How excessive restrictions on the Latin Mass could push away some ordinary Catholics
Editor’s note: This article is part of The Conversation with America Media, offering diverse perspectives on important and contested issues in the life of the church. Read other views on the traditional Latin Mass, as well as news coverage of the topic, here.
Pope Francis’ restrictions on the Latin Mass, made one year ago through the motu proprio “Traditiones Custodes,” struck some Catholics as an unwelcome intervention in a treasured tradition. But some observers, even if not Latin Mass attendees themselves, offered a solution: Why not bring elements of the Latin Mass to the Ordinary Form of the Mass that came into use after the Second Vatican Council, practicing the mutual enrichment Pope Benedict XVI advocated in the motu proprio “Summorum Pontificum” in 2007?
Why not bring elements of the Latin Mass to the Ordinary Form of the Mass that came into use after the Second Vatican Council?
Unfortunately, “Traditiones Custodes” could lead dioceses to do the opposite and be overly restrictive of elements of the Latin Mass, thereby alienating Catholics who attend the Ordinary Form of the Mass but are attracted to many liturgical elements of the Latin Mass.
It is possible to have a Mass in the Ordinary Form celebrated ad orientem—using the liturgical posture where the priest and the congregation face the altar as one for most of Mass—with Gregorian chant, incense, and receiving Holy Communion on the tongue while kneeling if the communicant so desires. The Mass can even be celebrated entirely in Latin, as long as it follows the current Roman Missal.
How about a simple solution to the liturgy wars?— Tony Annett (@tonyannett) January 5, 2022
Latin Novus Ordo. Gregorian chant, bells, incense.
All the advantages of the Tridentine Mass (beauty, reverence) without its disadvantages (excessive hierarchy, crimped lectionary).
Would this be enough to achieve a truce?
I have found that these postures, chants and more have helped place my focus on the sacrifice happening on the altar and allowed me to enter into a more spiritual participation, even in a Mass where the readings and many prayers are in my own language. This is mutual enrichment done well.
As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his letter to bishops that accompanied “Summorum Pontificum,” a mutual enrichment of the two forms of the Roman Rite would signify “the sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage.” That is, the surest way for Catholics to recognize beauty in the Ordinary Form is by celebrating it in fidelity with the rubrics and retaining reverential postures that focus one’s attention on the sacrifice at hand.
Remember, some observers may be quick to say, “Traditiones” is not an attack on the liturgical tradition itself. Pope Francis wrote in his letter to bishops that “whoever wishes to celebrate with devotion according to earlier forms of the liturgy can find in the reformed Roman Missal according to Vatican Council II all the elements of the Roman Rite.” Celebrating the Mass according to the Roman Missal can certainly include liturgical elements such as the priest facing the altar.
Liturgical elements such as kneeling for Communion face extreme scrutiny for the sake of reining in the celebration of the Latin Mass.
But there is a temptation to say otherwise in the name of “ecclesial communion.” In dioceses in the United States and around the world, liturgical elements such as celebrating Mass ad orientem, kneeling for Communion and any use of Latin face extreme scrutiny for the sake of reining in the celebration of the Latin Mass.
Not only did the Costa Rican bishops’ conference issue a complete ban on the Latin Mass throughout the entire country following “Traditiones Custodes,” it also prohibited the prayers, vestments and rites prior to 1962 from the celebration of the Ordinary Form. Even so, it was a surprise when the Catholic News Agency reported that a priest was being suspended and sent for psychological treatment for celebrating the Ordinary Form in Latin and ad orientem, neither of which was mentioned in the bishops’ statement.
In the United States, the Archdiocese of Chicago has restricted the ad orientem posture, announcing that “Mass is also ordinarily to be celebrated ‘versus populum,’ unless permission is granted otherwise by the archbishop.” In the statement released to the archdiocesan newspaper, Chicago Catholic, the need for “a concrete manifestation” of the acceptance of Vatican II was given as an explanation for the rule. Some Catholic websites that have often been critical of “Traditiones Custodes” have been sharing claims of similar restrictions in other U.S. dioceses.
No such restrictions were called for by Pope Francis in “Traditiones Custodes.” When he wrote about “eccentricities that can easily degenerate into abuses,” he was clearly referring to questionable celebrations of the liturgy in the wake of Vatican II that may have driven people to seek parishes—Latin Mass or not—that celebrate Mass with, to borrow Francis’ phrase, “decorum and fidelity.”
It is possible to have a Mass in the Ordinary Form celebrated ad orientem—using the liturgical posture where the priest and the congregation face the altar as one for most of Mass.
Instead of promoting unity, excessive restrictions on elements of the Latin Mass would do three things. First, they would undermine the expressed intention and letter of Pope Francis’ motu proprio, thereby seeming to vindicate his critics. Second, they would further push away Latin Massgoers to their own separate parishes. Third, they would alienate Catholics who desire the reformed liturgy but also seek the rich liturgical elements of the centuries-old Tridentine celebration.
This is a personal issue for me. I was married last July, and my wife and I knew that our wedding liturgy in the Ordinary Form was an opportunity to evangelize to the fallen-away Catholics and non-Catholics in attendance. There was no question that it would be celebrated ad orientem, with all facing our Lord on the altar and in the tabernacle. We selected classic hymns such as “O God Beyond All Praising” and “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” while chanting the Missa de Angelis for the common Mass parts. The readings and other Mass parts were in English. Kneelers were placed so one could kneel for Communion if so desired.
We received many comments afterward from people who had not witnessed these liturgical elements in decades but felt the transcendent effect of them in the new Mass. It remained familiar to them, yet otherworldly. Shouldn’t that be what experiencing heaven touching earth should be like?
The church’s liturgical tradition is our inheritance as Roman Catholics. Catholics like me are tired of being dragged into the so-called liturgy wars simply because we discovered and desire to enact our liturgical inheritance. Restricting or abolishing such elements would not seem to add up with the letter and spirit of liturgical law and would not be in keeping with this time of synodal listening for the church.