One of the Pope’s titles is that of pontifex, or bridge builder. It is an aspect of his office that Pope Francis might reflect on when it comes to his relationship with liturgical conservatives.
Most recently, in his meeting in Bratislava with Slovakian Jesuits, the Pope addressed his decision to restrict celebrations of the extraordinary rite, familiarly known as the Tridentine rite, in a recent motu proprio. He described young priests who seek to celebrate Mass in the old rite as “a phenomenon that indicates that we are going backwards”. Actually, it does nothing of the sort. It may rather suggest priests who set store by a reverent attitude to the Mass, a dignified style of worship. We should cherish these young priests.
In this issue, an English priest expresses these concerns with particular force. He is worried that those who are unsympathetic to the extraordinary form of the Mass will start actively to extirpate those who celebrate it and the communities who value it. And because the Pope has given bishops the authority to grant or withhold permission to celebrate the Tridentine Mass, the future of these priests and these communities lies with the local bishops.
It would be tragic if any of them took a repressive approach to traditionalists. If it were the case that these communities were somehow separatist or schismatic, or denied the validity of the orders of those who favoured a different style of worship, or even the authority of the Pope, then there might be a case for seeing them as a source of division. This is simply not true when it comes to the great majority of those who value the Tridentine rite. Members of the Latin Mass Society are not schismatics; quite the contrary. The Catholic Church has a natural tendency to clerical authoritarianism and, unchecked, it has led to egregious abuses. And it is no less damaging when it is liberal authoritarianism.
What is needed is a recognition from the bishops, and indeed from the Pope, that liturgical diversity, the availability of worship in the vernacular, in the Latin version of the ordinary form, and in the extraordinary or Tridentine, rite, is not a problem to be extirpated, but a strength. Traditionalist worshippers, as our priest points out, very often include families and young people and are often productive of vocations and active in the social and pastoral activities of their parishes. What’s not to like? If the bishops see traditionalist communities as something to be sought out and extirpated, they will not be acting as pastors. The bishops in England and Wales have for the most part been admirably inclusive in their approach to this question. Let’s hope others follow suit.
Image caption: Slovak President Zuzana Caputova welcomes Pope Francis as ge gets off a limousine before his departure at Bratislava’s Milan Rastislav Stefanik International airport in Bratislava, Slovakia, on September 15, 2021. (Photo by VLADIMIR SIMICEK / AFP) (Photo by VLADIMIR SIMICEK/AFP via Getty Images)
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