Saturday, July 18, 2020

Taking Stock of the Roman Rite

Given the surreal state of the world during and after the Corona Contagion it may seem difficult to appraise the state of the Roman liturgy. All the same, the liberalization that Benedict XVI initiated turned into a semi-restorationist movement after the red pill that is the Bergoglian pontificate. Mutual enrichment, improving the Novus Ordo, and minimizing abuses were all lauded for six years and then reality struck.

News of a strange survey to the bishops of the world on the status of the old rite has re-invigorated fortress Tradistan, which is hardly the appropriate response. Two of the questions about the mechanics of how the old Mass is promoted do read oddly, but the idea that the older Missals are under threat looks grossly exaggerated. The supposed plan, rumored a few years ago, that Rome would reconcile the FSSPX, abrogate all permissions, and give the Fraternity total authority seems antipodal to Rome's extension of newer feasts to the older kalendar[s] and the accompanying extension of the old Holy Week, something long gone in the aliturgical FSSPX. After 13 years of ordaining more and more young priests interested in older rites and saying their first Masses the old way, particularly in the United States and some parts of Europe, putting the genie back in the bottle would not be as simple as in 1969.

Instead, it might be worth thinking about what is worth doing in the future for the old rite, which is not necessarily the same as the 1962 rite. The Roman liturgy has expanded in both ex-Ecclesia Dei and diocesan settings, but requires a bit more direction to take more permanent root among the faithful.


The foremost priority should be to get the old Mass, in some way or another, in every parish possible. Yes, there is an entire old liturgy. Yes, there is the question of 1962 vs. the real old rite. Yes, there is the Office. The explosion of old rite Masses in the United States in the last decade has shown interest in the older liturgy to be generally infectious, with priests who do the old Mass, if even only on occasion, adapting the manner of bringing Communion to the home bound or the richer texts in the Rituale for Baptism. 

The laity kept the old Mass alive during a long winter, but its future depends on the willingness of priests not only to say it but also to promote it within the right setting. Saint Mary's in Norwalk, CT is an excellent example of this. Thirteen years ago they began a Sunday-only 1962 Mass in the basement of the parish, for the ordinary would not permit the older Mass to substitute for a new rite Mass in any church schedule, only to supplement it. Within weeks the Mass had to be moved into the main church and they configured their Mass schedule so that it became the main Mass on Sundays. All the same, the weekday and other Sunday Masses were still new rite, in the vernacular. There was a Wednesday night old Mass and the old Mass popped up on liturgically interesting days like Candlemas, but the clergy were careful to nurture interest among the laity rather than force it. A decade later there are now half a dozen other churches within a thirty minute drive, yet Saint Mary's still packs them in on Sundays, does the full old rite Holy Week (Tenebrae and all), and recently instituted weekday Masses in the older form. A forced issue could well have killed the parish or created a situation like that of Fr. Michael Rodriguez in El Paso, TX, but the discretion of three successive pastors has proven out over the last decade and a half.

With some place in a parish, the older Roman liturgy is more likely to grow than decline or stagnate. This presents a unique opportunity in the "messy" pontificate of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, where liturgical propriety and centralization are at their all-time lows in the post-Vatican II Church. As said before on this blog and elsewhere, one reason why the old Holy Week took off, even before the Ecclesia Dei permission for certain groups in certain settings, is the knowledge that the '62 Police are busy with other things or just don't care. The 1962 liturgy—Mass, readings on great feasts, kalendar, psalter, processions, Office etc—is not a full expression of the Roman liturgy and how the faithful have been united to God in prayer in the Western world and its spheres of influence. This affords Catholics ample space and power to promote the genuine old liturgy, either on great days (Gaudeamus omnes on Assumption) or lesser days (add the commemorations on Sundays and feriae).

This brings us to the third priority, which is the eventual, fullest practice of the liturgy whenever possible. I don't know what some priests, who protest that sung Mass on November 2 or a procession on February 2 is unnecessary, are really doing in their rectories, but they need encouragement to get out into the liturgical world. Fullness of liturgical practice need not mean pulling out all stops on the rare opportunity, in some parish with a once a month Latin Mass on Saturday morning, that the Mass is sung. No need for lace, polyphony, prissy movements, and daily-shined brass on every occasion, but do the liturgy well and at its highest appropriate expression whenever possible. Try to get your Missa cantata to become a solemn Mass, but don't make a "green" Sunday into a Duplex I Classis feast. Try to get first Vespers for your parish's patronal feast if Vespers would be novel in your parish. Ask if Father could give you absolution the old way—it makes Confession shorter. The restriction should not be your imagination, only your prudence.

The People

People who attend the old Mass generally get a "bad rap", as those bereft of the English language say. This is not entirely unjustified, but given fifteen years of experience with the "TLM" in different American and international settings it is fair to say that the eccentrics and "bohemian lunatic fringe" (cf. Geoffrey Hull) give the broader Traditionalist world a bad name.

This may be a controversial idea, but the best thing people who love the old Mass can do is wait for the day their bishop asks if they want to invite the FSSP or ICRSS into their diocese and then politely decline. Until a few years ago the Traditionalist clerical orders had no presence in New England, save the FSSPX retreat center in Connecticut and one mission Mass they ran elsewhere in the state. There were some of the eccentric Trads to be found, especially the sort who decry the lamentable state of ecclesiastical politics, but generally these were approachable people who had trekked through the difficulties of keeping the old Mass going and hence formed some sort of community, which made the accretion of visitors to the community something very easy. Ten years later many of my old acquaintances threw up their [newly found] fedoras with joy at the news some group was coming to their area. Within weeks the women dressed like characters from Laura Ingalls Wilder, the men complained about the bishops without end, the priests gave nothing but instructional sermons on behavior, and interest in Fatima became the equivalent of moral righteousness. Devotions exceeded interest in the example of the saints. One woman was spiritually unrecognizable seven years later. Those who did not home school suddenly arose suspicion. "Novus Ordo" became a synonym for any disagreeable phenomenon.

The Saint Peter Fraternity, the Institute of Christ the King, and the other groups are not the problem themselves. Isolation is the problem, and restricting the old Mass to a small parish creates a self-imposed ghetto mentality which simultaneously stunts the old Mass and turns its adherents to reactionaries rather than militants.

This is not the case everywhere run by the FSSPX, FSSP, and ICRSS, but it is prevalent enough to be a recognizable pattern is sequential pastors allow or encourage this sort of thing. In a world currently tearing down its history and accusing the non-woke of being inherently wicked persons, the last thing anyone needs is a new brand of crazy.

We should not prefer the old rite because it is less obnoxious than the new, although that is certainly true and a very valid reason for initial interest. We must prefer it because it is the tested means for the Christian to know God and to save his soul, to purify and realize God's image within him. If we accomplish this we may save the Mass and even ourselves.


  1. Hi Mr. RadTrad,

    I have been an avid reader of your blog for over a year now and at my university town’s parish there is soon going to be a weekly 1962 mass. Could we enter into e-mail correspondence? I would love to ask your advice.

    1. Sure. Just reply to this comment with your email address. I will get in touch with you and your comment will not be published.

  2. I have a 14-year experience in a diocesan TLM parish. The (potential) problem with this and other diocesan venues doing so as you suggest is that it really rises and falls with the particular priest in charge. The situation in Norwalk is commendable but it is the usual pattern of things. The advantage to the groups dedicated to the TLM is that the cause is part of a larger organization and not dependent on any particular priest. The fact that priests are transferred in the SSPX, FSSP, etc. is to their advantage; there is at once a missionary spirit and a sense of community among the priests (e.g. they pray part of the Office in common by statute). Is it true that the Liturgy is not the focus in many of those places? Yes. But it is also true that the Liturgy alone, though it is THE sine qua non, cannot take hold if the whole package of Tradition (e.g. Vatican II does have errors, ask +Vigano) is not presented as the "why" of restoring the TLM; otherwise the TLM risks being made a show-piece based on the whims of a particular priest. The TLM cannot be restored the way it should if its restoration is simply based on its beauty or its "not-Novus Ordo-ness".

  3. This may be a controversial idea, but the best thing people who love the old Mass can do is wait for the day their bishop asks if they want to invite the FSSP or ICRSS into their diocese and then politely decline.

    I hate to push back on a Rad Trad post, but in this case, I feel I must - even as I share some of the same concerns about what happens in some TLM personal parishes.

    Here is the problem: What we should want (and what most of us do end up wanting once we discover traditional liturgy and devotional life) is the complete package. A Sunday only TLM is not enough. We need *daily* Mass, too - and we need the other sacraments in the old rite as well. And in 98% of diocesan TLM's, that is simply not available, nor is it likely to be for the foreseeable future.

    So how can we provide that, widely and consistently, without ending up in isolation? I don't have a clear answer on that. Perhaps if there were more Oratorian communities (or a vast, vast expansion of the Canons of St John Cantius) willing to offer both rites on a daily basis.

    And then there is, as Joannes notes, the problem of stability. I currently help organize a diocesan TLM myself. And there is a lot to like about it - our "normie" contingent is very high - but the fact remains that it is entirely dependent on our pastor, who seemingly has more attachment to the old rite than the rest of the clergy in the archdiocese put together. It's very unlikely that it would survive in the parish if he gets reassigned at the end of this 6 year term, as seems probable. This makes it difficult to build a long-term community.

    At any rate, as things stand today, at the end of July 2020, there are 612 regular TLM's in the United States. Of these, 75 are in what amount to personal parishes. It seems likely that for the time being, the great majority of regular TLM's in the U.S. are going to be in what you might term "non-isolated" settings.

  4. Regarding your "controversial" point, I have actually found the opposite phenomenon to be the case. The FSSP and Institute parishes I have attended displayed a high degree of "balance"--the more "reactionary" elements, in my experience, are to be found in diocesan parishes where one (or, rarely, more) Sunday Mass is using the old books.

    My guess as to why this is so is that "TLM-only" parishes are much more integrated--the old Mass is not one disjointed element of the tradition where most other sacramental rites are performed according to the new books and the priests will use the new Office books. Paradoxically, the more "integral" everything is in a single parish, the less ghetto-ish it tends to be (in my experience). The parish-within-a-parish model seems to face marginalization much more concretely--mostly from the parishioners who attend the Novus Ordo.

    A parish divided is a strange thing, whereas different parishes with different "characters" (so to speak) is a much more normal thing, humanly and historically speaking.