Friday, January 08, 2016

How is Your TLM Doing?

Over at the National Catholic Register, Msgr Charles Pope published an article yesterday called “An Urgent Warning About the Future of the Traditional Latin Mass.” The warning is that in many places, the congregations attending the EF Mass are not growing, and may well be in danger of declining in the future, perhaps the fairly near future. Msgr himself admits that his “sense that the Traditional Latin Mass has reached its peak in terms of numbers attending” is based on “only anecdotal evidence.” But for example, “In my own archdiocese, although we offer the Traditional Latin Mass in five different locations, we’ve never been able to attract more than a total of about a thousand people. That’s only one-half of one percent of the total number of Catholics who attend Mass in this archdiocese each Sunday.”

As may be imagined, this has generated a bit of controversy, with plenty of comments on the original article both in agreement and in disagreement. Corpus Christi Watershed and Fr Zuhlsdorf have both weighed in on his piece, and raised some points in contrast. As CCW points out, the absolute number of TLMs offered in the United States has risen to the point where 92% of our dioceses have at least one weekly EF Mass. This is a remarkable degree of progress, considering the miniscule number which were available when the Apostolic Letter Ecclesia Dei came out in 1988.

In that letter, Pope St John Paul II wrote that “respect must everywhere be shown for the feelings of all those who are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition, by a wide and generous application of the directives already issued some time ago by the Apostolic See (in the 1984 decree Quattuor abhinc annos) for the use of the Roman Missal according to the typical edition of 1962.” There is no point in denying that under the Ecclesia Dei indult, which lasted for just over 19 years, these words were met in a great many places with a shameful lack of generosity, and that in such places, the traditional Mass has really only been available since Summorum Pontificum handed control of the matter to individual priests, less than nine years ago.

Fr Zuhlsdorf rightly points out that Msgr Pope’s article takes as its starting point some excessively and naively optimistic predictions about the results that the TLM might have on a given diocese or a community. Msgr writes “But one of the promises was that if parishes would just offer the Traditional Latin Mass each parish would be filled again,” to which Fr Z comments in his well-known bold red type, [“Filled”? Not in my circle they didn’t.] Such predictions, to whatever degree they were made, were simply not realistic to begin with. I say this with all due respect: we need to measure the progress of the TLM by more realistic yardsticks.

Nevertheless, I think the good Monsignor is absolutely right when he says:
This is why evangelization and effectively handing on the faith to the next generation is so critical. Simply having a beautiful liturgy, or a historic building, or a school with old roots in the community, is not enough. Attracting, engaging, and evangelizing actual human beings who will support and sustain structures, institutions, and even liturgies is essential. No one in the Church is exempt from this obligation.
If we who love the Traditional Latin Mass thought that it would do its own evangelizing, we were mistaken. It is beautiful and worthy of God in many ways. But in a world of passing pleasures and diversions, we must show others the perennial value of the beautiful liturgy.
The honest truth is that an ancient liturgy, spoken in an ancient language and largely whispered, is not something that most moderns immediately appreciate. It is the same with many of the truths of our faith, which call for sacrifice, dying to self, and rejecting the immediate pleasures of sin for the eternal glories of Heaven. We must often make the case to a skeptical and unrefined world.
I would like to invite NLM readers to sound off on this. (See paragraph below first.) What is your church or apostolate doing to promote greater interest in, understanding of, and love for the Traditional Mass, and is it working? And conversely, if your TLM congregation is shrinking or failing, why do you think this is happening, and what do you think could be done to change it?

Please read this before commenting: I believe I can trust our readers to contribute to such a discussion in a constructive manner, without bashing people or airing grievances. If you want to report that your local TLM is not doing well for whatever reason, DO NOT mention anything specific to identify it, such as the names of people (clergy or lay), dioceses, churches, congregations, choir directors etc. Comments which stray out of these boundaries will be deleted.

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