Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Motu Proprio as a Text for Priests - Experiences of a Parish Priest

Rev. Dr. Guido Rodheudt is the parish priest of the parish of St. Gertrude - Herzogenrath in the diocese of Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen), Germany. Some of our readers may remember him from his paper on "Josef Pieper and Participatio Actuosa" included in the Proceedings of the Ninth International Colloquium of CIEL in 2003 and reviewed by Shawn here (see also here). The philosophy of Josef Pieper was also the subject of Fr Rodheudt's doctoral thesis. Fr Rodheudt is also the cofounder of the German "Network of Catholic Priests", an organisation of priests who want to help each other in a very practical way in exercising their priesthood in absolute faithfulness to the Magisterium and to ecclesiastical, including liturgical, law in a time when this is no longer a matter of course, but increasingly difficult. Furthermore, Fr Rodheudt is Second Præses of Sinfonia Sacra, an association for the promotion and cultivation of liturgical music within the rite of the Latin Church.

Recently an article by Fr Rodheudt has been published on the Sinfonia Sacra site, concerning his experiences with the traditional Latin Mass, which he has introduced at his parish with the beginning of Advent 2007. What may be of particular interest, for priests and laypeople alike, are the practical steps Fr Rodheudt has taken to begin the celebration of the usus antiquior, but above all, his emphasis on "Summorum Pontificum" being a text for priest and that priests may and should introduce the traditional Latin Mass on their own accord. While you may disagree with some of the things he says in this article, these two points appear to be especially worth considering.

Here is the article in my translation:

Embers rekindled

Report on the offer of the Tridentinine Mass in the parish of St. Gertrude - Herzogenrath by Rev. Dr. Guido Rodheudt

The Motu proprio of the Holy Father "Summorum Pontificum" from 7 July 2007, has fundamentally changed dealing with the classical Roman rite and its practice. After we had been used, since the 1984 Indult, to regard the Tridentine liturgy as a concession by the bishops to the laity that had to be laboriously wrested from them and to implement which priests were often appointed by the bishops, who celebrated the rite rather distantly or unlovingly, since last year, the "Old Mass" has been given back into the hands of the priests.

This fact is unfortunately often overlooked, when applications for the celebration of Holy Mass in the Tridentine rite are still being made which give the impression that its celebration would require episcopal permission. Whereas the Motu proprio "Ecclesia Dei" (1988) was a "text for the laity", which was aimed at integrating traditionally oriented faithful, "Summorum Pontificum" is a "text for priests", which enables the individual priest to celebrate the old rite - wherever and whenever he wants to – and to admit faithful to [such celebrations]. Therefore, in the future it will be far more important, perhaps even crucial, to fill priests with enthusiasm for the Tridentine rite and to motivate them to practice it regularly, than to submit applications to bishops. The desire of the pope to liberate the old rite from exile, to use it and the possibility to experience it as a benchmark for a reform of the reform of the liturgy as a whole, will only become effective, if and when there are enough priests and seminarians who appreciate the Ancient Rite, celebrate it, and work apostolically for it and the great tradition of the Roman liturgy at their places of activity.

This perspective was determining in Herzogenrath when after the first Sunday of Advent in 2007, two Holy Masses per week were added to the rest of the liturgies offered. Here, it was the parish priest who was the initiator of the Tridentine liturgy, and not a group of applicants. In the run-up the faithful were informed early on and in the bodies of the parish the project was presented. For the head altar servers there was a liturgical education-and-training event at which the background in liturgical history of the Motu proprio, and the intention of the parish priest now to introduce this "new" form of the liturgy were explained to them. In particular, the subjects of the direction of celebration, Communion in the mouth, and the restriction to male altar servers were brought up - especially since in the novus Ordo, there are also female altar servers in the parish. Not least reflections were made on church music, for in the long term it should be the Missa cantata which constitutes the regular form of celebration. In consultation with the cantor of the parish, Dr. Michael Tunger, president of Sinfonia Sacra, assumed the function of organist.

In the parish bulletin and on the website of the parish, the faithful were regularly informed about the status of deliberations, so that no one had to feel taken by surprise. Additionally, in the three churches of the parish information leaflets under the title "A new beginning for an old liturgy" were laid out to take. In these the parish priest explains the intentions of the pope and the background and the consequences of "Summorum Pontificum”. Overall this process of preparation was very relaxed and open. It should be clear from the outset that this was not about satisfying the liturgical needs of some few traditionalists, but that the liturgy itself in its intrinsic value wants to be made visible and experienceable, and that in a "normal" church of a "normal" parish and not in the concealment of hospital chapels or other rather unsightly spaces, to which the "Old Mass" had been relegated for years.

The circle of participants could in the beginning not be estimated, neither regarding the number nor the origin. In the first place the offer was directed, of course, at the parishioners. Now, St. Mary's Church of Herzogenrath is, since 2005, a filial church of the parish of St. Gertrude, which at this moment, on the own initiative of the priest and the bodies was being enlarged through merger with two neighbouring parishes.

St. Mary's has been built in the neo-baroque style in 1915, and has a magnificent high altar and two beautiful side altars, so that for all forms of celebration possibilities are available. The ancient liturgical books are there, and as to the paraments, the parish possesses an extraordinarily large and well-restored treasure of paraments. The historical vestments all come from the time when St. Mary's was, up to the secularisation [in 1803], a patronage church of the not far away Augustinian canonry of Klosterath, today “Rolduc” (NL). Most vestments are Roman Baroque, the oldest from the early 16th century. The same is true for the gold work. All paraments and vessels are already in use in the daily liturgical practice anyhow. The "props" are hence all present to celebrate a beautiful and solemn liturgy.

St. Mary's Herzogenrath

For the practical preparations it was a propitious circumstance that the liturgical training courses, conducted in August and November 2007 by Pro Missa Tridentina and Sinfonia Sacra, took place in the Herzogenrath parish. Thus the parish priest, the sacristan and the altar boys had the opportunity to be competently educated. This education was by no means only about the training of rubrics, but also about what had often not been given sufficient importance in the preconciliar education of priests: a liturgical practice on the basis of liturgical and liturgical-historical insights. Therefore, at the Herzogenrath courses of instruction, the practical training units were preceded by theoretical foundations in liturgics lectures.

In this way prepared, the local parish priest and his assistants could offer, on Mondays and Saturdays, an additional Holy Mass in the Tridentine rite. On 3 December 2007 at 6.30 pm was the "premiere" for the first official Mass in the Tridentine rite for almost 40 years. It was a Low Mass celebrated at the side altar, because a not very large number of faithful was expected. But even at the first Holy Mass the side nave was too small for the 53 participants. Furthermore, especially faithful who are newly discovering the old liturgy, have difficulty in finding access to it through the celebration of Low Masses.

The side altar

Fr Rodheudt celebrating at the side altar

Therefore, already at the second Mass the decision was made both to go to the high altar, and to celebrate the liturgy as a Missa cantata in principle. Especially on the background of the fundamental concern, to bring back to light the Missa Romana in its classic form, it is essential to not only celebrate it as a Low Mass, but to make it sound. This is done primarily by the singing of Gregorian Chant.

Holy Mass at the High Altar of St Mary's Herzogenrath

In Herzogenrath, it is since practice that the proprium is sung - at least by a soloist, at intervals also by a schola - and the ordinarium by turns with the faithful. Thus it becomes clear that the old liturgy by no means preculdes a (correctly understood) participatio actuosa of the faithful prevented or is even purely a priest’s liturgy. The chant is and was an integral part of the liturgy and makes the Mass literally sound. It is not a decoration, which - like other not necessary embellishments - may be left aside. The practice common in the 1950s of the “Bet-Sing-Messe” [“Pray-Sing-Mass”, a form of Low Mass championed by Pius Parsch, where a “prayer leader” prays aloud texts from a people’s missal, also giving explanation of some rites, and vernacular hymns are sung at the corresponding places], therefore, should not be revived at Herzogenrath, although - according to the musical possibilities at a given time - exceptionally for once a hymn could replace a part of the proprium.

The faithful are given, in order to facilitate their participation in the liturgy, a booklet containing the Ordo Missae including some Chant Masses. In order to facilitate the understanding of the texts of the day, there is also an additional sheet for the faithful with some basic indications for participation (especially regarding the manner of reception of Holy Communion), and translations of the texts and some explanations regarding the liturgy of the day (life of the Saint or the like). This should prevent the faithful form being just onlookers at the liturgy, particularly since in Herzogenrath, in addition to a regular base of participants who have been at home in the old liturgy for a longer time, almost every week, new interested people are joining who need aids for participation.

To compile statistics of regular visitors forms are laid out in the church through which the faithful can declare by signature their regular interest in participating in the Tridentine liturgy. Place of residence, age and occupation are also registered, details that are important for statistics. So far, 80 people have signed such a statement, which does not constitute an application or the like, but a declaration of intent. The sum of signatories shows a very balanced section, and you can say that there is a good mix of participants of all ages and social classes. Young people and old people, housewives and lawyers, students and pensioners, high school teachers and craftsmen, doctors and employees, participants who have already been familiar with the old rite for a longer time and those who have newly found an access through the additional offer and are now regularly coming.

Particularly outstanding was the attendance at the Tridentine liturgy on 17 January 2008 of Princess Gloria of Thurn and Taxis, who - prior to the award of the “Order against bestial seriousness” in Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen) – was hosted at the Herzogenrath Monday talks in the parish. Not only did she attend very pointedly at the "Old Mass", but gave witness both to the press and to television, as well as at the event itself, of her personal positive attitude to the old rite. Thus, the discussion on the theme "Old Mass" literally over night was lifted to a completely different level. The WDR television [state television of the state of North Rine-Westaphalia] in the evening news transmitted live during the holy Mass in the crowded St. Mary's Church, and the daily press, including the Bild-Zeitung [most popular German newspaper, although a tabloid in the bad sense of the word – 3.5 million copies sold daily] reported very positively on the public conversation with the princess and her opinion on the old liturgy, attended by more than 350 participants. Unfortunately the church newspaper for the Diocese of Aix-la-Chapelle entirely concealed this dimension of the high visit in its reporting. The Friends of St. Gertrude association, however, has produced a live recording on a professional CD of the interesting and entertaining evening, on which Princess Gloria charmingly and with depth gives witness for the Old Mass. This CD can be obtained at the parish, so everyone can get an idea of the extraordinary event, which has set new standards regarding the issue of the Tridentine liturgy surely not only in Herzogenrath.

At this stage the "new" offer of Liturgy in Herzogenrath is developing steadily and positively. Thanks to the thorough preparation and information done in the run-up, it enjoys a solid acceptance in the parish. As part of the Herzogenrath Monday talks, on 6 October 2008 there will be a presentation by Fr Rodrigo Kahl OP [who was shown celebrating the traditional Dominican rite on the NLM here], which after one year of liturgical practice will offer an engagement with the contents to the parishioners. Of course, the humus for the growth of the Tridentine sapling is the liturgical practice of the parish, which through the personal orientation of the parish priest had been very traditional even before 7 July 2007.

In extensive discussions both the General Vicariate and the bishop personally have been informed by the parish priest of the state of affairs. Nevertheless, the episcopal press office - perhaps precisely because of the soundly conceived and widely accepted offer in Herzogenrath - created the impression in a press release of 13 February 2008 that there were only three places were Mass is celebrated in the old rite in the diocese of Aix-la-Chapelle and referred to those sites where the celebration began at the request of the faithful. The fourth church, where a parish priest does not make the "Tridentine offer" primarily for traditionalists who submit an application, but integrates on his own accord into his regular pastoral and liturgical practice, is being deliberately ignored.

Another dissonance was a letter to the editor of the Aix-la-Chapelle church newspaper by the Bonn liturgist Prof. Dr. Albert Gerhards in October 2007. He imputed to the participants of the above-mentioned liturgy training in Herzogenrath, without knowledge of the facts, not only incompetence and unprofessionalism, but also that "they by no means accept the Second Vatican Council" (cf. Aix-la-Chapelle church newspaper, No. 41/08, p. 13) – an outrageous accusation not justifiable whatsoever. It is particularly grave, because precisely by the Motu proprio of the Holy Father the times should be terminated in which everyone per se who is interested in the old rite is automatically counted among the followers of Archbishop Lefebvre. Despite a counter statement in the press, and despite personal pleas, the Bonn professor has not withdrawn his unjust accusation until now. Now, these suspicious assessments and unfair treatments are annoying, but for the cause itself irrelevant. For the liberation of the old rite by the Holy Father from its decades of exile and from its stigmatisation, and the resulting dissociation of the Old Mass form the context of determining positions in Church politics will do the rest.

The "Old Mass" is precisely not an old Mass! In it the breath of the centuries is alive, and it brings to us what the Apostles and the Old Church understood as the cultic fulfilment of the commandment of Christ in the Cenacle. We can be confident that beyond all dispute and all strategies, the "Old Mass" will have its silent but profound effect. The spirit of the old liturgy cannot be exploited propagandistically. It takes time, quietness and consistency. The "Old Mass" will hence not be brought into the hearts of people by degrading it to the object of application forms. It must be celebrated and cultivated with much love by the priests. It has to be celebrated in solemn form and in presentable spaces. And it must not let itself be stamped as a private preference. It is the liturgy of the ages. Therefore, it will not die. Much in Herzogenrath is still in its infancy. But as much is alive today in presentable forms, which a year ago nobody had dared to dream. One thing is thus proven in Herzogenrath: that the embers can be rekindled!

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