QUAERITUR: What would happen were the Pope to celebrate publicly the Extraordinary Form?

From a reader:

What do you think would the effect be of a public Papal Mass in the Extraordinary Form, if were ever to happen?

The quick answer is that it would send a strong message that a) it is important to interpret the Second Vatican Council in continuity with our past and b) that the provisions of Summorum Pontificum are here to stay.

However, let’s break this down further.  What would such an action really prompt?

Had Benedict XVI celebrated a public Extraordinary Form Mass, the effect would have been for liberals to depict him in even stronger terms as a theological troglodyte, desperate for nostalgia because he cannot handle the “real world” in which he preferred to cover up pedophile priests and promote theological and liturgical reactionary trends. Meanwhile some traddies would have found fault with some minor detail of the Papal Mass, and would have used that as a reason to disparage him even more.

Were Francis to say public Mass in the Extraordinary Form, it would hurt his reputation with the liberals, but it would be a shot in the arm for conservatives and most traditionalists. Again, though, some traddies would find fault with some minor detail of the Papal Mass, and would use that as a reason to disparage him even more.

I’ll leave the combox open, but I’ve turned on the moderation queue.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in ASK FATHER Question Box, Benedict XVI, Francis, Liberals, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, SUMMORUM PONTIFICUM, The Drill and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Ignatius says:

    I agree with your assessment, Fr. Z. However, taking into consideration that (then) Abp. Bergoglio never ever celebrated the EF and, in fact, more than “dragged his feet” regarding Summorum Pontificum (we still do not have a regular EF mass in the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires), I think that if he were to celebrate the EO, it would be nothing less than earth-shattering and extremely, extremely positive.

    However, I honestly believe that the chances of this actually happening are zero (or less)…

    Hope springs eternal, nonetheless…

    Best regards,

  2. Athelstan says:

    All very cynical, Fr. Z – but reality in the Church, I’m afraid, has a way of confirming the cynical. And perhaps that was part of Benedict’s reasoning as to why he refrained from doing so during his pontificate – despite having celebrated or presided at public TLM’s numerous times while serving at CDF.

    I think we all still wish that he had done so, despite any possible blowback. Like Summorum itself, it could have helped remove some stigma from the Old Mass, encouraging Catholics who might have had it off their radar screens (or profiling as an object of suspicion) to give it a real look-in. But that ship has sailed…

    For my part, I solemnly vow to express no public comment but gratitude should Pope Francis celebrate it publicly. Rome was not (re)built in a day.

  3. Robbie says:

    I’ve thought for some time the one thing Francis could do to ease fears from his right flank would be to say the TLM. I think that one event would accomplish two important things. First, it would assure the conservatives and tradition minded Catholics Francis knows we exist. Second, it would stymie the anti-TLM forces in the Vatican like Cardinal Braz de Aviz. I doubt we’d read anymore stories like the one about the FFI.

    Having said that, I don’t think it would ever happen. The first six months suggest Francis’ goal is to reach out the left wing of the Church. That certainly seems to have been a success, especially when MSNBC wonders if Pope Francis is the best Pope ever. Second, if he said the TLM at St. Peter’s with the full regalia, the media would take note of it and many “low information” Catholics might become very interested in it. I don’t think Francis or the Vatican is particularly interested in that.

  4. Father, with all respect to His Holiness, why do you think Pope Benedict XVI never celebrated a Papal Mass in the traditional, organic Form? To this day, this is one of the most puzzling aspects of his pontificate from my perspective, one that tends to make him an enigma in my mind. You would think that after issuing Summorum Pontificum in 2007, given his strong criticism on the deficiencies of the Ordinary Form as a Cardinal, he would publicly demonstrate not only the value of the Usus Antiquior, but the superiority in terms of its organic development over the centuries. Granted, even SP doesn’t totally correspond to his public opinions in the 70’s through the 90’s, but at the same time, *never* offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass according to the ancient books strikes me as fundamentally at odds with his intent in SP. What better way to bring about an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church than to have the Supreme Pontiff himself demonstrate, not just with words, but through his actions, that the Rite used by Rome, the Rite that developed organically in Rome, was indeed in two equally canonically valid Forms?

  5. Matt R says:

    I’ve been thinking about this.
    The short answer is that Benedict couldn’t say the TLM. It would have been too much. I also think it would have driven him out of the papacy earlier. The Spirit of the Liturgy doesn’t treat the TLM in great detail, but I have my suspicions about how he views the liturgical crisis now.
    On the other hand, Francis might not know it, or have an interest in it as Benedict does. I think, however, that if a Roman Pontiff celebrates the Mass in the traditional form, then it will be Papa Bergoglio. It is a sign of unity. Francis does the unexpected much more than Benedict did, and has a knack for attempting to reach out to ignored Christians (a stretch, perhaps, but there’s truth to it).

  6. Traductora says:

    I think it’s great idea, but I honestly don’t see how he could. He probably hasn’t celebrated it for decades and I doubt that he’s going to have the time to learn it. And unfortunately the traditionalist world is such that any error by him would immediately be seized upon and broadcast throughout the traditionalist universe, probably generating even more enemies.

    But I think it would be helpful if he gave some sign of encouragement to an order or group that celebrates the traditional rite or perhaps could include a traditional rite mass (even off-site) in the next WYD, although probably not celebrated by him personally. The traditional rite should be normalized in some way and the issue should be defused so that traditionalists can feel part of the larger Church and that the rest of the people who are quite happy with the NO will cease to regard them as the enemy. As a peacemaker in the mold of St Francis, Pope Francis should see this.

  7. Supertradmum says:

    Interestingly enough, I think Pope Francis has a better environment in which to celebrate the TLM, than the Pope Emeritus. This is because, one, he is a Jesuit and they are use to being loners and working alone, which all would recognize, even the Roman hierarchies; two, he is from the New World and therefore not judged as one of the European “in” crowd as Benedict would have been seen to be, although not necessarily in reality. Most of the laity would be surprised as to the real lack of independence of a Pope. I honestly believe that if Pope Francis did one big, solemn TLM, many would say, well he is his own man and does what he wants.

  8. Joseph-Mary says:

    I would be shocked but very pleasantly surprised if Pope Francis ever offered the Extraordinary form of the Mass. I sincerely doubt he ever will. And my thought is that the Vatican these days is in a place only of ‘tolerance’ for those who do wish to assist at the TLM. The unjust action toward the FI only rather confirmed that thought. So, we are patient and we wait and we are active in our parishes and so on….and we support the TLM whenever and wherever we can and respectfully request its growth.

  9. M. K. says:

    I remember thinking something similar a couple months ago, i.e. that if Pope Francis did celebrate the TLM publicly – which I don’t think is likely to happen, but again, IF he did – he would probably suffer less blowback than Pope Benedict XVI would have faced had he chosen to do so. Similarly, when there was a rumor that Pope Francis was thinking about canonizing Pius XII, I thought, “Well, he could probably get away with it” – whereas his predecessors would have been pilloried by the secular media had they taken such a step.

  10. “Were Francis to say public Mass in the Extraordinary Form”

    Hell would freeze over?

    But what a spectacular demonstration of the “It took a Nixon to go to China” principle!

    Seriously, I suspect that Benedict could not have gotten away with it, but that Francis could. Because those ordinarily most critical of a papal TLM would still think him on their side overall. Like when the supporters of a leftist candidate wink and nod when he runs to the center during an election year.

  11. Ignatius says:

    I would like to add that I hope Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, or some Cardinal or bishop that may have the trust of Pope Francis (i.e. Card. Pell comes to mind or perhaps Card. O’Malley) would suggest to him that it would be a good thing for the Church if he actually did celebrate an EO mass. Or attended approvingly at some celebration of it (at St. Trinitá in Rome).
    I think that it is positive in this regard that the restoation of the EO by Pope Benedict XVI keeps being identified by Orthodox hierarchs as an important issue in the rapprochement of the Catholic and Orthodoz churches… This perhaps may have an impact on Pope Francis outlook of the liturgical question.
    Best regards,

  12. Chuck Ludd says:

    I think your analysis is right on point and there’s not much to add, but I would pose an intermediary suggestion:

    Local bishops should consider regularly celebrating the Novus Ordo in Latin when they visit parishes. It unites bi-lingual parishes and sends a message to the pastor that it’s OK to celebrate Mass in Latin. Of course it would be good if the bishop celebrated ad orientem, but hey, the ordinary form in Latin is a great start for restroing dignity. I suggest they start with the Ordinary Form in Latin because everyone knows the flow of the OF and there wouldn’t be need for instructions to the people before the Mass on what to expect.

  13. Gratias says:

    The Pope could simply assist in Choro.

    It was Nixon who was able to go to Communist China.

  14. I do not think it will happen during this pontificate, but ever since I fell in love with the traditional Mass, it has been my prayer that the Holy Father will celebrate it publicly.
    I heard rumours at one point that Pope Benedict celebrated some of his private Masses in the traditional form. Don’t know if there was any truth to that or not.

    Perhaps the time will be right during the next pontificate, or the one following.

  15. stroseym says:

    Pope Emeritus Benedict knew how to walk a very fine line. He knew the consequences (both good and bad) if he had celebrated a public EF Mass. As much as I would have loved to see it, the most likely reason he never did as pope was because he perceived a very delicate pastoral situation. His approach tended to be more subtle, like wearing Pope Leo XIII’s stole at the prayer service with the Archbishop of Canterbury.

    With Pope Francis, it is unlikely that he would celebrate an EF Mass (at least in my humble judgment), but I would not be surprised. While Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he was also ordinary for the Eastern Catholics and as Pope has spoken several times about the beauty of the Eastern liturgy and how we need to learn from that. It was also reported that when Italian bishops asked him to get rid of Summorum Pontificum, he responded by saying it was necessary to keep the treasures of tradition, or something to that effect. While is own preferences tend towards more simplicity, celebrating an EF Mass with full papal regalia and such would have the beauty he has talked about.

  16. johnmann says:

    I’d agree. Some more speculation on their motives:

    Benedict, while not at all hostile to the EF, was nevertheless committed to the proper celebration of the OF. Dare I say, he may have preferred a proper celebration of the OF over the EF. Maybe after Summorum Pontificum, he thought celebrating the EF on top of that would have undermined the OF too much. Or maybe he thought it unwise to celebrate the EF while negotiating with SSPX.

    As for Francis, Fr. Z mentioned it before and I think it’s correct that he’s just not that interested in liturgical matters. If there was a sudden groundswell of socially marginalized Catholics clamoring for the EF, maybe he would celebrate it in solidarity.

  17. MarkG says:

    I think it would be great for the Pope to celebrate a TLM.
    The extreme left and extreme right would both have fits, but who cares, they have fits about everything and anything, and it would blow over in the next news cycle anyway.

    One suggestion would be for it to be a 30 minute Low Mass without sermon and just a 2 verse processional hymn and a 2 verse recessional hymn sung by people (no choir) on a weekday in St. Peters. Today we expect all Papal Masses to be 2 hours, professional music, important people for cameo shots, 30 minute professional homily, etc and forget that most Papal Masses of yesteryear were simple Low Masses.

  18. rbbadger says:

    I’m not sure that Pope Francis has ever said the TLM, even as a priest. He was ordained on December 13, 1969. The prescriptions of the Apostolic Constitution of Paul VI, Missale Romanum, went into effect on the first Sunday of Advent that year. Missale Romanum was the means whereby the Novus Ordo was implemented.

    It’s certainly not impossible for a priest or even a bishop to learn it later on. I’m sure that the FSSP or any other order which uses the forma extraordinaria would be delighted beyond words to teach him.

  19. Nathan says:

    While I would be wonderfully surprised were Pope Francis publicly offer the TLM (or even attend in coram pontifice), I would give it another 10-15 years before it occurs, unless the Holy Spirit were to miraculously intervene. As I figure, the first priests ordained during the reign of Bl. John Paul II are around 60, and the first crop of bishops open to the TLM since the liturgical revolution were appointed to their sees in the past 5 years (generally), we might expect to see such openness among the Holy Father’s closest advisers occur when the oldest of the JPII priests approach their mid-70s (and will be those who are wearing the red hats).

    However, may His Holiness Pope Francis surprise us with even a Low Mass! Please?

    In Christ,

  20. Fr AJ says:

    This is nice to dream about but I get the strong impression Pope Francis has little time for traditional liturgy.

  21. Jon says:

    At this point I’d be happy if he’d just wear the red mozzetta and stop saying his daily Mass on the Holodeck of the Enterprise.

    That said, I think the possibility very unlikely, and yet I believe there are two people who might convince him otherwise; Alice von Hildebrand, or Hilarion of Volokolamsk.

    Think about it.

  22. lucy says:

    Good point, JonathanCatholic! If they are of equal value, why weren’t they celebrated equally?

  23. Ttony says:

    I think liberals would get the same frisson of worry if the Pope were to celebrate the Greek Catholic rite in public, as I believe he did in Argentina. And it would help him to continue to keep all of us on our toes!

  24. Marty says:

    I think we need to set our sights lower.

    I’d settle for just a “defense of life” speech.

    [Francis has not been mute about abortion. For the record, Francis has spoken out against abortion and for the unborn. HERE and HERE and HERE The fact that you might not know that is evidence of how little the media cares what the Pope thinks about abortion.]

  25. Basher says:

    I discussed this with a group of priests at dinner a few weeks ago. Our topic, to be accurate, concerned only Benedict, since none of us even considered that Francis would ever do this.

    My opinion was and is that for Benedict to actually celebrate the EF after the promulgation of SP would have been to make it ‘real’. As it stands, my experience of SP is that it may be “the law of the land”, but it isn’t real. It’s a purely theoretical exercise that Bishops continue to ignore and contradict, despite the fact that they “can’t”.

    In my opinion the great missed opportunity of the pontificate of B16 isn’t anything to do with the resignation, it was his refusal to risk a storm to give real, tangible support to his own document by actually doing the thing which he told the entire Church was good and normal and Catholic.

    If the Pope refuses to do it, it remains suspect. It remains suspect. Almost everywhere.

    I can only see this as a failure. A really huge and important one. It gives me pause anytime I think about who Benedict really “is”. It gives me the same pause when I consider what it means for something to be so good and organic, and yet “extra”ordinary, and for something to be “banal” and still be be regular “ordinary” form of the thing. Only a Pope can do such things and have people discuss with a straight face. Sigh.

  26. fib09002 says:

    I really do wonder if Pope Francis knows enough Latin to be able to say the Latin Mass in the first place. [Good grief.]

  27. Robbie says:

    I’m not sure why some believe Benedict was in no position to say the TLM. Yes, the media and the usual suspects would have said it was just a confirmation he was a throwback to the bad old days, but they already thought that. Second, he was the Pope. If he wanted to do it, the concerns of others in the Vatican should have been of little or no consequence. And regrettably, I doubt most Catholics would have even heard about such a move or even known what was being discussed.

    The same view applies to Francis, by the way. If he wants to do something, say liturgical dance, it’s really up to him. Cardinal Ranjith, Cardinal Burke, or Cardinal Pell might not be happy, but they have no real recourse. Cardinal Ottaviani made a last ditch plea to Paul VI over the NO, but to no avail. I do agree, though, that Francis’ reputation as a liberal gives him a chance to breach the divide were he to say the TLM that Benedict could not have accomplished.

  28. americangirl says:

    The Lord can accomplish what he wills and the Holy Spirit can prompt and inspire Pope Francis to celebrate the E.F. But left on his own accord?……………………… I do not believe we will be seeing Pope Francis celebrating this Liturgy for a long, long, long time if ever . So Trust we must and always REMEMBER: For my thoughts are not your thoughts: nor your ways my ways, saith the Lord.

  29. HighMass says:

    If the Present Holy Father should celebrate a Pontifical High Mass it would be a sign to all that the church was around prior to Vatican II, alot of liberals seem to think that Oct. 1962 is when the Church we know today was BORN!.

    Lets keep praying Papa Francesco, does Celebrate a P.H.M.

  30. Basher says:

    Stroseym commented about Benedict:

    “”His approach tended to be more subtle, like wearing Pope Leo XIII’s stole at the prayer service with the Archbishop of Canterbury.””

    …which could also be characterized as “doing things that didn’t matter, that people did not notice, were without risk, and which had no lasting effect”. I’m just saying.

  31. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Pope Benedict XVI never celebrated the Anglican Use, either, but you don’t hear the Anglican Use people whining about it.

    It would be nice, but I don’t think the Pope has to say every form, every use, every rite, or every votive Mass. Frankly, it’s the kind of project that would appeal most to a micro-manager type; and none of our recent popes have been that kind of guy. (I don’t think the cardinals _ever_ elect micro-managers. That’s what staffers are for.)

  32. Ignatius says:

    Everybody agrees that a celebration of an EF mass by Pope Francis would be an excellent thing (or just participating in one “in choro”). I believe the real question is, then: how would it be possible to motivate a “non-liturgically inclined” Pope such as Pope Francis to celebrate an EF liturgy?
    Generally speaking, the answer would be in the lines of “for the good of the Church”. But, concretely, why this particular issue would be pressing for him? I honestly don’t know.
    And, to complicate things, bear in mind that Pope Francis is really headstrong, even stubborn. If he hhas not seen the necessity of this beaing an Archbishop, I doubt that he will see it as Pope, with other pressing issues on his desk, more close and familiar to him, than this one.
    I just wonder if there are people in high places thinking -or, better yet, acting- about this. I really do hope so.
    Best regards,

  33. Basher says:

    Suburban Banshee commented:

    “”Pope Benedict XVI never celebrated the Anglican Use, either, but you don’t hear the Anglican Use people whining about it.””

    With all respect, when you re-read your comment, does it appear to make sense to you? Pope Benedict promulgated SP. That’s the point. He told the Church that the EF is a good, normal, universally Catholic thing to do…and yet refused to do it himself. This is the contradiction.

    The AU is for a specific group of converts…ah, why do I have to explain this? Seems pretty obvious everywhere except the internet.

  34. Emilio says:

    @Ignatius…Similar to the canard that Francis has been mute about abortion…for the record, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio requested that a TLM be celebrated in Buenos Aires (yes I know the readings were in the vernacular, nevertheless, I’m pretty sure that many in Buenos Aires appreciated the gesture) in obedience to Summorum Pontificum, at its publication… perhaps in charity you should get your facts straight?

    Father Z speaks the truth by pointing out just how ungrateful we can be as tradition-minded Catholics. I remember that a similar thread to this one was posted on the New Liturgical Movement blog back when Msgr. Guido Marini replaced Piero Marini as Papal MC, and we were really started to get excited over the restorations that the Papal liturgy began to enjoy. A very balanced and intelligent debate ensued in the combox as to what a Papal EF Mass in St. Peter’s would realistically look like now, in our times. More and more people were concluding that a full-blown return to the pageantry of the old Papal High Mass in St. Peter’s would be highly unlikely, if not impossible, and that it was more likely that the Pope could offer a Pontifical High Mass as bishop of Rome, or a Missa coram Summo Pontifice. I recall being utterly shocked at just how many fellow traditionalists began to comment that if Pope Benedict offered anything less that the “full monty” with flabella, tiara, the sedia and prince-assistants to the Throne (whose titles I believe no longer even exist).. then they preferred nothing-no Papal celebration at all. Well they got their wish, we never witnessed the EF publicly celebrated by Benedict as Pope. And still the carping, the papal and prelatial character-assassinations and the ingratitude persist in our communities, and in our comboxes (if this one itself so far is any proof of that).

  35. kpoterack says:

    “some traddies would find fault with some minor detail of the Papal Mass, and would use that as a reason to disparage him even more.”

    It’s funny that you included this group’s reaction as the same for either Pope Benedict or Pope Francis. I had occasion to review some notes which I had taken of comments on traditionalist blogs back in May 2011 after Universae Ecclesiae was released. You would think Pope Benedict had just banned the Traditional Mass! There is that segment of “Traddiedom” which is perpetually sour-pussed. I just cannot fathom that attitude. Some of us can’t afford the luxury of making things worse than they really are! But in good times and bad, I guess a certain type of person can always find something to be bitter about.

  36. govmatt says:

    Top-down institutional change is how progressives tend to do things. “Paternalism” in a negative sense (“Do this because I say so for I know best”). Summorum is “Paternalism” in the positive sense– the shepherds aren’t letting the sheep get to fresh water, well bring the water to the sheep– call this “Good Pastoralism” as a contrast?

    I think the question should go like this:

    Before we ask/judge/deride the Holy Father on the celebration of the EF Mass:

    “What do you think the effect on the public would be if [my local parish priest] offered Mass in the extraordinary form?” We know the answer to this is: groundswell of support. We next ask:

    “What do you think the effect on the public would be if [my local bishop] offered Mass in the extraordinary form?” And we are confident of the answer: more parishes come in line and more support grows across the diocese, and next we ask:

    “What do you think the effect on the public would be if [every bishop] offered Mass in the extraordinary form?” And we are confident of the answer: we see a Church with a single voice and a single tongue, and next we ask:

    “What do you think the effect on the public would be if [the Holy Father] offered Mass in the extraordinary form?” Well at that point no one would be surprised, because that’s just the way things are done.

    (The “if you give a mouse a cookie” approach to the Latin Mass)

  37. Charles E Flynn says:

    An acolyte would have the honor of replying, to the pope:
    “ad Deum qui lætificat iuventutem meam”.

  38. GregH says:

    Never stop praying for Priests….never stop praying for the Pope. God will work miracles but only if you ask.

  39. frjim4321 says:

    I don’t think it would be consistent with his comments on the morning of the 10th.

  40. Ignatius says:

    Emilio, thanks for the reminder. But I don’t need to be reminded. I am from Buenos Aires. I live in Buenos Aires since I was born. I am actively involved at my parish, I give pre-baptismal courses at my parish, My best friends are two priests of this Archdiocese, one of them is a relative (and he has been miestreated by then Abp. bergoglio for the audacity of saying the OF in Latin). I am part of those who request/want/make “lio” for the EF in Buenos Aires since, at least, the 2000… I was present at the first EF mass in 40 years in the archdiocese since the ’60s, wat before “Summorum…” I have been mistreated and acused of being a “lefebvrite” because of that. Believe me, I have the facts pretty straight, you know? I suffered them.
    And I am not bitter. I pray for our Holy Father. But I know his ways, his strengths and weakenesses pretty well.
    Best regards,

  41. sejoga says:

    I don’t have much to add that hasn’t already been said, but for those who keep saying that traditionalists would find some kind of error in his celebration of the TLM…

    I don’t doubt that people would point out errors (educational, not critical I think) But let’s not kid ourselves… the sheer gratitude of every tradition-loving Catholic would wildly outweigh a few minor critiques.

  42. I would ask my wife to “build a cake”

  43. jfk03 says:

    Pope Francis is not a 21st century version of the Patriarch Nikon, who became infamous for his rigid liturgical decrees and started the persecution of the Russian Old Believers in the 17th century. He may never celebrate the TLM, but I can’t imagine he would want to go down in history for creating a new class of Raskolniki out of modern-day traddies. Those of us who treasure the ancient Latin mass should avoid the sin of the pharisee like the plague.

  44. Giuseppe says:

    I imagine the retired Bishop of Rome, Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI, celebrates the TLM daily or is at least present for it daily. Those daily masses DO SOMETHING for all of us. Each mass has the power to open the floodgates of heaven to pour down grace upon us all. The hermit-pope is giving every last breath for the church and for us.

  45. If the Holy Father were to celebrate a Papal TLM, I’m sure it would relieve those that are on the traditional bent. There isn’t really a way I see this happening, except for Divine Intervention….

  46. Bea says:

    What do you think would the effect be of a public Papal Mass in the Extraordinary Form, if were ever to happen?

    Some jaws would drop.
    Many tongues would clack.
    And some would cry:
    “There’s no going back”

    Liberals would lament
    and their garments rent
    Skeptics would inhale
    and forget to exhale

    But Heaven would rejoice
    because of this choice
    And peace in this world
    Would slowly unfold.

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