Monday, July 09, 2007

Continuing to digest the 'Old Mass' Motu Proprio

I might well have other things I might do on my day away from parish business, but I am giving a lot of thought to what the Holy Father's recent decision, regarding the use of the "Old Mass," means for the near and long term.

A lot of people who are getting all panicky, really, calm down, won't you please? No, you won't? Okay, I tried.

No, it's not going to mean that anytime soon, you will show up for Mass and "it'll all be different."

But yes, it may mean that sometime down the road, some places, there will be scheduled, either at new times, or as part of the current schedule of Masses, the Mass according to the old -- and what the pope now calls the "extraordinary" -- form of the Roman Rite.

And (here is the speculative part, clearly) I believe it means that way, way down the road -- I mean over many years and decades -- we will all see the celebration of the Mass, in its ongoing, "normal" form, will gradually shift. It will regain at least some Latin, and in some cases, significant amounts of Latin. Chant will return (it already was returning; and it never went away, even if you haven't heard it for awhile). For lack of a better way to talk about it, there will be a reconsideration of the "ethos" or mindest or "spirit" of the liturgy -- because beyond the details (English or Latin? Haugen or Palestrina? Stand or kneel?), there is the question of the overall approach, or feel, of the liturgy.

Oh, here goes the panic again! There some folks go screaming from the keyboard. Come back when you feel better, okay? Let's continue...

Is Mass horizontal or vertical? I mean -- is it about us, the community, or is it about an upward, outward, orientation toward God, toward the mystery of Christ's work of salvation, and toward a final, everlasting moment of perfect salvation and blessing in the Kingdom to come?

Of course, it is about both--but what's the balance? Both in theory, and in actual experience?

I can't go on about all the implications of this, but my point is, please stop focusing on the details. I really don't get why a string of Latin words sends some people into orbit. The reason I think Latin has any importance at all is because it is so much a part of who we are. It is so intertwined with where we have been, and how we came to where we are, that I think we need to turn and challenge those who insist on a refusal -- and that is what we're talking about, a dig-in-your-heels, adolescent, tempter-tantrum throwing refusal -- to deal with that. When a child throws himself down on the floor in a crying tantrum, you realize it isn't about white bread vs. wheat, but about something going in that child. Even moreso when it is adults.

And the same applies to every other detail at issue here. Birettas, cassocks, loud voice, soft voice, this style of music, or that, which way the priest stands or holds his hands. There are people who are throwing tantrums about this, or they are about to. Even bishops -- a bishop in Italy went into full Cassandra mode: oh, it is to weep, to weep! Really, a bishop ought to know better. Either that bishop is rather a lightweight, or he's selfishly and irresponsibly playing to the crowd, as it were. Either way, bishop, grow up and be a bishop. If God wanted you to be pope . . . but, huh!--he didn't!

Okay, let's get right to it: and all I can do, for some folks, is insist they read the following statement slowly and let each word sink in: This is not in any way contrary to Vatican II.

Whoops--too fast! Go read it again! S-l-o-o-o-o-w-l-y !

Now, I know: you're saying, "but, what about...? and, what about...?" I know you can think of any number of things you think this undoes, that were "from Vatican II."

Let me explain. Again, maybe read this very slowly: While what's happening (from the pope, and from the Church in general in recent years) is not in any way contrary to the actual teaching and content of Vatican II, it is, in fact, calling into question what many, many people think -- and were told -- Vatican II was about.

So, welcome to a period in which a lot of us are going to discover we were misinformed about Vatican II. Either someone flatly told us wrong, or -- to be fair -- maybe we relied on bad information. Remember, while some may have acted with bad intention, many more acted with good intention, but made honest mistakes. Got carried away. Also, many priests, back then, had to explain a lot in a hurry, so maybe how they explained things, then, could have been better.

But the past is past; what is here, now, is that we are called to ask the question anew: just what did Vatican II say, teach, call for? What shall we do to be faithful to Vatican II?

I am sorry, I genuinely am, that some people have invested themselves in their own vision of how things ought to be, that they are going to fight like wounded animals to defend their position. It's going to happen. People are going to lash out at priests who are faithful to the pope's mandate -- I've seen it happen here in Piqua already, over the most modest changes. (I consider praying one prayer in Latin a modest change. Some consider it a cataclysm.)

Some will say the pope shouldn't have done this. That could be. I think there are some excellent reasons for him to do it, and his own explanation is very strong. Read it yourself. Go to this site for both documents, the actual motu propriu as well as an accompanying letter explaining his actions. On the other hand, you will hear many say why he shouldn't have. If you want to have that debate, well, okay, let's get some beer and pretzels, and have at it.

...But all that doesn't change the fact that the pope has done this. As faithful Catholics, we all are called to listen to the voice of the one chosen by providence as Vicar of Christ, successor to Peter. No, that doesn't mean he couldn't have goofed on this one -- this is not a question of infallibility. But it is a question of his role to govern the Church. So we obey, even if it might have been otherwise, just as we obey any number of civil laws that might have been otherwise, had we been the one making the laws. But we aren't, are we?

So the choice is, shall we go where Peter is leading us, or not?

One must reasonably concede that the pope could be, in effect, mistaken: that where he thinks the liturgy must go, and will with his guidance, is neither where it will go, or where it needs to go. If that be so, then this project of his will, in time, fade. Such things have happened in the life of the Church. That, I think is the argument of those who -- I am not going to slap labels on folks -- are essentially against this move. And, not being a visionary, for all I know, they may be correct.

Those of you who agree with that -- now that you have luxuriated in your indignation -- please consider this question:

What if the pope is right?

I mean, no, he's not infallible in this judgment -- but neither, certainly, are you. (Some people seem to have an "anti-infallibility" theory: instead of the pope teaching without error, they are certain that's all he teaches! Sorry to say, I mean Catholics.)

So, will we follow Peter?

To wrap up by getting back to something more tangible, here's what I think "following Peter" seems to call for in all this:

1. Stop being so certain about what you think Vatican II said, and with Pope Benedict and others, be taught anew. Meet the Council afresh. And if you don't care that much, then please end the hypocrisy of waving Vatican II around like a club whenever it suits you. Either the Council matters...or it doesn't. Which?

2. Whether you like the old form of the Mass doesn't matter. No one says you have to like it. But it is the Mass. If you really think that the form of the Mass, as we experienced it for something like 1500 years (consider, that's 3/4ths of the life of the Church!), is as bad as all that, how can you even justify such a position? Come on, think: that's just a non-starter. The pope himself said, in this recent action, that the Mass of the ages must be re-understood in its glory and wonder, the need for reform notwithstanding. See? That's a very different starting-point for how we think about Vatican II and the Mass, as opposed to the "throw it out and start new" mindset that many have.

3. Point 2, above, does NOT mean you will be "forced" into anything, unless you consider creating options FOR OTHERS is somehow, coercion of you. That may sound silly, but I will say it again. There really are folks who seek a veto on what others want. I get the letters and phone calls, I know what I'm talking about. I don't get many.

But it does mean two things: that you be open to more options, because the pope said we're going to provide them, and I am not going to disobey the pope. Period. If you choose to do so, that's your soul. You have no right whatsoever to issue ultimatums to others to disobey the pope. So, in time, as things sort out, these two parishes here will find a way to meet the requests that the pope has told me, as pastor, to honor.

And it means that we have to be flexible. Yes, it's possible some day, a daily Mass will be according to the old use. It could even be true of a Sunday Mass. (Gasps all around.) When? How? That will all depend on you, the faithful! The pope said, honor the requests of the faithful. If few make requests, then that's one thing. But if many make requests, that is another. All I can say is, I have to wait and see what you do! And respond.

(By the way, if you think this means some dying to self for you, it does for me, too. I have nothing against the old form, but if it were entirely up to me, I doubt I'd go get trained in it, and have to pursue this. Yes, it's doable, but its not easy.)

4. The pope said the two forms of the Roman Rite are to influence each other. (If you are keeping score, here's where the most hard-nosed traditionalists are going to complain; there are those who want no change, not a whit, nothing, nada, zilch.) The pope makes it clear his goal is, way down the line, to have the Roman liturgy -- as a single reality, not dual -- have both the good things the Council called for, as well as the immense riches that were embodied in the classic form of the Mass, but which so wastefully were thrown out with the rubbish in the mis-application of Vatican II. The pope is saying, run out and pull those things from the garbage, before its too late.

So...and here is the $64,000 question, and after all the gnashing of teeth (and this is where it's going to be, the next few years), the question remains: what will this look like for the current, normal form of the Mass?

Let's be honest: no change is not obeying the pope's vision. So the celebration of the Mass, according to the current form...has to change.


My feeling has been -- based on many things before this letter, but obviously confirmed by the pope's action -- is that this means a recovery of music, a shift from all contemporary music to much more traditional music (and I don't mean hymns; this will surprise many, but even old hymns are not really appropriate at Mass in most of the places they are used. What Vatican II said, recovering long tradition, was to chant Scripture texts, something like the responsorial psalm, if you are having a hard time picturing what I mean. But not hymns. So being faithful to Vatican II, for both the new and old forms of Mass, is to use hymns sparingly at Mass.

Also, it seems utterly clear (and does anyone now deny it?) that this means re-including at least some minimum amount of Latin, routinely, in the Mass. Those who don't like this: will you continue to insist, contrary to the text of Vatican II, and now the actions of the pope -- that you alone know best? Really?

It raises the question -- and this will really send some into orbit, but I am sorry -- of the posture of the priest while offering the sacrifice at the altar. In the classic rite, from time immemorial, the priest and people faced the altar together. Like it, don't like it, the better question is, why is one better than the other, and how do we decide this?

I don't see any reason why I, a parish priest, should decide which is truly better. How can I have any competence for such a question? And, no offense, but how many folks in the pews, regardless of what side you're on, can really say, "yes, I happen to be qualified to make this decision"?

So we have to look to the bishops, the pope -- and the pope himself, really, isn't claiming to know (although he's written about it -- but he has chosen not to mandate a change, although he rightfully could). Rather, he seems to want to have the next few years be a time of reflection on this, as the two forms coexist and influence each other.

And, while on the subject, if you think this posture, known as "ad orientem" (which means to the east) was disallowed in the current form of the Mass, again, not so! Sorry to shock you, but there it is. The current Mass can be celebrated, legally and properly, with the priest and the people facing the same way during the sacrifice, as opposed to the priest facing the people from the other side of the altar.

This subject of ad orientem is going to come up, sooner or later. Parishioners, please tell the panicky who insist they know my secret plans...I have no plans on that subject, other than to bring it up with parishioners, which I have just begun to do. We'll talk about it, and see how things go.

There are certainly many other things that a "cross-pollination" between the old and new forms of the Mass might mean for the new form. Feel free to suggest in the comments. Obviously, we're all going to be wrestling with this now. I don't have all the answers. My purpose here is simply to explain what this all may mean for all of us, in the near term.


Dad29 said...

Sentire cum Ecclesia, nicely stated.

Eileen said...

I know (as a product of '70s cathechism) I am looking forward to adding more reverance into the Mass. I have never been to a Latin Mass, don't think I *need* to go, but the blending of Vatican II and from what I have read the beauty of the Latin Mass is most anticipated.
Thank you, Father, for your succint and educated posts on the Pope's words.

CPT Tom said...

Fr Fox,

Amen, is all I can say. You said it so perfectly that which I haven't been able to articulate properly. I forwarded this post and your previous post onward to my parish pastorial administrator who I have been trying to convince that this is at all good news. Good fortune to you on your journey with the old form and the revision of the revision for the new form you have undertaken! May the saints keep you safe (and sane for that matter!) you in the liturgical lion's den you dive head first into.

Fr. Rob Johansen said...

Fr. Fox:

As a fellow pastor, let me congratulate you on the eminent sensibility of your remarks here!

I have admired your blog for some time, and have wanted to contact you.

However, I don't see an e-mail address for you anywhere on your blog. So please e-mail me, my address is:

frrob AT earthlink DOT net

I look forward to beginning a conversation with you!

peggy said...

Dear Fr. Fox,

Many of the observations you make I have come to an agreement on through a separate path of course as a layperson. Next time you're in DC, look up St Mary's in Alex, Va. That's my old parish--moved to be near family--parish was big loss! They've been celebrating 'new form' in Latin on first Sundays (10 am) for 3 or 4 years now. They've moved to chants (in English and Latin even on non-Latin Sundays) and few "hymns" during the Mass. The parish declined to permit altar girls when Bp. Loverde allowed it last year. I am expecting that parish to quickly move to add an "old form" mass as soon as feasible. The ethos of the parish is in that direction. [I'll have to check the parish web site to know for sure what the plans are.]
I echo Fr. Johansen's compliment on the sensibility and thoughtfulness of your analyses.

God bless you!

les said...

"But the past is past; what is here, now, is that we are called to ask the question anew: just what did Vatican II say, teach, call for? What shall we do to be faithful to Vatican II?"

Forgive me Father, (that sounds like the start of a confession, I know, but it's a preamble in an attempt to indicate I'm not trying to be a smart-aleck or display some kind of superior attitude) but I've wondered a long time about this.

Four years ago, when I was becoming a Catholic, I heard there was an issue over Vatican II so I downloaded all the documents, printed them off and read them on my lunch break at work and in my spare time. I always assumed that anyone and everyone who wanted it from the source would do the same I guess. But over the years I cannot recall knowing anyone personally who had read the docs. When they were issued there was no internet but that was forty years ago. It has been awhile.

I suppose I just don't get it. How could so many people get bushwhacked with the "spirit of Vatican II" when, at least in recent years, the whole thing has been as available as your local newspaper?

Is that perhaps what is meant by the expression "hidden in plain view"?

Darwin said...

I was born in the seventies, so Vatican II was clearly before my time, but according to my folks (who were in high school during the council) there was actually very little real detail available during and right after the council.

Part of the problem is that the way the changes were brought about put several of the good Catholic publishing houses straight out of business. Their economic mainstay was printing missals and backstock and selling them year after year. But since the changes were brought in incrementally (and this was not at first clear to everyone) they ended up pulping backstock missals year after year as they became obsolete.

Plus, the business in missals went way down as the mass was no longer in Latin and parishes began to provide disposable missalettes instead of expecting people to bring their own sunday missals.

So it was possible to buy a copy of the documents, but things were in such a chaotic state that they didn't get nearly the circulation that recent publishing phenomina like the Catechism of the Catholic Church did.

Anonymous said...

Father, again you've stated this whole situation clearly and with a humble spirit, opening yourself to the possibility of actually learning something new, instead of continuing with the same old, same old. Anyone who remarks to me that the Pope is trying to "force" Latin liturgy on us is going to be directed by me to the website of the Vatican. As one other commentator put it, everything is available for those who want to bother reading the actual documents. Your parish is so blessed to have such a (I hate the word, but can't think of anything else) proactive, dynamic pastor. As for those who are having hissy fits, "illegitimata non carborundum"! God bless!

michigancatholic said...

Nicely done, Father.

Tom S. said...


Your insight into Summorum Pontificum, and what it all means, is the most well written, well thought out piece I have seen. Your parishioners are truly blessed to be in the pastoral care of such a good man.

frival said...

Father, thank you for being willing to be at the lead of the pack on this. Perhaps most impressive is your sincerity in wanting and trying to do what the Church teaches and the Holy Father has asked. We will all watch together as this unfolds. You will be in my prayers, that you may continue in your most generous and honest path.

Alexander said...

The Mass has developed organically – that is the Classical Roman Rite. The New Mass was a fabrication created by a commission. All Masses that have not been fabricated (I'm not aware of any more besides the Novus Ordo) have their proper and organic development that can be traced back to the Apostles. I don’t think the Traditional Latin Mass is going to gain or develop anything off a liturgy that has broken the traditional growth and development of the Mass, in my opinion.

I suppose I just don't get it. How could so many people get bushwhacked with the "spirit of Vatican II" when, at least in recent years, the whole thing has been as available as your local newspaper?

Is that perhaps what is meant by the expression "hidden in plain view"?

Vatican II was “misapplied” because the texts contain ambiguity. This ambiguity can and was manipulated by progressives and liberals – thus misapplying the council.

Ambiguity does not necessarily mean a confusing passage but something that is worded in such a way that can set up for misapplication.

And I am not making random claims. It is well documented from both ends and even in the middle (that this from the orthodox to the liberals) that there is in fact ambiguity in the council and it was purposely placed there for future manipulation. This comes from theological sources, priests, bishops, theologians, people who even worked on the texts.

The recent text from the Holy See clearing up the mildly ambiguous “subsist est” was decent but many more things need cleared up.

Of course I shall not isolate the problems solely on the Vatican II texts. There is the fact of weak Popes and Bishops who did not guard the seminaries and catechesis properly. Mix these with culture revolutions that were taking place at the time that were intrinsically evil and ambiguity in Vatican II; a recipe for pure disaster.

Paul said...


You might try this linke,

It is a video of a first Latin mass of an SFFP priest from Scranton, PA, who said his first Mass in Philadelphia, PA with the permission of Cdl. Rigali...

Paul said...

Another resource...

For Parish priests on what they need to say the Latin Mass...