Rumours have been circulating that Pope Francis is planning some kind of restriction on the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (EF), the “Traditional Mass”. This form of the liturgy clearly still has opponents in the Church. Its supporters regard it as, potentially, being a key driver of the Church’s revival, because of the counter-cultural zeal of many of its younger adherents.
Such is the concern in some quarters of the Church about the direction of traffic in regards to the threat to the Extraordinary Form, that the Una Voce Federation took out an advert – a call to arms – in the mass-circulation Italian daily newspaper la Repubblica, appearing on Sunday 4 July. The federation was founded in 1965 as a united international body to promote organisations like the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales, Una Voce America and the Pro Missa Tridentina in Germany which promote the EF.
The “Declaration of the International Federation Una Voce”, as the ad was headlined, stated that “we have noticed that, contrary to the previous policy of the Holy See, there are still people within the Church who would like to see the Extraordinary Form of the Roman rite explicitly suppressed, or subject to further restrictions”.
Throughout the history of the Church there have been clusters of zealous, mostly young people, encouraging each other in a rebellion against the expectations of the world, discerning vocations to the priesthood and the religious life, or to a deeper living of the Faith in the lay state. Such groups were often at the root of new religious orders, and have also been associated with the “New Movements”. You don’t have to be long on the Catholic scene in a city or university to come across a few.
I spent much of the first lockdown studying survey results on the spread of the EF, on behalf of the Una Voce. We ended up with information from 377 dioceses in 52 countries, and it became clear to me that the movement in support of the Traditional Mass all over the world is full of clusters of people like those just described. The people asking for the EF in South East Asia, for example, simply are such groups, for the most part, and they are at the heart of most established EF communities throughout Europe and North America.
A Canadian correspondent wrote: “Our group is mostly young families, but we have had five marriages, and eight young men and women have discerned or are discerning religious vocations.” Similar messages came from scores of dioceses around the world where the Extraordinary Form has become an accepted part of the life of the Church. What is even more remarkable is that even when the EF is still thoroughly marginalised, it is often still the focus of clusters of young people discerning vocations.
Their first encounter with the EF might be through social media or a chance encounter. As a correspondent from the Philippines wrote: “Those who usually pass by, get curious and enter, as if beguiled by the Music or the Silence.” In either case, it will almost certainly be unlike any other liturgy they have encountered, upending assumptions about the resources of the Church waiting to be rediscovered. On closer enquiry, they discover treasure troves of traditional spirituality and theology, liturgical commentary and the
In some places, seminarians with an EF background constitute a major phenomenon (“priests have observed that many of our new vocations come from the Latin Mass”: a correspondent from the USA). In others, bishops seem to have an exaggerated fear of this happening. A French correspondent wrote: “The seminary was moved… the official reason was to share resources with other dioceses. The unofficial reason, later confessed to seminarians, was that previously the seminarians had been able to have contact with priests who say the EF, and had adopted the “wrong attitude” (wearing the cassock, etc).
An Australian correspondent expressed what has been true in too many places: “Interest in the EF among seminarians is seen as a major formation issue and has a number of times resulted in (at least) delay of ordination.”
We are moving towards a situation, however, that a policy of discouraging traditionally-inclined young men from entering the priesthood is slow-motion suicide for a diocese. Simply put, it is where potential vocations are to be found.
Priestly vocations are just one part of the phenomenon. Young families are in some ways an even more delicate growth in the Church, require an equal depth of commitment and are similarly inspired by the EF. It is, however, much harder for them to get to remote and variable venues for Mass at peculiar times, and the absence of facilities or parking are not just minor inconveniences for those toting small children to church.
But where these problems are overcome, the results can be spectacular. As a French correspondent explained: “As a result of the move of the traditional congregation from an overly cramped, invisible place of worship to a beautiful and large disused church, within a month there attendance… tripled, mainly made up of young people and young families. This is proof of the missionary dimension of the liturgy in EF.”
Priestly vocations are necessary to the Church; children are no less essential. There is, however, yet another aspect of the zeal of Catholics attached to the EF which is frequently noted. As a Polish correspondent expressed it: “Pastors of the churches in which the EF is celebrated are happy, because attendees of EF Masses give them the biggest offertory collections.”
Joseph Shaw is Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy at St Benet’s Hall, Oxford University
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