Saturday, July 17, 2021


[The Nuptial Mass according to the old Roman Rite, Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Atlanta, 2017]

Pope Francis issued the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes today, issuing restrictions on celebrations of the Mass according to the Missal of 1962, and writing an accompanying letter to the world's Bishops explaining his reasons. 

It's Friday, a day that I normally don't follow social media, or post. However, while refraining from commentary, I did spend the day reading various reactions, pondering the new reality, and responding to a small flood of messages from a variety of folks who wanted my "take," or simply were hurt, bewildered, dismayed, and in anguish. Here's some preliminary thoughts.

I am a pastor with the cura animarum in a semi-rural corner of my diocese. I think folks know me as someone who loves Gregorian Chant and Latin (those who are familiar with my conversion story know of the impact these had on me). After Ordination, I taught myself the rubrics of the 1962 Missal, with some assistance from the priests at the local FSSP parish, and have celebrated Mass in this form privately, and occasionally, publicly. Some of the most beautiful and joyful occasions were weddings of former parishioners, students at the University of Georgia, in the beautiful Basilica in downtown Atlanta. In my last assignment, there was one evening where the schola from the FSSP parish came up to the mountains, to assist with a Missa Cantata, and a crowd of some 100 showed up on a weekday evening. In my current assignment, I know of no one who can serve the old Mass, and with a full complement of weekend Masses, there has been simply no way to offer it publicly.

Learning the old rubrics and offering the old Mass has deeply influenced the way I celebrate Mass in general, and my advice to seminarians and priests had always been -- even if you don't offer it, learn it. It will change the way you celebrate Mass. It is hard to describe the sense of the sacred, of the laser focus on the priest offering sacrifice, that is so clear when one offers the old Mass. Several others, who've experienced the Tridentine Mass, whether lay or clerical, say similar things

Well, it seems, that changes now. 

We got an email from the Chancery stating that the old Mass was not suppressed in the Archdiocese, and would continue to be offered at the FSSP parish. Any priest who is resident in Atlanta and not a member of the FSSP, should approach the Archbishop to apply for faculties to offer the Mass publicly. Meanwhile, the motu proprio and its provisions would be studied and we'd be informed about any new developments. 

As far as I know, only one parish in the Archdiocese offers Mass regularly in what, until today, would have been called the Extraordinary Form, in the language of Benedict XVI, that Pope Francis consciously avoids, and seems to repudiate. It's unclear as to what happens at this parish. No 3.3 of the new motu proprio suggests the old Mass should not be offered in parochial churches (but makes an exception for personal parishes dedicated to the old Mass, while insisting that no new ones be erected). However in many parts of the United States, the Tridentine Mass is simply one of the Masses offered on a weekend. If the Mass is not offered in a parish church then where would be offered? It's bewildering that the consultation that preceded the publication of the legislation didn't seem to be aware of the situation in many Dioceses in the one western country where the old Mass seems to have actually been integrated into parish life, in many places. 

Or maybe it did, and it didn't matter. 

It is hard to read the Pope's accompanying letter without being dismayed. The only fruit he sees of the experiment of Summorum Pontificum (as he describes it) is disunity and a questioning of the legitimacy of the Second Vatican Council. Nothing else. Then there's this

Whoever wishes to celebrate with devotion according to earlier forms of the liturgy can find in the reformed Roman Missal according to Vatican Council II all the elements of the Roman Rite, in particular the Roman Canon which constitutes one of its more distinctive elements. 

I heard the Roman Canon perhaps a dozen times in all my years as a layman. Even in one of the most faithful and orthodox seminaries in the country that I was blessed to attend, it could hardly be called common. But that apart, in my diocese alone, there is such a divergence in how Mass is celebrated between parishes, and between priests (without even touching on the neuralgic issue of music) that this assertion of the Pope seems, at best, naive. If one listens to those who are attached to the Traditional Mass -- they speak of beauty, of a sense of the sacred, of transcendence, mystery, and otherworldliness. One major part of that is the use of a sacred liturgical language. And yes, all of that is possible in the reformed Missal. But where does it actually exist? And it could all change, when the next Pastor rolls into town. With the old Mass, in our time celebrated with much care and affection than it perhaps was in earlier ages when it was just "the Mass," 21st century post Christian moderns can reliably experience the glory and beauty of the rite, unaffected by the personality and preferences of the priest celebrant. The rubrics and the orientation of the Mass (facing [liturgical] East, the constant tradition of all the Churches, until the innovations of the mid 20th century) ensure that. It is no wonder that parishes that are dedicated to the Traditional Mass, or offer it, are packed with young adults and young families. The young, at least in the West it seems, want tradition.

It is clear that the Pope sees in attachment to traditional liturgical forms only a dangerous source of disunity, dissent, and nothing else.  While this is true (perhaps more online than on the ground, frankly), there's so much more to this reality, if one has ears to hear. The response seems to be to treat it like hazardous waste, or a cancer to be contained and eliminated. The restrictive legislation aims to do just that:

Indications about how to proceed in your dioceses are chiefly dictated by two principles: on the one hand, to provide for the good of those who are rooted in the previous form of celebration and need to return in due time to the Roman Rite promulgated by Saints Paul VI and John Paul II, and, on the other hand, to discontinue the erection of new personal parishes tied more to the desire and wishes of individual priests than to the real need of the “holy People of God.”

So, in a nutshell, may traditionalists ultimately disappear. 

This following bit is always nice to hear, especially when so many of our "elders" seem to throw the charge of rubricism and clericalism and what not at anything that doesn't conform to their vision of "Vatican II" which tends to involve ugliness, worldliness, iconoclasm, the sanctuary overrun by everyone and their grandmother (literally!) and, often, outright dissent from definitive moral teachings. 

At the same time, I ask you to be vigilant in ensuring that every liturgy be celebrated with decorum and fidelity to the liturgical books promulgated after Vatican Council II, without the eccentricities that can easily degenerate into abuses. Seminarians and new priests should be formed in the faithful observance of the prescriptions of the Missal and liturgical books.
The Pope desires through this motu proprio to foster unity. It would be an understatement to say that is likely not going to be the result. And it might just reignite the always simmering liturgy wars in a time of religious decline in the West, with other urgent and pressing needs -- evangelization, making disciples and retention of membership for one, and the fall out from the abuse crisis, the ongoing drama of financial scandals at high levels in the Church, residential school scandals in our neighbor to the north, and the seeming inability of the hierarchy in some places (Poland) to learn from the mistakes of Bishops elsewhere, among others. 

On the ground? The Bishop is back in charge after the fourteen year "experiment" of Summorum Pontificum. I expect those Bishops who are hostile to the old Mass to weed the cancer out from their dioceses. Most others will study the matter, but not really change much on the ground (speaking only of the United States). In fact, several Bishops today issued statements saying that nothing has changed on the ground so far, and that further study would be required (San Francisco, Detroit, New Orleans, Lafayette in Louisiana, Madison, are the statements I've seen). Some granted faculties right away to priests who have been offering the old Mass in their parishes. Others offered words of encouragement and hope to those who attend Mass (imagine that! Comforting the afflicted!). That's still a handful. And one can easily name those from who one won't be hearing any words of encouragement.  [Cardinal Gregory in Washington DC has also given temporary faculties for things to continue as they are, until the provisions of the law are clearer.]

In fact, that is the final take away from today's new legislation and explanatory letter: the seeming insensitivity to the pastoral needs of one group in the Church. I would go so far as to say that few groups are treated with such utter disdain as those attached to traditional forms of the liturgy. They are truly pariahs. The Church in Germany seems to be synodaling its way into schism, and vast swathes seem to be in open dissent without any negative consequences. The US hierarchy is sorely divided over the issue of whether politicians who support and work actively to expand the killing of children in the womb should receive Holy Communion. But the old Rite? Toxic! One can pray that the Pope of the peripheries might find a shred of compassion for this suffering portion of his flock. 

In the end, the Church is the Lord's, and we rely, as always, on Him. The Holy Father always asks for prayers, and we absolutely should pray for him, and for our Bishops, even -- especially -- when we don't understand what he does. 

As some commentators have pointed out, the legislation addresses only the celebration of Mass and the Missal. It doesn't say anything about the Roman Ritual (older sacraments, sacramentals) and the Divine Office (governed by the Instruction Universae Ecclesiae of 2011). Given the canonical principle of strict (i.e. narrow, not broad) interpretation of legislation that restricts rights (see canon 18 of the Code of Canon Law), the current legislation cannot be extrapolated to cover these other issues. I expect a clarification will be forthcoming, and I don't expect it to take a positive view of the permission granted for the use of the old ritual books in this regard. 

It is truly curious that the legislation was introduced without a vacatio legis, and went into effect immediately. Why the hurry? The need for clarity and correction, as well as need for time to study of how to implement the law, is already obvious and the traditional vacatio legis exists to facilitate just that 

Responses that I found worth while [a link is not an endorsement] 

Fr. Anthony Ruff OSB of the progressive blog Pray Tell, calls for peace and compassion
Chris Altieri, editor of The Catholic Herald (US edition), at Catholic World Report on the best, middle, and worst case scenarios going ahead 
Amy Welborn at Charlotte was Both doesn't mince words
The traditionalist blog Rorate Caeli, which seems to call for all out defiance 
Fr. Dwight Logenecker

J.D. Flynn and Ed Condon at The Pillar give a great summary of what actually changes now

And finally, finally, I couldn't resist: 

"The unique expression of the Roman Rite"

"Poolside" Mass at a Catholic high school in 2014. 
Photo from this post at the traditionalist blog 1 Peter 5


Stephen said...

Another fantastic response by Dom Alcuin Reid.

Vermicelli said...

"And yes, all of that is possible in the reformed Missal. But where does it actually exist?"

It exists here, for one:

Fr. Gaurav Shroff said...

@vermicelli -- wow that's beautiful! My question was rhetorical. Of the 17000 parishes in the US, some 675 locations are listed in one online TLM directory as offering the TLM. How many, do you think, offer the New Mass in this way?