, a fair reading of the above could apply equally to the Vetus Ordo as to the Novus.  Even more so to the Vetus, I think, as do most of his comments about something Benedict XVI underscored, ars celebrandi (in paragraphs 48ff.).

We need a little time to digest this attempt to pacify the storm he started.

Meanwhile, here’s how I think we must continue.

ACTION ITEM! Be a “Custos Traditionis”! Join an association of prayer for the reversal of “Traditionis custodes”.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Fr. Reader says:

    After reading just half of the letter, and scanned the other half, I suspect it is not mainly directed to the “trads” or the “neocons” (to use this deficient terminology), but also, or mainly, to the other side of the spectrum.

    When I hear “Paschal Mystery,” I think about Bouyer, but I don’t know the history of this expression.

  2. Imrahil says:

    A rather unrelated question,

    With the exception of certain reference to “the Paschal Mystery”, I think there is a lot in here that priests of the SSPX could approve of and willingly reflect on!

    I’ve heard before that the SSPX have some beef with the term “the Paschal Mystery”, but is there anything specific behind it, or is it only “hey, I don’t recall that term from before the last Council”?

    – To the topic, thanks for the information that the document doesn’t contain legislation. As it neither seems to be an encyclical dealing (even non-definitively) with matters of Church teaching, that does put it somewhat down my priority list to “digest”, to use your expression, this apostolic letter. Including the part of starting to read it superficially.

  3. James C says:

    The Council Fathers did NOT sign off on the Novus Ordo. They made specific mandates that were completely violated in the artificial shaping of the Novus Ordo.

    Indeed, this is the Big Lie that the Bergoglians continue to repeat like a mantra, demanding that we assent to it despite it being just as wrong when claimed 50 years ago as yours.

  4. Dan says:

    Call me a skeptic but I think the section
    “No one had earned a place at that Supper. All had been invited”. …nonetheless, his infinite desire to re-establish that communion with us that was and remains his original design, will not be satisfied until every man and woman, from every tribe, tongue, people and nation (Rev 5:9), shall have eaten his Body and drunk his Blood. ”

    seems to reflect more on admitting everyone under the sun to Holy Communion regardless of actual communion. No one has earned it, everyone should get it. it seems to speak more toward his view that if you hand out the Eucharist to everyone regardless of their faith that it will be as if they are given some magic pill to convert without any predisposition to accept the invitation to “follow me.” I don’t read this section as at all becoming a missionary church.

  5. James C says:

    in light of the the pope’s demands that we follow the Council, I was reminded of this introduction to the 1990 edition of Le Barroux’s 1962 missal:

    “This liturgy, which Pope John Paul II has kindly granted to all those who are attached to it, is an integral part of ‘the richness that the diversity of charisms and traditions of spirituality and apostolate represents for the Church.’

    I therefore hope that this new edition will meet the expectations of these faithful and help them to participate actively in the celebration of Holy Mass. In this way it will contribute in its own way to the liturgical renewal called for by the Second Vatican Council and will highlight ‘the beauty of unity in variety.’”

    The author: Cardinal Ratzinger.

  6. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Thank you for this – and in advance for the following installments! I see that it is released in French, Spanish, and German versions as well as this English one and the original Italian (so far?).

  7. RosaryRose says:


    Meanwhile, I’ll keep going to confession, praying the rosary every day, wearing my brown scapular, and WOOT! This Friday is a First Friday! Followed by a First Saturday! Sacred Heart of Jesus have mercy on us. Most Immaculate Heart of Mary may we find strength through you to Jesus.

    The letter reads like a slippery slope to Protestantism. Focus is on the Last Supper. The gathering, the “dinner”, rather than the actual Sacrifice of Calvary, where Christ shed His Blood for us. The uncatechised will just skip along. What can I do? I am nobody. So I go to confession, pray my rosary,…….

  8. B says:

    “What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish?”

    There is definitely a serpent involved in all this.

  9. Ariseyedead says:

    Simplifying translation: “Vatican II is still way cool and I still don’t understand liturgy, but I have really good intentions about it. And today I am not as grumpy.”

  10. Cornelius says:

    I think that, until the “spirit of Vatican II” crowd comes to grip with the chasm, and even contradiction, between Sacramentum Concilium and how the ‘reformed’ Mass actually turned out, there will be no genuine communication between the camps.

    The idea that the Council mandated the NO Mass is the CENTRAL LIE that will continue to poison all liturgical discussions.

  11. Lurker 59 says:

    Goodness can be found in all things because badness/evil is not a thing but rather a want of a thing; badness is just degrees of a lack of goodness or a disordered/twisted goodness. This is because God alone is creator and author — nothing exists that does not have its ultimate source in Him. To seek to see the goodness in all things really is to “have the mind of Christ.”

    That said, I think it is vastly important to understand where someone is coming from to show them true respect and honor. To disagree and do so by understanding the what, why, and how of their thinking shows more honor than agreeing but not understanding (especially by trying to force their thinking into your worldview — that, I would say, does real violence to the person.)

    We can find the good in all things while still recognizing a spade for a spade. There are some out there that think to see the good in all things is to intentionally deny reality and call black, white and white, black.

  12. Orual says:

    “BEFORE ANYTHING ELSE… I urge those of you who are on the “trad” side of things (whether “mad, sad or glad”) not to run around with your hair on fire over this Letter which will – unsurprisingly – contain some things you do not like. Stay cool.”

    I wish you had told me this 3 hrs. ago!

  13. Patrick-K says:

    Is there anything in this that attempts to justify specific changes made in the NO? Most of the time it’s just references to “the liturgical renewal of Vatican II” without saying what that is specifically or why it’s an improvement. If I asked Roche what was the point of the NO, I am honestly not sure what the answer would be other than abstractions like “renewal” or “the people.” It seems like never promoting or justifying any of the concrete changes is a tacit admission that they are un-loved even among NO attendees.

  14. FatherAnd says:

    Today marks 50 years since Paul VI said the smoke of Satan had entered the Church.

  15. ex seaxe says:

    It may be instructive to look at Pope Francis Catecheses on the Mass in conjunction with this Apostolic Letter. Those were simple comments, presumably of his own. Available at

  16. Amateur Scholastic says:


    Bishop Fellay wrote about it, see here:

    Paragraph 57 is particularly instructive, but the phrase ‘Paschal Mystery’ appears everywhere in the document.

    The problem with the phrase is it obscures the need for propitiation, and that the Mass is that propitiation. Further, it weakens the link between the Mass and Calvary, and (if I understand correctly) creates a much vaguer link between the Mass and Christ’s salvific action in general; thus it suggests the Mass is as much about the Resurrection and Ascension as it is about His Death.

  17. Amateur Scholastic says:

    I’m sorry to double post. This is a much briefer explanation of the problems with ‘Paschal Mystery’ theology than the link I just posted:

    Written by the always-excellent Fr Thomas Crean OP.

  18. ex seaxe says:

    Dan – but “all are invited …” is immediately qualified. And later he says “To be admitted to the feast all that is required is the wedding garment of faith …”

  19. Grant M says:

    I see that the curate’s egg has been promoted to become a pontiff’s egg.

  20. The Vicar says:

    “This Letter isn’t as bad as a bad sermon or confessional advice. It has very fine moments, no matter who penned them and wherein you read them.”

    Reminds me of those Joe Isuzu commercials.

    …and the SUV gets 2,000 miles per gallon, and it has a range of ten million miles.

  21. Mario Bird says:

    Orthography…heh heh…

    He was wont to speak plain and to the purpose, like an honest man
    and a soldier; and now is he turned orthography; his words are a very fantastical banquet, just so many strange dishes.

    Not to be confused with ornithology, of course.

  22. Chrisc says:

    @scholastic and @imrahil,
    From what I gather the difference is in the nature of the analog. The paschal mystery language is seen in conjunction with an elevation of the role of Holy Thursday-Easter axis where everyone is called to partake. In this theory, even Good Friday is really just a pointing back to the communion at Holy Thursday. So the turning point of salvation history and the prime hermeneutic is the Holy Thursday- Easter axis. All other points in time, including the cross, merely point to it.

    Prior to the mid 20th century, the emphasis was on the Good Friday- Easter axis. Thus Holy Thursday and the communion toward all could only be first understood as prior to and fulfilled more completely in the Sacred Triduum as the prime analogue. Hence Holy Thursday never being a holy day of obligation.

    So this gets back to: which is primary? The vertical(Good Friday) or horizontal(Holy Thursday)? Altar or table? Sacrifice or meal? Propitiation or gathering? Is it for the many or for all?

  23. WVC says:

    I am earnestly thankful for you, Fr. Z. I have neither the time nor the inclination to read through this latest long-winded, rambling missive from Francis. I’m thankful you are there to wade through it and pull out both the good, the bad, and the notable. I’m throwing something in the tip jar – may it go towards buying you the libation you’ve justly earned.

  24. Suburbanbanshee says:

    How the heck does the English say “prompts and cues,” when the Spanish says “elements of reflection”?

    (Maybe “concepts for reflection” would be better? “Food for thought,” even?)

  25. Suburbanbanshee says:

    “Mysterium paschalis” appeared in Migne in the 1850’s — in the Latin translations of Chrysostom — and it also shows up in the Latin translations of a Syriac-speaking bishop called Theophylactus of Achrida. It’s basically “mysterion” plus something about Easter/Passover.

    Well, obviously Mass = mysterion. So it’s kind of a tautology. “Mass — it’s a Mass. And Easter, it’s a Passover.”

  26. Suburbanbanshee says:

    “Paschalis mysterium” and “Agni paschalis mysterium” show up quite a lot in older books.

  27. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Also, if I read it correctly, there’s a ton of “paschatis mysterium” out there. Apparently that’s the genitive of Pascha, soooo….

  28. summorumpontificum777 says:

    It boggles the mind that Pope Francis seems to believe that he can win liturgical debates by relentlessly bashing and belittling his alleged opponents. In what world would it be reasonable to expect traditionalists, upon receipt of their 158th papal scolding, to stop and say, “You know, I think I finally get it. Pope Francis really has a point here. Anyone have a spare Dan Schutte songbook?”

    To a large extent, the situation is analogous to an abusive stepfather expecting just one more beating to do the trick and “learn that snotty brat some manners.”

  29. Fr. Reader says:

    @amateur scholastic
    “thus it suggests the Mass is as much about the Resurrection and Ascension as it is about His Death.”
    It can “suggest” all that we might want, but the first thing that comes to my mind while using this expression (and I use it very much) is the paschal lamb: the one from the Old Testament and from the New.
    And if there is any doubt about it, it takes 5 seconds to explain it.
    I will try to read more about this expression.

  30. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I’ve posted too many times already, sorry, but one more:

    As Brant Pitre has pointed out, the Hebrew word for a Passover lamb (or for any of the sacrificed, roasted lambs eaten on other days during the octave) was… Pesach. Passover.

    Which is why we have the verse 1 Corinthians 5:7, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed.”

    So when Christ was eager to eat “this Passover,” He probably meant “this sacrificed Lamb, Me.” Because the meal and the sacrifice are the same word, for Him and His Apostles, and He was revealing the true mystery that had been hidden inis Passover all along.

    So properly understood, “paschal mystery” does emphasize Jesus as Victim and the Mass as sacrifice, not the Mass as meal. And the way Jews roasted lambs for Passover looked like a sideways crucifix, which would make the comparison even stronger.

  31. GregB says:

    In the Passover Seder the participants drink four cups of wine, the last of which is the Cup of Consummation. At the Last Supper the cup that was used by Christ in the Institution of the Eucharist was the third cup, the Cup of Blessing. There were no further cups of wine consumed. The Passover Seder was left incomplete, and it was not completed until Christ consumed the fourth cup when He took the bitter wine vinegar that He was given on a sponge during the Crucifixion. Calvary was an integral part of the Last Supper.

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