Over at Holy Smoke of Damian Thompson there is a thread sure to provoke some conversation.
It seethes frustration.
And I have no doubt that in some respects he is right about the topic he tackles. But at the same time I think he might be missing some important points.
Let’s have a look with my emphases and comments.
Is Pope Benedict losing the confidence of the Latin Mass faithful?
Just over a year ago, Pope Benedict’s decree liberating the traditional Latin Mass came into effect. But it contained so many loopholes that liberal bishops have been able to sabotage it – and a much-needed clarification from Rome has still not appeared. [And it must be said that that is entirely the decision, or non-decision, of the Holy Father. The Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei completed its part of the work a long time ago.]
Pope Benedict XVI has an intense vision of liturgical reform
The mood among traditionalist commentators is gloomy – much gloomier than they are prepared to admit on their blogs. [I am not sure by which psychic powers he knows this… but let’s read on…] Meanwhile, Latin Mass enthusiasts in England and Wales are bewildered that the number of weekly Sunday Masses in the Old Rite has barely increased since before Summorum Pontificum. [That is a matter of stats, not psychic powers, and we must accept this.]
The bishops of England and Wales, three quarters of whom regard the Motu Proprio as a mistake, are playing a clever game. Yes, they are more willing to give permission for weekday Tridentine Masses, or Sunday Masses once a month. But (a) they are still firmly in control of Latin Mass provision, which was not the Pope’s intention; and (b) outside London, the number of weekly Sunday Masses in the Old Rite is tiny. [A couple problems here. If this is the case, the problem does not lie with Pope Benedict. The problem lies not even so much with hostile bishops, though they are not to be discounted. The problem lies with parish priests who don’t have the backbone to implement Summorum Pontificum in their parishes. The Motu Proprio might be vague on some points, but it is not vague about who implements the document in parishes. PP’s don’t need permission from the bishop. So, there is a lack of will on the part of Parish Priests. There also may be a lack of will and, it must be said, savvy among those who desire the TLM. We cannot live in a dream world where, like good cartesians, we think things into being. Peope have to act, and act intelligently, carefully, diplomatically, … but they have to act.]
Take a look at the website of the Latin Mass Society. Its list of regular traditional Masses tells a sad story. Arundel & Brighton, East Anglia, Lancaster, Menevia, Middlesbrough, Wrexham – there is not one weekly traditional Sunday Mass in these dioceses, according to the LMS.
Other dioceses offer perhaps one or two, some predating Summorum Pontificum. Funnily enough, one bishop who has instituted a Sunday Tridentine Mass is dear old Arthur Roche – the key word being "instituted", meaning that it is very much his decision, under his control. [And that is the problem everywhere. If the field is ceeded to bishops alone to implement the Motu Proprio, then people and their priests have no one to blame but themselves.]
No cathedral in England and Wales offers a weekly Sunday Mass in the Old Rite, so far as I can tell, which is a disgrace. And no Latin Mass communities have been set up in England and Wales, in sharp contrast to the situation in the United States. "There’s no demand for them," say the bishops. But the point is that the admittedly limited demand for the traditional services is NOT being met – and the Pope’s wish that a new generation of Catholics be introduced to the treasures of the old liturgy is just a pipe dream. [This raises a question which cannot be avoided. If there is limited demand, or no demand for TLMs, what can one expect if bishops and priests don’t offer them? I think my positions are pretty clear: priests should educate their flocks so that they want the TLM. But… that’s me. We must recognize that many priests a) don’t share that goal and b) already have plenty to do and c) know that the bishop can make their lives very difficult.]
But if the bishops of England and Wales (and of many other countries) are playing fast and loose with Summorum Pontificum, that’s because Pope Benedict XVI is allowing them to. [When I see this sort of thing, I am torn. On the one hand, Popes, bishops, priests, should look upon those in their charge with a measure of paternal respect and, giving them the benefit of the doubt, treat them like adults and let them do what they are to do. On the other hand, and perhaps my years spent with St. Augustine now show forth, we sadly see all too often that people don’t do what they ought and that intervention becomes necessary. So… the question winds up being: how much intervention is the right amount of intervention? Should the Pope micromanage? Shout? Suspend? Punish? Many people quickly jump to the statement that the Pope should PUNISH to the right of him and to the left. From what I know of this Pope, and I knew him before he was elected, this man is not the punishing or micromanaging sort. He doesn’t like or want conflict. He believes in the good in people and that they will come to see reason and act accordingly. He sets his example in that direction…. and there we have another problem. But I suspect we’ll get to that down the line.]
The original document was not tightly drafted: it left plenty of room for confusion about what constituted a "stable group" of the faithful who were entitled to demand access to the older form of Mass. [The flip side is that tightly drafted documents cannot be interpreted with as much flexibility.] Did the group have to be rooted in one parish, or predate the papal decree? Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, head of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, has indicated that the answer is "no" and that the Pope wishes people in every parish to have access (of some sort) to the 1962 Missal.
But these were off-the cuff remarks made in response to a question I asked him at a press conference before the big Westminster Mass boycotted by the local bishops: they have not been clarified or amplified by Ecclesia Dei. Why not?
Meanwhile, although the Pope is slowly changing the style of his own liturgical celebrations to bring them more into line with the historic practices of the Church – to de-Bugninify them, if you like – there is still not the slightest indication that His Holiness will celebrate Mass in the Extraordinary Form publicly. Why? No one knows the answer.
Let us be blunt about this. If the Pope were to die tomorrow, he would be remembered for many fine achievements, most of all his encyclicals, but his liturgical reforms would peter out. [We are back to the psychic powers again.] Summorum Pontificum would remain on the statute book, but the Magic Circle in England and its powerful allies in the Vatican and Europe would quietly suffocate the work of Ecclesia Dei.
My guess is that the next Pope will be as theologically conservative as Benedict, but is unlikely to possess his blindingly intense vision of a liturgical reform in which the pre- and post-Vatican II liturgies revive each other. That reform is not yet properly under way, and the Pope is in his 80s. No wonder traditionalists are alarmed.
In so many ways I share many of the thoughts and sentiments in the above. I understand there are many people who have wanted a lot more and a lot faster.
But at the same time, I must underscore that Summorum Pontificum is now in force… something a few years ago was hardly to be dreamed.
It is entirely natural to strain against the snaffle when the goal has suddenly come into view. But let’s be realistic about more than one dimension of this.
The Pope, if he is dithering, is not the only one dithering.
I don’t know about this for sure… but perhaps we are seeing greater success in the USA with the implementation of Summorum Pontificum because Americans tend to do something rather than reflect about what ought to be done and then wring hands that it isn’t yet so. I will grant immediately that there are far stronger ideologically convinced enemies of the TLM and Summorum Pontificum in the UK and the continent, making their implementation very difficult indeed. I have spent a long time in Italy and found far more savage… and more stupid… opposition to anything traditional there than in my native USA. So, I admit that the good people in England, Wales, Scotland have a very hard time ahead of them.
But they have, nevertheless, also the power to do something about it and not merely to sit being gloomy.
First, have a reality check. If there are only a couple people in a parish who are interested in having the older Mass, and the priest isn’t interested, your choices are fairly clear. Either get the priest interested or take it on the road. Face it: Father "I’m-not-interested" isn’t going to add a Mass for three people.
So, you have to band together into large groups and begin working on priests who are more amenable. Charm them. Provide them with materials. Pray and fast for them. Press diplomatically and gently. BE THERE to do the work. Get involved. Figure it out.
Is the priest afraid of the bishop? Help the priest. Keep working on the bishop. Carefully. Pray for him, perhaps using the Bux Protocol for praying for bishops: ask St. Joseph to intercede with God that He will either open the bishop’s eyes or close them permanently. Remember: the biological solution is going to be important for the future of the TLM. Therefore, work on the younger priests and on seminarians. Do you best to promote vocations to the priesthood among bright young men and boys who are interested in these things.
Do your best to open hearts.
Some people, the gloomy sort, will say that I am too optimistic or delusional or that I don’t understand what resistance they are facing.
I think I do understand, that I have my eyes pretty wide open, and that from my perspective I have seen what is possible whereas they, perhaps have not.
Let me underscore this with a quick story.
When I was working for the PCED we were having a terrible exchange with an American bishop. People wanted the old Mass, and he refused absolutely. They petitioned, he rejected. They sent us the copies of the petitions, he would deny there was any interest. Volley of letters after volleys of letters back and forth across the Atlantic. He would say he never got petitions, we would mail back copies of his acknowledgement of the petitions to the lay people who had sent them. He would write a stern letter reminding us to mind our own business, we would write back saying that this was our business. It became uglier and uglier.
One day a letter came from him that was so nasty it simply couldn’t be borne. I wrote a draft of a response entirely proportioned to the tone and content of that bishops letter. I wrote a draft designed to end the issue.
When the Cardinal came in, this was the great Augustine Card. Mayer, first President of Ecclesia Dei – now very old and ailing – please I beg you to pray for him in his infirmity and suffering – he eventually called me in to go over the various drafts that had to go out. At last we came to The Letter.
Card. Mayer, who was nearly 80 at the time, and who had been a monk, expert at the Council, abbot, professor, curia Secretary, Prefect, is perhaps the holiest man I know, had a practically perfect grasp of English. He would make subtle changes in the language of all the letters he would sign. So there was no surprise at all when he said,
"Here you write X. Do you suppose we could say Y?"
There was no question but that we could, but that was his style. He was ready to hear a reason for or against, but he was usually right with each "suggestion".
We went on to the next word in that manner… and the next… and the next, until – both of us chuckling a bit – there was nothing at all left of what I had written and the page was filled with corrections and cobwebs of lines and marks.
At last, I said "Clearly Your Eminence wants something else. It’s my job to make your job easier. Give me some direction."
He paused and looked at the large Murillo painting of the Blessed Mother on the wall of the office for a while and then said:
"At a certain point we must stop arguing and try to open their hearts."
With that I went back to my desk, pondered this for a while, and then rapidly wrote a short letter of response to that American bishop.
I took it in to the Cardinal, who make a minor change here and there, and off it went.
A few weeks later we received news from people in that bishop’s diocese that, not only had the bishop permitted the older form of Mass, he came to celebrate it himself for them.
What did I write?
After the usual clink of incense at the beginning, common to all curia letters, I merely wrote that we regretted greatly the way our correspondence had gone and its tone. We hoped that it might improve. But given the earnest desire of the people in his diocese, …
"Would Your Excellency please not open your heart to these people and help them?"
That seems to have been the real problem, after all.
At a certain point, arguing isn’t going to achieve the result you desire. Sometimes you must strive to open hearts.
That experience still lies at the heart of what I think is possible in the implementation of Summorum Pontificum.
Yes, there are great and obvious obstacles. But we have to do our very best that we ourselves do not become obstacles.
Could the situation be better? Of course.
But it isn’t.
I don’t blame anyone for being sad or frustrated, which is very normal. But I hope people will consider some new approaches, rather than blame others.
Therefore, given the way the winds are blowing and the gloomy skies, perhaps a change of tack is in order, a shifting of the sails.