During the past few decades there has been a sharp rise in the number of Catholics attracted to what Pope Benedict XVI called the “Extraordinary Form” of the Roman Rite. This phenomenon has manifested itself in the foundation of traditional orders, the vocation boom that these orders are experiencing, the establishment of new parishes and oratories where the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) is celebrated, and an increase in the number of people attending these masses. If we are really attentive to the Second Vatican Council’s call to heed the “signs of the times,” then we can only say that this phenomenon signals the fact that the “Mass of the Ages” still has much to offer to the people of our own age.
This being the case, it is also true that because of the somewhat ambiguous status of the TLM following the reforms of the liturgy, as well as the fact that this mass often became utilized (sad to say) as a weapon against the council and the Vicar of Christ, many both without and even within traditional circles have relegated it and its adherents to a fringe status within the Church. Some who embrace the reforms of the Council have prevented the old mass from coming back into the mainstream of the Church’s life. Some who remain attached to the old mass have chosen to box themselves into a self-enclosed “remnant” Church which is walled off as much as possible from the “post-conciliar” Church, even if they begrudging acknowledge the latter’s legitimacy.
As we know, recent popes like Benedict XVI have done a lot to try to bring traditional communities back into the mainstream of the Church’s life, and recent traditional orders such as the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter and the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest have shown that the Extraordinary Form can flourish in harmony with the rest of the Church. But are there additional steps that can be taken to further integrate this mass and its adherents into the reality of the post-Conciliar Church (without, of course, compromising its integrity)? Here are a few suggestions that may help towards furthering this goal.
Updating the Extraordinary Form’s Liturgical Calendar
It is a mistake to view the Extraordinary Form’s calendar as something that should be eternally stuck in 1962, the year the last Latin missal was issued. Such an attitude effectively treats the mass as being a museum piece. The sacred liturgy, though faithfully transmitting that which was delivered by Christ to the Apostles and their successors, is not merely a relic of the past, but part of a living, organically developing Tradition that moves through history to our present day and into the future towards the consummation of the Second Coming. God continues to bring forth saints and great events in our own age. To ignore these current men and women of heroic virtue and these events of grace is to fail to do justice to the unfolding of salvation history in our own time.
To be sure, the Extraordinary Form has preserved many saints and feasts that have—for better or for worse—been swept under the rug with the post-conciliar reforms. But if the Extraordinary Form is to be more fully integrated into the contemporary Church, then its liturgy should share in the celebration of those significant saints and feasts that are part of the new calendar, so that it may breathe in better unison with that “other lung” of the Roman Rite. Pope Benedict XVI brought up just such a possibility in his 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, leaving it to the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei to study the question. Let us hope that new Propers for Saint John Paul II, Saint John XXIII, Saint Gianna Molla, and the Feast of Divine Mercy can soon become an integral part of the older Missal.
Incorporation of Council Teachings into Latin Mass Parishes
I emphasize this because I have come across adherents to the traditional liturgy (mostly among the laity) who—while theoretically accepting the legitimacy of Vatican II and its associated pontiffs—still possess a more or less latent mistrust and suspicion when it comes to the council and the modern papacy. These individuals do not believe that the last universal catechism was that of Trent, or that the last pope was Pius XII, but in practice thy effectively act as such. They are certainly not sedevacantists, nor always even supporters of the SSPX, but they have not learned to integrate their traditional spirituality and practices within the context of the post-Vatican II world.
It is useful here to recall the words of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger: “to defend the true tradition of the Church today means to defend the Council. It is also our fault if we have at times provided a pretext (to the ‘right’ and ‘left’ alike) to view Vatican II as a ‘break’ and an abandonment of the tradition. There is, instead, a continuity that allows neither a return to the past nor a flight forward, neither anachronistic longings nor unjustified impatience. We must remain faithful to the today of the Church, not the yesterday or tomorrow. And this today of the Church is the documents of Vatican II, without reservations that amputate them and without arbitrariness that distorts them.” Since some laity in traditional communities struggle with such integration, it falls on their priest to help them embrace the council with faith, humility, and gratitude, to understand it correctly, to help them see how it relates to their lives—even while also continuing to draw from the riches of the Church before the council. If the hermeneutic of continuity is applied to council documents, supporters of the Extraordinary Form will be comforted by the familiar teachings contained in them. They should not allow the council to be hijacked by unorthodox critics of tradition.
Taking Part in the Life of the Diocese
Integration is already pursued to an admirable degree by some traditional communities, including those connected to traditional orders of priests. A Latin Mass community is not a “remnant” refuge preserving the last vestiges of authentic Catholicism. It is the bishops which are the cornerstones of Christ’s true Church, as is reflected in the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans: “Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” Forms of participation may include attending ordination masses for the diocese, taking part in diocesan pro-life activities, etc.
Changes in Attitude
Ultimately our problem comes down to the attitudes that traditional Catholics and their critics have towards each other.
On the part of those who do not wish to identify themselves as traditional Catholics, there is really no excuse not to accept the legitimacy of attachment to the older rite, at least not since Summorum Pontificum. Any prejudice on their part should be eliminated. As Pope Benedict XVI famously stated “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.” The repulsion that some have to the Extraordinary Form can be said, at times, to border on the demonic. The mass seems here to stay, attendance is increasing, and traditional seminaries and convents are full. Their argument is invalid.
On the part of traditional Catholics, they must be wary of seeing themselves, as mentioned above, as the “remnant” or the “real Church,” seeing everyone outside as less Catholic (some are, some are not). There can be the temptation to give their community the flavor of a cult, and to not always consider the good of the universal Church. While legitimately attached to the older form of the Roman Rite, they should avoid adopting attitudes that question the legitimacy of Vatican II, the post-conciliar papacy, and the new mass (properly celebrated). They should not shut themselves up in their own enclosed world, but be willing to be part of the life of the diocese and worldwide Church. In short, they should not squander their talents but instead share them with the universal Church for the greater glory of God.
For, in the end, there will always exist only one Church, moving from age to age, council to council, pope to pope, to its fulfillment in heaven.