All hands on the Roman deck

ConsecrationAttention everyone who cares about MSM coverage of debates in modern Catholicism: Please help us watch, in the next 48 hours or so, how major newspapers cover a big story that is breaking right now. In fact, this story may run through the weekend because the visuals should be interesting, which may even lead to television coverage.

What’s the story? Here we go, starting with the Catholic News Service report from Rome:

Pope Benedict XVI is preparing to expand permission to use the Tridentine Mass, the pre-Vatican II rite favored by traditionalist groups, said an informed Vatican source.

The pope is expected to issue a document “motu proprio,” or on his own initiative, which will address the concerns of “various traditionalists,” said the source, who asked not to be named. The source said the new permission, or indult, was a papal decision, but was being done in cooperation with agencies of the Roman Curia. …

The Tridentine rite is currently available to groups of Catholics who ask and receive permission for its use from their local bishops. The old rite is celebrated in Latin and follows the Roman Missal of 1962, which was replaced in 1969 with the new Roman Missal.

Let me emphasize that this is a very hot, symbolic story for the Catholic left as well as for traditionalists. The big change would be removing bishops on the left from the decision-making process. They are going to howl, with good reason.

Now there is going to be a very interesting vocabulary issue in coverage of this issue, and we can see hints in the early Associated Press coverage by Victor L. Simpson. Note, in the following, the use of the word “reforms.” Reforms are, of course, good and anyone who overturns or weakens said “reforms” must, therefore, be doing something bad. Thus we see:

Pope Benedict XVI has decided to loosen restrictions on use of the old Latin Mass, making a major concession to ultraconservatives who split with the Vatican to protest liberalizing reforms, a Vatican official said Wednesday.

And there is this:

The late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre founded the Swiss-based Society of St. Pius X in 1969 in opposition to the reforms of the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council, particularly allowing Mass to be celebrated in local languages instead of Latin. The Vatican excommunicated Lefebvre in 1988 after he consecrated four bishops without Rome’s consent.

Ah, so there is a chance that newspapers that view this story from a strictly modernist point of view — there are, I imagine, few high-Mass Catholics in the typical newsroom — may even say that Pope Benedict XVI is “dividing” the modern church or bowing his knee (or words to that effect) to schismatics.

So what would the opposite be? They could say that liberalized use of the Latin Mass represents a nod to diversity. It can even be a sign of unity in multilingual parishes. No, honestly.

So help us watch this story in the days ahead. And, of course, you can cruise over to Catholic blogger Amy Welborn’s Open Book for all the updates there.

Print Friendly

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Dan

    What I suspect will be missed in the reporting is how many ordinary, non-Labebvreist orthodox Catholics feel that the liturgy has degenerated since Vatican II and the so-called “reforms” have been a disaster. I will be interested to see if the MSM reports on any of the positive qualities of the Tridentine Mass: its beauty, its timelessness, and the sense of connection to the Church’s origins and entire subsequent history that an unchanging liturgy provides.

  • Dan Crawford

    Having worshipped for the first 21 years of my life at Tridentine Masses and having discovered at the age of 16 (having studied Lating for three years) that the Mass in Latin could be a beautiful experience when celebrated in a monastery or a convent where the chant was sung as it should be sung, and where the Mass texts were spoken reverently (not as one normally heard them spoken), I am somewhat surprised by the resurgence of nostalgia regarding the Tridentine Rite. Parishes in the 40s and 50s rarely celebrated the rites well or correctly.

    My father, a pious Catholic who dearly loved the Mass, attended an English language Easter Uniate service a year before the changes wrought by Vatican II and wondered why it took Rome so long to use the language of the people. What could I say? Except for the Consecration, most people regarded the Mass as a kind of backdrop for other devotions.

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    Does this hook in, in any way, with the new, more traditional English translation of the Mass? Also being done very much at the prodding of Benedict, yes?

  • E

    I went to a Tridentine Mass for the first time this summer, after attending two fantastic Novus Ordo parishes since I had become Catholic. I was not impressed. The priest mumbled through most of it, and the altar servers barked their responses so quickly you couldn’t understand them.

    There are parishes out there (and mine is one of them) that use the Novus Ordo Mass in English but do it reverently, and without the more questionable VII “reforms.” No guitar music, no songs written in the 1960s and 70s, but good, traditional music and even some smatterings of Latin and Greek. “Kyrie Eleison” is sung in Greek every week. The Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei are sung in Latin on holidays and during the more solemn seasons. The priest uses the incense every week. “Smells and bells,” indeed.

    And as tradition-minded as I am, if my choice is between a poorly done Tridentine Mass or my parish’s well done Novus Ordo one, I will gladly attend my parish’s regular Masses. I don’t think I’m alone in that sentiment.

  • Jordan Hawley

    You certainly are blessed on this site with an extraordinary group of experts. Dan Crawford assures us that “Parishes in the 40s and 50s rarely celebrated the rites well or correctly,” and “Except for the Consecration, most people regarded the Mass as a kind of backdrop for other devotions.” I’m sure Mr. Crawford’s pronouncements are backed up with painstaking, objective research.
    Many readers are no doubt equally impressed with E’s pithy verdict on the Mass of the Ages: “I was not impressed.” E locuta est, causa finita est.
    So you fine Catholics are happy (not to mention smug, condescending, and judgmental) at your Novus Ordo parishes. Good for you. Why can you not also be happy that other Catholics, who love the classical Roman rite, might finally have their persecution eased? If you are “not impressed” by the Mass of the Ages, just stay away!
    The suppression, by force, of the Missal of Pius V was the nadir of the prideful destruction of the 1960s. As a certain high-ranking Catholic, with whom you are undoubtedly familiar, said a few years ago: “I am of the opinion that the old rite should be granted much more generously to all those who desire it. It is impossible to see what could be dangerous or unacceptable about that. A community is calling its very being into question when it declares that what was its holiest and highest possession is strictly forbidden and when it makes the longing for it seem downright indecent.”

  • Roberto Rivera

    There are parishes out there (and mine is one of them) that use the Novus Ordo Mass in English but do it reverently, and without the more questionable VII “reforms.” No guitar music, no songs written in the 1960s and 70s, but good, traditional music and even some smatterings of Latin and Greek. “Kyrie Eleison” is sung in Greek every week. The Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei are sung in Latin on holidays and during the more solemn seasons. The priest uses the incense every week. “Smells and bells,” indeed.

    You are describing my parish in Alexandria, VA. The Novus Ordo mass is done so well that I feel no particular interest to attend the 12:30 Tridentine Mass even though I’m sure that it’s also done well.

  • Martha

    I’d be taking this story with a grain of salt, to say the least.

    Every so often a hopeful balloon on this topic goes up, attributed to an ‘inside source’, which boils down to a lot of wishful thinking and ‘well, I was talking to a priest who said yeah, it’d be great if it happened’ et voila! you have your story of high-up and/or informed sources saying this is going to appear any minute now!

    It’s also not a question of the Pope saying “Fire away, boys”: it’s up to each bishop in his diocese to give permission, and some of the bishops are not at all keen on the revival of the Tridentine rite, for various reasons.

  • cheryl

    This was the front-page, above-the-fold story in today’s Pittsburgh Tribune Review:

    My impression based on most of the MSM coverage I’ve seen thus far (including this story) is that the move is being depicted as a “concession to ultra-conservative Catholics.” The Tribune Review no longer has a religion beat reporter, for what that’s worth.

    I think Amy Welborn has been doing a good clarifying other elements of the story, such as the Pope’s interest in perhaps “cross-pollinating” the current Novus Ordo mass. As she also pointed out, many of the most ardent traditionalists won’t be happy anyway, for a host of other reasons.

    However, I think we’ll continue to see MSM stories along the lines of this one, that is, “ultra-conservative pope doing more ultra-conservative things to appeal to ultra-conservative Catholics.” And that’s a shame, because there’s a lot more to this story.

  • Richard

    I’m glad that some have the opportunity to attend reverent, even latinized Novus Ordos – I do myself, in fact – but we ought to bear in mind this is still very much the exception to the rule for most dioceses, where Gather hymnals, regiments of EME’s, altar girls, and liturgical improvisation are the rule of the day.

    Even so, real issues remain with the Novus Ordo in principle which one hopes that a “reform of the reform” will eventually address – i.e., the at-times badly deformed collects of the propers and the new lectionary. It’s not just a translation problem. The theology of the N.O. prayers greatly deemphasizes the sense of original sin, the distinction between the sacred and the profane, God’s action versus our own, and the timelessness of its truths.

    This isn’t to simply bash the N.O. Just to recognize, rather, what we already knew: that the N.O. was formulated with great haste, and too little respect and understanding for the liturgical traditions it was drawing on. There is no reason it can’t be reformed along the lines envisioned by the Council Fathers in Sacrosanctum Concilium.

  • Maureen

    I’m not holding my breath for this to happen. The rumors have been wrong too many times before. But if it happens, of course it will be a good thing. We’re Catholics. We’re supposed to have diversity of (orthodox) practices within the central unity.

    If the Church can keep the Ambrosian Rite in Milan alive for sixteen or seventeen centuries, why shouldn’t she allow people to do the Tridentine, too?

    Personally, I’m happy or at least unworried about it all. But then, I figure it’s time to get worked up about stuff when I see it, not when it’s just a rumor or something still several years down the pike.

  • Thomas

    Perhaps this is only nit-pickery, since you no doubt are aware of the difference, but to people who do not know this is a confusing matter: I noticed that in the article you refer to the 1962 Missal as “the Latin Mass” as though it were a defining characteristic of the 1970 Missal (“the new Mass”) that it wasn’t in Latin. I know that many people, in fact, would not even notice the differences between the two editions of the Roman Missal if they were both said in Latin. This is related to why a translation was authorized in the first place – it is an apostolic endeavor to open the prayers of the Mass to people who don’t get Latin. If you allow links in comments, here is Pope Paul VI on this:

    Despite the fact that you scarcely ever hear a word of Latin in a typical parish, it has always been licit (just looked askance upon by enough people) for priests to say part or all of the Mass in Latin. The thing that requires special permission is to celebrate Mass according to the 1962 Missal, for which there are no approved translations. The Latin text is considered the authoritative edition of the 1970 Missal, and the reason why a new translation is being prepared is because the current English version was judged not to be up to par in reflecting the meaning of the Latin.

  • Dennis Colby

    I once had an editor who banned all use of the word “reform.” But the changes to the Mass were reforms, were they not? What other words should the dreaded, anti-Catholic “MSM” use?

    This issue is incredibly complicated and it will be interesting to see whether it actually pans out; as a number of people have noted, this is not the first time an “inside source” at the Vatican has wistfully pined for the Tridentine Rite.

    However, if it does come to pass, I think loyal Get Religion readers would do well to watch for the use and misuse of terms like “Latin Mass” and “Novus Ordo.” Also note whether Lefebvre’s tinfoil hat crowd allows lines like the AP’s (“The Vatican excommunicated Lefebvre in 1988 after he consecrated four bishops without Rome’s consent”) to go uncontested. To this day, I believe the SSPX insists Lefebvre was not excommunicated and that they’re not in schism.

    Some attention from the media to this interesting area of Catholic life is most welcome. Let’s not all make up our minds that the hated liberals who rule newsrooms with an iron, post-conciliar fist are going to play any indult as a lamentable concession to “ultraconservatives.” I’ve read Tridentine and Latin Mass coverage in papers that treats local manifestations like a cute throwback novelty devoid of sinister overtones. My guess is that’s what most of the local coverage of this will look like.

  • Will

    Based on my visit to the Mass of the Society of St. Pius X (which I think is now run by the breakway-breakaway Order of St. Pius V), the people who went there looking for the “old mass” were indeed using it as a backdrop for other devotions (i.e., rosary), as the priest literally mumbled his hocus-pocus (in the original sense), even in the parts which were supposed to be said “aloud”. I left thinking there was a great deal to be said for Luther’s animadversations of “the abominations of the secret mass” after all.

  • Colin

    Roberto, would you mind sharing the name of your parish in Alexandria, VA? I live in Arlington and would be interested in visiting.


  • James

    I am lucky enough to attend a reverend NO parish, although I do assist at Tridentine Masses both inside and outside the parish.

    I think that the real story is that the immediate effect will be very small. There is already a large amount of latitude in the NO for the priest to face towards the Altar or say the canon of the Mass in Latin. How frequently is this done?

    Even in my parish, a parish where the priest never concelebrates and refuses to give communion in the hand we have Latin chants at a main Mass on only one week a month. That apart the canon is never in Latin at an NO Mass. The Mass is always said facing the people. This is one of the most conservative priests in the diocese, and one known in neighbouring dioceses for an apparent granite conservatism. He also regularly says the Tridentine Mass.

    So why does he not use the powers that he already has to “trad up” the NO Mass? I’m not sure whether it’s personal conviction, fear of losing congregants, worries about prominent worshippers complaining or problems with the bishop. However I know that he doesn’t do it, and very, very few priests do.

    The Tridentine Mass will make progress, but over a couple of generations. Don’t expect it to happen overnight.

  • Will

    Clarify… I meant, specifically, the New York Group, which worships at the Hotel Warwick.

  • Roberto Rivera

    Roberto, would you mind sharing the name of your parish in Alexandria, VA? I live in Arlington and would be interested in visiting


    St. Lawrence the Martyr on Franconia Road (between Springfield Mall and Van Dorn). It’s mentioned in today’s Washington Post.

  • Chris

    I left thinking there was a great deal to be said for Luther’s animadversations of “the abominations of the secret mass” after all.

    Will, you would do yourself a great favor to read some history of the mass, starting with most any book on the topic by Michael Davies. Some parts are silent, in the TM and NO to this day, for a variety of reasons.

    Also, I refer you to Mediator Dei by Pope Pius XII who addresses the issue of praying devotions during the Mass, in particular the rosary. While not ideal, he said it was sufficient participation in the Holy Mass and he, in fact, sought to protect their proclivity to do so. There are many other wonderful things and warnings in Mediator Dei, that unfortunately came to pass, ie, deliberate de-emphasis of the Holy Sacrifice and emphasis of the meal concept. While both are present, the fact of Sacrifice must take precedence.

    You will notice, from Trid church to Trid church, slight local differences. I have been attending for the last 12 years and have personally never witnessed a near-entire congregation reciting the rosary while the priest said mass. For me, it has been either silent reverence, dialogue, or the ideal form, antiphonal singing with the people. Maybe I am just lucky, but I just have to highlight my very pleasant personal experiences.

    By the way, I am 36 years old, and came to love the traditional mass almost immediately at 24 years of age when I attended my first one. My wife and I were married in the old rite 3 years ago, and her friend is getting married this weekend in the old rite, and she is about 25 years old (parents never attended the TM) I was greatly edified by the congregation’s devotion and reverence, not to mention that of the priest’s and altar servers’, something highly appealing to the young in an age devoid of silence, quite meditation, beautiful chants and strong focus on the sacrifice of Christ.

    For me, personally, I would love the universal indult because it obviate the necessity of obtaining an indult from the chancery. On short notice, I could get anywhere from 20 – 50 people, to attend a First Friday devotional Mass at evening hour.

    Thanks for your clarification (regarding the SSPX now SSPV in NYC), but I still think that what you state is not toally accurate. The SSPX celebrate the Mass at the Marines and Sailors Club, or some-such name, every Sunday in NYC.

  • Nick

    Say one Hail Mary.

  • C. Weigel

    There is an angle that no one has yet to explore. That is the growth of orthodoxy in general since the turn of the century. Judaism, Islam and Christianity have all seen an uptick in the interest in “being orthodox.” It is that cross culturally there is a unique desire to get “back on track.” Protestant celebrate the Lord’s Supper in small home groups as the early church did. There is renewed interest in the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Rite churches. Islam and Roman Catholicism both have ultra right groups that have become very vocal in the recent past. One group has guns and one does not but the fervor in my opinion is equal. Research may show that Judaism is seeing a renewed interest in Hasidism as well. Is this a reaction to the modern marvels of the 21st Century and the need to get back to the basics of life, or is it a need for some to get control of an out-of-control world since most of the appeal is the legalism that comes with a rigid rule book. Also is this “reform of a wayward world” just a temporary stop as culturally we fully catch up with the 21st century or will this be a permanent fixture as we go forward.
    Personally I think the Pope feels that the true “reform of the reform” has yet to come but that an appreciation of the past is neccessary before anything permanent can be constructed.