Friday, September 14, 2012

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. From there, it behooves us to elaborate.


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 ...


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.


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 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.


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)



Dismas said...

Truly instructive, wow.

Father Edwin Palka said...

Very well written. You have touched upon some very real challenges to making the TLM available. One extra challenge for the priest (and one that most lay people don't even come close to understanding) is the necessity of preparing and delivering two different homilies every Sunday. The liturgical calendars for the two forms occasionally coincide but most often contain different prayers and readings and even vary on the date of solemnities and liturgical seasons! "Father, didn't we already celebrate Christ the King a few weeks ago?" "Yes, but only in the other form."

Thrift Store Mama said...

Very interesting reading. I prefer the ordinary form of the Mass and have been disappointed at my parish with t the preferential treatment given to the small group of parishioners who wanted a more traditional form of the Mass. The Mass schedule was changed, and they got the best Mass time and the ordinary mass time got moved much earlier. All of the parish festivals and celebrations now take place after the traditional Mass. This group of parishioners also doesn't believe in the presence of a vibrant youth group for the high school students, so there is no support for that either.

It was helpful for me to read the perspective on the actual numbers of Catholics who prefer this style of Mass. But my goodness, at least at my Parish they are a very vocal group.

David L Alexander said...


I'm guessing there's a lot more to this story. While I'm in no position to dispute you, it is an unusual scenario. What diocese are you in? (Relax, no one knows who you are.)

Fr. Jason Worthley said...

Very good assessment of the situation. Thanks for posting.

Tim Rohr said...

Perhaps you didn't read the accompanying letter to the bishops in which Benedict stated that it "behooves" us to "restore" this mass to its proper place. That's a directive to the bishops to get busy, not a permission to allow it.

David L Alexander said...

Mr Rohr:

Thank you for writing.

Then again, perhaps I DID read it. But enough about me. Here's what YOU might have missed:

"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."

"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."

Then there's one more quotation for good measure.

"Then you should read it again. Slowly."

There is no dispute here as to what the bishops should do. Nor is there any dispute as to what they should NOT do, which is to impede the TLM. They had their chance to implement it on their terms, and now Pope Benedict has taken the power out of their hands. That leaves much of it to us, and what WE have to do to "get busy." Let me know how it works out at your end, and stay in touch.

Gail Finke said...

David: It took me a few days to get to this because it is so long. What an excellent summation. And I really love that long quote from St. John Chrysostom. Imagine what it would have been like to hear that, as you said, in the middle of the Arian heresy that seemed as if it would swallow the Church.

No one ever promised us everything we wanted. TLM enthusiasts often shoot themselves in the foot. The first one I ever met was so bitter, and said such nasty things, that even though I was interested in TLM I decided it that was an example of who went, I'd stick with the regular mass. Since then I have met very nice TLM people, but it was probably 12 years before I was anywhere near one to meet.

My OF parish is middle-of-the-road. There are better and there are worse. There are many places in the world that have no Mass at all. I try to be grateful.

Anonymous said...

It would be nice if the local priests would support the TLM by suggesting to his parishoners to go to a TLM and see the beauty of the old style of mass. I've only heard derogatory comments made by priests who are fairly liberal when asked if the Latin Mass would return to that parish. Currently, there is some demand but it is definitely lacking in the supply department. The parish I used to attend before getting married had TLM until the parish priest grew ill and was forced to retire a second time. Now they ship in a priest from over 100 miles away to say the mass. I reallt hope the new semenarians will find a passion for TLM and promote it to their parishioners. Thank-you for the wonderful suggestions on how to help this community thrive.

Sean said...

When the new form of the Mass was introduced in the 1960s, there was no popular demand for it. Supply was not thought to be a detriment either: all the priests in the world were trained in the old form of the Mass, but the changes were implemented anyway.

What made the change possible were the bishops simply saying, “We are doing this for your own good. The Church needs to adapt, and we will shepherd you through the process.” The average parishioner in the pew, then, was not asking for the change; instead, the change was imposed from above, under color of authority.

The bishops today are the souls who championed the change to the new form of the Mass; they imposed it; they directed that it take place; they allowed the innovations to occur, and all this without a request or mandate from the majority of the faithful. The chief reason that the new Mass remains the norm, then, is that the bishops want it; they simply do not want the old Mass.

With sufficient motivation by the authorities, the lack of a demand and the lack of a supply were not an impediment to change in the 1960s. Absent the leadership of the hierarchy, all the demand in the world will not be supplied.

And that is why more people cannot have the Latin Mass.

David L Alexander said...


Thanks for writing.

I'm old enough to remember the 1960s. I was trained to serve Mass in the "old school." The ability to say some parts of the Mass in the vernacular, and to see the priest facing the people, were very well received in some parts of the world. This is not to say it was a good thing.

You raise two very good points, including the one you missed. As the Romans say: "Id quod, modus quo." Cardinal Ratzinger wrote more than once that the manner of implementation of the Novus Ordo Missae was as much of a problem as the "hermeneutic of rupture" which it created. Obviously the manner of restoration is going to be a concern now that he is Pope Benedict. This is not the 1960s. We are not tearing something down, but rebuilding it up again. This is where the comparison ends.

Even if every bishop in the known world wanted the TLM today, the fact is that only a small percentage of priests in the Latin rite (if that many) know how to say it. The article went to great pains to point out what little time many priests have to learn to say Mass all over again. Further, most churches built in the last thirty years are not optimized for a proper celebration.

There is "sufficient motivation" among younger priests. That is why the TLM will eventually become more common. One could easily predict that the situation in 2020 will be very different than in 2012. We've already seen a significant change in attitudes in seminaries in the last five years.

All in good time ...

Ecgbert said...

Interesting. Thanks. My guesses: it's more the hostility from old liberals still running things in many places than the real problem of rude, self-defeating trads. And, speaking of demand, the rank and file don't want to go back to Latin. (The people-smart old liberals know that and run with it, always calling it the Latin Mass to scare people away from it.) One of my stock lines is It's Not About Latin™. Have a vernacular option for doing the traditional Mass; the Anglican Use and the new ordinariates can show how. Regardless, somebody got it right: even if we who go to the traditional Mass got our way and it became the norm or at least available everywhere, and even with a vernacular option for it, a few churchgoers would love it, a few would hate it and most of the remaining churchgoers (shrinking because of the church shooting itself in the foot with the council and the bigger problem of more secularism in the bigger culture, but it also means the old liberals are dying out) would just go along with it, not caring either way.

mmatins said...

Thank you so much for this, I really agree--especially the part about rubrical complaining. Happy feast of St. Robert Bellarmine.

Unknown said...

As someone who somewhat begrudging attends TLM mass frequently because his wife likes it, I sometimes wonder the extent that the different liturgical calendar plays in supply demand. Some regular Catholics may feel alienated about this aspect (e.g., me), and priests would likely have to extensively prepare a second homily, no?

Jack said...

I agree with just about everything you say, especially about those who use the hateful phrase "Mass of All Time." As a devotee of the Byzantine church, what is the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, I ask. Chopped liver?

I've tried pointing out on a certain site that calls itself "traditional" that EVERY Eucharistic Sacrifice in EVERY authorized rite of the Church celebrated according to liturgical norms IS "the True Mass of All Time/Ages."

But for some reason, it never appears.

The ideas some have voiced here of reviving the Extraordinary Form in the vernacular has some advantages, but I don't think it will happen.

As far as celebrating it in Latin entirely, would the average priest be comfortable saying prayers (as opposed to praying) in a language he does not understand? Would this not truly be the "vain repetition" Our Savior condemned?

(Please keep in mind I'm not dismissing the Extraordinary Form as such; I'm just pointing out a great difficulty.)

carolyn said...

You views are understandable and observations are quite accurate.
I do however disagree with some of your assessment and conclusion.

So its like different flavors of ice cream? The conventional N.O. Mass is like vanilla and TLM is like Chocolate. If you prefer Chocolate then you need to step up and make Chocolate happen, and stop bothering those who prefer vanilla. You present it as though the difference is simply fashion.
TLM is less prone to true liturgical abuse, and this is why some seek it.

True, there are sinner and saints in all the pews. There are also clergy that are hostile to tradition of any sort and deliberately reject the sacrificial nature of Mass. Mass for them is a communal meal and nothing else. They seek militantly a new church. There are places were this claim seems to be paranoid make-believe. There are other places where is it undeniable fact. The gift of discernment is key for any Catholic. Benedict XVI has spoken of the enemies within the church, some of us on occasion find ourselves looking at the whites of their eyes.
Abuse, sacrilege and apostasy happens. Let's pray for all clergy. If you'd like you can also hope that all clergy will be drawn to the extraordinary form of the Mass.

David L Alexander said...

Carolyn, you wrote:

"If you prefer Chocolate then you need to step up and make Chocolate happen, and stop bothering those who prefer vanilla. You present it as though the difference is simply fashion."

I'm afraid you missed the point of the article by a considerable margin. I made absolutely no reference to the relative merits of one form of the Mass over the other. I simply gave practical reasons for limited availability of the Traditional Mass, and what the faithful can do to make the most of the situation. My analysis was the result of conversations with priests and emcees from various parts of the country, and my own experience as well.

I am a cradle Catholic, a product of 12 years of Catholic schools during the 60s and early 70s, will be 58 years old by year's end, and read entirely too much for my own good. Do you really believe I am unaware of dysfunctional clergy, or essentially Protestant attitudes towards the nature of the Mass? I invite you to "read it again. Slowly."

Athelstane said...

Hello David,

A great post.

Just one niggle: Gregory the Great reigned at the end of the sixth century, not the fifth.

Though you could argue that the traditional mass dates back even further than ca. 600, back to the pontificate of Pope Damasus in the 4th century...

David L Alexander said...


Thanks for catching that century thing. I fixed it. I agree about Pope Damasus, that one could argue that, but I gave Gregory the benefit of the doubt, for the usual reasons that one argues back, and that some people refer to it as the "Gregorian Rite" for that reason.

Athelstane said...

Hello David,

No problem.

I particularly appreciated your point to traddies to "lose the attitude." I have been going to TLM communities in several different cities for about eleven years now...and I am saddened to say, it's a problem. Not everywhere, to be sure. But in some places, yes.

Traddies have put up with an awful lot down through the years, from recalcitrant bishops, priests and liturgists. In some places it's still worth your career prospects to offer even an occasional private TLM. The anger and resentments are understandable. But it's not helpful to us.

I make it a point to thank my priests who celebrate the traditional mass, especially when they are doing it as a one-off to help out a beleaguered regular celebrant. And I've begun to make it a point to start serving. The return of the TLM will be led by priests, in the end (I believe that supply will create its own demand); but we in the laity can make that task a lot easier or a lot harder on them. If you haven't thanked your TLM celebrant priest lately, take time to do so. And if you haven't helped materially, now may be the time to do so.

Stephen Spencer said...

Good article!

A quibble: FSSP is running out of places to send its priests, and have not been let into most large cities.

David L Alexander said...


Thank you for writing.

"Running out of places" can mean anything. Is it a lack of demand? Is it a lack of a suitable location? Is there an accord to be reached regarding their responsibility of stewardship to the diocese?

I refer you to the section on supply, where it begins: "I know what you're thinking ..."

Lynne said...

The FSSP is not allowed in Boston, i.e. Cardinal Sean does not want to invite them in.

Unknown said...

After reading this blog, hearing everybody fighting about who's right and who's better from BOTH sides sadly,My face is being turned away from Catholicism.

Unknown said...

I am deeply discouraged and saddened by the fighting and the bitterness I hear from BOTH sides. I have been struggling with the faith for sometime. I go to BOTH masses and I have been rejected by BOTH sides. Latin for going to the English and English for going to the Latin! It hurts and it is confusing. What am suppose to do? I am trying to do what Christ would be pleased with and I do not know where that is when both sides are suppose to be family but one pulls me in one direction and one pulls me in another. It is like 2 parents fighting b/c they cannot agree, they cannot see the truth and the good, so they divorce. I just want to love Christ, but where can I look if people in the church he established are always bickering and fighting over this issue of the Mass? I can look to the The saints, yes, and Christ himself, but what about the people in the 21st century who are followers of Christ our fellow brother and sisters can he not be found in them? Where is the love and heart of CHRIST if it cannot be seen in his bride? If it cannot be seen in those who truly want to love him? It is about HIM right? Not about me or you or who is "better" or who knows more about the technicalities of church rubrics? I would think if you really want the heart of Christ humility would need to be sought and truth would have to be sought. Once you accept this you want to worship Christ with love and respect. I Read this article b/c I happened to be looking for a parish in a new city I may be moving to and this popped up. I do not usually read or respond to bloggers but I thought maybe there is a soul out there who may really love Jesus and really care and pray that I do not leave the church b/c this article by who ever wrote it was so disheartening to me it just pushed me closer to the exit door of the Catholic church. What if a protestant was reading this? What if others who are struggling with their faith like me are reading this? Why would they be encouraged to become a Catholic or stay a Catholic? No can get along and work towards the love of Christ, which I know can often be tough love - a crucifixtion. The words and the attitude between the sides can sound so arrogant, political,technical, hateful, bitter and pharisaical (my spelling is bad but my heart is sincere). I have had Lutheran friends with differences who were better examples to me. I am not perfect and seek the love and support of my spiritual family on this journey to Christ and heaven and I hear discord and hatred. Just broken hearted. What would Christ want? What does he deserve? I know I deserve nothing and he deserves all of our love. Where is the unity, the peace the gentleness, the strength the love, the holiness? It is draining to hear everyone fight.I thought maybe I would find something encouraging while on my journey and struggling, but instead I feel as if I just wasted my time only to become discouraged. Why should it bother "Fred" if "Dor's" believes she is loving Christ by going to the english mass? And Vice Versa. Aren't we all as Christians just trying to do the best we can. It would be so peaceful, harmonious and probably bring great strength to the world and others if we were all united and on the same page. I can think of one Catholic who was a good example to me in this time period ,she became a Carmelite nun. Please pray for me that I do not walk out of the church, even though it looks like such a mess. I will pray for you! JMJ

David L Alexander said...

Jill Smith:

Thank you for writing.

There was a time when I could have written this, and but for a turn of events in the near future, I could again. Jean-Paul Sartre was right when he said that "hell is other people." Because most people are jerks, and the biggest jerks are the ones who don't know it. They have a venue by which to make themselves conspicuous. As one Catholic publisher once told me, "some people have something to say, while others have to say something."

If a protestant were to read any of this, and were at all honest with themselves, they would know that the thousands of protestant sects were formed over history as a result of less than what you read here. Why then don't the Catholic jerks just leave?

Hans Urs von Balthassar once said why he did not leave the Church:

"Because it is the only chance to escape from oneself, from this curse of one's importance, of one's own gravity, from the role which is identified with my own person, so that if I lost my role I would end up falling in love with my person: to escape from all this without becoming estranged from man, because God has become man, not in a vacuum but in the community of the Church. I do not doubt for a moment that God's incarnation is intended for all men and that he is sufficiently God in order to reach all whom he will. But he has set up, in the middle of the history of humanity with all its terrors and hells, a marriage bed, splendid and untouchable -- it is portrayed in the Song of Songs -- and even the endless problems of the Church cannot create a fog so thick that it cannot from time to time be penetrated by the light of love which shines from the saints: a love which is naive, which cannot be taken over and built into any program.

"There are vocations in which men are called into the sphere of the fire. They always demand the whole person. Those who have said 'no' remain marked. They burn, but they become cynical and destructive, they smell each other out and hold together. It makes no matter whether they officially leave the Church or remain within her. Anyone with some facility for discerning spirits can recognize them.

"It is up to me, up to us, to see that the Church comes closer to that which in reality she is."

For my part, if I am convinced that the Church is my only chance of eternal life, and assurance against eternal damnation, I have no where else to go, and frankly, neither do you.

And we are not alone … (end part one)

David L Alexander said...

(begin part two) Christ Himself was deserted by eleven of the first twelve bishops, and their successors have been running scared ever since. Francis of Assisi was rejected from his own order, and spent his final years surrounded only by a few loyal followers. Alphonsus de Ligouri was rejected from his order as well, and was forbidden to say Mass publicly for a time, and he was a bishop. Padre Pio was basically under house arrest for most of his priestly life. The minute word got to Rome about the stagnate, they totally freaked, and that's how they handled it. Bonaventure Broderick was Archbishop of Havana, Cuba, in the early 20th century. He was supposed to be reassigned, but found himself lost in the Vatican paperwork, and was out of a job. He spent most of his adult life running a gas station in upstate New York, until Cardinal Spellman finally found him, and made him an auxiliary bishop in his final years.

All were rejected by their Mother's agents. None of them left Her.

Those who prefer the Traditional Mass do not do so out of a sense of superiority; quite the opposite, in fact. It demands more of them, and they know they must demands more of themselves, including recourse to the mercy of God.

If you're looking to relocate to another part of the country, and want a place where the Faith is proclaimed with absolute certainty, there are three places I can recommend; 1) Arlington, Virginia, 2) Lincoln, Nebraska, and 3) Madison, Wisconsin. The midwest is friendlier, and the pace of life more moderate, but the job opportunities in northern Virginia are much better (even though you'll pay more than twice as much for a place to live, which is why we're all so overpaid).

Write me privately if you want to know more. "manwithblackhat at yahoo dot com." You know where to find me. Stay in touch.


Anonymous said...

I strongly object to the use of the offensive term "bitching." Please promote the sacred without vulgar language. You are a disciple of Our Lord.

David L Alexander said...


I strongly object to bitching about such matters, and so was compelled to refer to it as such.

That said, your objection is noted, as is the fact that even Our Lord Himself used such language, as "evil brood of vipers" was a rough equivalent in the ancient world. And, as I am His disciple … well, what can I tell ya?

Now, if you want some real potty-mouth, go to the Patheos Catholic Channel, where devotees of Catholic new media can't seem to get enough of it.

Stay in touch.


Athelstane said...

Hello Davidm

""Running out of places" can mean anything. Is it a lack of demand? Is it a lack of a suitable location? Is there an accord to be reached regarding their responsibility of stewardship to the diocese?"

I can't speak to *every* diocese, but I think it is no secret that there are a number of dioceses which have been resistant to accepting an Ecclesia Dei society into their diocese on any basis, let alone to have an entire parish to run. It's also no secret that these dioceses seem located disproportionately on the coasts.

To take it closer to home, it's also not much of a secret that there has been more than one approach to a major archdiocese across the river, the leadership of which has made clear that it is not open to such a offer. And the question here is not about demand, i.e., a large enough group of the faithful to support such a mission, given the very robust attendance at the two regular Sunday TLM's in the inner core of said archdiocese, and the very robust attendance at "one-off" TLM's scheduled at various points in said archdiocese. Nor is there a lack of "support infrastructure, " i.e., lack of trained servers and scholas (though there can never be enough of such things).

There are undeniably locales where demand is weaker than demanding trads would like to admit, and an ordinary is not unjustified in moving more slowly. But it's also long been clear that some chancery officials simply are resistant to any presence of the FSSP or ICK even when all the obvious prerequisites are not met. Sometimes this is because of vehement ideological or theological opposition to the old Mass. Sometimes it's from bureaucratic inertia and distrust of anything "outside the box," or a community they would have less control over. Sometimes, it's because those asking for it are not always their own best allies. Sometimes it's a combination of all of the above.

And sometimes, it takes a change of administration for it to happen. This is certainly what happened in many places (like the Midwest) where that posture has changed. I hope it won't be necessary here as well. I hope that, eventually, the successful arrival of the Ecclesia Dei societies in many other dioceses will help ease fears that they are some kind of an enemy to be feared. Because they really aren't.

Athelstane said...

Oops. Typo:

A sentence above should read as follows:

"But it's also long been clear that some chancery officials simply are resistant to any presence of the FSSP or ICK even when all the obvious prerequisites ARE met."

Obviously, that spurious "not" changes the whole meaning of the sentence.

Anonymous said...

I'm 21 years old and was never taught that there was an alternative to mass in English until I started reading Catholic blogs a few years ago. I think a big reason for the lack of demand is that teens don't even know that the TLM exists.

Unknown said...

By happenstance I discovered this article and applaud you for your logic and ability to frame a discussion absent of emotional persuasion, with a good dose of humor thrown in. Thank you for taking the time to write this and for all the responses you have made to the comments. Truly impressive. In our diocese, we are currently attempting to pray for and work with our bishop to convince him of the need for the FSSP to be invited in. Reading your article at such a time has proved most beneficial to me, and I just wanted to thank you.

Unknown said...

When the mass was commonly celebrated in Latin, seminarians studied Latin for 6 to 8 years so that they could be fluent in the proper of the mass as well as the common of the mass. It doesn't make sense to have priests reciting words when they have no idea what they mean. You can't just teach a priest to "say the Latin mass". You have to teach him to know Latin. I am not sure that that is the best use of a contemporary seminarians time.

David L Alexander said...

Marie LaSalle, you wrote:

"You can't just teach a priest to 'say the Latin mass'. You have to teach him to know Latin. I am not sure that that is the best use of a contemporary seminarians time."

It is the best use of their time if it's required by canon law ...

"The program of priestly formation is to provide that students not only are carefully taught their native language but also understand Latin well and have a suitable understanding of those foreign languages which seem necessary or useful for their formation or for the exercise of pastoral ministry." (CIC 249)

... and if it's necessary to understand the theology of Thomas Aquinas, as he is best understood in the original language, and is to this day the most significant factor in a seminarian's theological formation.

david meyer said...

Thanks for the great post.
I converted along with my wife and 6 kids in 2010, so my perspective isn't that of a grizzled trad who has a lot of battle wounds.

As soon as the FSSP came to town, we went there. So availability did create demand for us. To be honest, there is no way I could go back to the O.F. mass. I didn't anticipate that realization.

Things are worse than I thought in the Church.