The Catholic Alternative in Traditional English
For some time now, I’ve encountered many Catholics who have expressed their frustration to me about the situation in their local parishes and dioceses. Though the location and circumstances are radically different, the complaint is almost universally the same. Some come from the Northeast, some from the West Coast, some from the Rockies and some from the Bible Belt. The complaint is the standard of liturgy in the United States, and the political emphasis (usually on social justice but without much rootedness in the Gospel teaching) in the homilies. A recent article, written by Eric Sammons for Crisis Magazine, very deftly points out that the only way for U.S. Catholicism to recover from the decline (currently plaguing all religions in America) is to become more Catholic not less. Traditional liturgy and orthodox teaching is key to the answer.
In this context, many young Catholics are turning to the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM), otherwise known as the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. This liturgy follows the form used by Catholics in the West for nearly 500 years since its codification by Pope St. Pius V, up until the 1962 Missal of St. John XXIII, which was then substantially revised in 1970 and translated into the vernacular.
Parishes that offer the Traditional Latin Mass usually offer a more orthodox worldview to go along with it. This is reflected in the homilies, catechesis and other methods of religious communication. Honestly, who can blame them? The Traditional Latin Mass is quite beautiful, and if you ask me, every single Catholic should attend it at least once, even if for no other reason than to just experience Catholic worship from a different perspective. There in the midst of the Latin responses, Gregorian chant, traditional hymns, smells and bells, one will likely hear the crying of babies, the murmuring of children, and the shushing of young parents while rocking their little ones to sleep. This is where one can find young Catholic families, lots of them, as the age demographic of the TLM parish is remarkably younger than the mainstream Catholic Church. This is where so much vitality of the Catholic Church is. Everything old is new again.
However, for a good number of Catholics, going totally Latin just isn’t an option. These Catholics seek traditional liturgy, along with orthodox homilies and catechesis, in a language they can easily understand, supported by a community responsive to their pastoral and sacramental needs. Now they have one in traditional English.
In 2009, then-Pope Benedict XVI provided a special option for Catholics in the English-speaking world in his Apostolic Constitution entitled Anglicanorum Coetibus (meaning “Groups of Anglicans”). Originally, it was a provision made specifically for traditional Anglicans seeking to join the Catholic Church while retaining their Anglican Patrimony, creating special diocesan-like jurisdictions for them called “personal ordinariates.” However, Pope Benedict XVI specifically said that once this Anglican (or English) Patrimony was crystalized within these Ordinariates, this would become “a treasure to be shared” with the whole Catholic Church (Anglicanorum Coetibus, III).
What does that mean? It means, quite frankly, that any baptized and practicing Catholic is free to participate in this patrimony, partake in it, and even join parishes that use this patrimony. While the Ordinariate membership is usually reserved for certain Catholics that qualify under Anglicanorum Coetibus and its updated complementary norms, Ordinariate parish membership is open to any baptized Catholic. So, in other words, if you’re a baptized Catholic, and you think you might be interested in the English Patrimony as an alternative to the Traditional Latin Mass, all you need to do is go to an Ordinariate parish and start attending. If you like it, join the parish! It’s as simple as that. There is no red tape, no strings attached. If you like it, just join.
This provides an alternative to the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM): the Catholic Mass in traditional English. Now to be clear, the official name of this liturgy is called “Divine Worship,” and if we want to be more specific, we could call it the “Ordinariate Form of the Roman Rite.” For short, we could call it the Divine Worship Mass (DWM) or the English Patrimony Mass (EPM), but this is the only officially approved Catholic Mass in traditional English.
One should not make the mistake of thinking Divine Worship is just an English version of the TLM. It is not. These are two separate liturgies with specific differences, coming from two separate sources, but they both have a lot in common.
The TLM is the Roman liturgy in Latin that came out of the Council of Trent (AD 1545 – 1563) and the Missal of Pope St. Pius V. Its most recent revision was in the 1962 Missal of St. John XXIII, with some very minor modifications in recent times that have taken place since Benedict XVI’s pontificate.
Divine Worship’s origins reach back to a unique Latin liturgy in England called the Sarum Use (AD 1078 – 1534) while England was Catholic. After the Church of England’s break with Rome in 1534, elements of the Sarum Use were translated into English and preserved in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer down to our present time. During the nineteenth-century Oxford Movement in England, elements of Catholic liturgical practices (which many Catholics going to the TLM would recognize) were reintroduced back into Anglican liturgy. In the U.S., when these “High Church” Anglicans began returning to the Catholic Church way back in 1980, these changes were brought back into Catholic worship with the 1983 Book of Divine Worship (BDW).
Following Anglicanorum Coetibus and Benedict XVI’s creation of the Ordinariates, the BDW was replaced by Divine Worship: The Missal in 2015, and Divine Worship: Daily Office (North American edition in 2020 and the forthcoming Commonwealth edition in 2021).
Like the TLM, Divine Worship puts an emphasis on reverence, solemnity and tradition, along with orthodox homilies and catechesis. Bells and incense are commonplace. Like the TLM, Divine Worship is celebrated typically ad orientem, or facing (liturgical) east, also called versus Dominum or facing the Lord. Holy Communion is normatively received on the tongue while kneeling. The hymns are traditional. Chant is both in traditional English, and sometimes in Latin. A sample Mass according to the Divine Worship missal can be viewed at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston, Texas, recorded on the Solemnity of the Baptism of Our Lord in 2021. One will immediately recognize an English Mass, celebrated in a very traditional and reverent way, similar to the TLM.
Established ordinariate parishes and communities in the United States and Canada can be found on the ACS Map. Many people lament there are no such Ordinariate parishes near where they live. If this is the case, it could also be an opportunity to form a community from scratch that evangelizes and becomes eligible to become an Ordinariate community. The Ordinariate has a mission from the Pope to evangelize: not just Anglicans and Methodists, but also Protestants, fallen-away Catholics, and “Nones.”
It requires a lot of personal commitment and patience from those willing to do this. And it would require a core of Catholic families canonically eligible to join the Ordinariate. If enough families, in a given area, are able to do this and meet the requirements for a canonical community in formation, it is possible to petition the bishop to send an Ordinariate priest to be assigned to that group once one is available. From there, a community can be built, leading to a parish.
How is this done? The Anglicanorum Coetibus Society (ACS) specializes in helping such groups in formation, providing both advice and mapping their location to help others easily find them. The Ordinariate is aware of this map and those groups listed on it. Anglicans, Methodists or other Christians considering coming into full communion with the Catholic Church may also want to look into this Map and contacting the ACS, for the possibility of coming into the Church through such a group.
The important thing to remember is that there is a traditional English alternative for Catholics seeking traditional and reverent liturgy with orthodox teaching. Not only does the alternative exist, but it is growing. This English Patrimony Mass (EPM) is gradually taking its place alongside the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) in North America as part of the traditional Catholic renewal on this continent. Catholics, who are seeking traditional alternatives, should seriously look into Divine Worship (or the EPM) as one possibility. Many young Catholic families, still not tied down to any particular area, are actually moving to locations that are closer to traditional Catholic parishes. Those parishes offering the Mass in traditional English are already on the radar of many such families. My own Ordinariate community in Republic, Missouri, has already received many such young families that fit this description. A few of them have moved great distances to be part of it. Never underestimate the draw and appeal of good, old-fashioned, traditional Catholic worship.
A version of this article first appeared on the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society Blog.