Thursday, December 23, 2021

Responsa ad dubia: back to the future, forward to the past

The Holy Mile at Walsingham in 2018, in the rain.

In the wake of the Responsa ad dubia from the Congregation for Divine Worship, there has been a fair amount of chatter on the internet about the uniquely bad situation Catholics attached to the Traditional Mass and Sacraments now find themselves in. As the canonists have got to work in interpreting the document, it turns out to have less force than previously assumed by many—and the Latin Mass Society has produced some notes to explain the situation in detail, which you can see here. Nevertheless, bishops have the power to follow its lead.

This may mean, for example, that in a particular diocese the number of celebrations of the Traditional Mass is drastically reduced, or stopped: indeed, in some dioceses this has already happened. Further, in places where it had been straightforward to get married using the older books, to have one’s baby baptized using them, or have one’s deceased loved ones buried using them, this may become a headache, or simply impossible. Again, finding out if Masses are happening may become difficult, if they are no longer simply advertised on online parish bulletins.

This situation, insofar as it becomes a reality, will certainly be unjust and pastorally harmful. Contrary to certain febrile suggestions on Twitter and elsewhere, however, it does not mean the end of the Latin Mass Society, or the Una Voce Federation, or similar bodies around the world. Because if this situation were to arise, it might be new to some of the younger Traditional Catholics on social media, but it would not be new to the Traditional movement as a whole. It would simply take back to before 2007, or perhaps before 1988.

Difficult or impossible to get a priest to celebrate a wedding or baptism according to the old books?

Closest Traditional Mass an hour or more's drive away? 

Masses not being publicly advertised, by order of the bishop? 

Masses needing to be kept away from the ordinary, legitimate, worshippers?

Arbitrary restrictions and conditions placed on Masses?

Official hostility expressed at every level of the Church? 

Accusations of disloyalty and schismatic leanings? 

How did we survive the lean years before 2007? Well, it was tough. Many, many supporters of the Latin Mass Society were only able to get to the old Mass for occasional celebrations: an annual Mass here, a pilgrimage there, a Day of Recollection somewhere else, often a long journey from where they lived. Some, particularly those with difficulty travelling, could get to no Masses at all. Coach trips from London were frequently part of LMS events, for people who didn’t have cars and were starved of opportunities to get to, especially, sung Masses. I remember driving an hour and a half each way to attend a High Mass (with deacon and subdeacon), with a good choir, in Portsmouth Cathedral, in about 2003, because these kinds of Masses hardly ever happened. It was only with considerable difficulty that the Latin Mass Society established, in the early 2000s, an annual celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation in London, and people came from all over England, Scotland, and even France and Belgium.

The Fraternity of St Peter, founded in 1988 with the good will of Pope John Paul II, found it extraordinarily hard-going in the early years, indeed up to 2007, as did the other traditional priestly institutes attached to the Traditional Mass. I well remember the heroic, and ultimately successful, efforts of priests of the FSSP and also of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, to become established in England. Bishops were extremely reluctant to give them stable apostolates, with a place to live and a church to say Mass in.

And indeed things have continued to be difficult since 2007. Perhaps many Traditional Catholics in the pews do not realise quite how difficult things are for those, both priests and lay Una Voce activists, who try to organise Masses and other events, stabilise apostolates, and talk to bishops and the Curia. When Una Voce International did its world-wide survey of the Traditional Mass in 2020, we received many reports of whole countries where the bishops simply refused to talk to the local Una Voce group, and persecuted priests who wanted to celebrate the ancient Mass, and where, as a result, years of requests had yielded no celebrations at all.

It has never been easy. And now it is getting harder. We have been told that our annual Masses in Westminster Cathedral are now to be Sung, without deacon or subdeacon, as part of the implementation of Traditionis Custodes. I have no idea whether the “other sacraments” are going to be allowed, and in which dioceses, of England and Wales, let alone elsewhere. Perhaps Traditional Masses will have to take place in such a way that no-one not in the 'group' for which they are celebrated will ever stumble across them. I remember in the bad old days one priest's arbitrary rule was that there should be a two-hour gap between a Traditional Mass and a Novus Ordo one, so toxic and infectious were we deemed to be.

How are we going to cope? The Traditional movement and Una Voce groups in particular were built precisely to cope with this. We established close-knit groups for moral support and networks for exchanging information: and these still exist. The technology has developed (find our Telegram channel for Mass listings here), but the principle remains the same. In fact, in our organisations, in our ability to communicate, and in many other ways, we are stronger than ever.

The Latin Mass Society is the place, in England and Wales, where Catholics attached to the Traditional Mass can find information, support, and like-minded people. Our network of Local Representatives understand the conditions of each diocese and parish. We are in touch with priests and bishops, and through Una Voce International, with the Roman Curia. 

All Latin Mass Society / Una Voce groups rely on supporters for funds and volunteers, and this is the moment, if you have not yet done so, if you are concerned about the Traditional Mass, to show your support by joining them: you can also become a 'Friend' of Una Voce International.

Qui autem perseveraverit usque in finem, hic salvus erit. (Matt 24:13)
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