I thought it might be interesting, since I will eventually be dealing with the progress and consequences of this document, to give some insight (prediction?) into how I think it will fit into the bigger picture of liturgical reform. Let me start by saying that in no way do I believe, nor would I suggest, that the Pope’s reasons behind the Motu Proprio are to merely advance a reform agenda. That would be, in essence, using the Sacred Liturgy as a tool for political purposes, and I can’t imagine that such an idea would be acceptable to Pope Benedict. This is not to say, however, that it will not play a significant role. Here’s why I think so….
Since the promulgation of the Missal of Paul VI and the Novus Ordo liturgy that came from it, the question of the status of the “Old Mass” has been a central dividing line between the Traditionalists and Progressives within the Catholic Church. By Traditionalists, I do not only mean schismatic groups, such as the SSPX and other “Ultra-Conservative” movements, but also many of the ordinary faithful “out in the pews” who, after 40 years of the Novus Ordo, still feel as though something is not quite right and who would be attracted to the idea of a more solemn and prayerful liturgy whether it was a “Tridentine” Mass or even a reverently and correctly implemented Novus Ordo. I feel that this group is much larger than any schismatic group could ever hope to be, and it is these ordinary faithful, who are truly yearning for something more than what the Novus Ordo Liturgy in its current condition can give them, who will bring about real change as a result of the Motu Proprio.
This is perhaps an inappropriate figure of speech to use when speaking about the Sacred Liturgy, but if the many rumors that have been circulating are even partly true, the “devil is in the details” on this one! An article dated March 9th, 2007 of an interview with Msgr. Camille Perl, Secretary of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, gave the following statement concerning the content of the motu proprio:
“The web account said that Msgr. Perl assured them that “the motu proprio will have the force of law” and that Pope Benedict XVI considers it regrettable that the July 1988 [Ecclesia Dei Aflicta] document did not have the force of law, but merely invited bishops to accommodate the requests of the lay faithful attached to the Latin liturgical traditions. Speaking of the forthcoming motu proprio
- It will be obligatory!”
- Any priest wishing to say the Tridentine Mass will be able to do so privately. [Editor’s note: This affirms a recent statement by Msgr. Michael Schmitz, U.S. Provincial Superior for the Institute of Christ the King, who said that every Latin-rite priest currently has the right to offer the Traditional Latin Mass privately. See
N.B - It was unclear according to the report whether or not the priest would need to secure permission from his diocesan Ordinary to have recourse to a priest from a community which celebrates the Traditional rite of Mass and sacraments exclusively. And finally:
- If a group of faithful requests the rite of St. Pius V, but cannot find a priest or a place to offer the Mass, nor a member of a priestly community, as being able to respond to their wishes, then this group will be able to write to the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, which will work directly to find a solution, a priest, or a community to assist them
Other accounts, independent of this one, have given additional information concerning how large a “group of faithful” would need to be to petition for the Tridentine Mass in their parish. The most recent statements on this indicate that the number was reduced from 50 to 30 faithful needed for such a petition. These provisions, along with the final provision concerning direct intervention from Ecclesia Dei seem to be solely for the purpose of assuring that any faithful who might wish to have access to the Tridentine Mass will have access. This is not really for those who currently attend indult Masses (they would have no need for an alternative other than for convenience), but rather it seems to be intended for that large group of Catholic faithful that I spoke of previously. If Msgr. Perl’s statements hold true, and he would indeed be in a position to know, then the following scenario could very easily be played out.
A relatively small number of parishioners is required to get a Tridentine Mass started at a parish. There are a great many groups within a parish whose membership would be able to accomplish a successful petition: Legion of Mary, Ave Maria Guild, Knights of Columbus, Rosary Guild and other groups whose membership is primarily older Catholics who would tend to consider themselves in the “Traditionalist” camp, and who would probably be willing to support such a petition. The low number required to petition (30) is less than 1% of the population in a great many parishes in the United States. This is an important point! It takes a very small number to get the ball rolling in a given parish. And even if the priests within a parish are not willing or able to act on a petition, there is that final provision which allows Ecclesia Dei to step in and provide a priest for them. These provisions nearly ensure that within a relatively short time (this could still be two or three years) there will be at least one Tridentine Mass within easy reach of most of the Catholic faithful. Once a Tridentine Mass is established by this “activist minority”, then the much larger group of faithful who are simply looking for reverent and prayerful worship will become aware of and avail themselves of this opportunity and “fill in the pews”.
Here is where the scenario gets interesting and possibly divisive. If there are Masses established only at specific parishes within an area, but not at all parishes, there could be some migration that will take place. Even being very conservative and assuming that 1 in 10 people in a parish would eventually hear about, attend and continue attending a local Tridentine Mass (I personally think the number would be higher), this could be a 10% loss in attendance to some parishes and a 20% or 30% gain in attendance by others. This would be meaningful, and troublesome to parishes that lose parishioners. There would, of course, be all kinds of denial at first about why all of these parishioners are leaving and going to Tridentine Masses, but in the end, the numbers (and offertory dollars) would speak loudly and there would have to be some deep soul searching and discussion of the reasons.
This is how real reform will start; not by decree, but by the sort of “liturgical Darwinism” created by the introduction of alternatives to poor liturgy. And the reform would not be merely the more widespread availability of the Tridentine Rite, which will never be acceptable to some priests and even some parishes, but the gradual attention to quality in ALL liturgy that will result from the very hard lessons that will be learned through this process.
In the end, both rites will benefit from the motu proprio, and the Catholic faithful will benefit most of all. Of course, this is all conjecture right now, but I look forward to the day when it will no longer be conjecture, but will be an actual issue for discussion at parishes across the country. And lest we forget what this is all about, we need to pray constantly…..