No matter what direction the “new liturgical movement” envisioned by Pope Benedict XVI takes, and before any “mutual enrichment” between the two extant forms of the Roman rite can take place, the Tridentine Latin Mass must experience a significant revival. If only for the sake of the liturgical patrimony of the Church, it cannot remain restricted to a handful of Masses scattered about in far-flung parochial outposts. Unfortunately, four years after the release of Summorum Pontificum, Benedict’s motu proprio liberalizing the celebration of the Latin Mass, hard data on its growth during the ensuing years is hard to come by.
All we have to go on at this point — aside from first-person accounts of isolated circumstances that appear periodically in Catholic media — are a few surveys commissioned by Pax Liturgique, a French group in communion with Rome that works to promote the spread of the Latin Mass. The results of its surveys, conducted in late 2009 and early 2010, were published in the traditionalist British Christian Order (Oct. 2010). Insofar as surveys are useful, these provide insight into the situations in Germany, Italy, England, and Portugal (a survey of French Catholics was completed in late 2008 and is thus too dated to be relevant).
Of the German Catholics who were asked whether they were aware that the Pope had issued a document allowing for wider celebration of the Latin Mass, over 43 percent said yes. Word of the motu proprio’s release traveled farther in Italy, where 64 percent of the Catholics surveyed responded that they had heard of it. But only 39 percent of British respondents claimed to be aware of its release, as did an abysmally low 26 percent of respondents in Portugal. Pax Liturgique comments that the widespread ignorance of Portuguese Catholics about Summorum Pontificum (74 percent had never even heard of it) “is due, on the one hand, to the Portuguese media’s lack of interest for liturgical issues. On the other hand, however, it is due also to the indifference of the episcopate and a good part of the Portuguese clergy towards…the liberation of the traditional Mass.”
On the bright side, a majority of respondents in Germany (50.6 percent) and Italy (a whopping 71 percent) said they would consider it “normal” if the Latin Mass and the New Mass were celebrated regularly in their parish. Less than a quarter of respondents in either country (24.5 and 24 percent, respectively) said that such a situation would be “abnormal.” The remainder had no opinion. The results were mixed in England and Portugal: 44.9 percent of Englishmen would consider this situation “normal” (opposed to 21 percent who said it would be “abnormal”), as would 44.7 percent of Portuguese (with a full 40 percent calling it “abnormal”).
The practicing Catholics among those polled were then asked whether they would attend the Latin Mass if it were offered in their parish, without replacing the New Mass, and, if so, how often. In Germany the largest percentage of respondents, 40 percent, said they would attend it “occasionally”; the next largest percentage of respondents, 25 percent, answered “weekly.” In Italy the largest percentage, 40 percent, said they would attend “weekly”; 23 percent said “monthly.” In Portugal 29.5 percent said they would attend “weekly”; 24 percent said “monthly.” And in England 43 percent said they would attend “weekly.” In second place, 16.4 percent of respondents said they would “never” attend the Latin Mass.
We can glean from these figures that the “cohabitation” of the two forms of the Mass in one parish would generally not be a problem for most people (save for certain Portuguese and Englishmen). Moreover, substantial attendance at the Latin Mass on a regular basis, whether weekly or monthly, is likely in three of these four countries if — and it’s a big if — the Latin Mass were offered on a regular basis at the local parish.
Where the people are less aware of the motu proprio there exists greater resistance to the idea of having the Latin Mass as an option at the local parish. This situation, however, might exist by design. Christian Order comments: “Despite every effort to keep them in the dark about Summorum Pontificum, when apprised of its existence and provisions by pollsters, 30-40%+ of practicing Catholics in each country (i.e. more than one in three, and in England twice that number) indicated they would gladly attend the traditional Mass weekly if it were celebrated in their parish…. [This is a] very strong tendency considering the Novus Ordo’s longstanding monopoly on parish life…. The self-fulfilling lie of ‘no demand’ has been comprehensively debunked by [this] series of surveys.”
How does the situation compare stateside? Una Voce America (UVA), a group in communion with Rome that promotes the spread of the Latin Mass in the U.S., released the results of its own study in its Spring 2011 newsletter. Of the 34 dioceses UVA surveyed, 19 reported to have experienced an increase in every-Sunday Latin Masses since 2007; 14 experienced no change (three of which held steady at zero Latin Masses); and one reported a decrease. When asked about the attitude of the local ordinary toward the Latin Mass, the largest percentage of respondents, 35 percent, described it as “bad and no hope.” Eighteen percent called it “stagnant,” compared with only 15 percent who said it was “generally improving.” When asked about the general situation for the Latin Mass in their diocese, the largest percentage of respondents, 29 percent, called it “stagnant.” Eighteen percent said “bad and no hope,” whereas 21 percent said it was “improving.”
The conclusions UVA drew from its survey are that “there is a demand” for the Latin Mass and Summorum Pontificum has helped make it more accessible to the faithful, but that there is “still an unfulfilled demand” for the Latin Mass, and “increased oversight or better ‘enforcement’” of Summorum Pontificum is “necessary to insure that the demand is met.” (The newsletter was issued prior to the release of Universae Ecclesiae, the follow-up instruction to Summorum Pontificum, whose aim is precisely to ensure the proper interpretation and implementation of the latter so that the faithful who wish it can attend the Latin Mass.)
So there is, it appears, a demand for the Latin Mass in both Europe and America. But it is a demand that could best be described as dormant. While groups like Pax Liturgique and Una Voce America are doing what they can with limited resources to promote its spread, their efforts to date have been hampered by an overwhelming sense of ecclesial inertia. Let’s face it: the leaders of most parishes and dioceses have shown themselves to be content with the New Mass. It’s a known quantity — even if it’s a quantity that diminishes over time. It’s no secret that attendance has plummeted in Europe and America since the New Mass was introduced into parishes.
The typical response to dwindling attendance has been to try to make the New Mass more appealing to various subgroups. And so we have a surplus of youth Masses, Spanish Masses, Cantonese Masses, etc. And around and around we go. But installing a Latin Mass? That would take so much, well, effort.
Meanwhile, the old Mass languishes in the liturgical ghetto. Restoring it as a legitimate option in the average parish will, of necessity, have to be a grassroots effort. The demand for it must be stimulated, awakened, and allowed to thrive. Pope Benedict XVI has made a valiant effort to allow this to happen — and to ensure that the demand is fulfilled. If the Latin Mass is to escape its isolation and again become a prominent feature on the ecclesiastical landscape, the numbers will have to bear it out.
[Pieter Vree is Editor of theNew Oxford Review. The foregoing article, "Out of the Liturgical Ghetto," was originally published in the New Oxford Review (July-August), pp. 15-17, and is reproduced here by kind permission of New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley, CA 94706.]