Friday, February 20, 2015

Pope Francis on the Reform of the Reform


Pope Francis made some interesting remarks at a recent meeting of priests in Rome. There's a fuller report on Rorate Caeli here; I want to focus on just one aspect of what he said. What follows is paraphrase with snatches of direct quotation. (The scattered remarks are reported by participants of the meeting; we don't have a full text.)

Through the Motu Propio Summorum Pontificum, published in 2007, the now Pope Emeritus allowed the possibility of celebrating the Mass according the liturgical books edited by John XXIII in 1962, notwithstanding that the "ordinary" form of celebration in the Catholic Church would always remain that established by Paul VI in 1970.

Pope Francis explained that this gesture by his predecessor, "a man of communion", was meant to offer "a courageous hand to Lefebvrians and traditionalists", as well as to those who wished to celebrate the Mass according to the ancient rites. The so-called "Tridentine" Mass – the Pope said – is an "extraordinary form of the Roman Rite", one that was approved following the Second Vatican Council. Thus, it is not deemed a distinct rite, but rather a "different form of the same right".

However, the Pope noted that there are priests and bishops who speak of a "reform of the reform." Some of them are "saints" and speak "in good faith." But this "is mistaken", the Holy Father said.

It would be interesting to know exactly why the Pope thinks the RotR is 'mistaken', and also exactly what he understands by the term. Since he is talking about the way that particular priests choose to celebrate Mass, he can't be talking about proposals to change liturgical law (such as to allow a silent Canon, for example), so much as the choice of options and a general liturgical style.

A lot of ink has been spilt on how the Ordinary Form can or should be celebrated 'in continuity' with the previous liturgical tradition, and many treatments of the subject have gone out of their way to criticise and reject the Extraordinary Form as an alternative approach. Examples are Fr Jonathan Robinson The Mass and Modernity, László Dobsay's The Restoration and Organic Development of the Roman Rite, and in general the work of Fr Joseph Fessio and Ignatius Press. Even writers like Fr Michael Uwe Lang and Fr Aidan Nichols OP have over the years written that radical changes to the Traditional Mass in the direction of the Novus Ordo would be beneficial, or at least defensible; a wider use of the vernacular being an example. (Obviously, such arguments are made on the basis that the changes proposed aren't all that radical, but we can disagree.) Most of these discussions date from before Summorum Pontificum, when the idea that the Traditional Mass was a sort of forbidden fruit which no one could be seen to want had an insidious influence on the whole debate, and sometimes a very conscious influence on editors of books they hoped would be 'mainstream'.

Things have already moved on since then, and remarks like this from the Pope are going to move things on a lot more.

The situation we have today is that the Traditional Mass, the Vetus Ordo or whatever we want to call it, is officially acceptable. It is here to stay. It is a minority interest, and will continue to be a minority interest for the foreseeable future, but it is not regarded as a problem, any more than celebrations of the Byzantine Rite or, come to that, the puzzling liturgies of the Neo Catechumenate, are, to the official mind, a problem.

The efforts of the RotR crowd, on the other, can easily be a problem from an official point of view. This has, in fact, always been the case: many bishops and seminary rectors have made it abundantly clear over the decades that things like the use of Latin, the exclusion of female altar servers, and celebration ad orientem, are officially discouraged. The argument that they are all legitimate options within the reformed Missal looks good on paper but cut little ice in practice. Bl Pope Paul VI made it clear in 1969 that, regardless of what liturgical law or indeed Vatican II said, the New Mass was not going to be characterised by the use of Latin and Gregorian Chant:

No longer Latin, but the spoken language will be the principal language of the Mass. ... We will lose a great part of that stupendous and incomparable artistic and spiritual thing, the Gregorian chant.

When he later attempts to derive some comfort for Latin-lovers from the idea 'the Latin language will not disappear', he is talking about the non-liturgical uses of the language.


The Reform of the Reform was at odds with what bishops and seminary rectors thought of as the 'orientation' demanded by the Second Vatican Council and the Reform: the 'Spirit of the Council'. It is easy to mock this concept, but if you plough through enough official documents it is in fact possible to discern, among the apparently mutually contradictory texts, what we might call an official (not infallible) interpretation of the Council and the Reform which, while it certainly doesn't justify free-wheeling liturgical abuses, is not friendly to the RotR either. Pope Paul's address quoted above is one illustration; also enlightening is the General Instruction on the subject of candles on the Altar (§307), or  use of the vernacular (§13). It is presumably to this 'orientation' that Pope Francis is recalling priests attracted by the RotR.

Why might using the available liturgical options contrary to the Conciliar 'orientation' cause a problem for the Church, according to the Holy Father or anyone else? I can't speak for Pope Francis, but there are a couple of obvious reasons.

First, it is divisive. Today the liturgy in general is a source of division in parishes and religious communities, but it is a fact that a priest who tries to push the Ordinary Form in the direction of the Reform of the Reform can expect a lot of opposition: even more division than usual. It is kicking the hornet's nest. In many circumstances it would cause less upset, and more easily-dealt-with upset, for a priest to introduce a Vetus Ordo Mass at a new time slot than, say, to start celebrating an existing OF Mass in Latin and ad orientem.

Secondly, the Novus Ordo celebrated with lots of traditional bells and whistles doesn't work as intended. Many Catholics, fed up with liturgical abuses and a lack of reverence, flock to 'nicely done' Novus Ordo celebrations, but they aren't what the reformers wanted, and they present a number of difficulties, both in how the liturgy works and in how the congregation participates. I've discussed this before here. Everyone accepts that there is a problem using the Church's patrimony of sacred music at the Novus Ordo, because the periods of silent prayer by the priest, for which this music was, in part, composed, no longer exist. I have also pointed out before that using options like the Roman Canon, in full, at the Novus Ordo is problematic because the text was never intended to be declaimed aloud, and it is too long and complicated.


As for participation, you can't plunge the congregation into a contemplative mode of participation, and then ask them to jump up and shake hands, and give a hearty 'Eucharistic acclamation'. What actually happens can easily be a case of falling between two stools.

The paradox of my own position is that, taken individually, I'm all in favour of RotR initiatives: Latin, Gregorian Chant, celebration ad orientem. But you can't take them individually. You must take them as part of a living and coherent liturgical tradition: a liturgical context in which they make sense, in which they work.

I am not an apologist for the Ordinary Form - I can safely leave that task to the better qualified - but I can see what its creators were trying to do. What I want to say, and what the FIUV Position Papers have often argued, is that you don't get the perfect liturgy by taking the Extraordinary Form and mixing in elements of Bugnini. The flip side of that position is that we can't turbo-charge the Ordinary Form by simply mixing in elements of the EF. The EF has its own mode of participation, its own structure, its own genius; a compromise just creates a mess.

And not the kind of 'mess', it would appear, that the Holy Father wants us to create in our parishes.


Photos from Ash Wednesday, and Asperges from the previous Sunday, at SS Gregory & Augustine's in Oxford, celebrated by Fr John Saward: more here.

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  1. Separate but equal...sort of.

  2. Hello Dr. Shaw,

    I agree in the main with your thesis here. But two quibbles:

    1. The flip side of that position is that we can't turbo-charge the Ordinary Form by simply mixing in elements of the EF. I would argue that we *can* turbocharge it; it's just that the limits provide a very modest scope for the turbo-charge. The Roman Canon is long whether spoken aloud or sotto voce; I and other trads have not felt the awkwardness unduly at Ordinariate Masses, at least. That said, a Joseph Fessio-style N.O. with every possible traditional bell & whistle feels (to me) just like that: a turbocharged N.O., not a traditional Mass. It still comes across as a Mass designed for lots and lots of external participation. And at the end of the day, these are just *options,* entirely at the mercy of the priest celebrant (or the lay liturgist who dominates him).

    2. Is it always divisive to try these things? In most places, it is. But there are exceptions, as we have seen with Bishop Conley in Lincoln (where he is pushing ad orientem celebration). I think a pastor should try to make his N.O. as traditional as he thinks he can get away with - though not at the exclusion of trying to introduce the TLM. St. John Cantius and the Brompton oratory, for examples, have attempted both, with success. Liturgical traditions are always desirable, even if the context may not always be an ideal fit.

    At any rate, in my experience, two contexts seem unusually good recruiters for the traditional liturgy. Firstly, unusually bad liturgy, full of abuses and banalities. Secondly, traditionalized N.O. Masses, which often act as a "gateway" to the TLM. And I am all for more gateways, as I think you are, too.

    1. Sometimes priests can get away with it and build up a very appreciative congregation - I say as much in the post.

      But obviously not everyone likes it. And when people say 'I went to the Latin Mass once, the priest was just spouting in Latin interminably and the whole thing ground to a halt for ten minutes for the choir to sing something: never again!' How does that fit in?

      My point is that it is not a matter of a single range of 'modern vs. traddy' going from folk-music OF to the EF with the Latin OF in the middle. There are too many variables.

      Personally, on the occasions I have to go to the OF I'd rather go to a simple and short celebration than something with all the bells and smells. Many people attached to the OF feel the same. I'd rather have one thing or the other.

  3. I don't know if should be classed as "reform of the reform", but the 1130 Sunday Mass at the Manchester Oratory (St. Chad's) is celebrated 'ad orientam', in English (apart from the Sanctus, Agnus Dei, etc), with great beauty, reverence and solemnity. It seems, to me at least, like the perfect blend of old and new. Even the Sign of Peace doesn't jar too much :-)

  4. Should also say that there is an EF Mass there later in the day as well (1645)

  5. The first principle of liturgical reform in the modern Roman Rite should be for celebrants to face the compass East direction, always and everywhere on pain of grave sin. And this should be imposed by the highest authority with severe penalties for disobedience.

    The absolute worst thing you can do liturgically is face the wrong way.

    In my student days I remember rejecting Kocik's most famous book because I was of the opinion that the modern Roman Rite is irredeemably bad and that the "old rite," (in whatever form you like), was ontologically superior in all respects. I no longer think this and that a "mutual enrichment," subject to the most learned regulation, might actually help. And "mutual" means both ways. The trouble is, nobody seems willing to actually enforce decent reforms. What was Benedict XVI afraid of, for instance? Impose ad orientem and witness a mass walk-out of progressives and liberals? Let them go! Start filling the churches with people with an earnest interest in Catholicism. And you can only do that by providing right-worship. And the first principle should be ad orientem. I cannot impress upon people how fundamentally important that is.

    1. I think it might not be easy as that.

      In my opinion, the Church has already spoiled her children in the past 60 years. So now she has fostered a population of Catholics who cannot handle any criticism, expect everything to entertain them, and holds someone who tells or does otherwise to be a bad Christian.

      Leaving that aside for a moment, most of the recently built Churches have debt. Most of the old Churches have debt due to loans taken for maintenance etc. So many of the Churches in each diocese are reliant on the contributions of the faithful to keep those Churches in operation.

      Now I am going to say something that hopefully does not offend people. I think it is true to say that most of the rich people in any parish are the ones who are likely to leave in the case they see something that upsets their expectations. The middle-class crowd are relatively more likely to remain. Even they might not remain given the unhealthy culture that has become rooted among Catholics due to what the Church has done in past 60 years.

      So in that sense, it seems more beneficial to just keep the liberal and progressive person happy. That way, Churches will remain open and sincere persons will still have access to a valid liturgy and sacraments.

      Still, it is somewhat true that the above is speculation and that most people will still remain faithful if the Church implements a reform of the reform. But I can't think of a Pope who would want to take the risk though. Imagine most of the Catholic parishes in Europe and Americas closing within a year. That would be catastrophic.

      I don't know if Pope Benedict thought about it this way. But from that perspective, the inaction looks OK.

    2. You do seem to get closer to the practical matter, though I think most trads overstate the case. The unfortunate reality is that most Catholic laity are happy with the Mass and even with the awful architecture (look at the Yelp reviews for Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, for example). They have miserable catechesis and no knowledge of their patrimony or the lies told by many of the hierarchy that echo the calumny or heresy of Cranmer and Luther, particularly WRT Latin.

      All that said, the new translation could have been followed with relatively minor turbulence and do much to improve Catholic theology with a few issues:

      1) Make the GIRM binding on the OF, including the restriction of EP2 to ferias and weekdays and use of EP1 for Solemnities and Sundays

      2) Require ad orientem for at least the Eucharistic Prayer, from the Offertory through ablutions

      3) Abrogate and forbid reception of Communion in the hand

      Ideally the next stage would be another 5-10 years out and reintroduce Latin for the Canon, abrogate EP3 and 4, require the altar rail, etc.

  6. An interesting statement form the pope but not clear. Once again the question of definitions remains. In particular what does ordinary mean. Nondescript, I think not, usual, I doubt?

    The Pauline Mass was actually not bad, but nowhere exists these days as far as I know. Long since gone.

    I have been to an Opus Dei Mass celebrated "ad orientem".

    Perfectly acceptable but in the vernacular so already well away from the Pauline.

    But once again, my pet little theory. Given the graphs, the French ones are best known, but much the same elsewhere, the traditional priests of whatever order or no order, will outnumber the others, and in the much smaller Church of the future, say 20 years, the normal Mass will be that of St John XXIII.

    1. Remember that congregations are self-selecting.

      And the GIRM is supposedly binding on the OF!

  7. The extraordinary form for me is the Novus Ordo, it is unstable because it will always want to seek the novel, ever changing driven with what ever is thought entertaining! Pleasing to the crowd. This has been happening from its inception! The Novus Ordo is a move towards Protestantism and as such destroys and seeks to obliterate everything that is Catholic and Universal. The vernacular is causing division, for example through parishes with large Polish communities where there is competition between the need for Masses in both languages separating Roman Catholics by linguistic preferences. See how the divisive model of Protestantism destroys the body of Christ and is being utilised by liberal modernists pretending to be Roman Catholics. The mess is being well and truly spread!

  8. I'm sorry but I can't agree that the use of the vernacular causes division any more than the use of Latin. Indeed , I believe that it causes less. Chances are that the majority of Catholics in England have a reasonable grasp of English (or are working towards obtaining one) . If they choose to attend a Mass celebrated in their own language, is that really any less divisive than those who go out of their way to exclusively attend Latin Masses? Additionally, having attended a sizeable number of Masses in a variety of languages, I have not felt excluded as the form of the Mass is the same from country to country (and I have more chance of understanding French, German, Italian etc than I do Latin (even though I am not a linguist).

    I was in a parish recently where a hymn was sung in Latin, apparently at the request of some older parishioners. Meanwhile those in the congregation under the age of 60 (of which there were a sizeable number of regular churchgoers) were left either looking blankly around whilst the older parishioners sang, or stumbling over the words in an embarrassed fashion. Division caused by the use of Latin!

    Finally please note the words of this blog regarding the Vetus Ordo, " It is a minority interest, and will continue to be a minority interest for the foreseeable future".

    I do wish that some of the commenters on here would realise that whilst the Vetus Ordo is the most spiritually beneficial form of the Mass for them, that for the majority of the rest of us, it is the Novus Ordo - a Mass which is as equally valid as the Vetus Ordo.

  9. Mr Lambert there is no need for you to feel sorry that you are not of the same opinion as myself. There is some division in parishes where there are linguistic differences whether Polish, Italian or whatever I am aware of this through personal experience. The 1962 missal was universal and in both English / Latin for those very few people unable to follow the universal Mass and I would also comment, when the Mass of Pope Paul after VII was introduced the abandonment af Latin was never foreseen, of course the Novus Ordo has even since then mutated. I must also comment that congregations seem to have no problems with Latin hymns at Christmas and in fact relish this time of year when even those who do not regularly attend to their duties go and there are no signs of division, quite the contrary. The minority interests would seem to be very relevant as we are loosing catholics en masse clearly evident by the massive closure of churches occurring at present. Instead of people looking blankly around please encourage them to feast their eyes on the alter where our Blessed Lord is present And in conclusion I attend daily Novus Ordo Mass where sad to say the majority of the congregation are over Sixty! Maybe like fasting you would allow them to be excused from attending due to their age. The last time I visited this site is was meant for the promotion of the Mass of all the ages. Yours in Christ.

  10. It should be noted that Fr. Thomas Kocik, who wrote the book ROTR etc., has reached the conclusion that,"the ‘reform of the reform’ is not realizable because the material discontinuity between the two forms of the Roman rite presently in use is much broader and much deeper than I had first imagined." Fr. Kocik's remarks can be read here:

    My own thoughts are very much in line with Dr. Shaws. Even so I think
    Patricius makes a good point about Ad Orientem. Would that there were bishops that would insist on on it and say the exclusive use of the Roman Canon, at least on Sundays. But I am not holding my breath.

  11. The use of the vernacular can, and as I observe it in my area now, is divisive, with “Catholic” communities shrinking steadily away from each other and into their own national grouping and particular interpretation of moral or socio-politico issues.

    I observe this particularly so since I travelled in Europe in the fifties in Germany and Holland and attended Mass in civil and military churches. Wherever the town or location, it was the One Mass, shared and understood by all and in which no one was uncomfortable, or awkward or uncomprehending.
    Quite the opposite. After Mass, in whatever language then, it was a great unifier.

    Not so today. On the occasions I go to my local cathedral, there is much consultation of leaflets to get the time right to ensure we are not in with the “wrong” lot, and in particular after Mass, there is no mixing.

    Such a difference to someone who once moved through Europe attending the Mass of Ages , without a thought.

    And that world did exist, believe you me!

    1. The use of the vernacular can, and as I observe it in my area now, is divisive, with “Catholic” communities shrinking steadily away from each other and into their own national grouping...

      You can see this in many American parishes, alas.

      I think of one priest who tried overcome this phenomenon - Fr. Paul Weinberger of the Diocese of Dallas, TX. Inheriting an urban parish in the late 90's, Blessed Sacrament, split closely between Anglo and Hispanic parishioners, He introduced a balanced Mass schedule with convenient Spanish and English-language Masses, anchored by an achingly beautiful, sung Novus Ordo Latin Mass at 10:30am - and the Latin N.O. had the remarkable effect of creating an unprecedented unity in the parish. Soon, daily Masses, rosaries, confessions, spiritual conferences flourished. Before long, Blessed Sacrament accounted for 15% of all baptisms in the entire diocese.

      It was all for nought, as the then-ordinary, Bishop Charles Grahmann, abruptly transferred Fr Weinberger out to an obscure rural parish and squashed the Latin N.O. Mass at Blessed Sacrament. This may seem to bolster Dr. Shaw's point (and it does), but it's also true that Bishop Grahmann and his successor have been highly resistant to the growth of any TLM's in the diocese, too. (There's a single TLM personal parish run by the FSSP, granted only under pressure from Rome, and it is bursting well beyond capacity.)

      But for a brief shining moment, one American pastor showed how reintroducing Latin, even in an Novus Ordo, could bring a polyglot parish together.

    2. That is very interesting.

      Having said everything about the 'official' conception of how the OF should be, it is still mystifying that anyone should be so hostile to a Latin OF success-story.

      At any rate, the kind of pressure from Rome which can be brought to bear on the situation in favour of the EF isn't available for the OF in Latin.

    3. There is a news report about the parish you describe (before the boot came down on it) here.

    4. Dr. Shaw,

      At any rate, the kind of pressure from Rome which can be brought to bear on the situation in favour of the EF isn't available for the OF in Latin.

      That is certainly true - at least, barring systematic, unremedied liturgical abuses...which will hardly get you Byrd and ad orientem no matter how frisky CDW is feeling that week. Rumor has it that it took a personal intervention from Benedict to make the FSSP parish Mmater Dei) happen - but the point is, as you say, that there's at least law and a structure to work with, however difficult the working ends up to be.

      There is a crying, obvious need for another TLM parish on the north end of Dallas, but most chancery personnel remain unsympathetic, and no diocesan TLMs have emerged. Pastors know the score. Even by American standards of the last five decades, the animus against Latin and tradition in the Dallas hierarchy has been remarkably deep.

      Speaking of which, Rod Dreher (then with National Review, now with The American Conservative), took up Fr Weinberger's cause in the press and blogosphere, to no avail. You can read about Fr. Weinberger's last Sunday, and the very shabby way in which he was treated, here:

      Today, Fr. Weinberger is still pastor out in Greenville, TX, and celebrates a Latin Novus Ordo in addition to English and Spanish Masses.

    5. One more bit on this story: Terry Mattingly, now the Editor at Get Religion, did a story back in November 2003 on Fr. Weinberger's impending removal, wherein Mattingly finally got a statement of explanation (of sorts) from the bishop's spokesman, Deacon Havard:

      As for Weinberger's conviction that a Latin Mass is a symbol of unity, Havard said: "Using the Latin may mean something to him, but it means nothing to the people in the pews -- especially not to the Mexican immigrants who come into this area. We've had many complaints about that."

      This is news to Weinberger. Diocesan policy requires that pastors receive copies of all complaints, he noted, and none have reached his desk.


  12. I think all this argument about the two Masses is just what the devil wants. He wants to divide the Church of God. Fasting from midnight was abandoned. Then a new Mass nobody wanted but was imposed on us. Then communion under both kinds. Then Sunday obligation on Saturday evening. Then Holy Communion in the hand like common food and standing. Altar girls. . . .Are we blind? Our holy religion is being changed and changed for the worst. Soon it will become irrelevent like Anglicanism. And we spend all our energy arguing about this OF. . .

    1. Then a new Mass nobody wanted but was imposed on us.

      I think we must concede (reluctantly, I do) that vernacular in the Mass seems by all accounts to have been genuinely popular in most places.

      Now, did that mean that the ENTIRE Mass had to be done in the vernacular? Did that mean there was a clamor for the thousand other changes forced through?

      No, feedback of the laity (or even the clergy) was not sought in forcing through these changes. But they went through anyway, thanks to a still-strong Catholic habitus of obedience, and the whirlwind of cultural revolution then underway, leaving many Church leaders fearful of the consequences of resisting the changes.

  13. I think all this argument about the two Masses is just what the devil wants. He wants to divide the Church of God. Fasting from midnight was abandoned. Then a new Mass nobody wanted but was imposed on us. Then communion under both kinds. Then Sunday obligation on Saturday evening. Then Holy Communion in the hand like common food and standing. Altar girls. . . .Are we blind? Our holy religion is being changed and changed for the worst. Soon it will become irrelevent like Anglicanism. And we spend all our energy arguing about this OF. . .

  14. After having sung the past 7 years at an Ordinary Form Mass with Latin Ordinary and Propers, but English through out for everything else, only to be "cancelled" due to "lack of congregation participation," I have had an epiphany of sorts. I have come to the conclusion that if you are going to go through the trouble of learning all the chants and the effort of having the priest and parish cooperate, you might as well just push for a Vetus Ordo Mass. Because the politics (And there is a lot of that in a normal parish) is actually worse for adding translational elements to the Novus Ordo mass than having a Vetus Ordo. At least in my experience the VO is defined by the liturgical books, protected (in a sense by the Moto proprio, and, here is the important part, going to be done by a young priest who is actually interested in doing it. Whereas, with a NO mass, the parish and priest have lots of baggage and prejudices and even if you do all the work for them (which we did) you still usually end up with a priest and parish who really want nothing to do with it. It is best to simply by pass all that, and go through the sound and fury to get permission for an VO mass and start from scratch, because then the parish checks out (thankfully) and you can work with the priest directly and find one not only willing to do it, but is EAGER to do it.

    1. I would wholeheartedly agree that in most cases the real stumbling block to the Mass of all the ages, V.O. is not the parishioners but the the clergy. The sheep will always follow the shepherd!!!!

    2. The eye-opening thing is the lack of maturity level of the politics in the parish. At least here it was bare-knuckles no holds bar high school / passive aggressive nasty. Even the clergy were petty and passive aggressive. It was disgusting.