Thursday, June 28, 2007

About the Old Mass Motu Proprio

This is especially for parishioners.

I had planned on having something in the bulletin ahead of time about the motu proprio* on the old rite of the Mass; but I have held off as the story was so sketchy for so long, mostly hopes and fears and predictions, but very little substance. I wanted to wait until we had something really substantive.

Well, only after this week's bulletin went to press did I see something concrete: namely, that the expected decree is very likely to be published next week, on Saturday of all days! So now it won't be possible to have something in the bulletin ahead of time.

So for those who do read this site, please share this item with others who don't.

Most parishioners aren't going to be familiar with this story, and they are going to wonder what this is all about.

Here's my quick summary, for what it's worth; plenty of other sites online can provide exhaustive information and commentary.

What is the pope doing?

It appears, from all reports, that he's making it much easier for priests, and the lay faithful, to have Mass according to the old rite -- i.e., the form of the Mass as it existed in 1962. (After that, there were changes that preceded the more substantive changes in the wake of the Second Vatican Council.) Many reports say that a minimum number will have to request it, something like 30, but otherwise exactly how this will work I don't know. We have to wait and see.

What he is almost certainly not doing is directly affecting the celebration of the current, normative rite of the Mass and sacraments.

Why is he doing this?

I see three reasons -- again, let's wait and see what he says -- but meanwhile, here are my reasons:

1. Aiding reconciliation with those "traditionalist" Catholics who are seriously disaffected with the Church over the implementation of Vatican II.

These are those folks who frequent chapels associated with groups known as the Society of St. Pius X and the Society of St. Pius V, and others. There is presently a serious division between these groups and the Church, to the point many call it schism, but that term provokes irritation and arguments about legalities; but I mention it to highlight the seriousness of this.

The pope very rightly is concerned that this rupture not become permanent; there are those who argue it already has, and I see signs of that, as well. How often we look back and wonder, if only this or that had been done, perhaps the ruptures of the Protestant Reformation could have been avoided. Only God knows. But the pope, as a shepherd, must be concerned that it is up to him to see if he can prevent something that may have long-term negative consequences for the Church.

2. Reconciliation with the Orthodox. The divisions between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches go back about a thousand years, and there has been much ugliness in the whole mess. But the good news is that in recent decades, both sides have come to recognize there is not as much dividing us as we once thought (although I don't want to overstate that--many in Orthodoxy are still very pessimistic about this), and there are folks on both sides talking seriously about eventual reunion.

One of the key issues is the liturgy. As important as it is for Catholics, the liturgy is vastly moreso for the Orthodox, who see it as the main bearer of tradition -- a point Catholics would probably agree with, except we fail to emphasize the point.

So the Orthodox were very troubled by the way we Catholics seemed to treat our liturgy in the wake of the Council. So radical, so contemptuous, so freewheeling in changing it, and worse, allowing so much abuse of the new form. (Again, many Catholics feel the same!)

That leads to the third item here:

3. The right understanding of the Catholic liturgy per se.

The pope has said many times that we've interpreted the liturgy, and the Council itself, the wrong way -- from a stance of "discontinuity" or "rupture," versus one of continuity. I.e., why did the liturgy change so much? Ought it to have? Did the Council really call for that? Is this a good thing?

The pope (among many others) believes not; so he is aiming for a reconciliation, as it were, between the current rite and the old rite themselves.

This isn't about abolishing the Council or the reforms that arose from it, but about rethinking them with a view to the full tradition -- and if that sounds like a strange thing to do, then the pope's point is completely proved. I.e., as Catholics, you would think that we would already have wanted to interpret the Council, and its changes, in the context of our full tradition; and if we didn't to any degree, we simply have to get back on track.

So, what does this mean?

Immediately? It will mean that it will be far easier to request the celebration of the old rite of the Mass, and perhaps other sacraments. We'll find out soon just what the mechanism is for that; and then we'll find out just what the Archbishop has to say. At some point in the near future, I'll know just what it means for me, as a priest, who may be approached with just such a request.

As your pastor, one of my basic approaches is to say that if you have a legitimate option provided by the Church, then I feel obliged to do what I can to fulfill it.

Some may think, because I have called for use of Latin and chant, that I am a great devotee of the old rite of the Mass. Not so!

Don't get me wrong: I'm not against it. But I am not beating the drums for it, either. I have attended it maybe four times in my whole life, once in a "high Mass" setting, otherwise, in the far more common "low" style. Parishioners well know where I stand on that--I favor "high Mass"! And the old Mass, before the Council, was far more often a "low Mass," one of the things the Council felt needed changing. (So when people point to my "higher" Masses as "going back," they don't know what they're talking about.)

I have no idea how to celebrate the old Mass, so long before I could ever grant such a request, I would have to learn how to do it, and I have no idea how quickly I could master it.

But again, if people ask for it, and the pope says they are entitled to it, I will find a way to provide for that.

Are we going to see an old-style, "Tridentine" Mass on a weekday or Sunday?

Well, that seems rather far fetched, but basically, my answer is, that's up to the people. If only a handful ask for the old Mass, I can't see that; were there to be much larger numbers asking, then we'll see.

I might point out that there are folks who insist that they have a personal veto over what others in the parish want. They insist, because they don't like something, that it should never happen, or be pushed to the periphery.

So there will be folks who will take that approach here: they will get up in arms about this and say silly things like this is all part of some secret plan, and everything is going backward, the handwriting is on the wall, and so forth.

Again, the issues at stake are both big-picture, and also down-to-earth practical. The big picture, what the pope is thinking about, is the future of the Catholic Faith, keeping our tradition alive (what are we without it?), rooted in our liturgy. He is looking ahead many decades when he hopes, as do I, that our liturgy is no longer a battleground.

The down-to-earth, present-day issues are simply, how will your pastor, your priests and your parish respond to the legitimate requests and needs expressed by parishioners? I don't know because I don't know what folks will ask for, how many, and so forth. All I can tell you is I will do my best, and all of us should try to be patient and cooperative and flexible.

* A "motu proprio" is a decree or letter by the pope that comes from his personal initiative, as opposed to something that is filtered through the "machinery" of the Church or Rome in particular.


Anonymous said...

Great explaination, Father. And, what a GREAT Dad you are!

Anonymous said...

Well we have a ridentine mass every week anyway!

Dad29 said...

Good stuff!!

Anonymous said...

Very nicely written and very pastoral. I wish our pastor had this approach. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see all of our Masses go old-school at my home parish regardless of what the parishioners say.

newhousenewjob said...

Thank you for a wonderful, balanced explanation, Father.

Anonymous said...

Re reunion with the Orthodox I wonder how the Greek Orthodox permission for up to 2 divorces, turning a blind eye to contraception and abortion will he handled?

Anonymous said...

It's not that the Greeks "turn a blind eye" to anything, but that their church members are not under tight control. They are expected to use their own consciences to make decisions. Of course whenever people do that, there will be some sins and errors, but please don't tell me RCs are different. Wherever there are human beings there will be some sins and errors. I have been Cath all my life and so far have not observed that we sin less than anybody else, so it does not behoove us to cast stones at others.

Anonymous said...

"I might point out that there are folks who insist that they have a personal veto over what others in the parish want. They insist, because they don't like something, that it should never happen, or be pushed to the periphery."

For real? Just because they think it doesn't have to make it fact. Where is the authority of the hierarchy of the Church? This sounds so very Protestant -- i.e. the elected elders/deacons really do call the shots. I hope it is those who are ordained to the priesthood who have the final word. Of course, if the priest refused to say the Old Mass, I guess I'd just find a parish where it was offered and respect his right to make the decision -- and hope that his bishop would take responsibility for seeing that whatever Motu Propio requires is done.

Oh -- I'd welcome the opportunity to go to the "Old Mass", occasionally at least. We have a Byzantine rite parish in the diocese and I found the liturgy to be beautiful. The different rites seem to be part of the riches of our worldwide Church.

Anonymous said...

Good for you, Father.

If the majority of our pastors had your attitude of faithfulness to the Church's wishes, there probably wouldn't be all this furor over the 2 "types" of Mass anyway. And the implementation would go much more smoothly.

You give us laypeople a great example to emulate.

God Bless,

Embattled Catholic

beez said...

Gee, Father, you never cease to amaze me with your deep understanding of the Church and your deep reverence for both the Church and her members. I wish all pastors were as, well, pastoral.

Cathy said...

Great, Father!
And I echo the commenter about how pastoral that was.
What a fine priest you are.
God bless.

Anonymous said...

A very nice explanation. We tried to implement a solemn NO Mass in our parish and it lasted eight months before the parishioners with veto power (who didn't even go to that Mass) screamed enough to get it canned. Now we have a "contemporary teen Mass" in its place with far fewer attendees.

Anonymous said...

The Byzantine liturgy that a fellow anonymous poster commented on is the Orthodox Divine Liturgy.
It would be great for all Roman riters to visit a Byz church and see how beautiful Divine Liturgy can be!

Anonymous said...

From Ian's previous post --

"We tried to implement a solemn NO Mass in our parish and it lasted eight months before the parishioners with veto power (who didn't even go to that Mass) screamed enough to get it canned."

How can I become a parishioner with veto power?

Anonymous said...

Very interesting insight on the affect upon Catholic-Orthodox relations. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I think you're being a little too generous by saying "traditionalists" were disaffected by the "implementation" of Vatican II. Some had problems with Council documents per se, esp. regarding religious liberty. Implementation was only part of it. Some hold to the idea that the revised Mass is heretical in itself (Which in itself is heretical!).

Anonymous said...

You have an attitude of faithfulness toward the decisions of the pope, and it appears to be honest on your part. If only more priests were so straightforward in their love for the Church and their sense of obedience to the Holy See, it would be a good thing.

I am a traditional Catholic and I appreciate faithfulness and honesty. It's really a refreshing change in the Church.

Thank you.

Dr. Malcolm C. Harris, Sr. said...

Fr. Fox,

Well said as usual.

In support of your intuition that this is an outreach to the Orthodox note that Benedict is issuing the motu proprio on July 7th, the Feast of Cyril and Methodius under the old calendar. (Our current calendar moved the feast to the same date as the Orthodox celebrate it.)

There is a "boot camp" for learning the liturgy using the Missal of John XXIII. You can read a very moving account of one young priest's experience with it at: . In my blog, I use his experience as an example of how replanting the older form of the liturgy next to the new will vivify both.

Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Thy Kingdom Come!

The text of the Pope's document makes it pretty clear the pastor can't do that; he can always offer the "old-school" Mass privately, but public celebration requires a request by "a stable number" of the faithful, and even then it would generally be only one Mass on Sunday.