By now, everyone should be familiar with Pope Francis’ 2021 motu proprio entitled Traditionis Costodes which reversed Pope Benedict XVI’s motu proprio entitled Summorum Pontificum. This has the effect of severely restricting the Traditional Latin Mass (Extraordinary Form, Tridentine Form or 1962 Missal) which Benedict previously liberalized. Anyone familiar with my writings will also know that while I no longer attend the Traditional Latin Mass, and haven’t in nearly a decade, I adamantly oppose this papal decision as a huge mistake, and one this pope will regret if he lives long enough to see its predictable outcome.
For those who are not familiar with me, let my give you a short background. I am a convert to the Catholic Church. I was baptized Lutheran in 1973. I was raised American (or “Northern”) Baptist. As a young adult, starting in 1988, I spent a decade in Evangelical churches, until I became Anglican in 1998. Then in 2000, my wife and I were received into the Catholic Church. The trajectory of my Christian life tells a story that I think every bishop should know (including the pope). When I was a young and rebellious teenager, I was drawn to Evangelicalism, but as I matured into an adult I craved a deeper spirituality, one where worship is more reverent and theology is more profound. What Saint Paul wrote about concerning the Christian life, I lived it.
Saint Paul was addressing divisions and strife within the Corinthian Church when he wrote this, but it applies in many other areas too, and we could say it especially applies on liturgical matters. Are they not causing division and strife today?
When I was young, I craved the contemporary music of praise and worship bands, consisting of electric guitars, drums and simple (almost nursery rhyme) lyrics projected onto a wall. Back then, worship for me was a purely emotional experience, something I did for me, to help me “feel” closer to God. I had no concern for what God wanted in worship, but I comforted myself with the knowledge that “he knows my heart.” Indeed, God does know our hearts, and while I’m sure he is at least in some way pleased with the emotional displays of contemporary Evangelical worship, we as Catholics know he demands more from us. When I was a young man, this was all I could give, as I could barely sit still in a traditional Protestant service. But then, something happened over the course of a decade. I grew up.
On the one hand, you could say it was a natural mellowing of age. I did suffer from hyperactivity as a child and teenager. Boredom came quickly for me, even as a young adult, and focusing through a long and dry Protestant service could be excruciating at times. Part of that was because the sermons were typically long in Protestant services, but the music was not very interesting to me either. We sang from old hymnals written fifty to a hundred years ago. The words were complex and the expressions were sometimes hard to understand. As a young man, still with a hyperactive brain, it was a little too much for me. As I aged, however, my mind began to settle down. I was able to focus more clearly, and for longer periods of time. As this happened, I began to seek more challenging things.
On the other hand, you could say it was also a spiritual awakening. Those Evangelical churches, particularly one called Calvary Chapel, did a lot to help me dig into the Bible and begin learning things that I previously had no interest in. Yes, the laid back old-hippy style of these pastors, with expressions like “man” and “far out” did help me connect a little. Granted, I was never a hippy, that was before my time, but I was raised in a time in Southern California when they were all around me. They were my school teachers, my coaches, my friends’ parents, and in some cases my mentors. My parents were pretty “square” as the saying goes, but I was surrounded by people of that hippy persuasion. Growing up, we always looked at them as the “cool adults.” So I suppose that old-hippy atmosphere at Calvary Chapel helped me dig into the Bible in a way I wouldn’t have normally done. However, once I started to come to knowledge of what the Bible says, and I began studying for the ministry, which meant I had to read history and theology, I came to an understanding of worship that was altogether more structured, deep and reverent. It was something I literally grew into. I left Calvary Chapel for multiple reasons, the most serious of which I covered in a previous blog, but another reason was because I was looking for a method of worship that fit the deeper theological understanding I gained from reading the Bible, history and theology. It was then, in 1998, I became an Anglican.
The Episcopal Church was the dominant form of American Anglicanism at the time. It introduced me to the concept of liturgy, it didn’t take long for me to appreciate the older and more traditional form of that liturgy in the American Book of Common Prayer (1979 edition). I spoke to a very old Anglican priest during my time in The Episcopal Church, who found my interest in liturgy intriguing, and gave me a copy of the 1923 edition of the American Book of Common Prayer. I loved it. In time, I found the trajectory of The Episcopal Church to be incongruent with my Evangelically-formed understanding of Scripture, so my wife and I left The Episcopal Church to become Catholics in 2000.
I’m telling you this to point out that it was my love for traditional liturgy that ultimately brought me into the Catholic Church. While I found the Novus Ordo liturgy inferior (sorry if that offends) to the High Church Anglican liturgy of the 1923 Book of Common Prayer, it was nevertheless “good enough” to preserve the concept of liturgical worship that I had come to cherish. The doctrinal stability was what sold me on the Catholic Church, and with that an appreciation for the literal presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. I eventually did attend a Traditional Latin Mass in 2008 and continued, off and on, till about 2015. While in this liturgy, I found a similar reverence to what I experienced in the High Church Anglican liturgy, it wasn’t quite the same. I didn’t feel truly at home until I started to worship regularly in the English Patrimony of Divine Worship, within the Personal Ordinariate setup initially for former Anglicans and Methodists. We started our own such community in my home town officially in 2016.
I’ve told you this not only to help you get an understanding of my own background, but to also convey a message. Up until Pope Benedict XVI, liturgical worship in the West lacked diversity, and because of that many priests (and some laity) tried to create their own by tinkering with the Novus Ordo liturgy. Sometimes this tinkering was just a little, and sometimes it was quite a bit. In all cases, however, I think it was misguided. Benedict gave something to the West that it hasn’t seen in a very long time — real options. Those who sought a liturgy that was reverent and traditional could have it under Summorum Pontificum, while those who sought a distinctively Anglican (English) Patrimony in Catholic liturgy (people like me) could have it under Anglicanorum Coetibus. Is this so wrong? Is this so terrible?
Granted, there are some people who are so stuck on the Traditional Latin Mass that nothing else will ever do. These people need pastoral accompaniment, not papal decrees forcing them underground, or into the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX). In my experience, however, most of the young people I know, who are attracted to the Traditional Latin Mass, are simply looking for more reverent liturgy and a deeper theological challenge coming from behind the pulpit. They’re getting that from the Traditional Latin Mass at the moment, but that doesn’t mean that’s the only place they would get it. We’re meeting some of these young people in the Ordinariate. A few of them came to us from the Traditional Latin Mass. Others came to us from the Novus Ordo Mass. We didn’t go out seeking any of them, as that’s not the evangelistic charism of the Ordinariates, but at the same time, we’re not going to turn them away. If they’re coming to us for liturgical and pastoral refuge, we will welcome them because they need us. It doesn’t matter why. Our job as Christians is to help one another, as we reach out to the world for Christ. So if some young Catholics come to us seeking more reverent worship, because for whatever reason they need it, then we’ll do the best we can to accommodate them for as long as they need.
In that, I will admit that most of these young people today are a lot more mature than I was at their age, and by that I mean both mentally and spiritually mature. I’ve heard that about this generation from others as well. For whatever reason, if they haven’t been infected with the Woke Anti-Christian spirit of the age, then they tend to have grown up faster than kids did in previous generations. Currently, I’m looking at some of these kids in their late teens to early twenties, and I’m thinking to myself: “I didn’t reach that point until I was nearly thirty!” I suppose we could speculate endlessly as to why that is, but it’s not that important. What is important is that it just is, and for that reason alone the shepherds of the Church have a moral obligation to pastorally accompany them. What they want is a more reverent liturgy, and that is not wrong. There is nothing inherently “defective” about it, and I’m finding that when you expose them to it in forms other than the Traditional Latin Mass, they are open to it. They are open to it in the Ordinariate. They are open to it in the Eastern rites. And yes, they will be open to it in the Novus Ordo Mass if the bishops of the Church would just make sure it’s available to them.
There is a saying in the Traditional Catholic community. It’s called the “unicorn mass.” By this is meant a Novus Ordo Mass that is celebrated in a way that is reverent, solemn and traditional. That means unless you specifically know the details of both the Novus Ordo and the Traditional Latin Mass, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. The Novus Ordo Mass is celebrated so traditionally, that it looks very Tridentine at first glance. These types of masses, briefly the norm in the early 1970s, have become so incredibly rare now that the Traditional Catholics call them “unicorns.” The implication of that term is that they’re so rare, they’re almost mythical, and a Catholic could easily go his entire life without ever seeing one.
However, in this post-Traditionis Church, I would like to put forward the assertion that it’s time these Traditional Novus Ordo “unicorn” masses start becoming more common. In fact, I would say that every diocese should have at least one, and the most proper place for it is in the cathedral, or if not there, then a comparable prominent place, such as a beautiful old chapel that is a local landmark of some kind. The following are two videos of the type of Novus Ordo liturgy I’m talking about, one is celebrated in Latin and the other is celebrated in English. I dare say the language is not nearly as important as the reverence and ritual itself, as this is what the youth of today are really looking for.
Traditional Novus Ordo Mass (in Latin)
Traditional Novus Ordo Mass (in English)
Now, at the risk in inciting a little anger toward me, I’m going to suggest something a little controversial, but I don’t think it’s unwarranted. In the wake of Traditionis Custodes, and the Rescript recently given by Pope Francis to Cardinal Roche, along with expectation by many Traditional Catholics that Pope Francis will soon issue an Apostolic Constitution permanently restricting the Traditional Latin Mass in the most severe way, I believe that all bishops are now morally responsible to provide no less than one Traditional Novus Ordo mass in their diocese. This is to accommodate those Catholics who will soon be deprived of the Traditional Latin Mass due to the actions of Pope Francis. If they fail to do this, it exposes something terrible, not about Francis, and not about Rome, but about them — the bishops who fail to act. It exposes them to the accusation that they have banned the Traditional Latin Mass not out of obedience to Rome, but rather they are simply using Rome’s prohibition as an excuse to cover their own vindictive animosity toward anyone who prefers traditional liturgy.
This accusation may, and probably will, come in rather short order if some kind of accommodation is not made. There is no need to challenge me in a nasty email or social media rant. I won’t be the one making those accusations. I am perfectly content within the Ordinariate and I already have everything I need or could ever want. So it’s not my problem. As we say in the Ozarks, I don’t have a dog in this fight anymore. No, these accusations will come from Traditional Catholics within local dioceses, and most of those people are a lot younger than I am. A good number of them are married and in the process of making large families. These fine young kids are the future of the Catholic Church. Not only will they provide the next generation of Catholic growth, but they’ll also provide sizable income to whatever community takes them in. It would be a shame for the diocese if that community just happened to be the local SSPX.
I imagine that a few bishops really and truly are vindictive toward Traditional Catholics, and I imagine the same will likely make no accommodation for them whatsoever. This will be consistent with their previous behavior. However, I also imagine that most bishops are not vindictive at all, but until now, simply did not know how such an accommodation could be made using the Novus Ordo liturgy. After reading this, and watching the videos above, they will know.
So if you have a way of getting this particular blog to your local bishop, I suggest you do so, if for no other reason than to just see where he stands on this issue. I suspect that a large number of bishops really do mean well, and really do have large hearts, and really would like to help Traditional Catholics in whatever way they can. So, because of that, I believe the majority of bishops in North America will try to provide at least one Traditional Novus Ordo Mass, as a substitute for the Traditional Latin Mass they can no longer accommodate, or maybe more than one, if possible. I suspect there are probably a number of regular priests out there who feel the same way, and would jump at the opportunity to help. I don’t share the negative view of regular dioceses that is common in some Traditional Catholic circles. I actually believe that most leaders in regular dioceses really do mean well, have good intentions, and will gladly help Traditional Catholics if they know how. I also think that vindictive bishops, priests and diocesan staff are the exception to the norm. They tend to get the most attention because their anti-traditional antics are attention-getters. Such is the nature of their pettiness. It provides good kindling for angry articles and YouTube rants.
Of course, a Traditional Novus Ordo accommodation will not draw all Traditional Catholics. Pope Francis’ recent actions against the Traditional Latin Mass have all but guaranteed the sustained growth of the SSPX and other similar organizations now. Some will never be happy with anything but the Traditional Latin Mass, and as I said above, these people need accompaniment not marginalization. But for whatever reason, Francis has chosen the latter for them, and there isn’t anything we can do about that now. We can, however, reach young Catholics who simply want reverent and traditional liturgy. Language and form isn’t nearly as important to them as reverence and ritual.
If the Latin Mass gets banned in my diocese, I have two options: I can go to a nearby English Ordinariate church or switch over to the Byzantine rite parish.
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An excellent suggestion. I hope the Bishops will see this. And listen!