Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Extraordinary Form in Your Parish

Summorum Pontificum, issued by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007, is an act of peace above all else. It humbly seeks to rectify a terrible misstep in the history of Catholic liturgy, namely a series of decisions and a variety of pressures that gave the impression that the Missal of 1962, the last Missal of what had come to be known at the Tridentine Mass, was no longer permitted to be said in public or private. It was a shocking way to put an end to some 1500 years of liturgical history, a move of such illiberality that was essentially unprecedented in Catholic history, and one which caused enormous damage by any measure.

Defenders of the shift cite the benefits that stemmed from the new Missal in English. There is no real reason to enter into a debate on this point. If the new Missal had so much to offer the Catholic world, and so many graces have flowed from its use, it still would not have been necessary to impose it with force and at the expense of what has sometimes been called the "Mass of the Ages." Whatever the merits or demerits of the 19070 Missal structure, it was the method by which it was impose upon the priests and faithful that was the sorest point of all.

In recognizing this and having the courage to do something about righting this wrong, Benedict XVI deserves the highest possible praise. His approach here is consistent with all of his writings that reject the power of the sword, reject the use of power, and reject the ethos that faith flows from laws rather than the action of hearts and minds. His watchwords are faith, hope, and charity -- and these are also the central themes of Summorum Pontificum. It grants the freedom for priests to serve the faithful in ways that should have been permitted all along.

As part of the peace offering here, the Pope very helpfully gave us new terms for what to call the form of Mass that was unjustly suppressed. He called it the extraordinary form in order to distinguish it from the ordinary form of the 1970 Missal. There is one rite in two forms, he wrote. It is time that the break in liturgical history be healed so that we can integrated our present with the past and move forward into an era of mutual understanding, support, and unity.

Let us be clear on what Summorum Pontificum does not do. It does not wage war on the Novus Ordo Missae. It does not put down average Catholics who like Mass in the vernacular. It does not disparage the work of the typical parish environment to keep the faith thriving in difficult times. It does not undertake any acts of vengeance. It seeks no punishments for anyone. It is even light on the mandates, asking only for priests and faithful to be permitted the freedom to worship according to older forms. It is his hope that the older form can be peacefully integrated into the existing Catholic experience in a way that will enrich our lives.

As an example, this past weekend in Montgomery, Alabama, a parish introduced the extraordinary form at a Sunday Mass, a Missa Cantata the likes of which had not been experienced by any living member of that parish. The pastor called upon the services of the Fraternity of St. Peter. Apart from that, however, the experience drew entirely on resources that were made available from the ordinary-form sector of Catholic experience.

The choir that sang the propers in Gregorian chant and a polyphonic setting from William Byrd had been singing faithfully at the ordinary form for eight years, and it is in a normal parish with the ordinary form where they learned how to accomplish the daring feat of singing the large-scale. The organ in the parish was recently restored thanks to contributions of regular parishioners who attend only the ordinary form. For that matter, the building itself has been maintained and beautified by Catholics who have celebrated in the ordinary form. The pastor who made all of this possible was drawn to Catholicism via the ordinary form and this was the form under which he was ordained.

In other words, this revival of the extraordinary form in this context would not have been possible were it not for the dedication of people who for forty years have faithfully done what they believed the Church was asking of them. Today, they stand ready to support the spirit of Summorum Pontificum, in charity, faith, and hope. This is a beautiful thing to see: we see two forms of the rite mutually enriching each other.

What a contrast from the past days. I'm thinking of the 1980s and 1990s when it was war to the knife between the people attached to one form or the other. Every day there were mutual excommunications. Families split down the middle. Publications had to choose and base its marketing on such decisions. Catholic laypeople sensed the need to make a decision, loyalty to one or the other.

There developed intense pockets of hatred throughout the Catholic world. I can recall being in an EF parish and talking to some people after Church and hearing them put down anyone slightly to the left or to the right of precisely where they stood on these questions as a parish. I can recall thinking: this is not the way it should be! This is not the Catholic spirit at work but rather a protestant-style sectarianism that is deeply inimical to unity. It feeds the ego, fosters pride, and thrives on detraction.

I do wonder whether or not Catholics themselves are prepared to rise to the high standards than Summorum Pontificum sets for all of us. Are we will to put down our weapons and work together? It accomplishes very little, for example, to march into a local parish waving a copy of Summorum along with a petition, as if the goal were to demand one's rights to the old Mass. This whole approach does real damage to the cause. These tactics are fine for politics but they do not work in a real Catholic parish. Nor does it accomplish anything in a parish environment to aggressively criticize existing practices and liturgical forms. People who do this need to consider that they might be harming the cause.

There should be some agreement about the rules of engagement in the future (Fr. Z has five for starters). The extraordinary form should be welcome in parishes. At the same time, the promoters of the extraordinary form need to realize that many people are suspicious about what this all means; they need to anticipate some degree of resistance and learn to work around it with love and respect.

The extraordinary form must be woven into the fabric of existing communities; the people who grow to love it are going to come within the existing Catholic milieu, people who not going to be attracted by spite and aggression and acts of vengeance. All of that and the rhetoric that surrounds that approach needs to be left in the past.

There is nothing to be gained by frenzied attacks on the Mass that existing parishioners have come to know and love. A future of liberality, charity, and mutual enrichment is the one that Pope Benedict XVI hoped for with his motu proprio, and people who call themselves "traditionalists" must lead the way by example.

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