Last week The Tablet published an article about demand for the usus antiquior (or the 'Tridentine Rite', as they always call it) since the Motu Proprio. The article was carefully researched: they made enquiries with all the dioceses of England and Wales (though they got few responses), and were most eager for facts and figures from the Latin Mass Society, which we duly provided.
The Congregation at the Traditional Mass in St Mary Magdalen's, Wandsworth: were they all there three years ago? Is the camera lying?
What was actually printed, however, reflected not the results of their reporters' research but their own preconceptions: again and again The Tablet has simply asserted, in the teeth of the evidence, that demand for the Chruch's traditional liturgy is not growing, or is limited to people old enough to have experienced it before 1970. It won't surprise many people reading this blog to hear that the Tablet's editors are in a state of denial about the way the wind is blowing (or should that be: 'about innovative ways of being Church'?), but it is depressing to provide them with hard evidence for an article and then see the article draw the very conclusion the evidence shows is impossible.
They have very decently printed my letter protesting about this - with a few excisions which I show in bold.
Letter to the Editor, The Tablet.
Extrapolating from some off-the-cuff remarks made by spokesmen from seven of the twenty-two dioceses of England and Wales, your report (News From Britain and Ireland, 20th November) suggests that the Latin Mass Society may be mistaken in claiming that there has been a significant increase in demand for the Traditional Mass since the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum came into effect three years ago.
We offered your reporters hard statistical evidence for our claim, but this data did not find its way into the article. Perhaps your reporters thought that Tablet readers would not wish to hear that the number of regular Sunday Masses celebrated according to the Usus Antiquior has almost doubled since before the Motu Proprio, or that the number of Masses on a typical feast day has increased by more than 60%. Nevertheless, it is true, and readers not inclined to believe it need only download the Mass listings from our website (www.lms.org.uk), and satisfy themselves that these Masses are really taking place: they will be most welcome.
It should be noted that the increase in the number of public traditional Masses on Sundays and holy days does not, yet, reflect the increase in the number of priests able, and eager, to say it. The number of priests able to say the Roman Rite in its traditional form has tripled since the Latin Mass Society’s first Priest Training Conference, which took place just before the Motu Proprio took effect. Many of these priests are saying traditional Masses on weekdays and on special occasions, exercising great pastoral sensitivity in gradually introducing this form of the Mass to their parishes. The number of traditional Masses on Saturdays, for example, has from a low base increased by a staggering 450%.
The notion of ‘demand’ for the Traditional Mass is a slippery one. People cannot demand what they do not know about, and people who want it won't appear in the statistics if they are unable, for reasons of geography, to get it. The reality is that when a parish priest introduces a Traditional Mass at a reasonable time on a Sunday in his church a congregation emerges from nowhere, and increases over time. After a few years these congregations can rival those for the other parish Masses. There is nothing special about the parishes where this has happened: it is reasonable to assume that it would happen in any parish where it was tried. But on the basis of the places where it actually has happened, we estimate that the number of people attending the Traditional Mass regularly has doubled since the Motu Proprio.
It tends to be younger Catholics who are more open-minded about the Usus Antiquior, and younger priests who are most eager to learn it and say it. On this point, however, we can take the Pope’s own word for it: as he put it, young people have “found in it a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, particularly suited to them.”
Congregation at the LMS Oxford Pilgrimage, regularly more than double the number we saw 2005-2007 - or are the pictures lying?
Ok, so it's a busy week; the letters page includes such jems as Mgr Basil Loftus denying that he shut down Fr Michael Clifton's blog and a screed from (once Mgr) Bruce Kent on nuclear disarmant. But lest anyone be in doubt that it is the wishful thinking of The Tablet's editors, and not the facts of news stories, which generate the content of this publication, they need only turn to p28, where they will be greeted by the headline
'Pope says use of condoms can be justified in certain circumstances.'
I know all news sources have their own angle on things, but it is downright cruel to the liberal Catholics and assorted post-Christians reading this to make them think that the Pope has said something he manifestly hasn't: they will be sad and disapointed when they realise the truth. This process of sad realisation, on a host of subjects, is often in fact manifested in the letters pages, where one sees lacrimose epistles saying 'I thought that Vatican II had done away with (delete as appropriate) Latin / the cappa magna / moral theology / priestly vocations, but it seems this dreadful thing has somehow survived!'. By trying to keep the truth from their readers, The Tablet simply makes it more painful when it does emerge.
Good Friday 2009 with the FSSP in Reading. I've been attending the Triduum with the FSSP since before the Motu Proprio, and numbers have again doubled - but don't take my word for it.
Message to the The Tablet: you can run, but the truth will catch up with you.