Tuesday, 26 April 2016

What Earlier Generations Held as Sacred

It's Traddy Tuesday, and I have traddy news. The podiatrist says a 70 mile walk won't exacerbate the condition of my faulty toe, and so I'm officially going on the Chartres pilgrimage in May. Benedict Ambrose will stay at home, lounging in comfort as I slog... Well, actually he has to work.

I'm very excited as I have never been on such a long or hard pilgrimage before. Also, I haven't been to Paris in sixteen years, and I've never been to Chartres. It will certainly be an adventure.

But today I thought I'd write about the Apostolic Letter "Motu Proprio Data" Summorum Pontificum (July 7, 2007), a document so important to the lives of liturgical traditionalists. I had fled theology school two or so months earlier, and so all the news and drama passed me by.

However, this short document--the English translation is fewer than 1,900 words--had an enormous effect on the liturgical life of Catholics whose hearts cried out against what the Pope Emeritus (then Benedict XVI) called "arbitrary deformations of the liturgy." I wish now that I had been around for the parties.

This, by the way, reminds me of a very funny story about a college pal of B.A.'s who literally wept when Benedict XVI was elected. The story goes that a Catholic of a more "progressive" disposition was furious when he heard the news and went ranting and raving about. He came across our pal, infamous for his scoldings of the heterodox, who was visibly moved. In fact, Mr Orthodoxy was weeping.

"So even you are upset by this terrible news," snarled the 'progressive.'

Mr Orthodoxy lifted his tear-stained face.

"This is the happiest day of my life," he said.

Anyway, looking at this letter now,  I see that it is addressed to the bishops. I learned in theology school that when reading papal documents, you must always note to whom it is written. Anything written to the bishops is to the bishops and the bishops are supposed to write their own letters to their priests and laypeople to explain the document. However, Summorum Pontificum is so simple and concise, I don't imagine the bishops would have needed to explain much, if they did. The Archbishops of Toronto and Ottawa talked to Michael Swan at the Toronto Catholic Register here. (The information given in the yellow panel to the left suggests that its compiler had very jaundiced view.)

These Canadian bishops seem upbeat and relatively open to the 1962 liturgy. Certainly it seems that Archbishop Collins (now Cardinal Collins) would not have had a problem with priest saying their own private EF Masses or for small groups that request it. The tricky thing would be the EF used in a parish in place of the regularly scheduled OF Mass.  This is no doubt because of the potential of strife between people who prefer the OF and those who prefer the EF. I remember being shocked by young trads myself in the early 1990s. "This Mass is all wrong" does not go down well with rank-and-file Catholics brought up to venerate Mass (ANY Mass) as sacred.

So I did come across the "we few, we happy few, simply know better than anyone else" style of traditionalism before Summorum Pontificum, and I suspect Summorum Pontificum largely squelched it by returning the "Old Mass" to the mainstream. Well...if it didn't squelch it, it certainly attracted large numbers of Benedict-loving, mainstream Catholics, who were--and perhaps still are--less, er, eccentric and more, er, conventional. By definition, most people are conventional, and perhaps because it is easier to be a conventional person, conventional people tend to be more easy-going.

Really, it is neither clever nor funny to slag off the Novus Ordo, and doing so is no advertisement for traditionalism, just as slagging off the "Bad Old Days" (e.g. the Church between Pentecost and the alleged "New Pentecost" of Vatican II) was no advertisement for Catholicism in general.  Shockingly, there are priests to this day who tell their congregations how awful the Extraordinary Mass is, how disrespectful to women, to laypeople in general, yadda yadda. What are they saying, that the Catholic Church was All Wrong until 1970? Frankly, it looks like worry that their dwindling congregations will dwindle further thanks to rumours of the liturgical majesty to be found across town.

However, the number one threat to the continuation of the Catholic faith in Scotland, for example, is certainly not the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. If I had to guess, I'd have to say it was being converted to the worship of Feeling Good by hours and hours of watching television, watching films. listening to pop music and reading newspapers online. If you feel a new sense of holy revelation having watched Milk, you're not going to be thrilled when your boring old priest reads out your boring old bishop's embarrassing letter against "g*y m*rriage."  Milk had a budget of $20 million. Imagine a £10 million campaign to preserve the faith of Catholics in Catholicism.

Dear me, I meant to do a close reading of Summorum Pontificum, not ponder why Catholics stop going to Mass. Catholics stop going to Mass because Catholics stop being Catholics. Seriously, though, both Communist and Protestant regimes tried extremely hard to make Catholics stop being Catholics, and it never worked without extreme violence until now. Why is it that media has succeeded in doing what the Commies and Protestants couldn't do?

It's a question. And the answer may be linked to SP because if there's anything we 21st century people get, it's good spectacle versus bad spectacle, and the more people fiddle with the Mass, the less Mass-like it's going to be. The Mass supported the people spiritually for hundreds and hundreds of years---and that was back in the "Bad Old Days." Here's a once-famous post on the topic.


  1. Yay for Chartres! I hope you enjoy it. I have been on but one walking pilgrimage, Walsingham last year - highly recommend!
    Make sure you say hi to Fr Michael, who is our local TLM Chaplain here at St Anne's and I believe is still lined up to be the chaplain for the Scottish chapter this year. (You must be in the Scottish chapter?)

  2. I am in the Scottish Chapter, but I didn't know until today that there was a priest who said the TLM in Perth. I thought it was just Father E and the Transalpine Redemptorists now. (Besides the SSPX, that is.) Very interesting!

    I hope I enjoy it too, but if I don't, it will be penitential, and I believe that is at least half the point!

  3. Perth, Western Australia that is!

    1. Aha! Now it all becomes clear! I have booked a hotel room off the Boulevard St-Michel, which sounds very exciting, except that I probably won't get to it before 11 PM and I will leave it by 6:50 AM!

  4. Liked Deacon Greg's re-post of Fr Eugene's thought on Mass attendance, especially this:
    "If homilies better addressed the unique situation of the people, and if the wisdom of our Catholic tradition were better applied to worldly anxieties, those who no longer attend Mass might just find they have no reason for missing it."

    Most of our homilies are very broad brush reflections on how nice Jesus is, and how much he loves us. Nice to know, but doesn't really inform people about how to deal with the troublesome co-worker trying to tell you how great T*nder is for h*oking up all the time. Whereas if priests gave St Paul's thoughts on how great it is to have a spouse who lives up to scripture, that might encourage and inform about alternatives to secular living...

    On your main post, I'm not so sure people drop out of Mass and the faith because of a lack of the EF Mass or because of actively thought out conflicts between church teaching and "a new sense of holy revelation having watched Milk". More that their minds are blank slates that secular media fills with a steady diet of atheist cultural values, so that when issues like g*y marri*ge arise, 'cultural catholics' are baffled as to why the church seems to be so insistently mean in denying marri*ge to g*ys, contraceptives to those having s*x, etc. Eventually they shun the church they see as mean, to avoid conflict and argument with the orthodox catholics.

    That, and liberal parents not insisting on teens attending Mass when they would rather sleep in/sleep off a hangover. It takes courage to live in an atheist world as a Christian, and if parents don't model that courage to their teens, it is hardly likely teens will choose it despite their parents (tho it can happen). Ditto for 'Catholic' parents who quietly slip their kids a condom cos they *really* don't want their kids 'ruining their lives' by getting themselves or someone else pregnant at a party. Oh, what a can of worms to open... ;)

    Mrs Mac, I hope you have a great time hobbling around France thinking penitential thoughts about us all...

    Southern Bloke.