Interview with dom Cassian Folsom, OSB, on Extraordinary Use

I posted earlier the news that St. Benedict Monastery in Norcia, Italy – the birthplace of St. Benedict – will now be offering Holy Mass in both uses of the Roman Rite.

In the newsletter of the monastery there is an interview with dom Cassian Folsom, OSB, the Prior of the Monastery.  dom Cassian is a fine liturgist in his own right.

Let’s have a look at the interview with my emphases and comments.

Does this decision respect the Second Vatican Council Council?

It would be useful to read carefully the Council document on the Liturgy, [That is the sticking point.  How many people really read the documents?] SC 22 says that: “Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop.” Pope Benedict’s Motu Proprio simply reiterates that principle, and legislates for the use of the old rite alongside the new. Pope Benedict also emphasizes that the way to interpret the Council documents is by the hermeneutic of continuity. That principle is also expressed in the document on the liturgy where it says: “…care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing” (SC 23). [And the newer form did not in fact grow organically from the older form.  It was artificially pasted together by experts and them suddenly imposed.] What we’re really talking about here is legitimate pluralism, which the Council advocates as well: “Even in the liturgy, the Church has no wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not involve the faith or the good of the whole community” (SC 37). So the celebration of the Mass by all means respects the Second Vatican Council. We are embracing both usages, and reaching out to other groups in search of unity. That’s a very conciliar approach.

But doesn’t this mean “turning back the clock”?  [An old chestnut, that.]

On the contrary, I see a monastery “utriusque usus” as very forward looking, especially in terms of authentic ecumenism. By that I mean two things. First, the ethos of the extraordinary form is very similar to the ethos of the many oriental rites, [Something many people who have never known the older forms don’t realize.] and therefore celebrating the Eucharist according to both the and the allows us to serve as a bridge between East and West. Second, [This is a very good point…] I think we need a good dose of “internal ecumenism” in the Church, so as to be able to dialogue with Catholics attached to the older liturgical forms without ideological prejudice[Amen.]

How can you, as a liturgist, justify such a decision?

It is precisely as a liturgist that I have had the opportunity to study and experience the rich variety of liturgical traditions that exist within the Church. It is “politically correct” for Latin rite Catholics to be enthusiastic about the Byzantine rite. Why isn’t it “politically correct” to be enthusiastic about the extraordinary form as well?  [Tell it brother!] The history of the liturgy shows clearly a multiplicity of usages within the one Roman rite. It is thanks to many years of studying the liturgy that I came to see the importance of this unity in diversity. In fact, I argued this point in the presence of the then-Cardinal Ratzinger at a liturgical conference held at Fontgombault in France in 1997. As a liturgist, I would also like to say that there is no perfect rite; there are positive and negative aspects in every liturgical tradition. The only perfect liturgy is the heavenly one. In addition, both the extraordinary and the ordinary form can be celebrated well or celebrated poorly. For a comparison to be fair, we have to place the best of both side by side.

How can the two usages influence each other?  [Now we get down to something I have been pushing for a long while now…]

The ordinary form stresses such elements as the participation of the faithful, the use of the vernacular, the ongoing development of the liturgy by the addition of new saints to the calendar, etc.: these are all very important. At the risk of oversimplifying, I would say that the ordinary form stresses rational understanding, speaking in prose, as it were. [With the risk that liturgy can devolve into being didactic.] The extraordinary form provides rich food for the intellect also, but relies heavily on gesture, symbolism, intuition, silence, ritual action without words, speaking in poetry, you might say. [Might we say… an encounter with mystery?] Man knows both rationally and intuitively. He needs both prose and poetry. If the two usages, like two different cultures, can patiently live with each other over time, they can become friends.

What pastoral benefits will come from this new apostolate?

The monastery of San Benedetto in Norcia is in a unique position. The pastoral life of the town is served very well by the diocesan clergy. The Basilica, on the other hand, is not a parish, but a shrine, whose pastoral attention is focused on pilgrims who came from all over the world. We are an international community serving an international public. The pilgrims come for a specifically Benedictine liturgy, which is characterized by what I would call a monastic or contemplative style. This is our unique contribution. The extraordinary form is very conducive to this contemplative, even mystical style, which is why the young people are so drawn to it. [Exactly.]  We celebrate the Mass in the ordinary form in the same style, which is why people come from far and wide to participate in our Sunday Mass.

Wouldn’t it be better to be just like everyone else?

To use an expression taken from the world of commerce, growth and development depend on finding a distinctive “niche”. This special apostolate of celebrating the Eucharist, makes the Norcia monastery distinctive, unique. I’m sure it will contribute to the growth of the community, in a time when young people aren’t interested in a vocation that means living “just like everyone else”.



Kudos to dom Cassian!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA, SUMMORUM PONTIFICUM. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. stigmatized says:

    finally…someone who cares about people’s pastoral needs…if only he could be duplicated and stationed EVERYWHERE

  2. Sacerdote says:

    Wan’t the Fontgobault conference in 2001?

  3. Giovanni says:

    Face east young man, face east.

  4. Antonio says:

    The reform of the reform it’s just beginning.

  5. Sixupman says:

    Some years ago, in the UK, there was much ado regarding documentation relative to accession to the European Union: one senor minister, in the government – responsible for such, admitted never having read the documents, but had left the same to his advisers. Prelates and their advisers?

  6. Paul Bailes says:

    Fr Z. writes – “[And the newer form did not in fact grow organically from the older form. It was artificially pasted together by experts and them suddenly imposed.] ”

    Which has got to be one of the key reasons why “SSPX-ers” don’t trust “the Vatican” – the imposition of the Novus Ordo was an abuse of power, as implicitly admitted by Summorum Pontificum’s concession that the TLM was never abrogated. At the same time as Mao and his crowd were ruining China, a similar spirit was abroad in Rome (easily arguably more evil in that its impact was supernatural). And as long as the ecclesiastical equivalent of the “gang of four” and their followers remain unpurged (posthumously if necessary), is one being uncharitable to harbour healthy suspicions about their continued influence?

    God bless,

  7. Andrew, medievalist says:

    “The only perfect liturgy is the heavenly one.” Amen!

  8. JR says:

    Speaking as a Catholic who prefers the Novus Ordo and a more modern style of worship, I read this interview expecting to be annoyed, and in disagreement. However, I found myself agreeing with this chap and being impressed by him.

    I also found it heartening that Fr. Z chose to highlight unity in diversity

    His response to the third question is right on the money. Indeed, his tone throughout is hopeful, intelligent and caring.

    I have always strongly felt that there is space for legitimate differences in how we worship and pray, among people who are every bit as Catholic as one another. In this interview, we have a man who recognises different styles, and uses neither as a bludgeon nor with an aire of superiority.

    I have tried the EF and given it a fair go. I am not a fan. But I respect the fact that there are those who are attached to it and spiritually nourished by it. For that reason, I think it’s wrong that it was supressed and I rejoiced for my traditionalist friends when SP was issued.

    If we can all discover a way to respect one another’s style of worship and to ensure that each is well provided for, the we can move forward as a united Church and engage positively with the world.

  9. Paul, Bedfordshire says:

    As someone who attends both forms (in a parish which offers both on a Sunday) I think this is wonderful news. Were I to find that in the future that one was compulsory for all masses I would be most disappointed, whichever form it was.

    We have to get away from the idea of the extraordinary form being almost an alternative lifestyle. It is a valid liturgy of the Church, available to all and that is that. Pope Benedict has marvellously found a way to reintegrate 1950 years of the western Churches liturgy into the mainstream of the church while taking nothing away. Hopefully, in 50 years time, the priest deciding to use the ordinary or extraordinary form will cause no more raising of eyebrows than his using the first or third canon in the ordinary form today.

    Hopefully, one day not too far away, both may have the option to be infused with the better parts of the other. How joyful it would be to have the priest and congregation reciting aloud Psalm 43 at the beginning of the novus ordo mass or to have the option of the 1962 offertory in the ordinary form, with a new-icel translation revealing to many the beautiful prayers within it, for the first time.

    Similarly, would the extraordinary form not benefit from the expanded readings of the ordinary (carefully adjusted to fit in with the extraordinary form’s liturgical calendar), instead of re-reading Sundays epistle during ferial weekdays?
    And would the option of the priest silently praying the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer in the extraordinary form, on those days where its use is permitted, derived as it is from the Anaphora of St Basil, not both enrich the extraordinary form and aid unity with our brothers and sisters in the east? This would not be unprecedented, as the Roman Rite adopted the eastern Kyrie in the 4th Century.

  10. Mark VA says:

    In this interview dom Cassian Folsom underlines the observation that many young people are drawn to the contemplative and the mystical style of worship. I see this in my own Church (EF form), from the not so small army of our altar servers, to the numerous young families with kids in tow packing our Church on Sundays.

    It is my observation that many, if not all children and the teenagers that I know in my Church, thrive on mystery, symbolism, ritual action precisely performed, and also on intellectual concepts difficult to grasp at first. They instinctively welcome challenges and difficulties as they develop spiritually and intellectually. They prefer grown up language in their catechism classes – the word “ineffable” is not a challenge for us. The Latin Mass and the culture it develops without doubt provide that rich soil in which a young person can grow closer to God.

    The new form of the Mass, in my view, will benefit as it emulates the Extraordinary Form’s mystery and intellectual depth. Where needed, it should be purified of any banality, pedestrian modes of expression, and condescension. It shouldn’t shy away from challenges as it develops.

  11. JBS says:

    Thanks for this interview. It is due to an article Father Cassian wrote on the Roman Canon in “Adoremus” a few years ago (1996) that I now choose the Roman Canon exclusively when celebrating the OF Mass. I studied theology at Saint Meinrad in the late ’90’s, and regret that Father Cassian was not on the faculty. I would surely be a better priest today if he had been.

  12. Paul Stokell says:

    Another Saint Meinrad alum, who fondly remembers Fr. Cassian’s Patristics Society. God bless him!

  13. Jason says:

    It’s interesting that dom Cassion used an argument in the last paragraph I’ve been using with friends
    for the last 2 years. Coming from a marketing background, I know that if you differentiate your “product”
    (in this case the liturgy), you’ll gain greater market share. I know this is an imperfect analogy, but
    the premise holds.

    In most places I’ve been, the OF Mass is not distinguishable from many Protestant services when they have
    communion. However, in places that emphasize the vertical dimension of the Liturgy, the people are more
    focused on the Sacred Action (even the sign of peace is dignified in these places).

    As an example of this, I’d say that St. John Cantius (sp?) in Chicago is a prime example. They made their
    Liturgy a model for other parishes and as a result, they are bringing people back to the Faith!

    Regardless, I’m glad to see that the reform of the reform is truly underway. God bless our Holy Father!

  14. Steve says:

    JR – the point I would make is that I don\’t \’respect\’ the new Mass, those who devised it, those priests who currently celebrate it outside of the rubrics, those (busy body) laymen who insert themselves into the celebration of the Mass by being lectors, EMHC, laymen who \’present\’ the gifts, music ministers who don\’t allow for any contemplation prior to and during Mass.

    As far as I\’m concerned, the new Mass and all that go with it have greatly contributed to the loss of Faith among Catholics and the clergy. So there really is nothing to repect. Actually I hold most of it in contempt.

    I take issue with the prior\’s comment above that the \’participation of the faithful\’ is very important which in Novus Ordo speak means busybody laymen taking over the celebration of the Mass. I believe those who formulated this concept were motivated with evil intentions.

    The mindset of laymen who involve themselves in these roles remind me of the little boy or girl who want to be just like dad or mom. We give the boys a set of kids woodworking tools or the girls a miniture kitchen so they can \’act\’ as an adult. They don\’t really accomplish anything but it makes them feel like they are contributing. Same with laymen at Mass. They don\’t really serve any purpose other than to make themselves \’feel\’ good about themselves. They display a rather immature concept of participation at Mass. I once asked a layman who was acting as a \’greetor\’ if he didn\’t think his time would be better spent inside the Church praying the Rosary before Mass as opposed to the rediculous handshaking and backslapping he was involved in before Mass trying to make others \’feel\’ welcome. He looked at me with a rather sad look on his face because his \’feelings\’ were hurt. And we know how important \’feelings\’ are to modern man (modern Catholics included).

  15. priest up north says:

    Wow! That was an absolutely wonderful display of faith and knowledge of the sacred liturgy (that I covet…Forgive me Father). Thank you dom Cassian.

  16. JR says:


    Well you are entitled to your views and I respect them. I am sure we can agree to differ.

    The only one point I would pick up is the NO contributing to a decline in faith.

    Traditionalists look at the rise of the NO and the concurrent fall in Mass attendance and equate the two with little trouble. They fail to grasp, however, that virtually every Christian community has seen a similar decline in the same period of time. So maybe it’s not about liturgy. Just a thought. I know that traditionalist groups have seen an upsurge in that time. Almost certainly that is because they were instantly (and wrongly) displaced within the mainstream Catholic fold. Generally though, the decline country-for-country has tracked across the denominations. In actual fact, the only communities seeing an upsurge in attendance are the very low-Church evangelicals. What does that say about liturgy?

    In the main, however, this is an interesting article with some interesting and well thought out comments by readers.

  17. Steve says:

    JR – the one thing I will agree with you, we certainly differ. And no, I don\’t respect your views about the Mass.

  18. JR says:

    I’ll get over it :)

  19. joebe says:

    I have turned to the EF almost exclusively. Only when traveling or because of scheduling do I attend an OF. The problem with the OF is that every Mass is different with personal styles thrown in and, I hate to say it, one goofier and more irritating than the next. The variations are endless. Before attending an OF, I am filled with anxiety (nice, huh?) not knowing what I will witness; dancing, guitars, wind chimes or even dogs; and beachware in the pews (it’s not just the priest’s apparel). Also, witnessing wreckovation in old historic churches is depressing. I attend these Masses with my head bowed, enduring the “hippieness” and can’t wait until it is over (nice, huh?). I leave Mass sad, depressed, angry and sick to my stomach (nice, huh?).

    There is no uniformity in the OF throughout the entire country; and probably the world. If all the OF Masses were like the one I witnessed this morning (7-2-09) on EWTN with Bishop Perry, it wouldn’t be so bad. But even with that, I miss the moments of mysterious silence. No one shuts up in the OF. And if the priest wants to express his personality, he can do it in his sermon.

    When I attended a Methodist service with a friend (no, not participating) I was shocked at how much it was like the OF Masses I have to attend. Where is our Catholicism?

    So all this debate about OF and EF, to me, is useless unless all the abuses are reined in and uniformity returns and our Catholicism is evident.

    And, oh, how I miss the communion rail.

  20. Maureen says:

    Steve —

    If you really want to encourage people to assist at EF Masses, or to encourage
    priests to learn and sing the EF, you can’t take the attitude that all other Catholics are heathens.

    If you ran into a modernist who said he didn’t respect anybody who attended the EF or served it or sang it, you’d be outraged, and rightly so. You can’t set the EF up as some kind of sole criterion of worthy Catholicism. Even the Donatists were more inclusive. I mean, at least they only cut people off from the Church (or rather, cut themselves off) because people had actually denied Christ and pretended they weren’t Christians (at least to the extent of obtaining fake ID). You are claiming that anyone who’s attended Mass every week at his home parish and simply obeyed his bishop and the Pope is not at all worthy of your respect.

    I’ve read old stuff written by reforming saints, who’ve come into areas where the Mass wasn’t being offered properly. I’ve never heard of them accusing the people of doing wrong, or not being faithful, because they went to Mass despite everything. Rather, they are glad that anyone cared enough to come.

  21. Alina ofs says:

    This post discribes exactly how I feel about EF vs NO. I pray that one day they’ll be celebrated alongside eachother, in the whole church!

  22. Latekate says:

    “Wouldn’t it be better to be just like everyone else?”

    Funny! What about the “diversity” dogma? That seems to only work one way, it does not extend to the EF. Now why would that be?

  23. Brian says:

    What he said about young people rings true for my children. A son in early 20’s entered a certain monastery, a key reason being a beautiful liturgy.
    A daughter 19 now also has ‘a beautiful liturgy’ on her list of boxes to tick as she decides which Order the Lord is calling her too.
    And this from a heathen Australia!

  24. Steve says:

    Maureen – I’m always fascinated by comments like yours in response to my post. Please explain where I claimed or even implied Catholics who assist at the new Mass are ‘heathens’. Further, where in my post did I accuse them of not being ‘faithful’? What I wrote is that I don’t respect the current notion of ‘active participation’ by laymen and the mentality behind it because it contributes to the degrading of the Mass.

  25. Cel says:

    Lots of good thoughts there. It sounds like dom Cassian needs to write a book. As does Fr.Z. When does your book come out father? Too many pearls in this blog to not have them strung together.

  26. Deacon Nathan Allen says:

    “The extraordinary form is very conducive to this contemplative, even mystical style, which is why the young people are so drawn to it.”

    I’ve got a sixteen-year-old son who has from time to expressed an interest in becoming a priest. At our parish (the justly-famous St Agnes in St Paul, Minnesota) we celebrate both uses of the Roman Rite, the High Mass at 10 o’clock alternating each Sunday between the old and the new (both in Latin and celebrated ad apsidem). A couple of weeks ago after Mass, my son said, “You know, Dad, I find myself liking the old form better; there’s more silence and it gives you a chance to quiet down and really think about what’s happening.” It’s the young people in my experience, not so much the old, who are excited to experience the extraordinary form.

    If my son ultimately discerns a vocation to the priesthood (and I’ve told him to take his time and grow in virtue and love for God and his Church; those qualities that make a man a good priest are exactly the qualities that would make him a great husband and father, and conversely those qualities that make a man a poor husband and father would also have made him a poor priest), it will be because all the priests he has known have been filled with love for their priestly vocation, and the Masses in both of the parishes to which I have been assigned as a Deacon have been celebrated with reverence and beauty.

  27. ED says:

    The Novus Ordo is a concession to both modernity and Protestanism and should be replaced by the ExtraOrdinary Rite in Latin and the ExtraOrdinary Rite in the vernacular languages. [Not a very helpful comment for this discussion.]

  28. Roland de Chanson says:

    On the contrary, I see a monastery “utriusque usus” as very forward looking …

    A house divided against itself cannot stand.

    the ethos of the extraordinary form is very similar to the ethos of the many oriental rites …

    This might be termed the “hermeneutic of wishful thinking.” Then again, one man’s ethos is another man’s antiethos.

    a bridge between East and West …

    Not according to the official site of the Moscow Patriarchate, where Protopriest Maksim Kozlov expounds on the rupture with the past. Even so simple a reform as the use of modern Russian (rather than Russian Church Slavonic) in Divine Liturgy is opposed by Patriarch Kirill and Met. Hilarion.

    Man knows both rationally and intuitively. He needs both prose and poetry.

    This is mere obfuscation. The most poetic parts of the Mass are the Psalms. The Epistles and Gospels are didactic and with rare flights of soaring prose, still prose. Furthermore, the sermon is always prose. I pass over the soul-stirring anomalies in the OF such as Schiller’s Ode to Joy and liturgical dances.

    Bugnini’s liturgical Atellan farce has had too long a run. God speed it to extinction.

  29. joebe says:

    “If you ran into a modernist who said he didn’t respect anybody who attended the EF or served it or sang it, you’d be outraged, and rightly so.”

    Maureen, if I ran into a modernist who said he didn’t respect anybody who attended the EF or served it or sang it, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.

  30. Michael J says:

    Interestingly, there is one dimension conspicuously absent from this discussion. So far, every comment has been focused exclusively on personal preference. What about God’s will? Which “form” do you think He prefers? I would think that this would be the primary focus for any Catholic.

  31. ssoldie says:

    Once again lets look at the fruits of the N.O.M. what has come out of ‘a banal and on the spot fabricated liturgy’,artifically pasted together by ‘pertiti’ and then suddenly imposed in the last 40+ years? Now, the fruits of the ‘Traditional Latin Mass’, ‘Gragorian Rite’, ‘Missal Romano’, that the (excomunicated)traditionalist have prayed and held in awe and reverance, and which did grow organically, since St Gregory The Great organized the ‘Gregorian Rite’, and wich was codifed at the Council of Trent, T.L.M. enough said

  32. ssoldie says:

    Forgive the mispelled “periti” and any others that are there.

  33. Tom in NY says:

    Ad Jason:
    Principia moderna etiam antiqua ad ecclesiam
    Orthodoxia valet in foro.
    Fortis identitas clientes allicet.
    Fideles et cleri in orthodoxia se muniunt, et ecclesiam.

    Salutationes omnibus.

  34. moon1234 says:

    priest silently praying the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer in the extraordinary form

    That is just complete sillyness. The Roman Canon is the only ture Eucharistic prayer. All of the rest were inventions and should be purged as quickly as possible.

  35. moon1234 says:

    The Novus Ordo is a concession to both modernity and Protestanism and should be replaced by the ExtraOrdinary Rite in Latin and the ExtraOrdinary Rite in the vernacular languages. [Not a very helpful comment for this discussion.]

    He did at least speak his mind. I would bet many would agree with his statement, however they would not be quite so blunt. If VII said Latin is the language of the church and Vernacular is an option that should only be used if absolutly necessary, then why is Latin almost NEVER used except in the EF?

    Latin is our Universal Language. It is not THAT hard to learn. Almost ALL other religions except western Christian religions use an ancient language in their worship. All the vernacualr has done is create sects within parishes, regions and even countries. When was the last time you saw English speakers going to a Spanish Mass? What happens with vernacualar is all of the people are split into only attending the Mass that is in THEIR vulgar toungue.

    Latin is unitive (At least it was). You could go anywhere in the World and attend Mass and be able to participate and follow along. If you had your missal, you could have people that spoke 20 different languages all be able to follow the Mass and “Participate” (I hate that word in this context). That is not possible today.

    I say returning to solely Latin is the BEST solution. Everyone will get to come together to LEARN latin and in so doing will meet each other AND link with ALL of the Catholics for the last 2000 years. Now THAT is participation.

  36. wsxyz says:

    In actual fact, the only communities seeing an upsurge in attendance are the very low-Church evangelicals. What does that say about liturgy?

    It’s not about the liturgy. It’s because those evangelical groups are not afraid to tell you that you will go to Hell without Christ. Many people respect religions that take a stand.

Comments are closed.