So the Grand Master of the Order of Malta has forbidden the Extraordinary Form. As of Monday, June 10, we chaplains of the Order may only offer the Mass and the sacraments in the Ordinary Form. I believe this is a mistake, and I will respectfully write to the Grand Master asking him to reconsider. This is not because I want to rehearse the familiar arguments about the “Old Mass” and the “New Mass”, but because this decision presents a serious danger to the Order’s charism.
Although relatively new to the Order, I have been a diocesan priest for six years, and have offered the sacraments to those who request them in either form. I often say to non-Catholic friends that a diocesan priest’s role is much like a GP’s: we have to be able to do everything. But the Grand Master’s directive requires chaplains to refuse pastoral care to those the Order’s charism compels us to serve: the sick, the poor and the dying. If they are attached to the Extraordinary Form, we will have to deny them the comfort, the consolation, and the grace they would receive through the more ancient rite.
On Sunday, June 9, I joined a huge number of young people and families, perhaps as many as 18,000, on pilgrimage from Paris to Chartres. A moment from that journey may help illustrate why I think the new directive is a mistake.
The father of a simply professed Knight of the Order suffered a stroke and was taken to hospital. I offered to go and give him the sacraments of the Church and even to offer Mass at his bedside given the grave situation. His family, who like him are attached to the Extraordinary Form, were delighted. I was able to offer Extreme Unction and the Mass accordingly. (Thankfully, the father is now recovering.)
I offered these sacraments only the day before the Grand Master’s directive, which is to be implemented with immediate effect. If it had come the day before, the directive would have prevented me being a chaplain and offering pastoral care to the gravely ill father of a Knight of the Order.
I sometimes meet young men who have a sense of calling to the priesthood and – having experienced the beauty of the Extraordinary Form – wonder if the only place for them is a traditional institute. Without wanting to denigrate the work of such institutes, I try to remind them that we also need priests willing to serve the people in both forms. This directive could further entrench division, leading young men to consider that within the wider Church, as in the Order of Malta, they are not welcome unless they choose one form or the other.
Amid the Order of Malta’s ongoing renewal and reform, we ought to be well placed to be a model of the union between the older and newer rites. The Order’s motto is Tuitio fidei et obsequium pauperum: “The defence of the Faith and service of the poor”. Were a knight or dame or chaplain to neglect one at the expense of the other, or simply to suppress the expression of one or the other, it would be to subvert the charism entirely.
A strident defence of the faith that neglects the poor is hypocritical; a sympathy for the poor, if it isn’t motivated by the Beatitudes, turns the Church into an NGO, as Pope Francis would say.
So too with the Mass: the forms ought not to be seen as separate, conflicting or competing. They should not become means of separation, conflict or competition: and it is impossible to build communion by suppressing one of them.
I will respectfully ask the Grand Master to reconsider what pastoral provision chaplains may make to the sick whom the Order serves, as well as to knights and dames who are attached to the Extraordinary Form. I hope that an authentic and deep communion can truly become manifested in the Order not by imposition but through charity.
Fr Edmund Montgomery is a priest in the Diocese of Shrewsbury.
For a response to this article, see this week’s letters & emails