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.