Saturday, January 9, 2016

Too Late?

An article by Msgr. Charles Pope, a priest of the archdiocese of Washington, DC, is now bothering some circles with the empirical realization that wider legal availability of the 1962 Mass has not been met with standing room only congregations. Pope himself reflects that his once-a-month Latin Mass was full in the 1980s, but now only fills a third of the church (as an aside: the neighboring diocese of Arlington has at least one Latin Novus Ordo Mass and numerous old rite Masses every Sunday, which wasn't the case even ten years ago). After Summorum Pontificum old rite Masses doubled in number and attendance at such Masses increased by volume, although not per Mass. Pope's message is that the old Roman Mass will not save the Church in the modern day, and he is right, but I cannot help but think an interesting point has been missed: did Benedict XVI's legislation come too late?

Popularly, traditionalists correlated the replacement of the old Mass with Concilium's concoction to the decline in Mass attendance. Logically, a reversal of this error would revive attendance, a mistake of thought Pope keenly quashes. What if that was true? I believe it was true once. This author cannot recall the year, but he remembers an old issue of the Tablet, England's "Catholic" magazine, which polled believers in that country as to whether or not they believe the new Mass should be replaced by the old. This survey, done in either 1982 or 1984, found nearly a majority favored the old Mass, the next closest had no opinion, and the smallest group liked the new rites. The Tablet took that survey thirty years ago, when the old Mass was within living memory for most Roman Catholics and laity. In 2016 the old Mass has not been the norm in any form for forty-seven years, two generations going on three. One cannot simply "turn the clock back", although that once would have been a reasonable pastoral option, one the bishops would not have heard.

Today spots of genuine growth, unrelated to immigration patterns, center on fonts of orthodoxy and reverence, not of the 1962 liturgy. While Oratories and vibrant churches do occasionally utilize older rites, they thrive because of the impulse to celebrate those rites, not the rites themselves. Traditionalists will doom themselves if they wall themselves into their parishes—inevitably posting dress codes on the door which as the women to dress as characters from Little House on the Prairie—and expect the unbelieving world to come to them. The old Mass could be an effective tool of conversion if only it and its environs were ordinary rather than extraordinary. Today I met a priest who takes an incrementalist approach with his congregation, singing the Agnus Dei and Pater noster in Latin; he hopes to install a genuine altar that can accommodate the "big six" in his parish of 3,000 families. Perhaps if he celebrates the old Mass once a week in his parish a few years down the road he might gain a side congregation; if he celebrated it thirty years ago he would have converted the city; if he did it now he would lose his flock.

The old Roman rite has a place in the restoration of the Latin Church, but it cannot be the only solution.


  1. There are a few places, mostly in France, where the priest refused to change or reversed the changes and the parish thrived as a result. Fr. Montgomery-Wright was one. There’s also Campos, and the apostolic administration is doing quite well according to the papal yearbook, even if many people decided to adopt the Novus Ordo Missae and join the territorial diocese.

    I think you made the point the monsignor missed, namely that it isn’t within living memory. Now people are really used to the Novus Ordo Missae as the norm, regardless of how it ought to be celebrated.

  2. "Traditionalists will doom themselves if they wall themselves into their parishes—inevitably posting dress codes on the door which as the women to dress as characters from Little House on the Prairie—and expect the unbelieving world to come to them."

    What if, rather, Traditionalists wall themselves into their own parishes, not to be fixated on dress codes, but on the preservation and restoration of the Roman Rite? Is this not a necessary evil of sorts to have safe havens apart from the false principles, ethos, and influence of the Novus Ordo? It is not enough simply to have a Traditional Mass here and there and/or to incrementalize within the Novus Ordo; it is imperative to offer the full, liturgical package, Mass and Office, the calendar, etc. on a full time, continuous basis which is why exclusively TLM parishes are needed and will be the loci to which part-time TLM venues look to draw inspiration for their own incrementalist endeavors.

  3. One needs to consider that Catholics today don't know how to participate actively in the old Mass, myself included.
    They once knew, but know we have books on how to "spiritually" participate, missalettes and other things which are, in my opinion, pulled out of thin air.
    Today, those who attend the old Mass need to be taught of interior disposition for fruitful participation, and God knows if those methods are right.

    I'm trying to say that once you break off with something which is not describable to the letter, and a generation passes, question arises whether it can be restored.

    The participation at the old Mass of today, to me, seems almost fabricated.
    After two months of attending byzantine rite i attended a sung Mass. I must say, it was boring. I didn't know what to do. Thank God i understood some latin from the readings and propers, otherwise i wouldn't know what to do with my mind. I truly was a silent spectator. I missed the "holy noise" as i would call it, constant singing and responding, signs of the Cross. I was there, just kneeling and thinking to myself: "Well liturgy is not an act of adoration of the Host, but an act of adoration of the Trinity. Adoration of the Host is something else.".

    From this, and from statistics i will fire some shots and say that Summorum Pontificum is a failed experiment. Why did it fail? I don't know exactly. There are various reasons, but i know it failed.

    The Mass in Zagreb was well advertised and for 2 years it was celebrated there it was attended by the same 50 people out of 700 000 of that city. Only the first Mass of some young priest could attract somewhat more people, but it didn't skyrocket by any measure.

    Those men, and i say men, because women are generally uninterested in important things, who are interested in tradition have joined seminaries and monasteries, but that's that.

    No traditional parish is flourishing.

    But maybe numbers isn't what we should be looking at.

    I don't know.

    1. For what it's worth, here's another take on Msgr. Pope's article:

    2. Fr. Anthony always writes honest assessments of what he sees around himself.

    3. I'm 53. I barely remember the TLM as a boy, but I do remember it. I've attended an FSSP parish exclusively for over 11 years now. Fabricated? Not on your life. We have a vibrant parish, a schola of 12 men, a Holy Name Society, as Lady's Auxillary, Knights of the Altar, etc... We have daily Mass, and all seven sacraments. We have two priests. On Sundays one says Mass, and the other is in the confessional until the Sanctus. At least 40 confessions are heard at the 10 am Mass alone. On Sundays and holy days we have an 8am Low Mass, and 10am High Mass. On the first Sunday of every month we have benediction. There are 200 to 300 people at each Mass. We now have children who began attending the Mass at age 12 getting married. We have picnics, pilgrimages, scripture study, Christmas parties, and public devotions.

      I actually find myself insulted by the notion that "no traditional parish is flourishing." What rot.

      At any rate, the Traditional Mass hasn't taken the Church by storm for one reason. The Latin model has been smashed. I know very solid, otherwise orthodox folks who don't attend for one reason; they're Latinphobes. Freedom for the Ordinariate Mass, or the TLM offered in Elizabethan English, would overturn all the tables in the temple. I'm even open to the 1965 as a gesture to liberals that they don't deserve. But this can be done, and it can be done quickly and utterly. Liberals will weep and moan, but I don't much care. Novus Ordo delenda est.

    4. The main plague is still ultramontanism. Most people still go to the Novus Ordo because the Pope says the Novus Ordo and claims the TLM is a fad and the bishops still are very niggardly about granting the '62 rite (flawed as it is, it still is better than the Novus Ordo, barring the liturgical mutilations of Pius XII): bad time, bad neighborhood, etc.

  4. @Jon The Mass is not the only official prayer of the Church - there is the Divine Office. Terce and Sext could be sung before and after the main Sunday Mass. And then Vespers in the Afternoon. And your parish is more the exception than the rule.

    The Mass has been trivialised by two things which carried over into the Novus Ordo : the scholastic fetish with numericality, and thus the multiplicity of Masses as a good thing, and secondly, the Low Mass as the de facto norm.

  5. Pope himself reflects that his once-a-month Latin Mass was full in the 1980s, but now only fills a third of the church (as an aside: the neighboring diocese of Arlington has at least one Latin Novus Ordo Mass and numerous old rite Masses every Sunday, which wasn't the case even ten years ago).

    On this point, Msgr Pope has a point - I think there is a levelling off that's visible - but it's also qualified by what you observe: In 2006, there were precisely two (2) regular weekly TLM's in the entire DC area, one of them (St. Mary's in downtown DC) where Msgr Pope has been celebrating that monthly evening Solemn High Mass. Today, there are now five regular TLM's in the Archdiocese of Washington (three of them Sunday Masses), and 16(!) - nine of them Sunday Masses - in the Diocese of Arlington across the river. Virginia traddies don't have to trek across the river any longer; indeed, many of them do not have to trek very far at all.

    Likewise, there are many more Solemn High Masses in the area than there were in 2007, and that made the attractive power of any individual one somewhat lessened, something that's a factor in deciding to trek downtown on a Sunday night. That said, there's probably been some attrition of older trads who formed the first wave, and they have not all been replaced by young adults, who tend not to find DC an attractive place now to stick around to raise a family, something traditional young Catholics tend to do.

    On your larger point, Rad Trad - that we had to wait too long to restart tradition - that is something to ponder well. It is almost certainly the case with the Ordinariates, which almost certainly would have been more successful had they been offered in, say, 1980 than in 2010-12.

  6. I have written my reflections, but reading the comments above bring me to a logical conclusion: the total and utter close-down of Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism and all forms of western liturgical Christianity. A freezing cold and hard reboot would seem to be necessary and the emergence of a Church that would be closed, secret, contemplative, something like under the old persecutions. The trouble is, then, that Christ was within a few generations of living memory. The more I think about it all, the more "paralysed" I feel about it, the more alienated. The only thing that keeps me going as a believer and a priest is belonging to some kind of ecclesial structure, so fragile, marginal - but true to itself and honest. I have seen the result of the recent Archbishops' meeting in Canterbury, and my reaction was "Whatever". What I read about Pope Francis' Church makes me just as alienated. I have studied theology, been to seminary, ordained. Just imagine how the ordinary people feel. Most are materialists, but some would seek God if they could discern him. I have to be honest.

  7. Crd.Wurel is the problem and for many many reason a DC IS THE PROBLEM LIKE IN NEW AND POLITIC not the 1900 1950 or 1962 T mass I am a grad St Johns High DC Cath U 1976

  8. ...did Benedict XVI's legislation come too late?

    An even more provocative question is was that an intention behind its late appearance?

    ABS has no way of knowing but it does seem to him that the revolutionaries (and he was one as a peritus) required a new rite to propagandise and teach its new theological orientation to the masses at the no longer-masses (Lord's Supper).

    but, there is no doubt the