It has been more than a month since Pope Francis, as had been expected in some circles, put limits on the celebration of Mass, in the Roman rite, according to the extraordinary form.
So called “professional Catholics” — clergy, people working for the Church, academics and those of us in Catholic communications — were overtaken by the papal reasonings, details of restricted or approved liturgies and possible responses.
Among the Catholic rank and file, the news was not as earth-shaking. One bishop privately told me that he was struck by how few comments that he heard, by letter, email, telephone or in person, from anyone.
At dinner with five local pastors, young and old, from parishes small and large, about a week after the pope’s document was released, I heard only one say that a parishioner had approached him with a question. The parishioner had watched a news program on EWTN and wondered what was happening.
A chancellor of a metropolitan diocese of about 125,000 Catholics surmised that “a few hundred” Catholics in the diocese were interested, not many.
Most Catholics alive today never saw, or never regularly saw, the liturgy as it was celebrated before Pope St. Paul VI applied current standards as recommended by the great majority of the world’s bishops, sitting as the Second Vatican Council.
These rather low numbers should not obscure the fact that some Catholics are deeply attached to the Latin Mass. They cannot be ignored, and an effective pastoral policy in implementing the new rules and, more broadly, reigniting an understanding of, and a love for, the Eucharist, must learn from their feelings and take them kindly and generously into account.
After all is said and done, obviously persons attached to the Latin Mass, and to regalia and symbols once more numerous in Catholic worship, are fully aware of the liturgy of Paul VI, the “ordinary” form of Catholic worship, but have chosen an alternative — namely, the Latin Mass.
Were such persons of little or no faith, or of vague regard for the Mass, unimpressed by any belief in the mystery and the miracle of the Eucharist, they would not be interested in the Mass at all. They would join so many one-time Catholics who, if data is to be believed, and it seems reliable, are utterly unmoved by the Mass and indeed by much of what the Church offers.
This is not the case with many, perhaps most, of those who prefer the Latin Mass. They cannot be dismissed as insincere or trapped by incidentals.
The question must be asked and answered. Every Catholic knows the now long-standing “ordinary” form of the Mass, but some Catholics have looked for, and found, something else. Why?
In their minds, what is the “ordinary” lacking? Or, more precisely, what does the “extraordinary” provide?
Liturgy, while divine in its character and in its purpose, is a human activity, albeit prompted by faith. Are components humanly inexpressive or uninspiring, at least for some? What? Why?
It is interesting. The movement among Church leaders, scholars, pastors and ordinary folk, for generations, that eventually led to the enactment by St. Paul VI of a new ritual, after four centuries, in the Roman rite, resulted from the judgment that the old was leaving people bored or uninvolved in the true nature and object of the Mass. They were drifting away.
Many attempts were made before the Second Vatican Council to remedy this situation — better presentation, and awareness, of Gregorian chant, better access to the biblical readings at Mass, elimination of wordiness and duplication, the “dialogue Mass,” restructuring rubrically the highly meaningful liturgies of Holy Week, and so on.
For those who love the Latin Mass, it may be that we are coming around full circle, but whatever is the case, we need to know. The faith of Catholics who treasure the Latin Mass should summon all to an interest.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s chaplain.