Monday, May 26, 2008

The best of times, the worst of times

As we approach the first anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI's motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum, this July, it is worth considering what has been happening in various parishes and dioceses around the country. Predictably, the results are mixed, as I have heard even from some of you. In my previous Diocese of Charlotte, NC, there has been a marked turnabout, with the Tridentine Mass now offered in a number of different venues. This would have been unthinkable just a year ago. Detroit, where I now live, had an Indult Mass at St. Josaphat since October of 2004 with Auxillary Bishop Boyea celebrating his first Tridentine Mass there in December of that year. Since Summorum Pontificum, a number of different parishes in the greater Detroit area have begun offering the Latin Rite in its Extraordinary form.

One of the most interesting ways of assessing the responses to Summorum Pontificum is to read letters to the editor of various periodicals. Here are some excerpts from a few recent letters to the May 2008 issue of the New Oxford Review:
1. "When Pope Benedict's motu proprio liberating the Tridentine Latin Mass was released, [my] pastor wrote in his parish bulletin that he was 'very saddened by this development.' It is true, he says that the Tridentine Mass was 'celebrated and venerated for many, many years.' But that Mass 'belongs to a different era," and 'by the mid-20th Century it was getting old and crusty.' The Tridentine Mass, he says, 'reflects a time when the Mass "belonged" to the priest. The people were the audience,' and their attitude then was to 'sit back and relax and let daddy do it all.'" (Holyoke, Massachusetts)

2. "'Don't go to the Latin Mass!' Those were the words I heard from my local Catholic priest. Instead, he said, 'God to the Spanish Mass.' He made be feel like I should avoid the Tridentine Latin Mass like the plague." (Lexington, Kentucky)

3. "Here in the Archdiocese of San Antonio, we have had a glorious transformation. The Traditional Latin Mass has not been very well viewed, over the past 35 years, by a presbyterate very suspicious and critical of things traditional.

"... Then, on the Second Sunday of Lent (Feb. 17), Fr. Francis McHugh, pastor of St. Pius X Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of San Antonio, invited us to have an inaugural Mass at his parish near Fort Sam Houston. What a miracle, considering no pastor had before even hinted at being sympathetic to the Traditional Latin Mass!

"Here's where it gets phenomenal and almost unbelievable in a religious climate that can only be described as hostile to the Traditional Latin Mass. He agreed to move an existing 12:15 PM Novus Ordo Mass to the 5:30 PM time slot. He allowed the Traditional Latin Mass to be moved to 12 noon to better suit the priest saying the Mass. He allowed a communion rail to be constructed. He allowed the high altar to be reconstructed and enlarged. Finally, he asked that the Traditional Latin Mass be said on First Fridays as well, so that the schoolchildren could be exposed to it!

"The inaugural 12 noon High Mass attracted nearly 600 people to a church that seats 650. The collection was nearly double what the 12:15 PM Novus Ordo Mass had previously averaged. The Traditional Latin Mass, over ensuing weeks, has averaged around 400 people every Sunday, and the collection continues to exceed the previous 12:15 PM Novus Ordo Mass average.

"St. Pius X now has a Wednesday 7 AM Traditional Mass attended by about 40 people, and a Saturday 8 AM Mass attended by about 80 people. The inaugural 8 AM First Friday Mass of March 7 (Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, patron of Catholic schools, according to the traditional calendar) had about 300 students and about 300 family members and parishioners present.

"The Most Rev. Jose Gomez, our Archbishop, and Fr. Francis McHugh deserve a huge deal of credit for ... allowing the Traditional Latin Mass into the mainstream of Catholic life here in San Antonio." (San Antonio, Texas)

4. "I am not awestruck by the Tridentine Latin Mass, based on my experience with it early on in life. I find I can be just as intimately joined to our Blessed Lord in the vernacular New Mass, and I enjoy the greater participation of the congregation." (New Rochelle, New York)

5. "[Mr. __________](letter, Dec. 2007) claims that there is "much to be said for" the Novus Ordo Mass because of its "increased emphasis on sacred Scripture." ... However, the prevalence of lectors who are ineffective ..., the unavailability of printed missals in many parishes, and lame New American Bible translations at the Novus Ordo do little to enhance the meditative experience offered by these extra passages.

"More important is what was left out. For example, there is virtually no mention of the 'Divine Majesty,' with which the Tridentine Mass is liberally sprinkled. Also ignored is the fact that most of the "unnecessary" short prayers of the Tridentine Mass that were eliminated in the Novus Ordo appear for the most part to be taken from sacred Scripture, typically from the Psalms. Virtual elimination of the Lavabo, which probably was recited by priests of the Old Testament before performing a sacrificial act, is a case in point. Throwing out the beautiful and very Catholic Last Gospel of St. John is another poignant example.

"The Novus Ordo Mass is valid, but its usefulness as a teaching instrument is questionable: combine the above-mentioned problems with elimination of the communion rail in most churches and one cannot help but wonder if the Novus Ordo is not merely beyond banality, but was designed by its perpetrators to undermine fundamental Catholic belief." (Crescent City, California)
Without comment ...

[Acknowledgement: "To the Editor," New Oxford Review (May 2008), pp. 10-13; with a tip of the hat to the Editor.]

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