Apparently they never give up. Some bishops want “to see the Extraordinary Form of the Roman rite explicitly suppressed, or subject to further restrictions,” says Una Voce in a statement released on July 4th. These advocates for the older use of the Mass apparently think those bishops might get what they want.
Those bishops shouldn’t want that, and they most definitely shouldn’t get it. To restrict — to continue to restrict and discourage — the Extraordinary Form would be a pastoral and evangelistic failure. To do anything other than encourage it use and let it expand would subvert the Church’s work in the world. And it would be pointlessly cruel as well, to faithful Catholics who deserve the Church’s solicitude.
I am not a traditionalist. I have been to just three Latin Masses in my life, one of those when I was still an Episcopalian. My family goes happily to a parish whose Masses would leave my traditionalist friends waiting in pain for the final blessing. I cheer Francis and don’t accept the traditionalists’ hostile reading of the Second Vatican Council. I’m not writing a brief for traditionalism, though I am moved by the example my more traditionalist friends give of serious and sacrificial faithfulness.
Still, I think the Church will only do good by unfettering the Extraordinary Form completely. Letting priests and parishes who want to celebrate it as the Extraordinary Form do so will have pastoral and evangelistic effects that we will not get in any other way.
Benedict’s Summorum Pontificum did so in law, but not so much in practice. Bishops and chanceries have many ways to suppress the rite when they want to suppress it, and many (apparently most) bishops in Europe and America did. Now there are rumors Rome may retract or limit Benedict’s permission.
A parish not too far from us has just approved what will be only the second regular Sunday Latin Mass in the diocese. Only the second. This parish has long offered one for holy days of obligation and special occasions, but had to work up to having one on Sunday. Other priests have floated the idea of offering one in their parishes, but the diocese let them know that never mind what Benedict said, they should not do that.
Why they suppress it is a question. The point I take away from listening to their claims is the opposite of what they intend: they show that there really is no downside to offering the Latin Mass much more widely.
The apologists for suppression claim that the people who want the old Mass are divisive. If that is true, and it is sometimes, the obvious answer is to remove the reason for their alienation. Extend to them the care, and the concessions, you extend to other marginal groups. Some will remain cranky and disgruntled, but the Church has room for the cranky and disgruntled.
The apologists also claim that only the very old and maladjusted young people want it. That’s wrong as a matter of fact, but even if it were true, why not give the elderly (who deserve our deference) and the maladjusted (who deserve our care) what they want and need? It hurts no one and it clearly helps many.
Judging from my own diocese’s experience, the spread of the Extraordinary Form will only help, pastorally and evangelistically. My diocese is an aging, shrinking diocese, with many people who’d happily return to the ritual practice of their childhoods. Strikingly, and even more importantly, many middle-aged and even more younger Catholics want the older form of the Mass as well.
If you want to see a lot of young families, and especially a lot of children, and names you would recognize for their work for the Church, you would want to go to Most Precious Blood of Jesus, the Latin Mass parish run by the Institute of Christ the King. (Or to the Oratory, which does much the same thing with the Ordinary Form.)
Many of my younger Catholic friends, single people or young parents in their thirties and early forties, don’t identify with traditionalism, but they do love the Latin Mass. Many converts have found it the way into the Church. And — against the stereotypes — for good reasons. (People who know only the stereotypes would be surprised at how wide a political and cultural range the younger Latin Massers cover.)
As Una Voce’s statement says: “The growth of interest in the traditional liturgy is not due to nostalgia for a time we do not remember, or a desire for rigidity: it is rather a matter of opening ourselves to the value of something that for most of us is new, and inspires hope. Pope Francis has characterised the ancient liturgy in terms of a ‘sense of adoration’, we can also apply his words to it: a ‘living history that welcomes us and pushes us forward’.”
Those who want the Latin Mass “only wish to be part of that ‘great orchestra’ of ‘unity in variety’ which, as Pope Francis said, reflects the true catholicity of the Church.”
The Mass and the piety that goes with it give many Catholics what they don’t otherwise find in the other institutions in their lives, including other churches: a solemnity and reverence, an objectivity, a stability, a tangible signal that what they are doing is unique, and of Divine origin.
That’s now important in one way the older and more comfortable (like bishops and chancery officials) don’t always understand. A lot of younger people, and increasingly the middle-aged, suffer the financial insecurity of a gig economy recovering from a pandemic. Many suffer other instabilities, in their families and communities. The future can feel more like a threat than a possibility. The culture itself preaches chaos.
They come to the Latin Mass for healing. Not just that, of course, but its solemnity and objectivity and distinctiveness give it a special cultural power. From what I can see, increasing numbers of older people feel this as much as young people. When life sends you reeling, you’ll look for a place with a center, a place not just to rest but to orient yourself.
That rest and orientation the Latin Mass provides for them in a way the Ordinary Form doesn’t. Perhaps it should, but it doesn’t, and it won’t. The Latin Mass has a special pastoral power the Church should deploy. And it will provide the same blessings for a great many others who are looking for the same thing, including people now outside the Church. The spread of the Latin Mass could have a powerful evangelistic effect. If, that is, it were more widely available.
For more on this subject, see Peter Wolfgang’s Twelve quick thoughts on Pope Francis dropping his long-expected bomb; Fr Alcuin Reid’s Summorum Pontificum a restoration (a From the Archives feature from 2007); CNA’s Cardinal Müller critiques Pope Francis; Robert P. George’s Francis could do what he did; and Msgr Eric Barr’s Four Reasons Francis had to restrict the traditional Latin Mass.
David Mills is the Senior Editor (US) of The Catholic Herald. His previous article for the home page was C. S. Lewis Would Have Approved of CRT. His previous article for Chapter House was Why Men Leave Their Dying Wives. He is also the “Last Things” columnist for the New Oxford Review.
The sources of the quotes from Pope Francis in Una Voce’s statement are: Press conference of 28 July 2013; Evangelii Gaudium 13; and General Audience of 9 October 2013. Photo credit: Benedict XVI waving at the end of a general audience in 2010 (Alberto Rizzoli/AFP via Getty Images).
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