When I was in high school and college, I wrote a good deal of poetry. It started off free-form, in that lazy way moderns have, but soon, inspired by Gerard Manley Hopkins, Hilaire Belloc (a fine poet!), Francis Thompson, T.S. Eliot, and like representatives of “The Other Modern,” I turned to more traditional forms, especially sonnets. The high point was a one-act play, written in heroic couplets, about the destruction of a monastery by French revolutionaries, written at Georgetown University in the fall of 1989, a bicentennial opportunity that could not be missed.
Then, in a sort of puritanical phase, I destroyed all of this verse—a foolish act I now regret. But one sonnet somehow escaped the purge. It’s not my best, but it has sentimental value… and it is relevant to my story.
The coronavirus crisis—to whatever extent real or exaggerated—seems, as with all crises, to be bringing out the best and the worst in people.
Unfortunately, with a few exceptions like Bishop Strickland, it seems to be bringing out the worst in our bishops. The Catholic world is moving day by day into a growing sacramental blackout that includes not only suspension of public Masses and Holy Communion, but also suspension of baptisms, confessions, and—most appallingly, given the dangers faced by the elderly and the sick—extreme unction. (In these circumstances, calling it “anointing of the sick” would seem almost quaint; if people on death’s door, in extremis, no longer count as candidates, a fortiori the gravely ill don’t make the cut, either.)
Long-time followers of the liturgical scene may recognize the name of Andrea Grillo, a liturgy professor at Sant’Anselmo in Rome, seedbed of much evil in the realm of the cultus divinus. The two new decrees from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith—Cum Sanctissima (which makes possible the offering of Mass in honor of more recently canonized saints like St. Padre Pio or St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, not to mention countless other devotees of the traditional Latin Mass) and Quo Magis (which adds to the 1962 Missale Romanum seven new Prefaces based on older liturgical texts)—has got him and his confreres up in arms.
In an amusingly self-pitying two-page protest letter, signed (as of March 30) by 134 liturgists, Grillo wrings his hands about how the 1962 missal is now being treated as—horror of horrors!—a living reality in the Church, parallel to the new Mass desired by The Council. For the author, it is nothing less than two churches, two faiths, two Catholicisms. One must admire the clarity and honesty with which he admits that there is no possible reconciliation between the two leges orandi and their leges credendi:
The greatest distortion of the initial intentions of the motu proprio [Summorum Pontificum] can be seen today in those diocesan seminaries where it is expected that the future ministers will be trained at the same time in two different rites: the conciliar rite and the one that denies it… [The CDF] seems to ignore, precisely on the dogmatic level, a grave conflict between the lex orandi and the lex credendi, since it is inevitable that a dual, conflictual ritual form will lead to a significant division in the faith; it seems to underestimate the disruptive effect this “exception” will have on the ecclesial level, by immunizing a part of the community from the “school of prayer” that the Second Vatican Council and the liturgical reform have providentially given to the common ecclesial journey.
Fr. Anthony Ruff, presiding archon of the progressivist blog “PrayTell,” concurs with Grillo’s basic claim:
The problem with these [CDF] decrees, of course, is that they treat the rite which the Second Vatican Council made obsolete—with its decision that it be superseded by a reformed rite—as if it is still living and developing.... I hope that at some point Church officials at all levels will address the question of whether Summorum Pontificum is in any sense compatible with Sacrosanctum Concilium. It is not. Once this is recognized, it will be necessary to begin the exceedingly difficult work of winding it down and gradually bringing all the faithful around to the ecclesiology and liturgical-sacramental theology of the Second Vatican Council. This will likely take generations. Our shepherds will need a wise and generous spirit, great sensitivity, and patience.
Oddly enough, the progressives already had generations in which to inaugurate and consolidate their Brave New World, but in spite of every papal and episcopal muscle being exercised continuously for the past fifty years to promote their program and to marginalize, if not stomp out, the minority opposition, the results are in: the movement for restoring Catholic tradition is not vanishing but growing, as the fine work of Paix Liturgique once more demonstrates in their “2019 Status Report on the Situation of the Traditional Mass in the World.“ The author of the report, Christian Marquant, concludes on an optimistic note:
Last year we said that after our many survey polls conducted in the whole world, it was possible, if one weights the results of these surveys (the answers in favor of the traditional Mass are probably, for a certain number of Catholics, a sort of “protest vote” against the form of religion the clergy has been imposing on them), to think that at least 10% of Catholics on the planet, i.e., 130 million laymen, wished to live their Catholic faith within the traditional liturgy of the Latin Church. This percentage is more plausible if one takes into account that, in a country like France, the statistical floor of Catholics who always attend the traditional Mass, irrespective of accessibility, is 6%.
The same applies to priests as to the laity. Our claims were founded not on statistics but on opinion polls, although the consensus among sociologists is that they are, when all is said and done, a very good indication. It turns out that our most recent survey polls, which were conducted in 2019 in Korea and in the USA, give even higher results than the survey polls we had conducted for Europe and Latin America. We can therefore at least say that last year’s estimate has been reinforced: over 130 million Catholics in the world aspire to live their Catholicism according to the traditional liturgy.
I have a pretty serene outlook for the future, actually, despite the difficulties that opponents of liturgical peace tirelessly cause their traditional brethren. This liturgical peace is the first condition of true peace in the Church. People often worry that what one pope—Benedict XVI—has done, another may undo. I’ll first point out that the motu proprio of Benedict XVI and the texts before it merely legitimized a situation that had come into being through the will of traditional laymen. And it is clear today that the usus antiquior and all that comes with it and all that it undergirds, especially as far as concerns the teaching of the catechism, can no longer be buried or set aside. The Tridentine liturgical family henceforth constitutes an unavoidable group within the Catholic universe, today and tomorrow.
Let us return now to El Grillo, who claims: “It no longer makes sense to enact decrees to ‘reform’ a rite that is closed in the historical past, inert and crystallized, lifeless and without vigor. There can be no resuscitation for it.”
In light of decades of attending the Latin Mass myself, traveling widely for speaking engagements, reading avidly, and taking seriously the statistics, I have three reactions to these desperate claims.
My definitive response, however, may be found in the form of eight limericks.
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:
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.
How Francis is Attempting to Complete the Destruction of the Church Begun by Paul VI.
[I drafted the following text on August 6, 2016, but never published it. When reviewing it and slightly updating it in December 2019, I was struck by how much worse the situation has become since the summer of 2016, and how all of my evaluations had been confirmed by subsequent events. Although this document could be considerably expanded, it is better to leave it as a brisk pencil portrait of a Roman Pontiff who would beat the worst Renaissance popes at their own game.]
IT HAS BECOME fashionable to say that Pope Francis is not a liturgical revolutionary. It’s true that he did not rush at the traditional rites of the Church with jackhammer and dynamite the way Paul VI did, leaving a pile of rubble and a sign marked (with mordant irony) “Renewal.” But in his own more devious way, he has made a series of strategic moves that seek to canonize the revolution and immobilize the opposition.
The English American author Roger Buck, who with his wife Kim now lives in the land of St. Patrick, has become an eloquent prophet of Ireland’s unique blessings and accelerating decadence, a lens through which he views the story of the Church in the West. In three gripping books—two whimsical novels set in Ireland and featuring a mysterious character known as Gilbert Tracey or the Gentle Traditionalist, and a moving philosophical autobiography—Buck describes a circuitous path of conversion from ardent champion of New Age religion to “the Mystery” that traditional Catholicism has harbored, defended, and offered to a shipwrecked mankind for 2,000 years.
In this article I would like to examine passages in his books that touch on Buck’s growing awareness of the centrality of the traditional Latin Mass to Catholicism as such, and to its “fortunes” in the modern era.