Today is the anniversary of the implementation of Summorum Pontificum. The Motu Proprio will surely be recognized as one of the most important achievements of the too-brief pontificate of Benedict XVI. It has already created a huge knock-on effect in many younger priests and seminarians. It’s fruits, and those of Benedict’s “Marshall Plan”, will manifest themselves in years to come.
That said, I remember where I was when Summorum Pontificum went into effect, on 14 September 2007. I was in England, visiting my good friend Fr. Tim Finigan, who was, then, at Our Lady of the Rosary in Blackfen, Kent. On that day we had a wonderful Solemn Mass to mark the occasion and I was privileged to preach. I concluded that sermon saying:
Our attachment to the extraordinary form of Mass is therefore grounded not in nostalgia, or curiosity, or a fear of modernity, or suspicion of Vatican II, or downright stubbornness, but rather in the conviction that this form of Holy Mass draws us into a participation in the mystery of Christ, the incarnate Word, who saves us from eternal death.
Liturgy has no higher goal than to promote holiness. And so we are thankful for the gift of Summorum Pontificum. We accept the challenge the Holy Father has given us to extend this older form of the Roman Rite to all those who seek it and to celebrate the Roman Rite with devotion. May it promote in us the holiness which is Christ’s gift to the Church.
That was then. This is now.
I have been curious about how things have been at Our Lady’s Church in Blackfen since they very recently – beginning of September, I believe – acquired a new parish priest, a Fr. Fisher, whom I don’t believe I have met. Fr. Finigan has moved to Margate after quite a few years at Blackfen.
I’ve been wondering if Fr. Fisher would be maintaining the regular celebrations of the Extraordinary Form in continuity with his predecessor. I was informed that he knows how to celebrate Mass in the traditional form.
That said, more than one person (Fr. Finigan is NOT among them) has written to me with concern about some swift developments in Blackfen. People are pretty upset there right now. I’ve had a lot of information come in which, as I was writing, I decided not to post at this time. Let two items suffice.
- Fr. Fisher announced that he is terminating Extraordinary Form Masses at Blackfen at the end of September.
- The Tablet (aka The Bitter Pill) is now available in the back of the church.
What’s my point?
First, I have real affection for that parish, since I spent good time visiting and I know some wonderful people who have been involved there. I am concerned for them. This is happening after two weeks of a new regime.
Second, everyone who has what St. John Paul called “legitimate aspirations” regarding the traditional expressions of the faith need to be vigilant and to work ceaselessly to expand opportunities for the older, traditional form of Holy Mass and the sacraments. Help seminarians and priests get training. Encourage them. Work hard to make sure that everything is in place and available. Keep expanding the pool of priests who know what to do.
Why do I harp on this all the time?
As its says in Scripture, “surrexit rex novus super Aegyptum… there arose a new king over Egypt, who knew not Joseph”. It is increasingly evident that, in many corners of the Church today, the enemies of what Pope Benedict accomplished are feeling emboldened. What has been gained, through patience and the hard work of years, can be swept away be a single sweep of a new pharaoh.
So, I will offer the following.
First, I don’t believe that Pope Francis will rescind Summorum Pontificum. I have little doubt that it has been suggested to him by his inner circle. I don’t believe that His Holiness would consider this a big enough issue to deal with. He has much bigger fish to fry. That’s doesn’t mean that others, the far more political, sensing changes in the wind, won’t try to curtail what Summorum Pontificum established.
Second, be exemplary Catholics. Do not just drive to a church where you have the older Mass on the schedule and then drive away, forgetting about the place until next week. Yes, that’s exactly what 98% of regular parishioners do too. Be involved in the life of the parish as a whole so that you have some influence when or if the blade hits the meat. Be involved, be present, be visible. Be especially attentive to projects that involve corporal works of mercy. Exceed expectations. Be engaged with the parish priests. When something is good, tell them. Be cordial. Go out of your way. Make sure they know you and appreciate your presence.
Will all this require sacrifice? Yes. But it is what you should be doing anyway. Right? So it’s going to be twice as hard for you as it is for others who don’t care about these things. So what?
Next, people who have these “legitimate aspirations”, as St. John Paul described them, should get their heads into the mental place wherein they can deal with being persecuted – again - without becoming bitter, discouraged, hostile, aggressive. In many places, it’s simply a fact that we are already scorned as second class citizens. Don’t confirm unfair and even sinful prejudices by being a jerk. St. Paul told the Romans to treat their enemies with kindness and, by doing so, heap hot coals on their heads. Don’t just check out either. You have to be engaged and be … well… holier than ever. So: GO TO CONFESSION.
I sense that, in some corners, things could get tougher really quickly. It’s buckle-it-on time. Even if the situation where you are isn’t so dicey, it’s still buckle-it-on time.
You remember the story of Nehemiah, I hope. The Persian King Artaxerxes gave Nehemiah permission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem which was surrounded by enemies, Philistines, Arabs and the like. They were infuriated. While the workman strove to get the walls up before they could be attacked, “aedificantium enim unusquisque gladio erat accinctus… each of the builders had his sword girded at his side while he built.” A trumpeter stood by on watch.
I, for one, do not assume that anything is going to be smooth. I take my queue not only from what happened to Israelites after the death of the friendly pharaoh, but also from Nehemiah. I’m buckling up. I sat down today, after some discouraging news, and made a list for myself of a few things I am resolved to do, or to do better. Change has to begin with me.
Get your heads into the game, my dear readers. Get organized. Be vigilant and prayerful and active active active. All hands on deck. As Jack Aubrey might put it, get ready for a blow.
And now, on that cheery note, I shall make pesto from basil in honor of this happy anniversary. The Widow is chilling in the fridge. I will pray, in a special way for His Holiness Benedict XVI. I will also raise a glass to Benedict, whom I thank with great fondness for the gift to the whole Church that is Summorum Pontificum.