Friday, October 29, 2021

An Open Letter to Pope Francis, by Roseanne T Sullivan

After a career in technical writing in the computer industry while doing other writing on the side, Roseanne T. Sullivan now writes full-time about sacred music, liturgy, art, and whatever strikes her Catholic imagination. She has published many essays, interviews, reviews, and memoir pieces at Latin Mass Magazine, Sacred Music Journal, Dappled Things, National Catholic Register, and other publications, and she writes for the Benedict XVI Institute of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. We are glad to welcome her for yet another fine guest contribution to NLM.

Dear Holy Father,

When I read your Motu Proprio Traditionis Custodes on July 16 and realized the effects it will have on the free celebration and future growth of the traditional Latin Mass, I cried. It seems like an excessively harsh measure uncharacteristic of an otherwise kindly seeming pope, after the comparative freedom we enjoyed after your predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI released Summorum Pontificum in 2007.
To explain my reaction, I think it would help for you to know some things about my background. I am a 76 year old Catholic lay woman, with a B.A. in art and English and an M.A. in writing. I was for many years a technical writer in the computer industry in Silicon Valley, and I now write full time as a passionate amateur about Catholic sacred music and divine liturgy, architecture, art, and literature.
I was a cradle Catholic who left the Church in 1963 in adolescent pride, a university freshman who thought that intelligent people don’t believe in God, and I returned in the late 1970s, a “sadder and wiser” divorced mother of two. In the meantime, from lots of hard experiences, I had realized that the Church is not a big meanie trying to steal our joys and that God’s commandments are for our protection.
At first I accepted the new Mass without any question. After all, I had come back because I had learned to believe in and trust the Church as the Body of Christ, so why would I not trust the changes made to the liturgy?
At the first parish where I went to Mass after I returned to the Church, I saw many examples of the kinds of jarring things I continued to see in the years since then. Long-haired hippies in blue-jeans played rousing spirituals and folk songs on guitars, banjoes and tambourines at the parish Masses —not that I was averse to hippies or to spirituals, but to the lack of reverence and to the way in which performance was emphasized over worship. I still hear the same types of distracting music that brings the rhythms of the world into the Mass even now when, for example, I’ve attended Masses at my diocesan cathedral, with its current large ensemble of cantors and musicians located to the right of the altar with a jazz piano, electric guitars, and drums.
During Mass at that first parish I attended in 1978, we stood in a half circle facing each other. After the novelty wore off, over time I realized that everyone was showing off, everyone was looking at everyone else, and the focus was no longer on the sacrifice that was taking place at the altar.
The priest was now at the center of attention and, since then, as I’ve seen again and again, many priests have trouble resisting the temptation of playing to the audience, spouting their own opinions instead of the Church’s teachings, sometimes telling jokes, even off-color ones, from the pulpit. The constant rather lame improvisations and the folksy or jazzy songs remind me of the old TV show The Ted Mack Amateur Hour.
I also grew more and more appalled at the experimentations that led to what Pope Benedict XVI and you have termed objectionable improvisations of liturgy. But not only that, deformations of doctrine and practice were and are rampant.
What is especially shocking is that over the ensuing years in various parts of the country where I’ve lived almost every Catholic lay person, priest, religious sister or brother or Catholic university professor I talked with believed that not only had the Mass changed but morality had changed also. Statistics show that non-traditional Catholic couples are unashamedly casually engaging in the intimacy that belongs in marriage, living together outside of marriage, contracepting, aborting their babies, and divorcing at the same rate as the rest of the society.
I think it’s due perhaps to an unexpected after-effect of Vatican II. Many Catholics believed during the 1960s, when the council was going on, everything formerly taught and practiced by the Church for two millennia was up for grabs. Some simple-mindedly seem to reason, for example, that if the Church taught before Vatican II that we would go to hell for eating meat on a Friday, and the Church removed that penalty that the Church could and was probably going to remove the penalty for all sorts of other things. As the song goes, a new Church was being sung into being, and in many respects it was nothing like the old Church.
Another false assumption came to light for me in the late 1990s when I went to a Franciscan retreat center. At Sunday Mass, the Franciscan priest who managed the center walked away from the pulpit into the middle aisle and acted out the Gospel of the day, in which Jesus says that God hates divorce. He then proceeded to claim in his homily that Jesus was really not against divorce.
After Mass, I asked the priest how he could have contradicted the words of Christ. By the way he answered me, I learned that he believes the Gospels were written by committees, each of which had its own agenda—which is a theory, as I learned later, I taught at most Catholic universities and seminaries. Many, like that priest, go on to infer logically from that premise that no passage of the Gospels needs to be taken literally, and so there’s no such thing any more as Gospel truth. And for those type of Catholics, it seems, the Church’s perennial teachings are no longer to be consulted. The priest told me that a moral theologian had written Jesus was not against divorce, and the opinion of a theologian trumped the Church’s teachings in that priest’s mind.
After I started studying at my bishop’ institute for leadership in ministry in 2002, I found there the speculations of theologians were taught as if they were settled doctrine, even thought in many cases, the theologians’ claims had been rejected by popes or by decisions from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
My own bishop taught the class on Penance. He told us that Jesus had not instituted the seven sacraments, and that that the Eucharist forgives mortal sins. Professors from nearby Catholic universities and priests from the Bay Area taught that morality had changed, that the Church was no longer a hierarchy but a circle, that the church’s teachings against contraception and homosexual acts did not have to be followed. (I still have my notes.) No classes taught about personal holiness. No classes used the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I heard referred to disparagingly as a “pre-Vatican II document,” even though it was published in 1992; CCC came out during the reign of Pope Saint John Paul II, who many apparently regard as objectionably conservative.
Back to the music. In 2006, I joined a choir that had managed to keep singing Gregorian chant and polyphony during ordinary form Masses, even after that kind of music had practically been banned since 1969. After I was re-exposed to the Gregorian chants of the Ordinary I had learned as a Catholic school girl in fourth grade, and I learned the many more chant Mass settings, I then learned about the wonderful chants for the Propers of the Mass that varied every day throughout the liturgical year.
I read Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Vatican II document on the liturgy, for myself. I learned that it actually says “Gregorian chant should be given pride of place,” and “the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem.” And that it didn’t say that chant should be replaced with folksy or jazzy tunes or that the organ should be replaced with guitars, drums, pianos, banjoes, or tambourines. SC does say that the vernacular could be “allowed,” not that Latin should be banished. So, what happened there?
I also learned that SC doesn’t say anything about Communion in the hand distributed from one pair of unconsecrated hands to another, about Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers, about the priest celebrating facing the people, or about “girl altar boys.”
For these and several other reasons, I started to wonder what is behind the claim that the new Roman Missal expresses the mind of the Second Vatican Council. Maybe someone will explain that to me some day. But I digress.
Over time, I found myself unwilling to go to Mass at other churches where a “four-hymn sandwich” had replaced the chants. As a result of abandoning the Church’s sacred music, Catholics were singing at Mass instead of singing the words of the Mass.
And the hymns they were singing were seemingly chosen at random and had no relation to the feast of the day or the day’s place in the liturgical year. Besides, the words of the hymns were often doctrinally unsound. For example, one Christmas Eve midnight Mass, when I joined my parish church’s combined choirs, I was shocked when one of the members of the Spanish choir played his electric guitar and sang Imagine, John Lennon’s atheistic hymn against religion.
In 2007, after Pope Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum freed up the celebration of the traditional Latin Mass, the San José diocese erected an oratory as the diocesan center for the TLM. I joined their newly formed choir, and since then I have mostly attended Masses at the oratory.
I can’t help but grieve that you, my pope, my papa in the original meaning of the word, have made this decision to prevent the further growth of the traditional Latin Mass. Already many bishops around the world have used your motu proprio to justify the suppression of these Masses. These measure seems cruel and heavy handed.
Dear Papa Francis, I and the vast majority of us who love the traditional Latin Mass prefer it not because we are divisive, but because we love and are loyal to the Church.
We prefer the traditional Latin Mass because we prefer the reverence, the beauty, and the emphasis on the Holy Sacrifice of the altar that we find at the old Mass and have seldom found at the new. We know that the priests are not going to be doing comedy routines from the pulpit and they will not be contradicting the words of Our Saviour either.
Generalized accusations against traditional Catholics unfairly disparage the deep and authentic devotion that I and thousands, perhaps millions, of Catholic men, women, and children express when we worship God and remember the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ at the traditional Mass. Besides, how can we deny what Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Summorum Pontificum? “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.”
You call for more reverent Masses that are true to the rubrics of the current Roman Missal. Pope Saint Paul VI did too, as did Pope Benedict XVI. But sixty years have passed since the experimentation began, and many more may pass before misinterpretations of Vatican II are done away with and the Church that celebrates the Mass of 1969 stops being the electric Church —as Mother Angelica once said, “because every time you go, you get a shock.”
Please reconsider. Please don’t take the Mass of the Ages away from us. Don’t divide us. Let us live side by side together with those who find their comfort with the new Mass, all of us tolerant of our differences, in peace, and united in true obedience to God.
Sincerely and respectfully yours in Christ,
Roseanne T. Sullivan

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