Thursday, 8 July 2010


Others have been observing the third anniversary of the publication of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, which allowed a more free celebration of  the "Tridentine Mass" or "Traditional Latin Mass". As well as allowing that freer celebration, it also introduced a juridical status of "Extraordinary Form" and "Ordinary Form" in what it firmly described as one Roman Rite. I do love Pope Benedict's ability with words, and have sometimes reflected on the particularly Benedictine genius in the choice of the words "extraordinary" and "ordinary" to express the juridical status of the two forms.

Since I do not have an attachment to the Extraordinary Form, the provisions of Summorum Pontificum which made it easier to celebrate and attend the Extraordinary Form have not directly affected my life as a Catholic. In his letter to his brother bishops that accompanied Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict wrote: “For that matter, the two Forms of the usage of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching: new Saints and some of the new Prefaces can and should be inserted in the old Missal. …. The celebration of the Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI will be able to demonstrate, more powerfully than has been the case hitherto, the sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage. The most sure guarantee that the Missal of Paul VI can unite parish communities and be loved by them consists in its being celebrated with great reverence in harmony with the liturgical directives.”

What I find most disappointing about the three years since the publication of Summorum Pontificum is an almost total lack of attention to the idea of mutual enrichment. My experience of the electronic and print Catholic media suggests that those with an attachment to the Extraordinary Form have a presence in the media that is out of proportion to their numbers among the body of the faithful as a whole. The media presence of those attached to the Extraordinary Form communicates to me the two following points. Firstly, there is still a sense of the Extraordinary Form being promoted over and above the Ordinary Form, with the Extraordinary Form being presented as more “traditional” or of greater spiritual value than the Ordinary Form. Associated with this is a sense of the “restoration of the Traditional Mass” associated with Summorum Pontificum. Secondly, I am also detecting a pre-emptive resistance to changes to the texts of the Missal of 1962, so that, for example, the introduction of new Prefaces would not be welcomed. Together these points indicate a resistance to the idea of mutual enrichment of the two forms that I find unfortunate.

The celebration of the Ordinary Form “with great reverence and in harmony with the liturgical directives” remains a serious problem in my experience of attending Mass across a number of nearby parishes. Recognising that the rubrics allow some freedom to priests at certain points in the celebration of Mass, there remains a significant practice of unwarranted ad-lib changes to words and casualness in the celebration. The interjection of “Good morning everyone, Good morning Father” is a typical - and for me, most frustrating - example of such practice, and is usually associated with a manner of celebration that focuses on the human and every day rather than the divine. Often, particularly before and after the celebration of Mass on a Sunday, the Church becomes a place of casual everyday conversation rather than the place of the living presence of God. I cannot help but feel that this is linked to the example of priests in the way in which they celebrate the Liturgy itself. If they celebrate in a way that lacks a sense of the sacred, then the people will conduct themselves in Church in a similar way.

I find it very disappointing that typical priests in parishes do not seem to realise that the idea of mutual enrichment associated by Pope Benedict with Summorum Pontificum asks of them an increased attention to the sacred in the way in which they celebrate Mass in the Ordinary Form. They continue to celebrate as if Summorum Pontificum has not happened. In fact, I doubt that they are, generally speaking, aware of any expectations arising from Summorum Pontificum and Pope Benedict’s accompanying letter. 

There is an interesting counter example to the general experience that I have described above, and this occurs in parishes entrusted to the care of religious. It is not that these parishes have celebrations in the Extraordinary Form, because they do not.. My own sense is that the religious formation of the priests involved contributes to a greater sense of recollection in the way in which they celebrate Mass.

I had the opportunity to hear Martin Foster (from the Bishops Conference Liturgy Commission) speak on 15th June 2010 at the Brentwood Cathedral Conference Centre. His title was “Looking forward to the new translation of the Roman Missal”. Something that came up in the discussions that Mr Foster led was the question of how a style of language in the translation of the set texts of the Liturgy has had a clear influence on the style of the language of celebrants when making use of freedoms allowed by the rubrics of the Ordinary Form to use their own words. That the rather everyday language of the present ICEL translations has encouraged an everyday and less sacred style of celebration was a clear implication to be drawn from these discussions.

The question raised is whether, with the new translations which promise a more explicitly sacred language and style, priests will be willing to take up a more sacred style of celebration. The new translation does appear to offer an opportunity for priests to respond to the more sacred and faithful style of celebration of the Ordinary Form that is expected by the idea of mutual enrichment associated with Summorum Pontificum