What does the Rescript mean for Catholics attached to the Traditional Mass around the world? Our press release on the subject can be found here. Here I shall expand on the question of ongoing provision for the 1962 Mass, which is going to depend on a number of things.
Before I say anything else, I should stress that existing arrangements and permissions continue to be valid until explicitly revoked by the bishop, whether he is acting spontaneously or passing on the judgement of the Dicastery for Divine Worship. Given the enormous number of cases the Dicastery will be asked to consider, and the ‘utmost care’ the Dicastery demands from bishops in preparing their requests for permission (see the Responsa ad dubia), this is going to take a very long time to implement. Since we seem to be getting new documents about the Traditional Mass every few months, it would be a brave man who would say that the law will be the same as it is now when a decision comes through in this or that case.
Nevertheless, the Rescript will make no difference at all in some places: places where the TLM is already celebrated in a place of worship which is not a ‘parish church’. I myself regularly attend the Traditional Mass in one such place, a secondary church (“chapel of ease”), even though the Mass is celebrated by the parish priest. Most—though not all—of the locations used by the Traditional Institutes are not parish churches: they may once have been, but they’ve lost their ‘geographical parish’ and been made shrines, for example. Then again, if you attend Mass in a monastery, convent, or seminary, or in a private chapel attached to an historic house, then it will make no difference: unless you find your congregation is swelled by refugees from elsewhere.
Then again, an easy way for a bishop, if he is one with pastoral concern for those of his people who attend the traditional Mass, to deal with the problem, will be to move a celebration from a parish church to another place of worship, if there is a suitable one nearby. The key issue here is the availability of such places. In Italian cities there often seems to be a church every hundred yards, and lots of them are not parish churches. In other places this is not so, and where they exist they tend to be small. It may sound trivial but where a congregation has to travel by car, the lack of a car park can make a church completely impractical for many people.
Then again, it is open to bishops to change the status of their churches. A parish church can cease to be a parish church. This may seem a complicated way of dealing with a legal problem, but actually churches frequently get reassigned from one legal status to another, most obviously when parishes are merged. Under the current Code of Canon Law, and in the context of current normal pastoral practice, it actually makes very little difference if a church is a ‘parish church’. A century ago you’d have run into difficulties getting married or your baby baptised in non-parish churches, but today these things happen all the time.
Another option a bishop has is to allow the public celebration of Mass in a location which is not a Catholic Church at all: a non-Catholic place of worship, a hired meeting room, a private home. Then again, permission from the bishop is not necessary if a Mass in a private house, say, is a ‘private’ Mass, which means in practice that it is not publicly advertised. Since the Dicastery for Divine Worship doesn’t want Traditional Masses to be advertised in parish newsletters anyway, it is a distinction which doesn’t make much of a difference. Attending a private Mass fulfils your Sunday obligation, if the celebration takes place between noon on Saturday and midnight on Sunday.
This is the kind of thing, I think, which is meant when people talk about the TLM going ‘underground’. This does not necessarily involve breaking the law of the Church. Before 2007, when things became much easier, a lot of Masses took place without being advertised, celebrated by priests who’d managed to get permission to celebrate the Old Mass, perhaps because of their age. At the same time there were of course Masses which were illicit, for one reason or another, notably the Masses of the SSPX.
The Latin Mass Society and other Una Voce groups were founded and continue to exist to make possible the public celebration of the ancient Mass in full accordance with the Church’s law and under the authority of the local bishop. Insofar as this becomes impossible, then the moral case for illicit celebrations becomes stronger. The people who advocate for ‘disobedience’ should be grateful to the Una Voce movement for making this case for them.
We are not going to stop seeking permissions, where these are needed, for public celebrations, in proper churches, under the bishop. Hole-in-a-wall celebrations may solve a local problem but they are not the way out of the present liturgical crisis. What the Church needs is for the Traditional Mass to be given a place of honour in the Church: not excluding anything, not imposed on anyone, but available as an enrichment of the liturgical lives of ordinary Catholics, and a public expression of the Church’s continuity with previous centuries.
That is our objective, and I hope is shared by many Catholic of good will with of all kinds of liturgical preferences. This need not be a battle or a war. It should just be a matter of meeting people’s spiritual needs in the best possible way.
Please pray for this intention—the liberty of the Traditional Mass—this Lent.
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