Monday, July 16, 2007

Critical Mass: Life After "Te Deum"

The ink is barely dry on the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, which allows for the general, if extraordinary, celebration of the classical usage of the Roman Rite (commonly known as the "Tridentine Mass" or simply "the Old Mass"). With the decree having been issued just over a week ago, and with less than two months before it is implemented, many Catholics are anxious over what will happen next.

Through it all, yours truly has been on top of the news, taking stock of the situation, and has learned quite a bit in the last nine days.

Sometimes, even when you spell things out in specific language, there is at least one person who cannot resist the uncontrollable urge to put their own "spin" on the matter at hand. Most bishops, at least in the USA, have received the papal decree warmly. All who have already allowed the classical use have issued statements affirming this, as well as its continuance. They also generally state how they do not expect the general way of celebrating Mass to change in their jurisdiction. And they're right; for most people, it will not change anything. Here's the thing; the decree was not issued to determine what would not change, but -- well, duh! -- what would.

Some dioceses attempt to place additional requirements, even as they know perfectly well, that as a matter of general norm, a lower authority cannot restrict that which a higher authority allows. This is especially the case with a motu proprio, which by its very nature, is to be interpreted broadly, as opposed to narrowly. In one diocese, a statement prohibits its use during the Paschal Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil), when in fact this applies only to private Masses, which wouldn't be allowed for those occasions anyway, regardless of which set of books is used. Another bishop intends to conduct what amounts to competency exams, to ensure that the priests are capable of celebrating the classical usage properly. This is understandable, were it not for this bishop's predisposition on related matters, not to mention the rather begrudging tone of his official statement. But the worst case, is the one who has even called for his priests to get permission, which is specifically ruled out (beyond that of pastoral guidance) in the text of the papal decree.

But none of this is nearly as disturbing, as the reaction of some of the faithful, particularly those for whom the motu proprio is a victory. These malcontents can be found in blogs and their comments boxes throughout the Catholic blogosphere. To read some of the whining going on, they genuinely expect every diocese in the known world to completely arrange their schedules and priestly resources, in the space of two months, on the possibility that enough of them will grace with their presence, a location other than their home parish. Oh, and that they'll stop complaining. This is a difficult prospect, when certain blogs effectively enable such grousing, to the point of censuring attempts to reason with the unreasonable. It is bad enough to read of ill (and unfounded) motives being assigned to any bishop who doesn't have a master plan already in his back pocket. It is worse when this comes from other priests.

If you've been wondering why your diocese doesn't have a complete schedule already compiled for you and the rest of the Latin-Mass-or-die crowd, here's a reality check that, while it will not placate you in the manner you richly deserve, will apprise you as to why the universe may not be spinning on the axis that is yourself at the moment.

First and foremost, consider that without this decree ever seeing the light of day, the typical parish priest works six days a week. (Pause for a moment to consider that. Six. Days. A Week.) Five of those workdays, at the very least, are longer than eight hours. The shortest one for most is Sunday, and even that one starts early, and consists of several hours of meeting the constant demands of one person or group after the other -- all before lunch. If you've ever wondered why a rectory is the last place to find a priest on a Sunday afternoon, now you know. Then along comes John and Jane Doe, and their little babes all in a row. They are making a reasonable request along the lines of the aforementioned decree, for an additional Mass, to an already full schedule on Sunday morning. They have also assured Father that several dozen other families, some of them from other parishes, whom Father does not normally serve, and over whom he has no pastoral authority, will also be willing to attend. Now, Father cannot say more than three Masses on a Sunday except for an emergency. This is not an emergency. Father also knows that most of his parishioners (those whom he IS obligated to serve) like things the way they are just fine. God only knows why, but they do. Oh, it can't be too late in the day, Father, since little John Paul has to go down for his nap just after noon. Father is thinking about that already-crowded schedule, and how he would really like to accommodate these folks. In fact, he rather favors the Old Mass himself. Now, if only he could unbolt the altar weighing two tons from its location and move it back about six or eight feet...

At times like these, forty years of clowns and balloons and dancing girls and other worst-case scenarios that don't happen nearly as much as you wish they would to prove your point, aren't even an issue. It really comes down to the very practical matter of adding another obligation to an already-full schedule -- all on the assumption that the person being prevailed upon has the same enthusiasm for the idea as does his petitioners.

If, under such circumstances, an additional Mass is agreed upon, there is not only the matter of the priest being trained to do so properly, but that of boys or men (not girls or women, as we are concerned with conditions under the older observance) who are trained to serve the Mass. The reformed Roman Missal does not require a designated clerk for assistance; the classical Roman Missal does. If the host parish uses albs for vesture, and you just can't imagine the sight of that*, it may fall to you to provide cassocks and surplices. The requirements for priestly vesture are also more demanding in the classical usage. If the parish cannot fulfill those requirements, will your "stable group" be able to contribute? If you want a High Mass at any one time, there has to be a schola, or at the very least, a cantor who is schooled in Gregorian chant**, and who is able to lead the chants of the Ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, et cetera), as well as sing the propers for the Mass (Introit, Gradual, et cetera).

So, you ask, hey Mister Black Hat Guy, pray tell us, what are we to do?

First, don't expect anything to happen as quickly as you would like. If it does, more power to you. Second, make sure that you are already an active and contributing (financial and otherwise) member of whichever parish upon which you prevail. An experienced parish priest can smell parish-hoppers a mile away. Third, it is generally easier to tear something down than it is to build something up. If one can argue that the Mass was effectively destroyed in just under a decade (a bit of a stretch, but let's give ourselves the benefit of the doubt for now), you can expect a remedy to take much longer. Finally, and most important, DO NOT TAKE YOURSELF VERY SERIOUSLY. God is still in charge of earthly events. The history of the Church has known terrible corruption, and indescribable persecution. A little "dry martyrdom" won't kill you.

If you cannot apply the virtue of true Christian joy to a situation where you have emerged victorious, it says more about you than it does any priest or bishop. I know of an Anglican Use pastor in Texas who would be glad to confess how you appear otherwise, if only you would click here.

Those who have championed Catholic tradition over the decades scored a major and unprecedented victory early this month. It remains to be seen whether most of them can learn to live with getting what they want.

Especially when it involves having one less reason to complain.

---

* In Eastern Europe, the use of surplices over street clothes, without the use of cassocks, is not uncommon. In Australia, the use of albs instead of cassocks and surplices is not uncommon either.

** It is preferable that the schola consist entirely of men, as they are functioning as surrogates for minor clerics. In the event that only women are available, it is preferable that the schola be composed entirely of women. Either case would ensure what is known as "purity of sound." If you have to ask what that is, you are at a disadvantage in challenging this point.

PHOTOS: Views of a chapel erected on a private estate in Scotland, designed by architect Craig Hamilton. Used without permission or shame.
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10 Comments:

At 7/17/2007 09:48:00 PM, Blogger Cerebella said...

Sir, in our diocese there are three young priests who are working six day weeks and fairly turning cartwheels over the chance to say the Old Rite both publicly and privately. In addition, there is an older priest who is equally excited about it, having been denied the privilege of saying it for years; these priests are all working out a rotation so that they can meet their regular obligations and still say the Mass they love.

In addition, there are two seminarians in internship and one newly ordained young priest receiving training in Latin.

All these priests are overjoyed to be training altar servers in addition to everything else.

So what if some Trads are cranky; would you, just possibly, be cranky too if you had been in their situation? Yes, they should be charitable but that goes both ways. For 40 years now, no one has forced anyone to attend or say a Tridentine Mass but those who love the Mass have been forced to foregoe it or make very difficult sacrifices, sometimes impossible sacrifices, for the privilege of worshipping God in the rite that has nourished the Church for centuries.

Bishops have not been noted for their obedience to Rome lately, have they? So why wouldn't Traditional-minded Catholics be chary at this point? If you will extend to them the same charity you demand that they extend, then you'll have to concede that they need time to decompress and that they have good reason to be on edge.

By the way, given the booming numbers of seminarians in traditional seminaries, the priest shortage will not be an issue in a few years so relax.

 
At 7/17/2007 10:17:00 PM, Anonymous Mary Margaret said...

David, It is fascinating to read this from one who is far more familiar with the extraordinary rite than I am. Maybe I should know this, but how old are you?? I've always had the impression that you're close to my age (48) but you know way more than I do. I am hoping that I can, once again, attend a Mass in the Tridentine style (rite?), whatever. Actually, I could do it now if I weren't so bloody lazy--8:00AM downtown Wichita. Hoping for a few more celebrations around town this fall.

I do think that you are right about what the laity must be willing to contribute. It's just that we rarely think about such things. If Catholics have a nasty flaw, it is expecting Father to do what we want, how we want it, and when we want it. We need to pray more and stop treating our priests like sacramental vending machines! God Bless. MM

 
At 7/17/2007 11:08:00 PM, Blogger David L Alexander said...

Cerebella, thou hast writ:

"So what if some Trads are cranky; would you, just possibly, be cranky too if you had been in their situation?"

I can assure you that I AM in their situation. I have been for many years.

I am 52 years old. As a young man, I almost single-handedly fought liturgical nonsense brought on by the Jesuits of Georgetown. (I won.) I have served for the Old Mass for over a decade. I'm entering training as a master of ceremonies. I'm working to get a priest to come to our diocese to train other young men as masters of ceremonies. I serve priests in my own locale who are not unlike yours in their zeal. But the practical side of this issue needs to be adequately addressed, if tradition is to flourish. I fear it has not been.

I'm not saying those you represent don't have a right to complain. I'm saying it does not serve them. When they assign ill motives to those against whom it is unproven, they lose potential allies, who could well be converted. (I know; I was one of those too.)

They're very quick to cast out those who aren't "trad" enough for them, I can assure you of that as well. Like I need their damn permission to attend the Mass I remember from my childhood, or their sanction for how it was "back in the day."

Some of them have got a helluva lot of nerve blaming bishops for not being loyal to Rome, having spent years trashing John Paul II. For whatever his shortcomings as a mortal man, he was a major reason they had the Old Mass at all. He was known to complain out loud about how bishops would not listen to him. Not even Benedict has been spared their wrath. A move this decisive and far-reaching was the result of a very careful and calculating effort. Some of the most vocal of them bitched about him, or provided a platform for renegade bishops who did the same.

They're more than cranky. They're not very clever. They need to learn how to BE clever, and they need to learn soon.

And if you doubt my devotion to Catholic tradition, I suggest you go through my archives from the past year. I know where I stand, and I daresay it is with no apologies to one who hides behind an alias.

 
At 7/18/2007 10:34:00 AM, Blogger Cerebella said...

OK, fair enough - I came to your blog for the first time through the Dad29 blog (http://dad29.blogspot.com/2007/07/traddies-and-motu-proprio.html) , which post I found on a news wire and so you're right - I hadn't reviewed your archives. However, since the news wires are picking these kinds of criticisms of traditional Catholics up, I think they're as detrimental to our cause as are the grumps themselves.

You know there are PLENTY of us who have prayed, cried, sacrificed, been obedient and are being reasonable about the implementation of summorum pontificum. But that's not news.

How does it further the cause to publicize the sins of other trads, especially in such caustic terms as Dad29 used (linking to YOUR post)?

Father Z gave us rules of engagement for the aftermath of the motu but he was referring to our treatment of liberals; maybe he should post some rules regarding the way we treat fellow trads. Love covers a multitude of sins - it doesn't expose them.

Peace.

 
At 7/18/2007 11:29:00 AM, Blogger David L Alexander said...

"I hadn't reviewed your archives. However, since the news wires are picking these kinds of criticisms of traditional Catholics up, I think they're as detrimental to our cause as are the grumps themselves."

You barely read THIS post, or you'd know that I also discussed bishops and their spokespeople who were reading into the decree things that were not there. I went so far as to ask one to clarify his position, and people still jump all over him. Wow, that was a big help, guys. As to whether one factor is "as detrimental to our cause" as any other is a matter of some conjecture. My position on this, or any other subject, cannot be judged on the basis of one post, let alone one paragraph.

 
At 7/18/2007 08:23:00 PM, Blogger Dad29 said...

The examples I cited (...three steps, choir placement, etc.) were a DIRECT quote from a Traddie with whom I spoke over the weekend.

Cerebella has a right to be unhappy with some Bishops. So do a lot of people.

So what?

Soldier on, Cerebella.

 
At 7/18/2007 09:22:00 PM, Blogger David L Alexander said...

"Cerebella has a right to be unhappy with some Bishops..."

Yeah, I know.

It was the decision of yours truly to focus on an aspect of implementing this decree that has been largely overlooked, but which if ignored could prolong the agony of those who would honor Catholic tradition (which would include yours truly).

There has been no shortage of bandwidth at "St Blog's" devoted to the mishandling of this decree by some bishops. Indeed, the third and fourth paragraphs of this piece were devoted to such mishandling, so that there would no mistake as to the author's awareness thereof. Obviously it wasn't enough.

So here now, in the interests of charity as well as clarity, are the paragraphs in question, in boldface type:

Sometimes, even when you spell things out in specific language, there is at least one person who cannot resist the uncontrollable urge to put their own "spin" on the matter at hand. Most bishops, at least in the USA, have received the papal decree warmly. All who have already allowed the classical use have issued statements affirming this, as well as its continuance. They also generally state how they do not expect the general way of celebrating Mass to change in their jurisdiction. And they're right; for most people, it will not change anything. Here's the thing; the decree was not issued to determine what would not change, but -- well, duh! -- what would.

Some dioceses attempt to place additional requirements, even as they know perfectly well, that as a matter of general norm, a lower authority cannot restrict that which a higher authority allows. This is especially the case with a motu proprio, which by its very nature, is to be interpreted broadly, as opposed to narrowly. In one diocese, a statement prohibits its use during the Paschal Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil), when in fact this applies only to private Masses, which wouldn't be allowed for those occasions anyway, regardless of which set of books is used. Another bishop intends to conduct what amounts to competency exams, to ensure that the priests are capable of celebrating the classical usage properly. This is understandable, were it not for this bishop's predisposition on related matters, not to mention the rather begrudging tone of his official statement. But the worst case, is the one who has even called for his priests to get permission, which is specifically ruled out (beyond that of pastoral guidance) in the text of the papal decree.


The reader will please note that I do not use the term "well, duh!" in reference to the faithful. I trust that will not require an explanation.

(Whew!) Any questions?

 
At 7/20/2007 07:48:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have met many so-called "traditionalists" and most have been strictly complainers. I worked very hard to get an indult mass for a group in the late 1980's. After we got it, they STILL complained. I heard arguements over some pretty trivial things, too. A lot of these people think they know better than the Pope!

A good dose of humility and gratefulness regarding the recent motu proprio will go a long way. Our Pope is trying to heal old wounds. Hopefully, the "traditionalists" will lead by example, not by complaining.

 
At 8/21/2007 04:44:00 PM, Blogger Tom S. said...

Fascinating Post... It made me mad as I read it, and then I relaized how right it was on many points. I am hardly a "rad-trad" but I know what I want. I have been making a pleasant but sincere effort to get my priest to add an "old" mass to the shedule. I have offered both temporal and monetary assistance, but am open to other suggestions.

 
At 8/21/2007 06:33:00 PM, Blogger David L Alexander said...

"I have offered both temporal and monetary assistance, but am open to other suggestions."

Invite other parishioners to write your pastor. But be aware that people are using an inaccurate text of the motu proprio to make policy. Remember, what matters is not the English text -- an official version of which DOES NOT EXIST -- but the LATIN!!!

I am indebted to Father Zuhlsdorf, whose column in The Wanderer dated August 17 last, provides an excellent analysis of the papal decree. I highly recommend getting a copy, and following his every online utterance on this subject at http://wdtprs.com/blog/

"In paroeciis, ubi coetus fidelium traditioni liturgicae antecedenti adhaerentium continenter exsistit..." The unofficial text being circulated says: "In parishes, where there is a stable group of faithful who adhere to the earlier liturgical tradition..." A more literal translation says: "In parish­es, where there is continuously present a group of the faithful attached to the previous liturgi­cal tradition..." Zuhlsdorf brings two words to our attention here; the noun "coetus" and the adverb "continenter." "Coetus" refers to a "group," but the number is not specific. Zuhlsdorf says, "I think there is canonical precedent for as few as five to be a coetus." The way I read this, it effectively refers to a quorum, which is itself undefined universally. "continenter" means "continuously" or "consistently." Respectfully point out to your pastor, if need be, that the text does not say "stabiliter," which means "in a stable way."

I don't know in what diocese you live, so I don't know the local situation. But as I mentioned, don't expect things to happen right away, or dramatically when they do. The willingness of the priest to effectively "reinvent the wheel" for a small group is certainly possible, given the growing number of priests who are flocking to training seminars for the Old Mass. Be patient. Pray hard. And stay in touch.

 

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