Brian Mershon has recently published a piece responding to Fr. J. Scott Newman's statements about the Traditional Latin Mass in general and the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) in particular. It is called "SSPX in schism? You can believe Fr. Newman... or you can believe the Church
," and subtitled: "South Carolina pastor warns flock SSPX attendance 'morally illicit' and 'gravely sinful'" (Renew America
, August 7, 2007).
Fr. Newman has been to Lenoir-Rhyne College many times, twice or more as an invited presenter at our annual Aquinas-Luther Conference. I have considerable respect for him and count him a friend. I was therefore pleased to see Mr. Mershon begin his article this way:
Noted author and commentator George Weigel's book Letters to a Young Catholic highlights St. Mary's parish, under the direction of Fr. Jay Scott Newman, JCL, as a particularly bright beacon in the continuing wasteland of the post-Vatican II devastation. St. Mary's is a steadily growing parish with lots of young families, and many who are open to life and attempting to lead holy, Catholic lives of discipleship.
Indeed, a handful of families have even moved to the Greenville area, in part at least, due to Weigel's endorsement of Fr. Newman and St. Mary's. While there is no Traditional Latin Mass offered at St. Mary's, the Novus Ordo is offered somewhat along the lines of those who advocate "the reform of the reform" of the 1970 Bugnini missal, with very High Church Anglican qualities, which is often quite edifying to those Catholics who have experienced abuses and banality in their own parish churches across the country.
Mr. Mershon says that he finished his aricle the day after Pope Benedict's motu proprio
freeing the Traditional Roman rite of Holy Mass was issued on July 7, 2007. He notes that Fr. Newman , exactly one week earlier, in his parish bulletin letter to the 2,500 families of St. Mary's, said: "Whatever else may be the case, there will certainly be no changes made in the present way we celebrate the Missal of 1970 in our scheduled liturgies, and pending a careful study of the document, I do not anticipate that a regularly scheduled Tridentine Mass will be celebrated here at St. Mary's."
Perhaps Fr. Newman, one of three priests at St. Mary's, did not anticipate the precise content of Summorum Pontificum, according to which no qualified priest may be forbidden from offering the Traditional Latin Mass whenever he desires in private, and must accommodate any lay faithful who desire to attend the Traditional Mass, even when said privately. Indeed, who could have anticipated the precise content of the Pope's motu proprio? But Mr. Mershon infers that "Fr. Newman, one of orthodox and 'conservative' pastors is obviously gearing his congregation up to inoculate them against any potential effects it might have on his parish by his two bulletin letters of June 24 and July 1, in which he begins to 'prepare' his congregation for the freedom of the extraordinary Roman rite." He writes:
Fr. Newman's opposition to traditionalist Catholics and things "traddy" (like "effeminate" lace and Roman vestments) is well known in the Upstate (Greenville-Spartanburg) of South Carolina and to readers in blogdom. Fortunately, for those attached to Tradition in the Upstate, the Holy Ghost has been working wonders with Baptists and other converts at St. Mary's, and with two who have been ordained priests — and others seriously considering vocations. There are others too, and nearly all of them have positive dispositions toward offering the Traditional Latin Mass and sacraments, as well as toward traditional theology. Many of them got their start at St. Mary's with the reverence and solemnity found there.
On June 24, the Feast of the Birth of St. John the Baptist, Fr. Newman took up his entire bulletin letter to warn his congregation about the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) and those Catholics in the Upstate whom he has apparently heard have been frequenting chapels of the Society of St. Pius X on those Sundays when the Traditional Latin Mass is not available at the indult parish of Prince of Peace in Taylors.
The full text of Fr. Newman's letter can be found online at St. Mary's website at http://stmarysgvl.org/ourparish/2007-the-birth-of-john-the-baptist
. Fr. Newman remarks on Pope Benedict's intention to publish the motu proprio freeing the "Tridentine" Mass, as he calls it. Fr. Newman explains that he will "take great care to explain" the meaning of the document to the liturgical life of the Church once it is issued, but devotes the rest of his letter to a concise history of the Society of St. Pius X, warning his parishioners about this "group of renegade bishops and priests who are leading people out of full communion with the Catholic Church in the name of the old liturgy."
Mr. Mershon takes issue with Fr. Newman's view of the SSPX. First, he notes that Darío Cardinal Castrillón, Prefect of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei (PCED), at the May 16, 2007 Conference of Latin American bishops, explained how the PCED was fully engaged with bringing the SSPX bishops and priests into full canonical regularization, and called them "brothers," not "renegades."
Second, while acknowledging the irregular status (suspended faculties) of SSPX bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebrve, Mershon notes that Cardinal Castrillón describes SSPX priests and lay faithful neither as excommunicants nor heretics. Rather, Cardinal Castrillón says, "The bishops, priests and faithful of the Society of St Pius X are not schismatics. It is Archbishop Lefebrve who has undertaken an illicit episcopal consecration and therefore performed a schismatic act. It is for this reason that the Bishops consecrated by him have been suspended and excommunicated. The priests and faithful of the Society have not been excommunicated. They are not heretics." (In fact, as Mershon points out, there are no lay faithful who are members of the SSPX, which is comprised of priests, four bishops and some religious.)
Mershon devotes a substantial part of his article to the argument that there is no known public or private correspondence from the PCED declaring that Catholic laymen who attend SSPX chapels out of the desire to fulfill his Mass obligation according to the Traditional Latin rite are in "imperfect communion." In fact, he states, the only repeated correspondence from the PCED reads that a Catholic incurs no sin for attending SSPX chapels, as long as the reason for doing so is not to formally separate one's self from his pastor, bishop or the Pope and/or the teaching of the Church. The PCED, in fact, states that Catholics may fulfill their Sunday obligation by attending a Mass celebrated by a priest of the SSPX and even advises that they may contribute to the collection at such Masses (see the official correspondence from the PCED's Secretary Msgr. Camille Perl, which can be found in its entirety at http://www.unavoce.org/articles/2003/perl-011803.htm
Third, Mershon raises a further question: if Catholics were in fact being led out of "full communion," or in the traditional ecclesiology, "out of the Church" -- "then wouldn't it be an act of pastoral solicitude on the part of Fr. Newman to offer his parishioners a 'wide and generous application' of the Traditional Roman rite on a regular basis in order to keep his flock in 'full communion' as Pope John Paul II requested 19 years ago?" Now that we've all had the chance to read Summorum Pontificum, I would argue that quite aside from the SSPX question, this would represent the heart of pastoral solicitude in any parish where there are those who desire the Traditional (or "extraordinary") Roman rite. I say this as someone who frequented the once-per-month Traditional Latin rite at the indult parish of Prince of Peace in Greenville, SC -- a two hour drive from our home in the Diocese of Charlotte, NC, which has no indult parish.
Fourth, Mershon asks whether Fr. Newman's warnings against illicit and invalid traditionalist Masses also applies to Catholics who routinely participate in illicit and invalid Novus Ordo Masses. While the Holy See has never explicitly declared that it is gravely immoral to participate in SSPX sacraments, it is clear by every canon of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal that, to quote Mershon, "a Catholic often runs as great a risk of 'imperfect communion' by attending many Novus Ordo parishes in dioceses in 'full canonical communion' with the Church through illicit or invalid Masses and/or sacraments." Mershon writes:
One example of this paradox was recently told by a father and mother this week who wished to remain nameless. They were recently on vacation in an unnamed diocese and witnessed an invalid baptism (due to improper form) and most likely, two invalid Masses (due to improper form), with every single Mass they attended being illicit due to the pastor making up words not in the Missal or changing or omitting words in the official Missal. Each and every Mass celebrated in the Novus Ordo which does not adhere strictly to the wording and ceremonies authored by the Church is also in fact illicit.
Some friends of theirs, prior to joining them on vacation, heard this story about the multiple parishes their friends attended in this diocese, and upon arriving, decided to take the safe and sure route by driving an hour and a half to the nearest SSPX chapel, where their family had a valid and spiritually grace-filled Mass, albeit "illicit." The difference of course was that at the SSPX Mass, the Holy Eucharist was truly confected.
The ironies compound, according to Mershon:
Illicit or illegal Masses and sacraments occur often even at "conservative," "reform of the reform" churches by priests who sometimes substitute the correct vernacular translations (e.g.,"I pray that this sacrifice, both yours and mine, may be acceptable to God the Almighty Father") instead of using the incorrect translations provided by ICEL with the approval of the USSCB and the Holy See. In other words, a priest who corrects even one phrase or word in the Novus Ordo to align it more accurately with the original Latin, is in fact celebrating an illicit Mass, even though he is being more faithful to the Latin and the intention of the Church by doing so.
In summary, this is not even the first of many discussions of this sort that will need to be initiated and enjoined over the next months and years in order for the objectives of the Holy Father's motu proprio
to become settled and established in the collective mind of the Church. Only then, if at all, will the late Pope John Paul II's call for a "wide and generous application" of the Traditional Latin Mass become more than wishful thinking. Only then, if at all, can the liturgical life of mainstream contemporary Catholicism become substantially reconnected with the liturgical tradition of the Church, from which it is now substantially alienated. Only then, if at all, will the "reform of the reform" become more than the rare privilege of the exceptional few who happen to be lucky enough to have pastors who celebrate the Novus Ordo as beautifully and reverently as Fr. J. Scott Newman.