The recent hullabaloo about the new rather drastic restrictions on the pre-1970 Mass should I think be examined in the context of the papal office and its exercise. It strikes me that some of the critique of this papal announcement from some traditionalist quarters lacks historical depth and is borne merely from an anxiety about the loss of the freedom they enjoyed under Benedict XVI.
1. It is obvious from examining the events after the publication of Paul VI’s Missal that it was understood at the time to have replaced the previous Missal of 1962 (or 1965). Whether or not 1962 was formally abrogated is beside the point. Francis is correct that the so-called Novus Ordo Missal is the unique extant Roman Missal, notwithstanding its scrapping of the ancient Collects, the rehashing of the Lectionary, and the provision of new Eucharistic prayers. It is hardly open to doubt that 1970 was supposed to replace what went before it, and that the Missals of 1970 and 1962 were not meant to co-exist. Arguments about whether they are essentially different rites do not change this.
2. The claim that the older rites were not legally abrogated is not really beneficial to the traditionalist argument. Traditionalists would not wish to base the legitimacy of the older form of Mass on a legal loophole, the fact that Paul VI forgot to go through the usual canonical procedure and formally abrogate the older Missal or some such claim. Rather, they would wish to hold up the reasoning of Summorum Pontificum to argue that the older rite could not be abrogated, because “what earlier generations held to be sacred” etc. But here we run head on into the problem of the history of the relationship between the Pope and the liturgy.
3. Was the Roman Breviary of 1911 an essentially different Breviary than what went before? Possibly, in that it set aside a cursus, a scheme for reciting the Psalms, that had a pedigree of well over 1000 years. Pius X legislated to abrogate the older Breviary, with all kinds of fire called down on the heads of those who didn’t switch to the new Breviary. Here is a clear example of a Pope abrogating and proclaiming as harmful what earlier generations had known as sacred. To say that the Pope cannot do this may be an interesting thing to say, but in the legal ecclesiastical history of the Roman Catholic church, it is mere wishful thinking. What Francis has done is legally no different than the actions of Pius X. Also, I can see no reason to argue that he cannot revoke even Quo Primum if that is what he means to do in the final few sentences of the new motu proprio, which I fear is the natural reading of the recent document. No reason to argue, that is, if one allows that the actions of Pius X were a valid exercise of the papal office and its authority.
4. The problem that I wish to draw attention to is the lack of a limit to papal power in the Roman church, either in law or in recent custom. Going back at least to Pius V, the right of a Pope to legislate against certain rites has not been subject to any restraint. There is a great deal more that comes with this territory, including the famous doctrinal definitions of the 19th and 20th centuries that purported to turn pious beliefs into truths necessary to salvation by mere legislative fiat. Until papal power becomes the subject for real theological scrutiny, and a radically new ecclesiology emerges in the Roman Catholic imagination, altering the exercise of papal authority, then the argument about the rites of Mass will have a superficial and political character: who holds power, how far can they go without a backlash, how can they be circumvented etc. Or else they will be incoherent, arguing that the Pope lacks the authority to make certain changes whilst accepting systemic and de facto absolute monarchical papal rule in most other matters.
Unless traditionalists wish to open questions that have the potential to undermine centuries of accepted praxis and papal hegemony, then I think that their objections to the actions of the current Pope lack internal consistency. If immemorial liturgical custom does indeed trump papal legislative power then the assumptions and habits of centuries with regards to the papal office must be stripped away to find a firm grounding for an ecclesiology that is consistent with such a claim.