From the UK’s best Catholic weekly the Catholic Herald, print edition (subscribe HERE). My emphases and comments.
Is there really an Old Mass revival?
Ten years ago Benedict XVI lifted restrictions on the Old Rite. So what had changed in Britain, asks Dan Hitchens
At any time between the 1960s and about a decade ago, it would have seemed an unlikely occasion: an English bishop conferring the sacrament of Holy Orders on two deacons, according to the Extraordinary Form. Nevertheless, on Saturday June 17, Archbishop Malcolm McMahon of Liverpool will be doing just that, at St Mary’s Church in Warrington.
The priests-to-be, Alex Stewart and Krzysztof Sanetra, are members of the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter (FSSP), which has a special attachment to the traditional liturgy.
Archbishop McMahon has designated St Mary’s as a centre for the Extraordinary Form (EF). The parish priest, Fr Armand de Malleray, believes these are the first EF ordinations in Britain in decades.
Rather neatly, the ordinations come just a few weeks before a significant anniversary. On July 7, 2007, Benedict XVI issued Summorum Pontificum, a motu proprio (papal edict) which gave priests and communities much more latitude to celebrate Mass according to the 1962 Missal. They could do so privately without needing permission from a bishop; if the laity requested the EF, “the parish priest should willingly accede.” [Sometimes I call it the Emancipation Proclamation.]
Summorum Pontificum has had a big cultural impact as well, according to Joseph Shaw, chairman of the Latin Mass Society. The EF “has a place in the life of the Church today which would have been unthinkable before 2007”, he says. More and more priests and bishops are celebrating the older rite. Institutes such as the FSSP are growing: “Formerly, the 1962 Missal was regarded as legally and theologically dubious even by many on the ‘conservative’ side of the debate in the Church: that attitude has now simply gone.” [That’s not the case everywhere, alas. There is still strong opposition, though they disqualify themselves by their shrillness.]
Recent developments vindicate Shaw’s point. In February, Bishop Mark O’Toole of Plymouth established a permanent base for the traditional Latin Mass at St Edward the Confessor, Peverell, which has a weekly EF Mass. Catholics in the Diocese of Leeds have the same opportunity, at St Joseph’s, Bradford.
Meanwhile, the Oratorians, a congregation known – among other things – for celebrating both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Form with reverence, are growing quickly: in the past few years four new Oratorian communities have sprung up.
On the ground, too, priests are increasingly open to the EF. The Latin Mass Society said that EF Masses at Easter rose to a “record” level last year, with 200 such celebrations across Britain.
There seems to be a particular apostolic energy emanating from some traditional communities. [Important.] Take Gosport’s Marian Franciscans, who (as Constance Watson reports on page 22) have just set up a radio station.
All that said, the traditional Mass remains a relatively small part of the Church’s life. It is perhaps disproportionately popular with certain groups, such as younger Catholics. [Also important. Think of this in terms of long term demographics and the “Biological Solution”.] What some find an aid to devotion and prayer – the Latin, the silence, the solemn attention to liturgical detail, the fiddleback vestments, the Gregorian chant, etc – is to others distracting or confusing. [1 Cor 3:2]
Shaw believes that the biggest obstacles to the spread of the EF are practical ones: “Priests’ lack of time to fit in extra Masses, and, next in importance, priests’ ignorance of Latin, which is a barrier to their learning and gaining confidence in it.” [From my experience with priests I know this to be true.]
Nevertheless, Benedict’s 2007 document has had a significant ripple effect, which goes beyond those communities where the EF is most cherished. [We can call this “mutual enrichment”. I also call it a knock-on effect.] The writer Joanna Bogle says: “Summorum Pontificum enormously helped the now widespread ‘reform of the reform’ of the liturgy, and in the longer term I think this will be its major significance.” [Another comparison I’ve made is that Summorum Pontificum formed part of Benedict XVI’s “Marshall Plan”.]
Increasingly, Bogle argues, the liturgy resembles what Vatican II intended. “We have the benefits of reform – a measured pace of the Mass, audibility, being able to pray with the priest ‘from the heart’ rather than just following on a printed page, and so on – but without the gruesome gimmicks that fluttered around during those first post-Council years.”
Moreover, she says, it has become clear that the two forms are not so different. “I go to the Extraordinary Form occasionally, but I have actually found that having it available has made me appreciate the Ordinary Form in new ways,” Bogle says.
The process which began in 2007, then, continues to develop in unexpected ways. Benedict?XVI merely pushed the first domino.
For years I have insisted that Benedict XVI laid out, especially in Summorum Pontificum and his own ars celebrandi, in his writings before his ascent to the See of Peter, a kind of “Marshall Plan” for the Church.
You long-time readers here will remember this, but it has been a while since I’ve presented it.
Here it is again:
After World War II many regions of Europe were devastated, especially its large cities and manufacturing. These USA helped rebuild Europe through the Marshall Plan so as to foster good trading partners and, through prosperity, stand as a bulwark against Communism.
After Vatican II many spheres of the Church were devastated, especially its liturgical and catechetical life. We need a Plan to rebuild our Catholic identity so that we can stand, for ourselves as members of the Church and in the public square for the good of society, as a bulwark – indeed a remedy – against the dictatorship of relativism.
The use of the older form of Mass is the key to revitalizing our sacred liturgical worship. Revitalization of our sacred liturgical worship is the absolutely essential foundation, the ultimate sine qua non for the renewed life of the Church. Without a rightly ordered sacred liturgy, none of our initiatives will succeed. Hence, the importance of Summorum Pontificum.
What we are doing is of supreme importance. It is essential that we do it well, intelligently, prudently, joyfully, relentlessly, lovingly.