|Palm Sunday procession with the FSSP in St William of York, Reading|
Why the Extraordinary Form should be promoted: an open letter to the Bishops of England and Wales
Looking back at the Latin Mass Society’s fifty years, we must acknowledge our gratitude for the almost complete disappearance of the hostility towards the Extraordinary Form (EF) which, though never universal, was once widespread enough to be both a cross for our supporters and a serious impediment to our activities. In this positive development you, our Bishops in England and Wales, have played a crucial role. The question arises: Is there any reason for those with the care of souls to go beyond toleration, and actually to facilitate or promote this form of the Mass?
Pope Benedict gave us a number of reasons why the EF should be more widely celebrated, in the ‘Letter to Bishops’ accompanying his 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. One is the spiritual needs of those who have been asking for it for many years. He refuses to categorise these Catholics as unreasonable, or theologically misguided; he tells that in his own experience they have been ‘individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church’.
Related to this is the attraction felt by new generations of Catholics.
‘[I]t has clearly been demonstrated that young persons too have discovered this liturgical form, felt its attraction and found in it a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, particularly suited to them.’
This phenomenon has been seen in England and Wales also, notably with active ‘Juventutem’ groups in London and several other cities, the participation of young people from England and Wales in the annual Chartres Pilgrimage and our own walking pilgrimage to Walsingham, and many vocations to the traditional priestly orders. There are currently a dozen young men from England and Wales in training with the FSSP, the ICKSP, and the F.SS.R..
Another reason Pope Benedict gave is the matter of healing a rift in the Church’s own historical self-understanding.
‘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. It behoves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.’
To repudiate such an essential part of the Church’s past, is, as Cardinal Ratzinger had written earlier in The Spirit of the Liturgy, ‘calls her very being in question’.
The good effects Pope Benedict expected to see depend upon the EF being widely available and known. We often hear that there is ‘no demand’ for the ancient Mass, but in truth there can be no ‘demand’ for a ‘product’ which is completely unknown. What we do know is that many priests have, over a few years, seen congregations appear from nowhere for something which few of their parishioners previously knew existed. In such places the EF has drawn back the lapsed, stimulated conversions, and enriched the spiritual lives of many. This, surely, is a sufficient reason to make it available.
There is a worry, however, mentioned by Pope Benedict, which has also been referred to by Pope Francis: Pope Francis’ calls it the danger of the ‘ideologisation’ of the Vetus Ordo. The worry is that this Form of the Mass becomes associated with certain unfortunate ideas and attitudes, and becomes a source of division in the Church.
|Pilgrims on the LMS Pilgrimage to Holywell, Wales, in honour of St Winefride|
Nevertheless, it is well to consider the relationship between a perceived ‘ideologisation’ and effective marginalisation. As Cardinal Ratzinger so memorably expressed it at the end of the last century:
Anyone who nowadays advocates the continuing existence of this liturgy or takes part in it is treated like a leper; all tolerance ends here.
Sociologists tell us that marginalised groups typically become radicalised, and attract new members who are already marginal, perhaps for unrelated reasons. I believe that we have resisted these tendencies very successfully for the fifty years of the Latin Mass Society’s existence. Those who have any worries in this regard, however, will be able to see the remedy. Problems created by marginalisation will be cured by ending the marginalisation.
Next, let us consider the relationship between ideologisation and liturgy itself. There are, sadly, many attempts to use the liturgy for ideological purposes today: that is, to advance an agenda at odds with the teaching of the Church. The clearest examples are liturgical abuses aiming to undermine reverence for the Blessed Sacrament, or a proper understanding of the ordained priesthood. The Extraordinary Form is protected from this kind of liturgical ‘deformation’ by the liturgical discipline it demands, and, almost always, receives.
Finally, let us consider the social aspect of the liturgy: the community which forms around particular celebrations. It is a fact that there exists an unfortunate tendency for different Sunday Masses within a parish, and between neighbouring parishes, to attract distinct social or educational groups. The phenomenon, well-intentioned as it is, of ‘family Masses’, ‘student Masses’, and Masses for specific language groups, exacerbates this. The possibility of ‘divisiveness’ in this context is very real.
The Extraordinary Form, by contrast, has a very clear record of attracting a diverse range of people. The young, the old, the highly educated, and the less highly educated, single people and families, people from all walks of life, and from all social and ethnic backgrounds, happily find a place in well-established EF congregations.
I would like to invite each of you, our Bishops in England and Wales, to visit the largest such congregations in your dioceses and see for yourselves. You will see, I hope, that this is not a source of division, but a demonstration of a truly Catholic unity in diversity.
You will, I believe, find Catholics dedicated to their priests, to their parishes, and to their dioceses; Catholics docile to the teaching of the Church; Catholics eager to benefit from the riches of our intellectual and artistic patrimony; Catholics ready to evangelise by word and example, and involved in all sorts of charitable and educational work; Catholics ready to support you, their bishops, in the challenges you face from an increasingly unfriendly secular society.
|Pilgims on the LMS York Pilgrimage, the procession past the shrine to St Margaret Clitherow|
These Catholics do not want to cause division or to be exclusive. They want nothing more than to be regarded, not as orphans or houseguests, but as your spiritual children.
Chairman, the Latin Mass Society
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