Monsignor Charles Pope has written an article that’s created quite a stir in the Traditionalist world. It’s been received with glee in some entirely expected quarters. It seems that, according to Monsignor, the movement for the Traditional Mass has plateaued – or is even fizzling out. The remedy has to be that Traditionalists have to commit to evangelization (which they apparently did not practice before?).
Now Monsignor Pope is a priest of the Washington DC Archdiocese and seems to have a keen interest in evangelization. He is an assiduous blogger – I believe he has gotten into trouble with the powers that be in his Archdiocese for at least one post. Moreover, he is archdiocesan coordinator for the Traditional Latin Mass – even though said Mass appears not to be a feature of the liturgical life of his own parish.
Let me say that I agree with our author’s basic point: Traditional Catholics need to do more evangelization. I have seen over and over again how a promising Traditional Mass has been organized at this or that parish. It remains an affair of a Low Mass on Sundays. And then, after a few years – or sometimes sooner – it is terminated by action of the original pastor or because of a personnel change in the rectory. It has been disappointing to see the failure of the Latin Mass to spread more widely. This is a topic that needs to be honestly addressed.
But having said that, I have to point out that Monsignor Pope’s article exhibits severe deficiencies.
First, some of the factual statements he makes – based on “anecdotal” evidence, to be sure – are grossly misleading. For starters, Monsignor Pope adduces as an example of Traditionalist failure a church that burned down in Chicago and which the Chicago Archdiocese does not wish to rebuild. But that parish was a relatively recent startup, was primarily a shrine and the headquarters of a religious order, and is located in an absolutely terrible neighborhood. So it was not relying on a congregation of 200 for its existence – a parish population that, considering the circumstances, might have represented an achievement. And, contrary to the impression given in this article, those 200 parishioners are not the sum of Traditionalist Catholics in the Chicago Archdiocese – there are a number of other very successful apostolates, at least one dating back several decades.
The author further claims that:
“One of our parishes generously offers a Solemn High Mass once a month on Sunday afternoon, a Mass that I myself have celebrated for over 25 years. But we have gone from seeing the church almost full, to two-thirds full, to now only about one-third full.”
This can hardly be taken as representative of the recent development of the celebration of the Traditional liturgy. I don’t recall any churches celebrating Traditional Masses 20-25 years ago that were ”almost full” except on unique and special occasions. I don’t recall “Solemn Masses” being regularly celebrated anywhere in the pre-Summorum Pontificum era – does Monsignor Pope mean a Missa Cantata? And I certainly don’t remember them “thriving” in 1995.
Now this site contains some data on the situation in the New York area that, although incomplete, goes beyond the merely anecdotal. Let us look at the number of parishes that celebrate the Traditional liturgy on Christmas. It’s a good place to start because such parishes exhibit a commitment to the Traditional Mass going beyond one celebration each week on Sunday – or even at more infrequent intervals.
2007 9 parishes (First year of Summorum Pontificum; without NJ)
2011 22 (Christmas falls on a Sunday)
Now, according to this admittedly quite incomplete listing, the number of parishes celebrating Traditional Mass on Christmas has remained stable at 16-20 over the years. Traditional Masses at some churches cease to be celebrated for one reason or another – new ones take their place. But numbers do not tell the whole story – the quality of the celebrations has radically changed. On the one hand there are parishes that have perpetuated the situation found in 2005 under the Ecclesia Dei regime. They usually celebrate one Low Mass or Missa Cantata each week, have limited congregations and a local frame of reference. As such, they remain subject the whims of the pastor and of the diocese for their continued existence. One thinks of the masses that have been terminated in the recent past at the church of Our Saviour in New York or at the Basilica of St. John in Stamford.
On the other hand, there are several parishes – like Holy Innocents in New York or St. Mary’s Norwalk, CT – that have taken full advantage of Summorum Pontificum and have developed a life centered on the Traditional liturgy. These parishes aim to have the Traditional Mass celebrated on all major feasts or even daily – and vespers as well. The Solemn High liturgy with complete music and ceremonial is regularly celebrated. And the laity is involved in all aspects of the life of the parish – starting with the large contingent of acolytes serving at the Mass. These parishes are routinely full. And all this does indeed presuppose continued efforts at evangelization – though personal contact, on the Internet and in the various media.
Monsignor Pope seems to be unaware of this new liturgical life. He des not mention Summorum Pontificum. He takes as his model a parish “generously” offering a Traditional Mass at 2 PM on a Sunday afternoon. That may have been the paradigm in 1995 or 2005; it certainly is no longer the case.
Monsignor Pope also does not mention that the Traditional Mass still remains subject to severe restrictions – especially regarding the participation of the clergy. Seminarians regularly face retaliation for participating in Latin Masses; the same is true of members of religious orders. At this site we often are asked that certain people not be photographed or that the celebrants of liturgies not be named. And in one recent case the celebration of the liturgy itself remained secret! It is a phenomenon that has grown, not diminished in the last five years. And we are aware that on several occasions over the years those religious orders, which celebrate the Traditional liturgy, have been refused admittance to certain dioceses.
We could add that there are other reasons, not unique to Traditionalism, why the growth to the Traditional Mass may have stabilized. For Traditional Catholics are not as separate from the surrounding environment of the Church as they perhaps imagine themselves to be. If we look about us, the evangelization activity emanating from the average Catholic parish verges on the nonexistent. Traditional Catholics unfortunately only share this post-conciliar stupor and passivity. In the last couple of years we could add the demoralizing effect of what is going on in the Vatican. For when the “Bishop of Rome” is almost daily reported to be altering – or even denouncing as unchristian – rules on topics such as marriage and homosexuality that seemed immutable, negative consequences for the practice of the Catholic faith will surely follow. We already have “anecdotal” evidence of that.
One final aspect of this article – perhaps unintentional on the part of the author – is not a little disturbing to me. It is the contrast that emerges between a clergy, which deals with administration, money and numbers of “attendees,” and a Catholic laity – blissfully unaware of such constraints- that is devoted to schools, churches and even the beauty of the liturgy. There is an air of condescension for the Traditionalist “niche” players, whose number may not be large enough to attract the attention of the Archdiocese. I sense a return to the 1960’s model of clerical discourse, with “initiated” clergy enlightening a benighted laity attached to its old forms. And this totally uninspiring presentation of the priest primarily as a bureaucrat or administrator – although I believe it to be largely accurate – is itself exceedingly damaging to evangelization.
That many members of the Traditional Catholic milieu need to start more actively reaching out to their fellow Catholics and to the world at large I readily admit. We have seen that certain parishes have already shown the way. But, as this article also reveals, the lack of growth of the Traditionalist Catholic movement as well the decline of religious practice in of the Church as a whole have reasons that go far beyond a lack of commitment by the laity.