Monday, June 16, 2008

Critical Mass: What Castrillon Hoyos Doesn’t Tell You

[WARNING: Yet another piece on ecclesiastical minutiae, in this case concerning the use of the Traditional Form of the Roman Mass for Catholic worship. Continued reading may be accompanied by glazing of the eyes, and wishing the Pope were still in America spending the day watching a baseball game in the stands. Oh well, you've been warned...]

His Eminence Dario Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos is president of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, which oversees the implementation of the Traditional Latin Mass for the Roman rite. Following his celebration of a Pontifical Mass at Westminster Cathedral in the UK, he had the opportunity to remind the press (and by extension, anyone who didn't get it the first time), that the classical form of the Roman liturgy was not meant only for the few who get down on their hands and knees and beg for it, but for the whole Church. As if that were not clear enough, according to the Telegraph, he indicated that the Holy Father's wish for the Traditional Mass, was that it be celebrated in all parishes.

That's right. All of them.

Here's where the buzz continues on Angelqueen and CTN-GREG, and all the other internet chatterboxes, in which the huddled masses of armchair pundits will demand that this transformation take place by... well, how's next Sunday?

Here's why that's not going to happen, and why could will take at least five, or even ten years.

For one thing, "prefectly clear" is not clear enough for someone who doesn't want to hear it. And you've got an entire infrastructure that is accustomed to doing things a certain way, even if we are to assume such to be a good thing. I've got an old friend back in Ohio who's a priest, a perfectly good one in all respects, except maybe for one. He tells his parishioners that "the Latin Mass" ain't gonna happen while he's in charge, and that his parishioners who want it are free to attend old Father Fezziwig's place down near the water treatment plant (or something like that). All this is to say, that it is not enough for those who love the Old Mass to want it; those who couldn't care less have to learn to live with it, and their collective hand hasn't been forced just yet.

What you need is a transformation equivalent to that which happened in the five or six years following the Second Vatican Council, that culminated in the "Novus Ordo Missae" of Pope Paul VI.

Even for those parishes that want the Traditional Mass -- and I mean really REALLY want it, every Sunday morning at the same more-or-less convenient time -- you need at least two priests in residence (or at the very least, two who are readily available) who are competent to celebrate it, to ensure that this will happen regularly. If Father Number One gets called away at the last minute, or is otherwise indisposed, you have to have a Father Number Two, or the best laid plans... you get the idea.

Next, and for the long haul (the one we never consider when wanting something immediately), you have to require seminarians to learn it. That does not mean to make it an option. That means "require," as in "learn it both ways or don't get ordained." If you are successful at pulling this off starting -- er, uh, today, your mandate will bear fruit in four to six years.

But we all know that won't happen today, don't we? (See "not clear enough," above.)

Now, getting past all that, we have nearly half a century of iconoclastic architecture for new churches, and really bad makeovers for older churches, around which we have to maneuver. That would be hard enough in a place devoted exclusively to the ancient form. But when both have to co-exist, the fact is that some situations facilitate co-existence better than others. If you have, say, a half-hour between the previous Mass and yours, you can expect to spend half of it re-arranging furniture, only to put it all back afterwards. (Try getting half a dozen boys to do that in a timely manner every Sunday. It's not nearly as easy as I make it look. And, I do, of course...) Sometimes you have a huge free-standing altar sitting in the middle, while the priest insists on saying the Mass on the unconsecrated shelf behind it which is deemed "the altar of repose." It looks perfectly ridiculous, but depending on where what I like to call "the elephant in the sanctuary" is placed, it may be the only way. Even when it's NOT the only way, some of the rabble in the pews have a real thing about a free-standing altar, regardless of the orientation of the priest.

Of course, at the Basilica of Saint Peter in Rome, no one is complaining. Not in the last few centuries anyway...

And what about the faithful themselves, the ones who want the Traditional Mass badly enough that they'll drive across town for it? They can be a positive force in the life of the parish, especially older urban places that would otherwise close down or fall apart. A perfect case in point is St Mary Mother of God Church in Washington DC, east of Chinatown, with the traditional sanctuary and magnificent marble altar and reredos still intact, its view unencumbered by a fixed "people's altar." On the other hand, they can be just a group of malcontents that take over for an hour and a half, complain about their limitations, then leave like a thief in the night when it's over, often after contributing nary a pittance to the financial health of the parish. Some have a reason to complain, especially when they're treated badly by the host parish. I've never known the latter scenario personally, but I do notice that some parishes are "forced" to add a later time to their schedule, rather than replace a regularly scheduled (and more reasonably timed) Mass.

This is how you handle a situation that's meant for everybody. Uh-huh.

It comes down to this: I don't care if a family threw their TV out in the trash and homeschools their kids. They are a product of the society in which they live, and like most of their neighbors, when they want something, they want it RIGHT NOW! There are some unavoidable reasons why that's not going to happen in most places, so they'd better learn to settle in for the aforementioned long haul. They need to look at the big picture, wherein may be found the brighter side, as reports are coming in from all over the country about the growing popularity of the "Extraordinary Form." (Does anyone else hate that term as much as I do?) As I've written before, and have said to different groups time and time again, tearing something down is much easier than building it back up again.

Welcome to The Land of Building Back Up Again. Just don't hold your breath.


Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

Did you just say that we might see the TLM in every parish in the world in the next 5-10 years?

That strikes me as a wonderfully optimistic estimate, and I sincerely hope you're right about it.

Do we start counting from the date Summorum Pontificum was issued, 11 months ago? (That would make it 4-9 years.)

Or from the effective date, last Sept.?

Or did you mean from today?

Either way, that would be wonderful to see in so short a time!

David L Alexander said...

"Did you just say that we might see the TLM in every parish in the world in the next 5-10 years?"

Seems that way, doesn't it? I meant to say that it would be POSSIBLE within that time frame. The overwhelming majority of priests of the Roman Rite, are presently incapable of celebrating Mass according to the Traditional form, whether or not they want to.

Steve Skojec said...


I think your assessment is pretty accurate, and I, for one, can deal with it.

One quibble - your mention of requiring seminaries to deal with it was addressed by Card. Hoyos in his press interview:

Anna Arco (The Catholic Herald): On that note, would you like to see all the seminaries in England and Wales teach the seminarians how to celebrate in the Extraordinary Form?

CC: I would like it, and it will be necessary. We are writing to the seminaries, we are in accord that we have to make deep preparation not only for the Rite, but for [teaching] the theology, the philosophy, the Latin language …

"Writing" being a present tense sort of word, one suspects this may be happening as we speak.

Dad29 said...

If you think that the PRIESTS are a problem, wait until you discover that the MUSICIANS required for that task are also extremely scarce.