Why you can’t have the Latin Mass

It was five years ago yesterday, 14 September 2007, that Pope Benedict’s motu proprio on the Extraordinary Form of the Mass took effect. Summorum Pontificum was designed to make the Mass in Latin more widely available.

So…how’s that working out?

One blogger, David Alexander, in the Diocese of Arlington, has taken a pretty exhaustive and detailed look at that question and offers some hard numbers about how many people actually want the “Latin Mass” — and what can be done about it. Among other things, it’s a matter of supply and demand.


The realities of supply, especially when it is limited, are usually the result of demand. For our first case in point, we turn to the Buckeye State of Ohio, to the area where I was raised.

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Ohio, has an estimated 500,000 baptized Catholics. They are spread out over an area in the southwestern portion of Ohio that comprises nineteen counties. The territory is over fifty miles in length running east to west, and over one hundred miles running north to south. Sitting roughly in the middle is the city of Dayton, where a priest of the Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP) offers the Traditional Mass every day of the week, at a magnificent urban parish church, Holy Family. Once slated for closing, it is now dedicated to this apostolate, and is thriving.

Hold that thought.

Of the half million baptized Catholics, let us suppose (for want of a better method) that ONE PERCENT of them would drive for up to an hour to attend the Traditional Mass. That gives us a total of 5,000. However dedicated, they are nonetheless very small in number relative to the whole. With a central location devoted to them on a daily basis, and a second one in another high-population area for Sundays, one would ask if they are adequately served. Five thousand souls produces more than enough for two good-sized parishes. You would think that the number alone would justify making it available in more locations, wouldn’t you?

To answer that question poses another: how is either meeting the demand? Holy Family in Dayton has about three hundred attendees on average, and the church building they use is nearly half full. Sacred Heart Church in Cincinnati has about two hundred attendees on average for its Traditional Mass, and it is about half full. That would put the number at about five hundred, or ONE TENTH OF ONE PERCENT of the faithful. The location in Cincinnati uses a rotating schedule of priests from outside the parish, but both locations begin before noon. If the attendance were merely to double or to triple, you might have a good case for expansion, ergo the support of yet another parish. But for whatever reason, it has not.

But what if the numbers didn’t matter? Surely if it were already more available, people would be drawn to it like bees to honey. For that, we look at the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, with just over 400,000 faithful, in 68 parishes and missions. This diocese is very fortunate, in that the Traditional Latin Mass is offered every Sunday at EIGHT locations. A generous estimate of regular attendees at all locations put together would be around 1,300, or roughly ONE THIRD OF ONE PERCENT of the faithful, availing themselves of that which is provided by just under TWELVE PERCENT of the parishes and missions of the diocese.

While the latter does represent an increase in demand per capita, not to mention that roughly one-eighth of the parishes of the diocese make this increase possible, its small numbers hardly make it a dramatic trend — for the moment.

There’s much more, and it’s well worth a read.  Check it out.

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