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Thursday, March 19, 2020

Could the Coronavirus Increase Access to the TLM?

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Could the Coronavirus Increase Access to the TLM?

Would it not be a magnificent irony if the coronavirus led to a significant swell in the number of TLMs and in the access of the faithful to them?

IN MY ARTICLE “Restoring Liturgical Tradition after the Pandemic” at New Liturgical Movement (March 19, 2020), I have suggested that priests should take advantage of this God-given opportunity to enrich and redirect parish life along more traditional lines. This would include, inter alia, (a) learning the TLM if they do not already know it, (b) practicing it well if they are new to it, (c) offering it daily, if possible, during the time of shutdown, (d) always offering the Mass ad orientem and then transferring this custom into the public liturgies at the time of starting up again, (e) modifying post-crisis parish Mass schedules to insert, improve, or expand TLM access, (f) abolish liturgical abuses and bad customs, which have already been suspended de facto in recent weeks, (g) rework the parish music program, starting afresh with better “music ministers.”

This is obviously a large and ambitious list, but it is unified by the centrality of the worthy offering of the Mass and made realistic by the drastic dislocations we have experienced. After some weeks of downtime, the faithful who still believe will be eager to get back to Mass, and will be grateful for the opening of the parishes. Priests will have an ideal opportunity to invoke “pastoral exigencies and reprioritization”; they can insert into their homilies various moments of catechesis that may have seemed awkward in the past but now seem appropriate. In so many ways, it’s like being given a blank slate or a blank cheque. Even bishops will have their attention so taken up with the fallout that a concerted move by many priests would be difficult for them to block. (For this reason, I strongly recommend that like-minded, tradition-loving priests coordinate with one another and make a plan.)

Meanwhile, we are in lockdown for an unspecified amount of time. Some epidemiologists, in view of the extreme infectiousness of the virus and the impossibility of preventing its communication, are predicting a sharp rise in cases in the coming weeks. For all we know, it may be a month before public access to the sacraments is opened up again.

To the extent practicable, I would urge priests to keep their churches unlocked, at least when they are personally present, and to allow the faithful to “discover”—without announcements or advertisements—that the priests happen to be saying Mass at this or that time of day. (I hear that this is already happening to some extent.) Technically, it corresponds to the requirements: there is no public schedule of public Masses, but no member of the faithful is turned away or prevented from entering and praying. If the number of faithful who start to come surpasses a certain established limit, the priest could ask the laity to remain outside, or to take turns, “if they must come…”

Obviously a bishop could get wind of this happening and try to clamp down, but the priest would not be guilty of any wrongdoing in simply saying his private Mass, and discovering (unbeknownst to him if he’s saying Mass ad orientem!) that some faithful have shown up.

In a book soon to be published by Angelico Press, Michael Fiedrowicz’s The Traditional Mass: History, Form, and Theology of the Classical Roman Rite, we read the following about the private Mass:

This form of the celebration of the Mass [i.e., the Low Mass] had become much more prevalent ever since the second half of the seventh century, after the number of priests in the monasteries had greatly increased, while secular priests practiced daily celebration, even when no congregation was present, and Mass stipends were increasingly given for the private concerns of the faithful, especially for the benefit of the dead. The term often used in this context, Missa Privata, should not be mistaken to mean that this celebration of the Mass is not a public and communal act of worship of the Church. Due to certain circles of the Liturgical Movement having rejected such celebrations of the Mass, Pope Pius XII expressly defended its legitimacy in his liturgical encyclical (1947). To serve as a reminder that even this form of the Mass is a public act of the worship of God, done in the name of Christ and the Church, the Sacred Congregation of Rites in the Instruction on Sacred Music (1958) desired that the expression ‘private Mass’ not be used in the future.18 The Catechism of the Council of Trent had already rejected this usage for similar reasons. Nevertheless, it should not be forgotten that the so-called ‘private Mass’ was never synonymous with the Missa sine populo [Mass without people], at which only an acolyte is present. It is much more a question of a Mass that the priest celebrates from personal devotion or by reason of a private Mass stipend and that is not a public Mass (Missa publica), i.e., not a parish or convent Mass.

The reason this is so important is simply that the distinction between a public Mass (which is what bishops are canceling or forbidding) and private Mass (which is always within the rights of an individual priest by canon law) is NOT the difference between people being present and people not being present, but has everything to do with the nature of the event: is it a scheduled parish or convent Mass, or a priest’s personal act of devotion when he has no other obligation?

This is why Summorum Pontificum says—using the somewhat less precise language of postconciliar documents:

in Masses celebrated “without the people,” each Catholic priest of the Latin rite, whether secular regular, may use the Roman Missal published by Bl. Pope John XXIII in 1962, or the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970, and may do so on any day with the exception of the Easter Triduum. For such celebrations, with either one Missal or the other, the priest has no need for permission from the Apostolic See or from his Ordinary” (Art. 2).

Then, in Art. 4:

Celebrations of Mass as mentioned above in art. 2 may—observing all the norms of law—also be attended by faithful who, of their own free will, ask to be admitted.

There is no indication that this “asking” must be verbalized or done ahead of time; it can take the simple form of showing up, entering, kneeling, and beginning to assist at Mass.

The upshot of all this is as follows:

  1. In dioceses that have shut down public Masses, priests who love the TLM but don’t normally get to say it, or maybe say it only on their day off each week, are now free to say a daily TLM, as per the provisions of Summorum Pontificum and Universae Ecclesiae. For many, this will be a dream come true.
  2. Faithful who happen to show up for this private Mass (or Mass “without the people”) have permission to attend such TLMs.

Would it not be a magnificent irony if the coronavirus led to a significant swell in the number of TLMs and in the access of the faithful to them?

Certainly, we can say without hesitation that in the domain of televised Masses, there is a disproportionate presence of the TLM as compared with the numerically much more dominant Novus Ordo. For reasons that should surprise no one, the TLM is more sought-after for its beauty and reverence, and practically no televised Novus Ordo can hold a candle up to it. A similar phenomenon explains why searching online for photos of Mass turns up the TLM again and again (to the chagrin of progressivists). The current crisis will likely lead still more Catholics to rediscover their own heritage and to take hold of it when and as they can. We know that God used the terrible Sack of Rome to bring about deep and lasting reform. It looks like He may already be using this wild situation to reintroduce some order into the Church.

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Last modified on Friday, March 20, 2020
Peter Kwasniewski, PhD

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, Thomistic theologian, liturgical scholar, and choral composer, is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and The Catholic University of America. He has taught for the International Theological Institute in Austria, the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austria Program, and Wyoming Catholic College, which he helped establish in 2006. He writes regularly for blogs, magazines, and newspapers, and has published nine books, four of which concern traditional Catholicism. Visit his website at