Stewart Copeland on Charlie Watts
Two Killers

That Motu Proprio Business

I decided several years ago that I had had enough of intra-Catholic controversies, especially those surrounding and frequently caused by Pope Francis, and that I was going to start ignoring them. It seemed that I was just going to have to accept the fact that the Pope had renewed a conflict within the Church that I had thought, or at least hoped, was slowly dying down--I mean the conflict between the factions conventionally if inaccurately labeled "liberal" and "conservative."

So I stopped reading news stories about the Pope, whether in the secular religious press. It wasn't hard to do, as I've never been a Vatican-watcher, and, probably more importantly, he just didn't seem to be in the news as much. And I've been happier for it. But I can't resist taking a shot at the recent motu proprio which revokes the wide permission granted by Pope Benedict XVI for the celebration of the pre-Vatican-II Mass. In practical effect it seeks to extirpate the old Mass, and it's a weirdly punitive action, in startling contrast to Francis's talk about being inclusive etc. 

I am not a capital-T Traditionalist (little-t traditionalist, maybe), I don't attend the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM), have no particular affection for it, and no direct personal interest in seeing it preserved, beyond a healthy respect for our liturgical heritage. What I do have is sympathy for those who are attached to it. (This is an odd and maybe significant parallel to my situation with regard to Donald Trump's presidency: I didn't support him, but I sympathized with those who did.) When the question is reduced (simplistically but frequently) to the choice between Latin and the vernacular, I'm firmly on the side of English, the only vernacular I care about.

But I've always been puzzled by the hostility of the proponents of the Novus Ordo (in other words, the vast majority of bishops, clergy, and academics) to the TLM. By "always" I mean since I became Catholic in 1981. I didn't grow up Catholic and had no experience whatsoever of the old Mass, therefore no attachment to it. But like the hypothetical space traveler landing on earth and wondering why we do certain things which strike him as odd, I was puzzled by the hostility. What I saw was a significant number of people, mostly older than me, who were very deeply attached to the old liturgy and were heartbroken by the change. And I couldn't understand why no accommodation was made for them, no gesture of concern at all that I could see. It seemed that they were held in contempt by the powers governing the Church for the bizarre crime of being attached to what the Church itself had encouraged them to love.

That picture is significantly different now. Forty years have passed, and most of the people I'm talking about are no longer with us. From what I see and hear the people now devoted to the TLM, the people who reportedly fill some parishes that are essentially TLM parishes, are middle-aged and younger, and could not possibly be acting out of some residual attachment to the Church of their childhood and youth. If anything they are reacting against that, against the Novus Ordo (for various well-known reasons that I won't bother with now). And maybe that's part of the reason the Pope has taken this action: we expected this thing to die, but it's growing, so we better kill it. The hostility toward the TLM in some quarters is at least as great as it was forty years ago. And I still don't understand it. 

The stereotype of Traditionalists is that they're rigid, cranky, suspicious, and so forth. As with almost all stereotypes, there's some truth in it. But it's not the whole story. The pope's letter accompanying the document emphasizes the harm done to the Church's unity by Traditionalists who reject Vatican II. But there is a world of middle-ground between the zealous progressive who thinks the only problem with Vatican II is that it didn't go far enough in erecting a new Church, and the zealous Traditionalist who denies the council's validity entirely. No doubt you can find some of those in TLM communities. But there's also no doubt that you could find many who believe that some aspects of the Council were unwise and that its implementation was misguided and botched. To believe that is in no way "comportment that contradicts communion,"  as Francis says in the letter accompanying his edict. His immediate predecessor often said things along those lines about the Council.

There's another stereotype involved here: the smiling progressive who is tolerant of everything except disagreement, ostentatiously compassionate, but having a mean streak. Francis shows something of that tendency. If Traditionalists are as alienated as he says, is this a wise way to deal with them? What happened to "accompaniment," "going to the margins," and all that stuff? If any group within the Catholic Church is marginalized right now, it's Traditionalists. This is like a father choosing to deal with an estranged child by telling him "Actually, I never liked you anyway. Also, I'm taking your dog to the shelter tomorrow."

Here are a couple of good responses. A fairly brief one from Amy Welborn, and a longer and liturgically erudite one from Dom Alcuin Reid.

And now I'll go back to not paying attention.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Among the people I know who attend the TLM on a regular basis (who are all younger than middle-aged), the Latin Mass seems part of a broader counterculturalism. Rightly or wrongly, they associate the Novus Ordo with accommodation to the prevailing culture, and they reject it along with sexual licence, materialism and consumerism, and general lax self-discipline.

It sounds like I have a somewhat stronger attachment to the TLM than you do. I don't attend it often, but I'd like to go more frequently than I do. For me, interest in the TLM has been driven mainly by my sense that it provides me a means to closer friendship with the Church through time -- the Church "of the ages", if that's not too hackneyed a phrase. I feel especially close to the English martyrs at the TLM; I don't know why, but that has been my experience, and I've been grateful for it.

In other words, the TLM for me has been about greater unity with the Church, rather than a source of the divisiveness the Pope is worried about. Sure, you have your cranks, but, under Pope Benedict's wise dispensation, a smaller proportion every year.

One odd thing about the motu proprio that I wanted to ask you about. Pope Francis calls the "Novus Ordo" the "sole expression of the Roman Rite" (or words to that effect), but isn't the Ordinariate part of the Roman Rite? I've been meaning to ask our Ordinariate priest about this, but I haven't got around to it.

Anne-Marie--yes, that's what I see. I only know a few people who attend the TLM regularly, and your description fits them. Well, maybe not quite--I don't think they *reject* the Novus Ordo. But they do see the TLM and the TLM community in the countercultural way you describe.

Craig--in the abstract I totally agree with you about the place of the TLM. But it is an abstraction. I would react quite badly if it were successfully exterminated, I think it would be extremely bad for the Church, but I can't say that I would feel it as a *personal* loss. I've really never had much opportunity to witness it celebrated as it probably should be. Liturgically speaking, my heart belongs to the Ordinariate. Which, by the way, is no longer available to me. Our Ordinariate group is no more. And I gather you are part of one now?

"...the TLM for me has been about greater unity with the Church, rather than a source of the divisiveness the Pope is worried about." I've developed a real distrust of the charge of "divisiveness"--and, to be honest, those who make it. So often it's just a sneaky way of demanding one's own way by insinuating that the other's point of view is not even legitimate.

"I think we should take this road."
"I think this other one would be better."
"You're so divisive. Stop it."

Re the "sole expression"--I haven't read all that much about this, but based on what I have read that's raised a lot of eyebrows. As stated it would seem to deny the value or maybe even the legitimacy of *all* the other rites, of which there are...what?..a couple of dozen or so? As well as the Ordinariate, which is not strictly speaking a "rite." There again we see that progressive stereotype in action: when we say diversity we don't mean *that* kind of diversity.



A friend of mine, a Latin Mass Catholic but by no means a hypertraditionalist, began attending a Ukrainian Catholic Church a few years back when there were some contentious goings-on between his Latin Mass parish and the diocese. He said that it took him a little bit of time to adjust, but now he feels very comfortable with the Eastern liturgy.

Another friend of mine, an SSPX guy, lives in an area where there was no regular Latin Mass. Iirc an SSPX priest would serve a Mass once a month. Meanwhile, while of course he would not attend a N.O. Mass, he would not go to the local ByzCath church, because the rubrics, according to him, state that while attendance at an Eastern Catholic Church fulfills the Sunday obligation, it is not an obligation in and of itself to attend a Mass if it's a different rite than your own. This seemed very strange to the rest of us, but perhaps it's just an SSPX rule. And in any case, why wouldn't you go if you had the opportunity?

There's a subvariety of consciously orthodox, but not necessarily Traditionalist, Catholic who shops around a lot liturgically. Maybe not an all-out liturgy geek, but particular. The Eastern Catholic rites are very attractive to them. They provide a formal liturgy without dragging one into the controversies etc. that tend to go with Traditionalism.

The guy in your second paragraph...that's just weird. But then refusing to go to a N.O. Mass is weird to me. Well, not just weird, wrong. But no need to go into all that.

Whether that rule is SSPX-specific I don't know. I'm sorry to say that it wouldn't surprise me if it's a general Catholic rule. Rome has always (well, in recent centuries) tended to be anywhere from cold to hostile to rites other than the Latin. Over a hundred years ago there was a significant influx of Lebanese to the Mobile area, and they wanted to keep their rite...can't remember which one it is...but were not allowed to. I've heard there was a lot of bitterness over that.

I've known a couple of Latin Rite Catholics whose normal parish was Byzantine or other non-Latin. How that works "legally" I don't know.

Robert: :-)

Have any of you been to Chimayo, New Mexico? I'm thinking about it because I'll be headed down to that area this weekend for most of next week. I plan on going over to el Santuario de Chimayo for prayer, dirt, perhaps a Mass if timing works out. It is a pilgrimage site, and is where I was married.

No but I would like to. :-)

One of these days...if I don’t run out of days first.

As far as I can tell I'm the closest there is to a "Trad" around here (at least among people who comment).

I don't really consider myself a Traditionalist - I don't think I'm either good enough or crazy enough to claim that label. I do attend the TLM weekly (except in extraordinary circumstances). I don't deny the validity of the Novus Ordo/Ordinary Form - and I know it's not my place to judge, but when I compare the old Mass to the new, the phrase that comes to mind is "Hyperion to a satyr." I don't remember the TLM - I was born in 1969. But i was raised hearing about how much better it was. And in 1988 it became available within a reasonable distance. And, just like Dad said (btw - if you could spare a moment to pray for my father, Ernest, I would appreciate it), it was better - funny how that worked out :).

People who don't prefer the TLM often say "The Mass is the Mass," and that's true. But I don't think the NO expresses as clearly what the Mass is. I don't think I'm good enough to go to the Novus Ordo - I need the remedial Mass which hits me over the head with its importance.

There are two parishes nearby (excluding the SSPX and the SSPV - sedevacantists) that offer the TLM. One of them is run by an order that has permission/faculties - i don't know the right word - to also say the Byzantine rite. In 2020 I attended a special Divine Liturgy for the feast of the Dormition, which was said in English and Spanish. It was quite beautiful, and some of the prayers were more moving than those I am used to, but it was comforting the next time I head "Asperges me Domine hyssopo..." As odd as that was, it felt more like Mass than the typical NO Mass. Which sometimes makes me wonder if the whole Trad scene is a LARP. His Holiness certainly seems to think so.

"...makes me wonder if the whole Trad scene is a LARP."

I'm laughing. It's plausible!

I can't laugh. Am I one of the aliens in Galaxy Quest? :)

Maybe I'll look stupid explaining what is obvious, but my wife always says "no one gets your jokes," and just last week a friend/coworker told me "I got that one!"

The aliens received a transmission of a TV show and thought it was history.

I've seen Galaxy Quest and thought it was funny but didn't remember any of the details, so I only sorta half-understood the joke. But it wasn't the joke's fault. I do remember that those aliens were great.

I was especially intrigued by this: "I don't think the NO expresses as clearly what the Mass is. " How does the TLM do that? I think the average person who didn't have some prior experience and/or knowledge and/or affection for the TLM would feel that way, in fact would feel the opposite. If nothing else, the Latin does it. Unless one understands some large part of the Latin, one would be completely lost, and it would take a good deal of ceremony, music, and so forth to make up for that. I'm speaking partly from experience here, because the only Latin Masses I've ever attended were very Low, and had none of that mystical-aesthetic appeal at all.

"Unless one understands some large part of the Latin, one would be completely lost, and it would take a good deal of ceremony, music, and so forth to make up for that."

I went to my first Latin Mass last year about this time and was somewhat surprised by what I would call its "dryness" in comparison with the Eastern Liturgy. I will say that it was a wedding Mass, so I'm not sure if that has anything to do with it, but I must admit I was fairly disappointed. But perhaps I had my expectations set too high.

I will note something I find a little disturbing in some of my traditional Catholic friends' approach to the Mass. I get the sense sometimes that they feel that the entire thing revolves around the Eucharist in such a way as to make the rest of it somewhat superfluous. They have what is to an Eastern Christian understanding a rather minimalist view of the thing into which actual corporate worship doesn't figure much. I remember a quip by some Catholic writer or other who described this as a faulty view in which the Church gathers on Sunday not so much as a worshipping community but as a "Center for Eucharistic Distribution" or something like that.

There's a typo in my previous comment that makes it confusing: "I think the average person who didn't have some prior experience and/or knowledge and/or affection for the TLM would feel that way." That should be WOULDN'T--wouldn't feel that it more effectively expressed the reality of the Mass.

"dry" is a pretty good single-word description of my impression of the few Latin Masses I've ever attended. But like I said they were very "low".

"I get the sense sometimes that they feel that the entire thing revolves around the Eucharist in such a way as to make the rest of it somewhat superfluous." Hmm...I guess I can't comment on that one way or the other. It certainly isn't true of the Ordinariate, which is the most liturgically-conscious group with which I'm familiar. I could speculate that the TLM people could be reacting against the sometimes (often?) overly casual NO.

"But I've always been puzzled by the hostility of the proponents of the Novus Ordo (in other words, the vast majority of bishops, clergy, and academics) to the TLM."

Doesn't that "hostility" have a lot to do with Marcel Lefebrve's being the origin of the push for the Latin Mass?

Here's a bit on that in a letter Pope Paul VI wrote Lefebrve in 1976:

"You would like to see recognized the right to celebrate Mass in various places of worship according to the Tridentine rite. You wish also to continue to train candidates for the priesthood according to your criteria, 'as before the Council,' in seminaries apart, as at Ecône. But behind these questions and other similar ones, which We shall examine later on in detail, it is truly necessary to see the intricacy of the problem: and the problem is theological. For these questions have become concrete ways of expressing an ecclesiology that is warped in essential points.

What is indeed at issue is the question—which must truly be called fundamental—of your clearly proclaimed refusal to recognize in its whole, the authority of the Second Vatican Council and that of the pope. This refusal is accompanied by an action that is oriented towards propagating and organizing what must indeed, unfortunately, be called a rebellion. This is the essential issue, and it is truly untenable."

I'm no historian, but I don't think that would account for the breadth and depth of the suppression, and the hostility. I think that was already well in place before Lefebrve and the Vatican came to blows. Maybe it would have taken some of the wind out of Lefebrve's sails if the hierarchy had been more, dare I say it, pastoral about the Mass? I doubt most people who were upset about the liturgical change intended to deny the authority of the Council, which as the letter says was the big sticking point, not really the liturgy. In fact I think it worked the other way for some: the suppression of the old Mass caused them to question that authority.

Like I said, I'm not an historian, so would defer to someone more knowledgeable. But then that wouldn't really resolve anything, because experts are still arguing about it all.

I think you've got a point here, Mac. I have several SSPX friends, and there exists among them a sort of "guilt by association" not only about TLM, but about other things, such as priestly celibacy. The things are supported or rejected not primarily on their own merits but in terms of whether "the modernists" accept them or not, and this always tends to go back to Vat. I. I don't see this mentality present in my non-SSPX Latin Mass friends. They may question the Council's wisdom in certain regards but they don't deny its authority.

I'd say the same about the TLM people I know, though that's such a small number that I can't claim that it signifies a lot.

My understanding, for what it's worth, is that Lefebvre did reject certain aspects of Vatican II, and that it was those more than the liturgy that were the real sticking points for him.

My view of the hostility I referred to is that it was deep and also involved much more than the liturgy. I could mention many small incidents that gave me that impression. It was actually more or less the same as Lefebvre's view of the Council as a rupture with everything that had gone before, only they saw that as a good thing. You may have heard the terms "hermeneutic of rupture" and "hermeneutic of continuity." Pope Benedict was very strongly an advocate of the latter.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)