Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Future of Personal Parishes

What is the future of the old Roman Mass, even in its 1962 iteration? Liturgical life and parish life are inextricably bound up in the persons who are their custodians, namely parishioners and the parish priest. Our friend, John R, has managed to get Terce, the old Holy Week and Pentecost Vigil, Pontifical Mass, and the odd Vespers at his minute New Jersey parish, yet the prospective horizon of a world without his current priest threatens to undo what rare and exemplary work he has achieved. Now he stares at a very real possibility of a parish with nothing but spoken Masses and parishioners who only attend for the homeschooling groups. It begs the question: are personal parishes and traditionalist orders the right way forward for the "EF" liturgy?

No, and this blog has argued that such churches are not the answer for four years. The advantages of such communities are the same as any, that they appeal to the people who look for what they offer. Their short-coming is that they are inherently designated to appeal to as narrow a minority of Catholics as possible. Tradistan here in Dallas was erected 25 years ago to deal with the FSSPX problem in the area, two well attended chapels within an hour or two of the metroplex. Benedict XVI may have thought the 1962 Mass was a treasure for all, but Msgr. Charles Grahmann thought it was for a chirpy few who needed to be regularized and ghettoized. There is nothing innately wrong with wanting the old liturgy, better options than the Irving public school system, or dry catechesis, but it is not meant to appeal to a wide array of people with different needs, problems, and talents. In short, traditionalist personal parishes are supposed to stop what traddies want: a widespread restoration of an older form of the Roman liturgy. That traditionalists would take this option, snub "Novus Ordo" priests, and be content with their homeschooling groups sorely underlines that they have lost the fight that they once had.

The most obvious disadvantage of introducing the old liturgy in the much maligned "indult" setting is that it can never be the only liturgy offered and rarely is even the most common one offered, excepting Holy Innocents in New York. The advantages are numerous: the clergy interested in the old liturgy tend to have a more varied education and life experience than those out of traditionalist seminaries, the diocesan setting attracts a wider variety of people who might be willing to contribute their artistic skills, and there is a greater familiarity with diocesan, mainstream life. Above all, if traditionalists really want to revive the old Mass on a wide scale, can one really dispute the wisdom of putting the rite in a place where the vast majority of Catholics worship God?

Of course the introduction of the old Mass to "indult" settings must be done properly and with patience to make any serious headway. For every St. Mary's in Norwalk there is a first Friday of the month at 9:30AM Mass elsewhere that gets 20 people and the priest assumes a lack of interest. There is also the potential instability, should a new, indifferent pastor inherit and ruin a good situation.

So what say ye? Should traditionalists take the fight to the parishes, and toughen themselves in the process? Or should they purse their lips against the Oath of Supremacy and be content with their constant recusancy?


  1. First step is for trads to start attending the Eastern Rites for a few months and get out of the habit of enjoying "silence" in the Liturgy. Then they will learn to see the Low Mass as an abuse, or at least as a most undesirable form of Mass.

    1. I won't say most undesirable, but at least restricted to lower ranked feasts and ferias. Silence isn't bad, but there is too much nowadays.

    2. I agree with that initiative, but highly doubt it will result in the desired outcome. Anecdotally, I know a Neo-Con couple (think Steubenville) who has a long experience with the Byzantine Rite and has also been coming to the TLM for almost a decade. This couple still fails (or refuses) to understand a) the primacy of the Liturgy over personal/family prayer, b) the inherent superiority/necessity of Traditional liturgical forms when it comes to the Roman Rite, and c) the need to prefer High Mass over Low Mass. My anecdote is also not limited to one couple in my experiences.

    3. Do you think that the Byzantine Liturgy can also be used as a crutch to justify vernacular Liturgy contra the TLM? This is how I have seen it promoted among the Neo-Con set.

    4. Silence isn't bad, but liturgical silence in the way it is manifested in the Low Mass is bad. Liturgy isn't meant to be silent in that way.

      Liturgy is solemn sacrifice to and public praise of the Trinity where the voices of all Christians cry glories to Lord, their God, all in their order. "Sine fine dicentes", "Audemus dicere". Those point to outloudness.

      Once upon a time in West (until the end of 4th century), the Communion was done in silence, meaning, there was no Communion song, but that still wasn't that silence of the Low Mass and especially not the silence of the silent Canon.

      Complete silence is for the monastic cell and work in the field.

      The New Rite is ingenious for it's placing of the moment of silence after Communion. That is the perfect time for silent thanksgiving and reflection. Anthropologically it makes sense to take a time to rest after a long period of action and singing. Liturgically it makes sense because it leaves space for private adoration and thanksgiving, and in a way that it doesn't distrupt the communality and publicness of the liturgy itself. Basically, all are called to silence, to be united in silence. It is an act of public silence. So the balance of public and private is struck perfectly.

      So given the universal tradition of the Church, Low Mass would be undesirable. Christians sang praises in liturgy even in catacombs. Why be silent publicly?

    5. @John R.

      As to a and c i agree completely. As to b i would have some necessary qualifications because i am a sort of a puritan, an antiquarianist and that's precisely because i value tradition over novelty.

      I wouldn't limit the argument for vernacular to Byzantine liturgies.

      I would expand it to history of liturgical languages of various Rites.

      Armenian liturgy is in Armenian. Syriac is in Siriac. Greek is in Greek. Roman is in Roman/Latin (after the majority began speaking Latin instead of Greek, before which it was in Greek). Ethiopian is in Ethiopian. Coptic is in Coptic. Etc.

      Even my Churchslavonic endem liturgy has a few peculiarities. When Apostles of the Slavs, sts. Cyril and Methodius first devised a liturgical language it was different from what it became. Thus it is called old Church Slavonic. That language was a standardization of a local dialect. Later in time it had various interpretations which developed into various recensions of Church Slavonic.

      So, basically, first it was a language which was understood by all Slavs. But later as their dialects changed so did the liturgical language. But the development was halted at a certain point and the liturgical language was standardized and the vernacular wasn't.

    6. Lemme just clarify on the point of OCS. According to tradtion OCS was constructed on basis of a dialect that some Byzantine Rite Slavs spoke in Thessaloniki. Be that as it may, OCS was intelligible to all Slavs since they have just arrived at the areas and their dialects were still mutually intelligible, just as OCS to all of them.

      Then OCS developed into various local recensions of CS under influence of development of local dialects. I hope that clears up anything that wasn't clear before. :)

    7. ...get out of the habit of enjoying "silence" in the Liturgy.

      Agreed. The sooner the "Low Mass" mindset of Irish pietism dies off, the better off we will be.

      The first TLM communities formed in the 80's and 90's were people mostly formed in that mindset. They were just trying to restore what they remembered from the 40's and 50's - which was not typically the most healthy liturgical situation. Fortunately, these days that's starting to break down in some places with generational turnover and new faces without the baggage.

  2. 1. I will latch onto this point:

    There is also the potential instability, should a new, indifferent pastor inherit and ruin a good situation.

    I presently attend and help organize (through our Juventutem chapter) a diocesan TLM - we have it every day, in fact - Low Mass in the mornings on weekdays, and with a men's schola on Sundays. Attendance is growing nicely, though at present the main driver is the Montessori program the pastor decided to start offering - a telling point, I think. (Education is very important to such families, and it always has been.)

    It is not at all a bad situation we have (even if the church is ugly), and I do think we reach some people that a personal parish run by an ED society, or the local longstanding "trad ghetto" parish downtown, might not. But it is ENTIRELY dependent on the pastor. He is about 4 years into the customary 6 year stint. He may well get another six years, but we're due to get another ordinary shortly, and there are no guarantees. If he's replaced....well, let me just say that he is easily the most tradition-minded priest in the diocese, local oratorians included. Believe me, our chapter has looked around and pressed the flesh and all that. We have gotten a few younger priests to dig a little into tradition, but none are remotely as bold as our pastor. If he goes, everything we have built up would quite likely vanish like steam from a tea kettle. The great majority of clergy in the diocese are of the JPII conservative variety that arguably disdains anything traditional even more than the liberals do.

    2. Is a personal parish a better option? I would attend one (especially ICRSS, or a couple of the very tiny ED orders I could name) if one one was available. To latch onto my first point, the stability is a factor not to be underrated so lightly. I don't necessarily disagree about the limitations you list, though I think you may overstate them somewhat. In regards to clergy, I think it does depend to some degree on which society you are talking about, and mainly I can't help but think you have the Fraternity in mind. They are, after all, the biggest game in town, so to speak. And whatever the limitations of the FSSP clergy in terms of life experience and background, at least their formation is pretty sound. My own pastor has the advantage of being a late-life vocation, but he is forced to supply the formation he never got in seminary, which he views as a waste of seven years.

    Personal parishes run by Ecclesia Dei societies were an ad hoc, even desperation, strategy; I am not sure how much of it was part of some larger plan. I think traditionalists, lay or clerical, have simply jumped on whatever they could get. In the 80's and 90's it started in a handful of places with an FSSP, ICRSS, or even an elderly priest with nothing to lose saying a Sunday Mass in a parish (usually inner city), and you were grateful if you even had that. Eventually, most of these TLM's "upgraded" to a personal parish or quasi-parish. People took what they could get (and sometimes were not their own best allies in getting it), and the more of the full panoply of traditional parish life they could get hold of, the happier (or less despairing) they were.

    It is not a good or ideal situation. It is not the way it is supposed to be. It carries certain handicaps for growth. But it is certainly better than that which obtained 10 or 25 years ago, let alone 40. And in the current pontificate, life is likely to get harder in some dioceses with new FrancisBishops for young priests who might attempt something like my pastor has done. Such bishops seem to be more inclined to the "keep 'em in the ghetto" mindset.

    All of which is to say that while I don't necessarily disagree much with your assessment, our options are rather limited.

    1. P.S. That was a rather long post. If I had more time, as they say, I could have written less. My apologies for any eyes that glazed over. Obviously it's something I spend a lot of time thinking about.

  3. I now hear you, Rad Trad and all. That altar, even exposed, but with no stained window and ligjt is so sad. Here is a link to how the altar of a local Roman Catholic 19th cenntury old church whose leturgies I had the pleasure to attend.
    Above the altar stained glass during daytime.

    For me even as an Orthodox, eccumenist okay, to see a church Catholic that does not have the adorned altar and the uplifting stained glass above it is tears. It is like the Archangels have had their wings ripped off in plastic surgery. The characters above the altar are from left to right: St. Peter, Virgin Mary, Christ. That is if the image is not visible through the links.
    Instead of a rich altar at least allow people the mystery of Latin language. Please, Francis.. or whoever..

  4. I couldn't agree more with the sentiment. If possible, one should stay and fight, rather than run and hide (ask the Cubans).

    And I would certainly be inclined to do so, but for my four young sons. I hop parishes because of them. If I raised them in a typical NO parish, I would certainly fear for their faith. I can't afford that risk -- more than a risk, a certainty. Therefore, we drive forty-five minutes through the mountains once or twice a week.

    If we could drive an hour to attend a TLM in our diocese, we would do that too. Unfortunately there isn't anything closer than ninety minutes, and the distance we travel now is strain enough.

    I suspect that a strong majority of TLM adherents my age are in a very similar position. If not for the children, we could join the fight; but not all of us can raise them at the front, under fire.

    I should also say that in my diocese, or my part of it, the fight is a grim one. There are very few Catholics, and precious few of those are traditionalists. Our bishop is not a bad man, I think, but he is rather weak, and under heavy fire himself. I expect our situation to worsen.

    1. If not for the children, we could join the fight; but not all of us can raise them at the front, under fire.

      And that really is the rub, so often.

  5. In my country the clergy are mostly afraid of the hierarchy, and so there is only one EF Mass at the moment (not that there are many priests interested in the EF; a handful of the newer crop has some interest in it). The hierarchy is mostly opposed to it. For example, my own wedding was delayed for 6 months, and it was a struggle across two dioceses. I had insider information that the powers that be were not at all happy with my "novel request", and tried to quell my request until I finally threatened the diocesan vicar general of my diocese with asking for an audience with the bishop (this after he interrogated me for an hour).

    My country is quite peculiar, as there is no serious "traditionalist" movement. You get some bloggers here and there, clamoring for the traditional Mass, and throwing accusations of heresy here and there, repeating mostly American and French arguments, but that's the extent of it. When I was part of a group promoting the traditional Mass, most of the members could not get over their inertia, and when laity did contact us, they just wanted us to come in and set up a Mass for them.
    Strangely enough, the FSSPX, which has been there for I think over 20 years, has never produced any vocations. There were two, but they didn't go through with it. There have been possible vocations with Ecclesia Dei communities, but even these did not persevere until the end.

    The laity, for the most part, seem ignorant of the EF, and when it is mentioned to those practicing the faith they tend to have a rather bad reaction against it. Heck, even a very conservative Opus Dei numerary, when I told him of my interest in the EF, asked me (With horror in his face) if I was a "Lefebvrian".

    Personally, I can't see strategy for reviving the EF at the moment there.

    It makes one wonder of what Our Lady meant...