Move against Latin Mass seems disproportionate

Move against Latin Mass seems disproportionate Pope Francis holds his crosier as he celebrates Mass marking World Day of the Poor in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Nov. 15, 2020. Photo: CNS
A much greater threat to the unity of the Church is what is going on in the likes of Germany, writes David Quinn

Personally, I do not attend the Latin Mass. I have been to three or four in my adult life, and one of them was a funeral. The others I attended mainly out of spiritual and intellectual curiosity. The Traditional Latin Mass (TLM), as it is sometimes called, was, after all, the form of the Mass of the Church almost everywhere in the world for centuries. It would seem ignorant not to know more about something that formed such a central role in the lives of Catholics for so long. Many in this country risked their freedom, or even their lives, by attending it when the faith was suppressed in Ireland.

The new form emphasises community and is intended to be more grounded and familiar”

The Latin Mass, sometimes also called the ‘Extraordinary Form’, was replaced after the Second Vatican Council by Pope Paul VI with the form (the ‘Ordinary Form’) we are all familiar with today.

The Mass is now in the language of the local church, not Latin, the priest faces the congregation rather than having his back to the congregation. In the old form, the priest and worshippers all faced God together.

The old form emphasised transcendence and mystery. The new form emphasises community and is intended to be more grounded and familiar.

The two forms, in my view, have their strengths and drawbacks. I like that I can understand what is being said at Mass. I don’t mind the priest facing the congregation.

On the other hand, it is strange to be hostile to a form of the Mass that was in use for centuries. Latin was used because it is the universal language of the Church, and a sign of unity. There is nothing wrong per se with the priests facing the same way as the congregation.

Emphasising mystery and transcendence has a lot to recommend it.

To openly dislike the Latin Mass is, in many ways, to have disdain for how the vast majority of Catholics worshipped down the centuries.

A common complaint against the new form of the Mass (which is now more than 50 years old) is that it is boring. But I remember the same complaint from older people about the old form of the Mass as well.

In both instances, a lot depends on how well the liturgy is conducted.

New form

After the introduction of the new form of the Mass, a small minority of Catholics preferred to attend Mass in the old form. But often they were barely tolerated by their bishops, if that.

Pope John Paul II allowed them more freedom and then Pope Benedict permitted them still more. Those who attend the Latin Mass felt appreciated by Rome and no longer believed they existed under duress and according to the good graces of their local bishop.

Pope Francis has now rescinded those freedoms. In a document released last week, he has once again given bishops the power to bring an end to the old Latin Mass in their dioceses if they so wish.

He says that Pope Benedict gave the old form more freedom because he believed it would add to the unity of the Church by making adherents of the Latin Mass feel less alienated.

But Pope Francis believes this isn’t how it has worked out. He believes the Latin Mass can be a sign of disunity and therefore must be restricted.

He appears to be hoping that some bishops will rescind the current permissions to celebrate the Latin Mass in their own dioceses, and will not grant new permissions.

New instruction

Crucially, he has said that any priest ordained after the date of his new instruction (July 16) will have to seek special permission from his bishop to offer the old Mass, and the bishop in turn will have to seek the authorisation of Rome.

If Rome withholds this permission, then the Latin Mass will fade away because the priests who are currently allowed to say it will simply die off.

Is this justified? It would be if there was clear evidence that within the Latin Mass movement schismatic and extreme tendencies are widespread.

For example, how many who attend the Latin Mass reject the Second Vatican Council? How many are deeply hostile to the present Pope?

Let’s see how the planned synod in Ireland is conducted and how divisive that might turn out to be”

It is certainly true that those who attend the Latin Mass tend to be very traditional-minded and some are highly critical of the present less tradition-minded Pope and prefer his two immediate predecessors.

But then, many liberal Catholics intensely disliked both John Paul II and Benedict XVI and made no secret of the fact.

In Britain, Latin Mass attendees tend to be conservative in their politics also. It would be safe to bet that the vast majority voted in favour of Brexit, for example.

But here in Ireland it would also be safe to bet that the vast majority of Latin Mass attendees voted against the repeal of the pro-life amendment, whereas a third of regular Mass-goers in general voted for repeal, according to opinion polls.

Latin Mass devotees who roundly reject the Second Vatican Council are, indeed, schismatic. But how many do so, as distinct from being critical of some of the out-workings of that council, especially in the areas of liturgy, or perhaps aspects of ecumenism?

Plenty of liberal Catholics disliked the First Vatican Council but on its own that did not make them schismatics.

A much greater threat to the unity of the Church than the Latin Mass movement is what is going on in the likes of Germany with its ongoing synod. That synod looks set to challenge or reject fundamental Church teaching across multiple areas. That would be hugely problematic.

Let’s see how the planned synod in Ireland is conducted and how divisive that might turn out to be.

There is nothing inherently schismatic about attending the Latin Mass. It is a valid form of the Mass. Catholics are allowed to have deeply traditional views and to vote for conservative parties.

Does strong evidence exist that many Latin Mass attendees are going further than this and are posing a threat to the unity of the Church?

If not, then the new move by Rome seems disproportionate, especially given the other threats to unity that exist, not least the fact that many self-professed Catholics no longer believe what their Church teaches across a whole range of areas, both moral and doctrinal. This reality is very rarely confronted. Instead it tends to be filed in the ‘too difficult’ tray.