The Latin Mass: Why You Can’t Have It
Well, you can, actually.
We do NOT refer here to the "ordinary form" of the Roman Mass, also known as the "Novus Ordo Missae," promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1969, and celebrated in its normative state in Latin, while permitted in an authorized vernacular.
We refer instead to the so-called "extraordinary form" of the same, that which dates in its general appearance to the time of Pope Gregory the Great in the sixth century, and which, after a millennium of cross-cultural evolution, was codified by Pope Pius V in 1570, and with minor alterations in the centuries to follow, was in normative use in the Western church until 1964, with the first measures to (ostensibly) reconcile the Ordo Missae with the decrees of the Second Vatican Council (which is another subject for another day). It is referred to most commonly these days as the "Traditional Latin Mass" or "TLM," but in the recent past as the "Tridentine Mass," or the "Old Mass," or the "Mass of All Time" (the latter being a misguided term, inasmuch as EVERY valid Mass is a Mass of all time, regardless of its form).
On the seventh of July, in the year of our Lord two thousand and seven, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI announced the removal of all restrictions to the celebration of this form of the Roman Rite, in his motu proprio (that is, on his own initiative) decree Summorum Pontificum. Given the availability of a priest in good canonical standing who is competent to celebrate it, and given the desire of the faithful themselves to assist thereupon, there is no permission required of the local bishop. That decree became effective five years ago today, on the Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross.
So, the challenge of restoring Catholic tradition in worship has been met -- in theory. What follows are some of the most likely reasons as to why, in some localities, this has not been met in practice.
But first ... let us clear the air about two things.
First, I am not just some crank on the internet bitching about things I am powerless to change (like some folks we know). For five years I have been the Senior Master of Ceremonies for the Traditional Mass at the Church of Saint John the Beloved in McLean, Virginia, under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Arlington. We are the only location for a Traditional High Mass EVERY Sunday of the year in the DC metropolitan area (without including Warren County or the West Virginia panhandle). I have trained dozens of young men to serve this Mass, including one now studying for the priesthood, and two others discerning, and have been of some assistance to several priests in learning to say the Old Mass. I am in frequent contact with priests and fellow-emcees throughout the States, often serving alongside them in cities that I visit. (Have surplice and cassock, will travel.) It is safe to say that I possess some facility with the subject matter, thanks to the exemplary guidance of devout clerics and knowledgeable laics, not to mention a group of young men who would make any mother proud.
Second, what follows is not an endorsement of any delay or other dilatory actions undertaken by parish and/or diocesan officials. This presentation is given with the understanding, that the motu proprio was written specifically to be generous to the highest degree allowable under church law. The assumption is not that what is called for cannot be done, but that it can. The burden falls, not on the faithful, but on those who would serve them. That said, it is helpful to know why things are not as they should be, if only to understand, and eventually overcome them.
To put it another way, if you can't imagine why you don't have access to the Traditional Latin Mass in every gosh darn parish in the universe, as of one day after the Pope said you could, or you want to know what has to happen to have one anywhere at all, you should read this.
Then you should read it again. Slowly.
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The short explanation is that it comes down to two things: supply and demand. That will not suffice, though, will it?
We start with demand instead of supply. As the latter gives the detailed picture, it helps to see the big one first.
For those who experience difficulties in having the Traditional Mass celebrated in their locality, the inclinations of church authorities notwithstanding, much of that which they encounter may be strictly practical.
It is no secret that many parts of the country face a shortage of priests. We can safely assume that those available have more than enough to do. A return to Catholic tradition in the Church, including collective certainty of Her teachings, may alleviate that eventually, but not immediately. The sentiments of one devoted pastor in rural Ohio are neither insincere nor unusual: "I'm already in charge of three parishes, and they expect me to learn the Latin Mass?" Meanwhile, seminaries are only beginning to offer training in the Traditional Mass in the past year or two as part of the regular curriculum.
The realities of supply, especially when it is limited, are usually the result of demand. For our first case in point, we turn to the Buckeye State of Ohio, to the area where I was raised.
The Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Ohio, has an estimated 500,000 baptized Catholics. They are spread out over an area in the southwestern portion of Ohio that comprises nineteen counties. The territory is over fifty miles in length running east to west, and over one hundred miles running north to south. Sitting roughly in the middle is the city of Dayton, where a priest of the Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP) offers the Traditional Mass every day of the week, at a magnificent urban parish church, Holy Family. Once slated for closing, it is now dedicated to this apostolate, and is thriving.
Hold that thought.
Of the half million baptized Catholics, let us suppose (for want of a better method) that ONE PERCENT of them would drive for up to an hour to attend the Traditional Mass. That gives us a total of 5,000. However dedicated, they are nonetheless very small in number relative to the whole. With a central location devoted to them on a daily basis, and a second one in another high-population area for Sundays, one would ask if they are adequately served. Five thousand souls produces more than enough for two good-sized parishes. You would think that the number alone would justify making it available in more locations, wouldn't you?
To answer that question poses another: how is either meeting the demand? Holy Family in Dayton has about three hundred attendees on average, and the church building they use is nearly half full. Sacred Heart Church in Cincinnati has about two hundred attendees on average for its Traditional Mass, and it is about half full. That would put the number at about five hundred, or ONE TENTH OF ONE PERCENT of the faithful. The location in Cincinnati uses a rotating schedule of priests from outside the parish, but both locations begin before noon. If the attendance were merely to double or to triple, you might have a good case for expansion, ergo the support of yet another parish. But for whatever reason, it has not.
(We did not forget the historic Old Saint Mary's, also in Cincinnati, but their Sunday Latin Mass is in the ordinary form, quite beautifully celebrated at the old high altar, although they offer the traditional form on weekdays and First Friday evenings.)
But what if the numbers didn't matter? Surely if it were already more available, people would be drawn to it like bees to honey. For that, we look at the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, with just over 400,000 faithful, in 68 parishes and missions. This diocese is very fortunate, in that the Traditional Latin Mass is offered every Sunday at EIGHT locations. A generous estimate of regular attendees at all locations put together would be around 1,300, or roughly ONE THIRD OF ONE PERCENT of the faithful, availing themselves of that which is provided by just under TWELVE PERCENT of the parishes and missions of the diocese.
While the latter does represent an increase in demand per capita, it is contingent upon the participation of roughly ONE-EIGHTH of the parishes of the diocese. That and the relatively small numbers hardly make for a dramatic trend -- so far.
Is it unreasonable to expect people to drive for up to an hour to attend the Traditional Mass? An answer to that question might be aided with some perspective. For Catholics of the Eastern Rites (who make up roughly TWO PERCENT of the Catholic population in the USA), unless they live in either the northeastern states, specifically in blue-collar cities like Chicago or Detroit, such a weekly trek is not at all unusual. This has been the case at the Byzantine Rite parish I have attended off and on for many years, when roughly three hundred families in the parish (compared to the five thousand mentioned above) would travel for up to an hour to attend Divine Liturgy.
We can expect a chilly reception from local church officials for the return of the Traditional Mass to such a locale. This writer has had occasion to encounter them over the years. They are at times disingenuous, if not altogether dishonest. And yet, in spite of many accounts of institutional connivance which our readers are all too happy to share, attempts to hire goons to physically block the faithful from attending the Traditional Mass, at least in the States, have yet to be reported. Stories of "persecution" may be a bit exaggerated, especially if no one is drawn and quartered.
In a 1983 interview for The Wanderer, the late Silvio Cardinal Oddi said that the Traditional Mass would be restored when people wanted it badly enough. (He said that. I did not.) Perhaps it will ultimately be when ENOUGH people want it badly enough. (Okay, I said that.) There will also need to be priests to celebrate it (inasmuch as the rest of you are not as blessed as we are in northern Virginia). This brings us to ...
We must first consider that, without Summorum Pontificum ever seeing the light of day, the typical parish priest works six days a week.
Let's repeat that: Six. Days. A. Week.
Most of those workdays easily run from ten to twelve hours. The shortest day for most, in terms of hours, is Sunday. Even that one starts early, with several hours of meeting the constant (if genuine) 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.
This is not to say that there are not priests who make the time to learn the Old Mass. I am saying this is what they generally have to overcome when they make the time.
So let's imagine that a young family with several children in tow visit the pastor. They make a reasonable request along the lines of the aforementioned decree, for an additional Mass, to an already full schedule on Sunday morning. They are also able to assure Father that several dozen other families -- most of them from other parishes, whom Father does not normally serve, and over whom he has no pastoral authority in theory -- 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 simple matter of adding another obligation to what is already a full plate -- all on the assumption that the person being prevailed upon has the same enthusiasm for the idea as does his petitioners.
But let's give ourselves some latitude for the moment. Suppose a change in the Sunday Mass schedule, rather than an addition, is actually on the table. After all, a pastor who is dedicated to Benedict XVI's vision for restoring the sacred to Catholic worship, cannot overlook the possibility, whether or not the pastoral council gets wind of it. This is also a big issue for families with young children. The best time for them to start seems to be anywhere from eight in the morning, to (maybe, just maybe) as late as ten. After that, the young ones tend to get cranky, as it is coming up on nap time. The parents could probably use a nap as well.
So why doesn't a parish schedule the Traditional Mass for an earlier time? The Pope says we're entitled to this, right?
Here's where thinking in a vacuum has its disadvantages. Let's say a typical parish has a Sunday Mass schedule with starting times at 7:30, 9:00, 10:30, and 12:00 (which is possible at a large parish with at least two priests available). Let's say the pastor is in a position to replace one of those with a Traditional Mass, as opposed to adding to the schedule. Why does he pick the 12:00 noon Mass for that purpose, as this would be inconvenient? Why not replace the 9:00 or the 10:30? It is here that we step out of the vacuum and consider how others are affected. For one thing, the alleged riff-raff of "novus ordo Catholics" who already attend the 9:00 and the 10:30 have children as well, who get just as cranky around nap time. Mummy and Daddy are also active parishioners who contribute financially -- one of the precepts of the Church, not exactly a "novus ordo" concept -- whereas the majority of attendees at a Traditional Mass, for the foreseeable future, may largely hail from neighboring parishes. Maybe they'll contribute financially; maybe they won't.
If you were the pastor, would you bet the ability to pay next month's bills on it?
Finally, a Traditional Mass, in particular a High Mass, can run over an hour quite easily, which can throw off the whole schedule afterwards. Does that mean we make the 12:00 Mass into the 12:30? Shouldn't those affected be considered? Coming from outside the parish, do we care? And if we don't, what does that say about us? What it says about a pastor, is that he is left with knowing that everybody is entitled to something, not just people who want the Old Mass. He also knows that his main obligation to the care of souls, is primarily in the area where he serves -- usually a geographic territory known as a "parish."
Okay. Say we've gotten past all that, and we have a regularly scheduled Traditional Mass, at a regular parish, on a Sunday morning. Now the real work begins...
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 bound by 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 traditional 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. (NOTE: 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.) The requirements for priestly vesture are also more demanding in the traditional form. If the parish cannot fulfill those requirements, will your "stable group" be able to meet the demand? 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).
(NOTE: It is ideal 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.)
I know what you're all thinking...
The case is often made for special parishes to be established, dedicated solely to offering the Traditional Mass and Sacraments, and staffed exclusively by priests from Traditional communities like the Fraternity, or the Institute of Christ the King. After all, with our own parishes, we can live happily ever after, and the rest of the "novus ordo church" can go to hell in a handbasket.
Something like that, right?
It all looks so simple. Too simple, really. That's why I spoke with a source close to the Fraternity, on the condition of their anonymity.
The major focus of communities dedicated to the Traditional Mass and Sacraments since the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum, is on the training of diocesan priests to celebrate the Traditional Mass themselves, provided these communities are of sufficient numbers, and not all of them are. While arguably a short-term solution, it has been determined to be the best one for the immediate future. As to the long haul, there are numerous requests from bishops to have these orders come to their dioceses and administer special parishes. This is where the short-term solution comes in, since these same orders currently lack the sheer numbers to fulfill the requests they are getting. Some dioceses have been informed that the wait could be as long as ten years! So, it's a great idea, but it won't happen tomorrow.
And lest we forget, we're usually talking about starting a new parish in an area which may already have enough, if not too many. An enormous amount of financial and human resources are involved in the transaction, on the assumption of a demand that may or may not exist. Sufficient compensation for the order administering the parish must be negotiated (and things have been known to break down on this point). With any luck, a suitable parish in the inner city that is nearly abandoned but still serviceable, would be available for a Traditional order to take over. Maybe a few generous benefactors will step forward. Maybe people from the suburbs would be willing to drive into the city. Maybe they will have a safe place to park. It can happen, but this or something like it is what probably has to happen.
In the meantime, the Holy Father does not wish the Traditional Mass to be the exclusive domain of specially-created parishes, but ultimately a component of the worship life of all Roman Rite parishes. In the larger context, he envisions the Traditional Mass as the spearhead of the eventual counter-reform of the Roman Rite, whatever set of books is used.
We keep forgetting that part of his plan, don't we?
There is a point where everyone is in agreement that something must be done about something. It is what happens next where most of us beg to disagree to no end. But first, there are several steps to overcome, and the first one is ...
LOSE THE ATTITUDE
Make no mistake about it; the greatest enemy of the proliferation of the Traditional Mass, is the person who wants it badly enough to forget the real reason why he or she wants it -- or for that matter, needs it. Consider the following:
• Three priests in one East Coast diocese, who enthusiastically awaited the liberation of the Traditional Mass, couldn't wait to learn it. No sooner did they, when they were inundated by complaints from one amateur rubrician after another, about this or that or the other thing. As a result, they no longer celebrate the Traditional Mass, at least not publicly. Indeed, shortly after the motu proprio took effect, none other than Father John Zuhlsdorf issued “a word to biters of the consecrated hand.”
• In one major American city is an urban parish with a long practice of reviving the Traditional Mass, dating back almost to the original 1984 Indult. Several years ago, it was taken over by a new pastor, a priest of middle age who was still learning to celebrate the Mass in that way. He was the object of ridicule by his congregants for quite some time, even as he would genuflect on the wrong knee, due to what was already known to be a war injury. Eventually he became quite competent at celebrating the Traditional Mass, and his good character and resilience won the parish over.
• One midwestern distributor of liturgical books and various accoutrement received hundreds of emails within a month of setting up an educational website, from various dilettantes ready to pick at various details. Their endeavor, thankfully, has continued to thrive.
• At my own parish, a young man actually walked into the sacristy a few minutes before High Mass, while the priest was vesting and saying the appropriate prayers, to complain about the manner of laying out the chalice on the altar before the Mass began. He was quickly and politely shown the door. (He was also not entirely correct.)
And while blogs such as Rorate Caeli are a reliable source of news and information on Catholic traditionalism (if, on occasion, little more than dignified gossip), the comments box regularly becomes a cesspool of bitching and moaning about the battle already won to some extent; the Missale 1962 is tainted by "creeping novus ordoism" (and there really is such a term), thus we have to go back to 1954, or, at last report, 1948, to find our liturgical nirvana. And so the conversation devolves into a diatribe that is indistinguishable from that of the previous story published there.
One might defend the bitterness for various and sundry reasons compiled over the last forty years or more. However justified it may be, it does not serve those who propagate it. This is reason enough to reconsider its value, if it ever had any.
BE THE SOLUTION
Have you served at the altar for a Traditional Mass? Can you train boys and young men to do the same? Does your pastor need you to pull this off? Draw your own conclusions.
Can you sew entire outfits? Consider producing traditional liturgical vestments. If the money can be raised, good luck getting bolts of the proper cloth. The demand is such that professional makers cannot keep enough on the shelves. (When you spend enough time doing sacristy work, you learn these things.)
Do you have the ability to sing, or have any choral experience? You can spend your free time trolling the internet for miserables, or you can study the good news of Shawn Tribe's New Liturgical Movement or Jeffrey Tucker's The Chant Café. The latter, in particular, is the gateway to learning the tradition of Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony. You can read notices of workshops and convocations around the country, or you can invite Mr Tucker and his cohorts to your area to stage your own. Seek fellowship among the like-minded. Network the daylights out of this effort!
Eventually you may have enough people to start a schola cantorum, or a polyphonic chorus. And why not? There is a national trend even in pop music for á cappella singing (as in NBC's recent series The Sing Off). A movement can grow out of nothing, as a new generation emerges from the ashes of popular culture. Is there a diocesan parish with a Mass in the ordinary form that could use choral support? A project known as Corpus Christi Watershed is a valuable resource, much of it free or at low cost, in Latin and English, and much of it geared to the needs of small choirs with little experience. Even if there is not (or the pastor has yet to come to his senses), you can perform at weddings, funerals, open mics, street corners, wherever you won't get arrested for disturbing the peace.
You say you can't get anyone to join you except for the wife and kids? Teach them yourself. Let them learn to sing the chorus to "Rorate Caeli" when lighting the Advent wreath, and that of "Parce Domine" to begin Lenten devotions.
You say you cannot sing, but you can cook? The seasons of the liturgical year provide their own unique forms of celebration, both inside and outside the sanctuary. During the Advent and Christmas season, the aforementioned venues, not to mention this one, can be a source of inspiration. There are books to be read, lectures and colloquia to attend, all the while with the attainment of personal holiness as the ultimate reward. Go to Fisheaters.com to learn about food customs of various Catholic-dominated cultures.
In time, and with the proper disposition (not to mention faith worthy of moving mountains), others will join you.
BE ACTIVE IN YOUR PARISH
There is little to say here, even though this may be the hardest of all. If your canonical parish has deteriorated to the point that only an institutional solution will salvage it, and you are convinced that your soul is in danger, MOVE! Go to another parish, go to another state, if it's half as bad as you imagine it to be. If not, engage yourself in the life of a parish, finding a niche where the damage to your soul and your disposition will be kept to a minimum. Personally, I have never heard of a parish that had a surplus of ushers at Mass, or a waiting list to join the St Vincent de Paul Society.
It is not the intention here to deny anything to say that, while those of us who favor the Traditional Mass have little control over nefarious paperhangers in rectories and chanceries, we must exercise some measure of control over ourselves. However arbitrary or unjust certain conditions may be, they are what they are. It is not the hand we are dealt by which we are judged in this life, but how we play that hand. Common sense, and some familiarity with the building trades, demonstrate that it is generally easier to tear something down, than it is to build it up. Those who expected immediate results from the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum need to step back, get a good grip on their emotions, and take a more strategic approach to restoring Catholic tradition.
Such advice is small comfort to those who have suffered from liturgical banality and assaults upon the Faith. One might also consider a homily of Saint John Chrysostom on the Gospel of Matthew. This is not merely an exercise in pious talk. Consider the times in which he lived, when the Arian heresy consumed nearly every bishop, and threatened the resolve even of the man who was Pope at the time (in this case, Pope Liberius, the first Successor of Peter to never have been canonized). Consider this and more, when reading what follows:
As long as we are sheep, we overcome and, though surrounded by countless wolves, we emerge victorious; but if we turn into wolves, we are overcome, for we lose the shepherd's help. He, after all, feeds the sheep not wolves, and will abandon you if you do not let him show his power in you.
What he says is this: "Do not be upset that, as I send you out among the wolves, I bid you be as sheep and doves. I could have managed things quite differently and sent you, not to suffer evil nor to yield like sheep to the wolves, but to be fiercer than lions, but the way I have chosen is right. It will bring you greater praise and at the same time manifest my power." That is what he told Paul: My grace is enough for you, for in weakness my power is made perfect. "I intend," he says, "to deal the same way with you." For, when he says, I am sending you out like sheep, he implies: "But do not therefore lose heart, for I know and am certain that no one will be able to overcome you."
The Lord, however, does want them to contribute something, lest everything seem to be the work of grace, and they seem to win their reward without deserving it. Therefore he adds: You must be clever as snakes and innocent as doves. But, they may object, what good is our cleverness amid so many dangers? How can we be clever when tossed about by so many waves? However great the cleverness of the sheep as he stands among the wolves - so may wolves! - what can it accomplish? However great the innocence of the dove, what good does it do him, with so many hawks swooping upon him? To all this I say: Cleverness and innocence admittedly do these irrational creatures no good, but they can help you greatly.
What cleverness is the Lord requiring here? The cleverness of a snake. A snake will surrender everything and will put up no great resistance even if its body is being cut in pieces, provided it can save its head. So you, the Lord is saying, must surrender everything but your faith: money, body, even life itself. For faith is the head and the root; keep that, and though you lose all else, you will get it back in abundance. The Lord therefore counseled the disciples to be not simply clever or innocent; rather he joined the two qualities so that they become a genuine virtue. He insisted on the cleverness of the snake so that deadly wounds might be avoided, and he insisted on the innocence of the dove so that revenge might not be taken on those who injure or lay traps for you. Cleverness is useless without innocence.
Do not believe that this precept is beyond you power. More than anyone else, the Lord knows the true natures of created things; he knows that moderation, not a fierce defense, beats back a fierce attack.
(Hom 33, 1. 2. PG 57, 389-390)
Every major reform of the Church began in two ways; from among the laity, and through personal reform. We must, at the end of the day, be the solution within ourselves that we seek from others. In so doing, let us pursue our cause with joy, in the genuine Christian sense of the word, with the knowledge that God is still in charge of earthly events, and that the Evil One shall never prevail over the Church that was established by His Son, under whose guidance we offer the Eternal Sacrifice, and follow the cross on our procession toward Heaven.
“The Latin Mass: A Postscript”
“The Latin Mass and Liturgical Coexistence”
“Stairway to Heaven” (from April 2010)