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.