You’re Not Helpless!
Since writing my previous essay entitled Where to Find a Traditional Mass, I have been inundated with emails and messages from people saying that they don’t live near any of these parishes, and asking me what to do. My first question is: what do you define as “near?” I know people who are driving over an hour to get to a traditional mass. I also know people who have packed up and moved so they could be closer to a traditional mass. I think the word “near” is somewhat of a relative term. If by “near” you mean five-minutes away, then there aren’t very many people who live “near” a traditional mass at all. Here’s how I define “near.” If you can, by car, get to a traditional mass in under one hour, then you live “near” one, and there is really no excuse for you not to go and attend regularly. Now, if it takes more than an hour to drive to a traditional mass, then I would say you don’t live “near” one, and that may be a sign to explore some other options. You’re not helpless. In addition to prayer and fasting, you do have four options available to you. Take your pick…
OPTION 1: Making Your Local Parish More Traditional
While this is obviously the most simple solution, it is (sadly) also the most difficult. If your local Novus Ordo parish is not liturgically traditional, and theologically orthodox, you could try to address this issue by speaking to your parish pastor, and asking him if he would be willing to help you move the parish in this direction. Of course, you’ll need to get some fellow parishioners to go along with you on this. The process could be accomplished by asking the pastor if he will support you on moving the parish in a more traditional direction if you and your fellow like-minded parishioners get elected to the parish board. If the answer is “yes,” you’ll need to organize for your elections. If the answer is “no” you’re wasting your time and you need to move on to another option. One of the snags you may likely encounter will be opposition from other parishioners who like things just as they are. You’re always going to run into this. The real question is, how big is that opposition? If it consists of the majority of the parish, you’re wasting your time and you should move on to another option. If it’s not the majority of the parish, the solution is to be diplomatic. Don’t come across as hardcore traditional. Instead, frame this in the context of “building a stronger Catholic identity,” and “giving our children more traditions to remember as they grow up.” Don’t be afraid to bring in whatever emotional sentimentality is needed to sell the idea. Talking about children usually helps. If all of these conditions exist, and the transformation of the parish actually seems possible, these are the goals you should work toward after gaining control of the parish council…
- Ad Orientem worship where priest and parish face the same direction during the Liturgy of the Eucharist portion of the mass.
- Communion on the tongue while kneeling should be the norm. Your priest may not be allowed to deny communion to one who demands it in the hand, but you can make it the norm by placing a kneeler before the priest while he distributes communion.
- Eliminating the use of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (EMHC), commonly called “Eucharistic Ministers.” Timing masses served with and without them will demonstrate, in most cases, that their presence does not speed the mass by any significant amount. In most cases, the difference will be under five minutes.
- Bring back the regular use of bells and incense.
- If the tabernacle is not already front and center in the main chapel, work on getting it there. Keep in mind your priest may need to ask your bishop for permission first, and he is not likely to ask him unless he can be assured he has a strong majority support from the parish. The poor fellow probably doesn’t want to feel like he’ll be attacked from both sides — bishop and parishioners.
- Eliminating altar girls because the acolyte ministry is designed to introduce boys to the priesthood, and only men can be priests. This one will be tough and you might want to save it for last of the liturgical reforms. Feminism has given some of our people a sense of entitlement when it comes to serving at the altar. There will be blow-back! Prepare for it in advance with diplomatic responses.
- Ask the pastor, and all priests, to preach on difficult topics and challenge the faithful every single Sunday.
- Ask the pastor, and all priests, to catechize from the pulpit.
- Ask the pastor to provide the sacrament of confession immediately before every Sunday mass.
- Begin a review process of RCIA and all parish catechesis (adult and children) to make sure it is orthodox and being taught consistently.
If you don’t think any of this is possible at your Novus Ordo parish, talk to a few friends who attend there with you. If they are in agreement, move on to another option.
OPTION 2: Starting a Traditional Latin Mass
Did you know, that under canon law, you actually have the legal right to formally request a Traditional Latin Mass (Vetus Ordo, Tridentine Mass or Extraordinary Form)? You do. Summorum Pontificum, the motu proprio issued by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007, changed canon law to make this possible. All you need to do is gather a group of like-minded Catholics, and open a local chapter of Una Voce. This organization helps regular Catholics, with resources and coaching, to formerly request a Traditional Latin Mass from their local bishop, and if necessary, petition Rome for help. Many Traditional Latin masses have been started by Una Voce around the country. They can help you too. But this requires dedication and commitment, as well as a positive attitude and the ability to be diplomatic. Assemble a group of like-minded Catholics in your immediate area, then whoever displays the characteristics of positivism and diplomacy should be elected president of your local Una Voce chapter. Follow Una Voce’s advice, stick to their game plan, and within a year or two, you’ll probably have a Traditional Latin Mass in your immediate area.
OPTION 3: Starting a Pre-Ordinariate Group
Did you know, that under canon law, if no Ordinariate parish is nearby (within an hour’s drive), you still have the right to join the Ordinariate and start your own pre-ordinariate group, if you (or your spouse) have an Anglican or Methodist background? That’s right. This option was provided under canon law thanks to Pope Benedict XVI’s 2009 apostolic constitution entitled Anglicanorum Coetibus. If you, or your spouse, were formerly Anglican or Methodist, the two of you can join the Ordinariate and start a pre-ordinariate prayer group, with the intent of eventually having Divine Worship mass someday, and possibly starting a permanent ordinariate community. This process could take months to years, but it has been done, and is currently being done, in various places throughout North America. The process is considerably different then what is used for the Traditional Latin Mass, so an entirely different organization is needed to walk you through it. The organization is called the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society (ACS). Instructions for starting your own group can be found on their website here. While the skill of diplomacy is not as necessary using this process, the virtue of patience is. Building a stable community, large enough for the Ordinariate to take interest, will take time. The best thing to do is clearly explain the process to incoming members and give them a sense of your vision. Special considerations include…
- Membership in this prayer group is fully legal for all Catholics under cannon law. It does not matter what their background is.
- Membership in this prayer group does not satisfy mass attendance. Members will still have to attend mass at their regular parishes.
- Members of this prayer group will remain members of their respective parishes until an actual community is formed, having a permanent priest and celebrating all the sacraments. At that time, they may formally join this community as full members regardless of their background.
- Only registered Ordinariate members in the group can request a Divine Worship mass from the Ordinariate, and/or make arrangements for a local priest to celebrate one with permission from the Ordinariate and the local Diocese. Regular Ordinariate members within the group can formally make the request but the actual protocols for making it happen must be followed by clergy. Depending on circumstances, Divine Worship masses can sometimes be celebrated before an ordinariate priest is assigned to a community.
- Only registered Ordinariate members can request sacraments from the Ordinariate using the Anglican Patrimony of Divine Worship.
- Non-Ordinariate Catholics can become full members of the group, and they can become full members of the parish community once it’s formed, but they cannot petition the Ordinariate for anything associated with the Anglican Patrimony. Only registered Ordinariate members can do that. This is a matter of jurisdiction under canon law.
- Becoming a member of the Ordinariate is just a matter of paperwork and the process is fairly simple. It can be viewed on, and downloaded from, the North American Ordinariate website.
OPTION 4: Starting an Eastern Catholic Parish
This is by far the most radical option, and the most difficult one to do, but it is possible. It involves changing rites and actually becoming an Eastern Catholic in full communion with Rome. This option is by far the most bold, but quite possibly the most rewarding, if it works. However, it’s not for the fainthearted. Before you do anything, you’ll want to spend some time (a few months at least) studying the various Eastern Catholic rites, and find which one sounds most appealing to you, and a group of Catholics in your area willing to work with you. You should be advised, that once you change rites, that’s it! Canon law does not allow you to change again. It’s a one time deal, so make sure this is what you and your group really want before you even explore it. Once you’ve decided to bite the bullet, you’ll need to call nearby Eastern Catholic parishes (perhaps in other cities), talk to the priest himself, and ask if any of them would be interested in starting a mission in your immediate area. Ask if they would accept transfers from the Roman Rite, and how they would want you to reach out to non-Catholics in the area. Hopefully, there are already some Eastern Catholics in your area who just didn’t have enough numbers to start their own mission. You, adding to their numbers, could make such a mission possible. Once you have an Eastern Catholic parish that is willing to start a mission in your area, follow their direction with exact precision until it comes about.