Real Deal? The Pope and the Traditional Latin Mass
Why all the angst about the pope’s recent letter, called ‘Guardians of the Tradition’?
The contents of the letter are entirely reasonable:
- Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II granted wider permission for the use of the traditional Latin Mass in order ‘to facilitate the ecclesial communion of those Catholics who feel attached to earlier liturgical forms.’ Sensible.
- The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith carried out a detailed consultation of the world’s Catholic Bishops in 2020, to assess the success or otherwise of Pope Benedict’s decision (2007) permitting greater use of the traditional Latin Mass. Reasonable.
- After hearing back from the Bishops, Pope Francis has issued new regulations to help aid ecclesial communion. Wise.
- The essence of the pope’s decision is to entrust the decision of where and when the traditional Latin Mass will be celebrated with each Bishop, not with priests. Not unusual. It is the teaching of the Church that the ‘diocesan Bishop is the moderator, promoter and guardian of the whole liturgical life of the diocese.’
Why the angst?
It has been observed in some places, not everywhere, that those who prefer to worship within the traditional Latin Mass can sometimes, not always, have a view that the traditional Latin Mass is the ‘real deal,’ while the more recent Mass (1970’s onwards) with the vernacular language, priest facing the people, dialogical manner, greater access to the word of God, etc., is not the ‘real deal.’
Why think this way?
Maybe the ‘new form’ of Mass is lacking in some key liturgical areas?
Could our music, proclamation of the word of God, preaching, ritual silence, reverent celebration be improved? No doubt.
At any rate, the pope doesn’t want the Church splintering. He is concerned about ecclesial communion.
And why not? No communion, no mission.
A little history comes to our aid.
Mass was celebrated in Greek for the first three centuries, then in Latin because it became more widely spoken.
A simple read of St. Justin’s account of how the early Church celebrated the Eucharist (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1345) demonstrates the continuity between the past and present. It is quite a remarkable piece of history.
The Mass was the ‘real deal’ in the first centuries, when celebrated in either Greek or Latin.
It is the ‘real deal’ when celebrated according to the traditional Latin Mass mode.
It is the ‘real deal’ with the Mass post 1970’s.
A final thought.
The pope touches upon the issue of liturgical competence.
Reasonably enough, he observes that the celebrant needs to speak and read Latin with a certain fluency if the traditional Mass is to effect ‘spiritual growth’ within those participating.
One might add that ‘spiritual growth’ will be enhanced if those participating also have a certain fluency in reading and hearing Latin.
But then again, surely the ‘spiritual growth’ of those of us who participate within the Mass post 1970’s would be aided with deeper preparation of the liturgical texts and more robust and faithful responses.
I have just read the Real Deal! with interest. Many people forget that the Mass , the Eucharist was first celebrated in The Greek language. But I refer to the very last sentence in this article. Deeper preparation and robust responses. I have walked with the Neocatechumenal Community here in Canberra for just over 20 years and this is just one of the things which appealed to me, that an introduction is given before the Liturgy commences and before each reading, prepared by a team of from 2 to 4 depending on who is available and those attending have the opportunity after the Gospel to respond with whatever touched them from these readings. The way they spoke to you especially in relation to your own life. However, I agree, the Mass is the Real Deal in what ever form it takes.
Thank you for this very helpful and timely article, Vicar General Fr Percy.
For my part, I was expecting to see the angst come forth, but have not seen any from those (that I know) who prefer to celebrate the traditional Latin Mass (TLM) in our archdiocese. It has been very balanced and reasonable discussion. I have really been quite impressed at the restraint, to be honest.
We all know that at every Mass, wherever and whatever language it is celebrated, the curtain of time/ space is drawn aside by the hand of the Omnipotent, so that is the very same one celebrated at the Last Supper and at Calvary and in communion with the heavenly banquet (borrowing Scott Hahn’s words, I think). Such is the indescribable Love of Our Lord who gives and gives Himself to us at every Mass! The proclamation of this most wonderful gift is what our focus is as Catholics.
Thanks Fr Tony for that wise explanation
As a Catholic who has been deeply privileged to live the liturgy under several different `rites’, I have two doubts about the Holy Father’s recent letter.
I wonder at the overall spiritual value of its release during a sustained worldwide pandemic when many across the world are deeply stressed about difficult issues in their daily lives.
I wonder about the relevance to our local community of the letter’s thrust in a period when the Church’s policies on China, on issues of child/sexual abuse,
and its own financial probity are open to widespread, credible questioning.
Why is it assumed that those of us who wish to hear Mass in Latin sometimes are some sort of reactionaries and wish to retain only older Mass forms. What a lot of ordinary, ‘obedient’ Catholics would be pleased to see/hear would be the Novus Ordo in Latin (and of course the Readings in the vernacular tongue
Latin is far from dead. Many young & old people are turning to it for its relation to English (and other languages) and for access to Latin literature in the original. It is required in some University courses for those studying Medieval history and/or literature; it is still used extensively in science and law. I conduct a course for those enrolled in the University of the Third Age in my city. If many (most?) priests are not sufficiently fluent to do justice to celebrate a Latin Mass then that’s the outcome of the teaching of Latin being neglected in seminaries since Vatican 11. Tellingly, Google carries vast amounts of original Latin literature and translation into many languages; one can get assistance with any aspect of grammar & vocabulary there also. Further, what of the great music written for the Latin Mass, psalms etc. Such are performed by great choirs (not necessarily Catholic) for their beauty and tradition. Seems the Catholic Church is the only major institution determined to act in a Philistine manner.
Suggestion: why did the Pope not speak honestly of his real motivation? He could have said directly that Mass in approved vernacular form(s) is THE REAL DEAL and those peddling contrary views are out of order. Of course, that’s been conveyed before but this latest oppressive restriction on free assembly and preferred style of worship will most likely not appease those who deny (or question)the legitimacy of the new forms of celebrating Mass. We’ve thrown out- or at least done great damage to a great heritage in order to deal with a recalcitrant minority.
Father Percy has not quoted the whole of Motu Proprio let alone the accompanying letter, so the average Catholic would not understand what the fuss is about. The implication is that those observing Mass in Latin are a divisive influence in the church, and need to be controlled. I think it is fair to say that the late Archbishop Lefebvre was. But for many in the Latin Mass community, the beauty of the Mass in the traditional form and its connection to the history of the Church brings a extra degree of sacredness. Church politics is a matter for bishops, not the lay community.
Should anyone wish to experience what is involved, they can always attend a Latin Mass. Details are here https://cgcatholic.org.au/parishes/latin-mass-community/ Just ask someone to show you how the Missal works with Latin and English.
Perhaps it’s because of my respect for Fr Percy I anticipated an article with a modicum of depth and distillation of the core of the motu proprio. With great respect, Father, the article is very, very light weight. Consider the serious, very serious crisis in the Church such as the German synodal way and potential heresy, schism; the deplorable abandonment of Church teaching by e.g., Fr Martin SJ in the USA and enormous scandal he preaches on sodomy yet the pope not only does not correct him but encourages him and others. He afforded Martin SJ a half hour audience in Rome yet ignored the four Dubia Cardinals who resorted to proper Canonical procedures, and to this day remained silent. There’s the embezzlement of Peter’s Pence and canonical trial now in Rome (Angelo Card Becchiu et alii); pope’s secret deal with theChinese Communist Party and its devastating destruction of the Church there yet he flies to a matter of liturgy. But it’s really not liturgy: it’s about Vatican II. Note how often he refers to it in his accompanying letter. Contrary to your view that he’s left it to the bishops to decide, in fact the more permissive regulations are forbidden by TC, and the more restrictive ones are encouraged. The bishop cannot grant authorisation autonomously but it, his decision, must be examined by Rome; and clearly the object is to slowly (perhaps by suffocation rather than a quick execution) obliterate the old Roman Mass. When Church numbers are shrinking yet numbers swelling in the TLM why on earth would one seek to kill off those numbers? What is really going on here? Why mock priests who wear a cassock as “effeminate and having psychological problems”? Unfortunately there is insufficient space to treat fully. God bless you all.
We must not forget – in our comments on the Motu Proprio, Pope Francis’ call for dialogue between people and Bishops. Pope Francis in many of his actions is steering the Church to dialogue – synodality. Let us see in his teachings that call to dialogue and a “walking together” so as to be a united Church in our Mission to witness to Christ. Heaven forbid we become groups jockeying for “we have the real deal” in regards to offering God worship and praise. Pope Francis holds all of God’s people in his heart and acts under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He is the successor of Peter to whom Jesus said “feed my sheep”.
Thank you Kath and Martin for those comments. I can’t understand why the Pope is suddenly throwing the Latin Mass under the bus. But then, I couldn’t understand why he suddenly threw traditional Chinese Catholics under the rickshaw either. They do say the Church is a mystery.
As a convert to Catholicism (1979), I have never attended a Latin Mass, However, I have friends who do. They are younger people and they tell me they love the beauty and reverence of it. After Pope Francis’ letter was published, I watched an episode of “Pints with Aqunius”, entitled “7 Reasons Why We Love the Latin Mass. I must say, that now, I am very much encouraged to experience a Latin Mass. I suppose it comes from a hunger for beauty and deep reverence in the liturgy. Blessings.