Latin Mass: Why did NYTimes avoid rite’s liberal enemies?

There is this old, old, old saying that you will often hear quoted in discussions of worship trends in the modern and postmodern Catholic church. It goes like this.

Question: What is the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist?

Answer: You can negotiate with a terrorist.

Now, you either get that joke or you don’t. If you get that joke, then you probably are the kind of person who cares a whole lot about discussions of why Catholics can’t sing anymore, why so few men go to Mass and why it matters whether people are allowed to kneel when receiving Holy Communion. On that latter subject, I once wrote:

While it is hard to explain to outsiders, one of the most fascinating battles in the American Catholic church today is the one that pits the kneelers vs. the non-kneelers. I refer, of course, to the issue of whether bishops should — bowing to the modernization of ancient rites — attempt to prevent the faithful from kneeling before the altar as they receive Holy Communion during the Mass.

Let me explain: If people are allowed to kneel, that would mean that the Latin Mass is coming back and the next thing you know the pope will be seeking draconian student-life codes on Catholic campuses that prevent student funds from being used for activities that directly attack Catholic doctrine. It would be like the reforms of the Second Vatican Council never happened (or the spirit of the council has been quenched or something like that). Horrors.

Yes, note the reference to the Latin Mass.

You see, there are millions of Catholics who really, really, really hate the modern, post-Vatican II rite that is used in the vast majority of Catholic parishes. I am serious about the word “hate.”

At the same time, there are plenty of Catholics wearing Roman collars — some of them professional liturgists in dioceses across America and around the world — who really hate (I think “distrust” is too mild a word) the many Catholics who love very traditional forms of liturgy and, especially, the traditional Tridentine Mass. It also annoys these Catholic professionals that so many of the Latin lovers are older Catholics with checkbooks and a fierce dedication to sacramental life. Period.

With all that in mind, please consider the recent New York Times report — OK, it has been in my guilt file for some time — that ran under this double-decker headline:

Manhattan Parish Draws Attention of Conservative Catholics and the Church

Church of the Holy Innocents, Home of the City’s Only Daily Latin Mass, Might Close

Here is the top of the report:

As the Rev. Justin Wylie took the pulpit at the Church of the Holy Innocents in Manhattan last month, anger and anxiety emanated from the pews. Parishioners, who rely on the church to offer a daily traditional Latin Mass, were about to meet to discuss an archdiocesan panel’s recommendation to close their church, and some were talking about schism.

“I worry about the situation of traditional Catholics in the archdiocese,” Father Wylie, a visiting priest, said in his sermon,
articulating their concerns. “No longer, I say, should you think of yourselves as squatters in the mighty edifice of the Holy Church, nor should you find yourselves turned out like squatters.”

It was an unusual moment of open criticism by a Roman Catholic priest of church policy in New York. And the reaction was swift. Within two weeks, Father Wylie was reprimanded by the New York Archdiocese and in short order dismissed from his job as attaché at the Mission of the Holy See at the United Nations, where he negotiated human rights issues on the Vatican’s behalf.

And the kicker:

The actions taken against Father Wylie offer a glimpse of how sensitive the New York Archdiocese is to dissent, particularly from inside the church, as it weighs the closing of potentially dozens of churches in a sweeping consolidation of its parishes. But the episode has also taken on broader significance, because the parish involved is Holy Innocents, the only church in New York City to offer the 444-year-old Tridentine, or Latin, Mass daily, making it a beloved institution among a small but vocal community of traditionalist Catholics across the country.

Yes, this leads to Pope Francis and what the Times team, unfortunately, calls his “less doctrinaire style” of running the church. Look up “doctrinaire” and you will see that this is not the word the editors were looking for, since Francis has made no moves to water down or edit traditional Catholic doctrines. He is, however, not known as a fan of traditional forms of liturgy.

The story also deals with the fact that Pope Benedict XVI became a hero to those who loved the older Latin Mass. Why?

Benedict in 2007 affirmed that all Catholics had the right to celebrate the Latin Mass whenever they wished, lifting restrictions that followed the Second Vatican Council. The next year, the Rev. Thomas Kallumady, then pastor of Holy Innocents, invited a lay group of traditionalists to begin offering one Latin Mass a week at the church, a historic Gothic structure on West 37th Street. The experiment was successful, and by 2010, the church was the only one in the city to offer the Latin Mass daily.

The story does a fine job of noting that these Latin Masses have helped rejuvenate this parish, in terms of increasing attendance 300 percent and in its finances. The church operates at a surplus and has active social ministries.

So why close the parish?

At this point, readers should have been asking: Wait, isn’t Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York one of the American church’s most conservative leaders? Why is he clashing with conservative Catholics?

That would be a very good question: One that is never addressed in this otherwise fine story. That matters.

This is especially true in light of the stunning developments in the life and career of Wylie, after he spoke up and said the archdiocese had a responsibility to take care of those who love the traditional Mass. This is long, but it helps to read the details:

On May 30, Bishop-elect John O’Hara of New York, who is overseeing the parish consolidation process, sent Father Wylie a stern reprimand for criticizing the archdiocese, with copies to Father Wylie’s superior at the Vatican Embassy in New York, Archbishop Francis A. Chullikatt; Father Wylie’s archbishop in Johannesburg; and Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, said a spokesman for the diocese, Joseph Zwilling. …

The letter also threatened to revoke Father Wylie’s ability to celebrate Mass in New York, a rare punishment, according to a person who had seen the letter but spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from church officials. But Mr. Zwilling said he did not know whether the letter went that far.

Archbishop Chullikatt dismissed Father Wylie after receiving the letter in early June and told him he should immediately cease all public appearances in New York. Archbishop Buti Tlhagale in Johannesburg is now recalling him back to South Africa.

Amazing. And that is that. A decision from Cardinal Dolan on parish closings remains out in the future.

But what is missing from this story? Simply stated, the story tells readers that the Tridentine Mass is controversial and it does some fairly good work dealing with the views of the supporters. That’s good. However, the story never really tells readers anything about the identities and views of those who opposes the Mass. Who are the leaders in the local church structure who would oppose the regular use of this rite in a designated parish? What are their motives?

Well, that’s half the story, isn’t it? I am sure that the Latin Mass lovers have their theories (conspiracies abound on that side of the church aisle) and I am sure that the Times team has legions of progressive Catholic sources and ex-Catholic sources who would be willing to dish — without attribution — on why the Latin Mass is a danger to modern society.

But here is the key question: Why is this such an emotional and symbolic issue on the Catholic left as well as the right? The story offers a sentence of two of vague material on that point. But where are the liberal voices?

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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.

  • Marc Puckett

    My suggestion is that Cardinal Dolan is less a traditionalist than he is a conservative, and that for someone of his age and history ‘being conservative’ means (for some congeries of reasons) taking the whole post-conciliar liturgical mess, the actual reforms as well as the ‘Spirit of Vatican II’-inspired nonsense, as the starting point & so the vetus ordo isn’t ‘conservative’, it’s reactionary! or revolutionary! or against the Spirit of Vatican II! (which is of course laughably tautological). Ask his Eminence if Sacrosanctum Concilium mandated celebration ad populum or interminable standing when we traditionally have knelt, or legions of ‘extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion’, or reception of the Bread of Life via the hand standing instead on the tongue kneeling, or the celebration of the entire Mass in the vernacular. See how he manages the rhetoric that enables him to deal with the fact that the answer to all of those questions is, it didn’t. He has an interest, a vested or institutional interest in maintaining the status in quo, and no amount of Roman encouragement or preaching (pace good Pope Benedict XVI) is going to make him upset his (as he thinks) well-arrayed principality of liturgical creativity.

    The Left is so passionate about the ‘whole post-conciliar liturgical mess’ because it serves their self-interest, their Boomer narcissism, as a perfect vehicle for self-contemplation, the novus ordo as it is so often celebrated. Rightly celebrated, the Pauline liturgy is as much the Mass as the Tridentine, but it was designed for the sensibilities of a generations or two that would prove to be the most self-centered and materialistic in human history and that shows in the way it’s commonly celebrated. God and the perfect Sacrifice of His Son continued in the sacred rites becomes replaced by ‘my community’ absorbed in its own customs, spiritual adventures and secular preoccupations (which latter meshes perfectly, also, with the Leftist vision of a powerful state resolving the quotidian troubles of life).

    • Lori Pieper

      Quite a far-ranging conspiracy theory, Mr. Puckett. As for me, I think Cardinal Dolan probably dislikes the TLM because he associates it with people like you. And yours is only the mildest form of traditionalist hysteria. Truly a shame, because there are many Latin-Mass lovers who aren’t afflicted with it, but have to suffer the consequences of others’ paranoia.

      • tmatt

        And your journalistic comment is?

        • Lori Pieper

          Sorry, tmatt. I did make another comment on the journalism below. And I’m probably being unfair to this guy (who certainly didn’t comment on the journalism either), who obviously feels an emotional need to vent. But his comment gives a great idea of what bishops have to deal with. I’ll leave it there.

          • Manfred Arcane

            “his comment gives a great idea of what bishops have to deal with”?

            Would that the Catholic Church had more people who really care like Puckett, who are interested in liturgy and are zealous for the Church and its survival. I would think the real danger bishops should care about are pedophiles in the church or people who decide which church doctrine they may follow or reject. I would think that the piece lacked liberal voices because those liberal/left wing/apostate critics are against BOTH traditionalists and the Latin Mass and the Church Hierarchy (if the latter is anything other than liberal and affirming of those values that the NYT holds dear).

          • accelerator

            What BISHOPS have to deal with. LOL.

            It also gives a great idea at the frustration felt by traditional Catholics who for years have just wanted to be “Catholic,” but have been swatted down from a succession of Popes and priests. Gee, in the same Church that taught them to prize cult, liturgics, and tradition.I wonder why they could feel so disenfranchised? Maybe Dolan needs to tell them “Bravo!” for being themselves?

          • Lori Pieper

            Please note that I was criticizing Mr. Puckett for his concern for the liturgy. What I am criticizing him — and others — for is:

            Ranting (i.e. making several dozen different accusations at once, generally without supporting evidence. And the accusations generally cut such a wide swath through the Church that they can’t be dealt with cogently).

            Lack of discretion.

            Excessive sarcasm.

            Tendency to blame the bishops for everything. Many priests, religious and complacent laypeople are also involved in liturgical abuses. And the accusations against the bishops are spiteful, rather than rational or helpful.

            Failure to distinguish actual liturgical abuse from things they simply don’t happen to like, which are nonetheless permitted by Rome (such as EMHC’s or guitar Masses or altar girls).

            A self-absorption so great they literally have no idea how they sound to others. What they sound like is crazy. They probably aren’t crazy, but who would know it? If you have good ideas, they can survive calm statement and rational debate.

            This is what frustrates many faithful Catholics and faithful bishops alike.

            I can feel tmatt frowning at me now. Please allow me at least this much of an explanation!

  • Lori Pieper

    As for the whys of omitting the criticism of the TLM from the article, this is the Times, remember? They saw a chance to make Cardinal Dolan and the hierarchy look bad and took it. Including anything that might look like a defense of the Cardinal would upset their desired narrative.

    As for the facts of the case, who really knows what’s going on? Many parishes are being closed, but for reasons of money and demographics. It’s unlikely liturgy is playing a part in it. But the hierarchy tends to feel nervous when the traditionalists feel empowered. It looks to me like Cardinal Dolan has been leaving decisions like hiring and firing pastors to his auxiliary bishops — O’Hara is one of them. He has full powers as a bishop to do this kind of stuff. Cdl Dolan may not have made the initial decision, but allowing this kind of draconian action is unusual for him.

    By the way nobody in the Church is now celebrating the “444-year-old
    Tridentine” Mass. It was revised and reformed many times over the centuries since
    Pope Pius V. The last revised missal of this form of the Roman rite was released
    in 1962, by Pope St. John XXIII, just a couple of years before the
    Council decided to reform the rite again. So the authorized form of the
    TLM is actually technically, the “Mass of St. John XXIII.” Yes, the Mass
    of the Pope of the Council! Typically, many traditionalists tend to
    ignore this fact.

  • Thinkling

    This catholic blogger’s opinion piece adds some additional wrinkles to this NYT reporting/involvement:

    While only an opinion, it suggests a reason for the gap in the reporting: when your enemy is self-destructing, do not get in the way. Perhaps some of what GR calls more liberal parishoners were interviewed, but they read the dynamics as such and simply had no comment. And someone in the name of the paper saw the same dynamics and did not press the issue.

    I am not usually this cynical, but unfortunately this theory is plausible.

  • Kevin Spencer

    What seems missing from the article is an explanation of the differences of the Latin Mass to the current one. It can be summed up in three items. One: the language of the liturgy is Latin; Two: the celebrating priest faces the altar, not the parishioners; Three: Communion is given at an altar rail. So the article doesn’t explore why some choose this.

    Another critical point missed that vilifies the archdiocese is that most priests don’t know enough Latin to properly conduct the Tridentine Mass. The point that someone has to assist from outside the community should a dead giveaway that helping those that prefer the old form is more resource-intensive.

    • FW Ken

      The Novus Ordo is usually said in the vernacular, but the vernacular is a translation of a Latin text. It can be said ad orientem , and Communion may be received kneeling at the rail, as we do in my parish. I believe the last two points require the bishop’s permission.

      I do agree that the article would have been enhanced by some exploration of the actual resources it takes to have a TLM. The FSSP would have been a good source of info for that.

      • Kevin Spencer

        I’m aware, as a practicing convert. A common traditionalist argument was the liberally loose English translation used until 2012 when a translation more accurate to the Latin was introduced. But that ship had sailed. And yes, words from the FSSP would’ve been helpful.

    • Julia B

      The substantive difference between the ordinary and extraordinary Mass is the texts used. Younger priests must also learn the specific rubrics and gestures, but I’ve never met a priest who can’t pronounce Latin, even if they are not experts at translating it. There are people who specialize in training young priests in how to properly do a 1962 Mass.
      By the way, the photo is of a rather fancy Mass with at least 3 additional priests or deacons. Most parish 1962 Masses didn’t look like that at all. Usually only 2 young boys as servers and the priest – even at Sunday High Mass.

      • Kevin Spencer

        Correct. I oversimplified the comparison for brevity. The texts should’ve been the same prior to the recent 2012 revision. Other non-English translations from Latin were as “colorful” as that used in the U.S.

        • Julia B

          The actual Latin texts of the 1962 Mass and the Paul VI Mass pre-2012 were not the same; most of the texts are different. I’m not referring to translations. I have a 1962 Missal which I used in high school and first year of university. The way the Mass is structured changed. Take a look at an old Missal – it’s very different from the New Mass, which is much like the Lutheran service. Among other things, there used to be a second Gospel at the end of Mass taken from the first lines of John; the Eucharistic Prayer has different words in all but one of the versions used today.

          Here is a pdf of the 1962 Missale with Latin & English.

        • Julia B

          This comment actually comes after the other one I posted.

          I found this official version of the 1962 Mass on-line – it is all in Latin- used by the priest in saying Mass. It starts sitting on the right side of the altar until the priest has read the Epistle and then is moved to the left side of the altar for the Gospel. Then I think it returns to whatever side is best for the priest. Example: what is called Easter in English speaking countries starts at page 410.

          I’ll see if I can also find a version with English next to the Latin like ones used by the folks in the pews. My American St Joseph’s Missal contains all the introductory stuff in English including the calendar with movable feasts, etc. Actually, the new English responses we use today are almost identical to the old ones instead of the paraphrased ones that have been used since 1969.

          There is an official Latin Missal of the current Mass – it’s from that book that all translations are taken. Lots of Masses are still said in Latin all around the world.

  • AuthenticBioethics

    I would have liked to see the article provide a little more about Fr. Wylie’s sermon actually. The cited comments don’t seem like a battle cry for schism, or even much like open criticism, and I’m willing to bet that his dramatic reprimand was due to other things he said that were not quoted. After all, if he went on to say something like, “So pray for a miracle that this church might remain open,” as opposed to something like, “And that is what Cardinal Dolan is doing, treating you like squatters,” it would make a difference. If the quoted parts of the sermon were the most inflammatory remarks he made, then Fr. Wylie’s reprimand is a story unto itself.