More colloquial ways of referring to this Liturgy are the ‘Latin Mass’ or the ‘Tridentine Mass’ or ‘Traditional Latin Mass’ or ‘TLM’.
As you might expect, there’s been a bit of a social media storm about these new regulations, and there’s been a lot of hot-off-the-cuff ink spilled about it already – most of it without due reflection on the positive sides of the document.
Because this document is about pruning the TLM movement for its own health, and for the health and unity of the Church.
And this pruning has been needed.
When Summorum Pontificum was issued by Pope Benedict XVI; many times in his excellent blog Fr John Zuhlsdorf requested that adherents to the Tridentine Mass be exemplary in their conduct, be helpful to clergy and parishes, and to not give any cause for offence lest these permissions be withdrawn.
Not everyone heeded him, hence this need for pruning so that the good may be preserved and the diseased parts be separated away lest they infect the whole Church.
Pope Francis does spell out clearly what the issues are, and the criteria by which local bishops are to do any necessary pruning, viz:
*The concord and unity of the Church
*That those who deny the validity and legitimacy of the 1970 liturgical reform put that unity, concord and communion at risk
*That the risk has reached levels requiring the removal of TLM from parochial churches so that there is no confusion about the validity and legitimacy of the Novus Ordo Mass (1970 liturgical reform).
(Note: Mass centres, oratories, chapels, retreat centres would then still be OK, including designated mass centres within say a cathedral parish which has several mass centres in addition to the Cathedral. ie. It cannot be celebrated at the principal church of a parish.)
Those TLM communities which are in full communion with the Church, and are animated by ecclesial communion, will be preserved.
The risk of new TLM communities forming has been deemed to be too great.
Healthy and wholesome expressions of TLM will remain, be preserved, and even encouraged.
How did it get to this? People forgot Fr Z’s advice.
There has been far too much public criticism of the Pope and far too much questioning of the legitimacy of the papacy, leading far too many believers to distrust the Pope, to distrust God’s choice of the Pope, and thereby opening the door to distrust of God and from there to loss of faith. (There are private ways of seeking answers and clarifications.)
Where has this criticism and questioning been the most vociferous? From those attending the Tridentine Mass. Some have just been the usual hot heads that every community that aspires to a radical life attracts, but some have been publicly well respected in education, theology, journalism, blogging, apologetics etc and among the clergy.
It hasn’t been here and there either; it has become a consistent questioning of every action and motive of the Pope - which would do the Pharisees proud.
Where protest has become normative and taking pride in ‘being more Catholic than the Pope’ takes hold, then those communities have exited out the other side of being Protestant.
Above all else, hear and listen to this:
Unity with the Pope is our sole guarantee of remaining in the true faith of the Apostles and not getting shipwrecked in error and heresy.
Unity with the Pope is our sole guarantee of the whole Church being guided by God.
This is so because Jesus said to Peter, ‘On this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell will never hold out against it’.
Yes, I fully understand the flight to the TLM given the continuing abuses of the liturgy that are happening in the Novus Ordo Mass. I understand in a time of uncertainty, that flight to where things are whiter than white, and blacker than black, and no grey in between is really attractive. I understand that being with others trying to take God seriously is really attractive.
But the TLM was never meant to be a flight-from-the-world option, a la St Benedict.
Permission for the TLM was to preserve the patrimony living in the Tridentine Mass from centuries past for future generations to be able to love and appreciate in living form. It is to be fueled by love for the Church, and love for the patrimony of the Church, not fueled by protest.
An analogy might help. The reason people volunteer to help keep steam engines alive on heritage railways is to keep the memory alive of the amazing engineers and workmen that formed that heritage, and for the beauty and majesty of those locomotives in action – not because they want steam to replace diesel electrics anymore, nor because they are protesting at the pollution caused by diesel-electrics.
That’s why Pope Francis is calling a ‘motive check’ on those priests who already celebrate or wish to celebrate the Mass in its pre 1970 form, and on those religious communities set up precisely for the preservation of this liturgical form.
This Motu Proprio is pruning the TLM for the health of the Church, and for the health of the TLM.
Should it be successful in its intent, healthy communities of TLM will remain, and will remain healthy.
As one would expect, only when this has occurred will it be possible to consider new TLM communities, and that could be 10 years away or longer, and only if they don’t fall into the same errors in the meantime.
Instead of grouching, let us be extremely thankful to God for giving us a Pope, and the bishops united with him, who are willing to do this pruning for the sake of the Church, and for the sake of the salvation of souls, despite the enormous backlash they are experiencing, and will experience in the times to come.
To God be the glory, in the Church, and in Christ Jesus, now and forever. Amen.