“So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” – 2 Thess. 2:14
The form of the Mass that Pope Benedict XVI has dubbed the “Extraordinary Form of the Mass” in his 2007 Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, has had a surging appeal amongst a number of Catholics in recent years. Catholics who lived in the years prior to the Second Vatican Council recognize it as the Mass that was celebrated then. The Missal for the New Order of Mass, or the “Ordinary Form,” was promulgated on April 3, 1969 and it is the form of the Mass with which the majority of Catholics are familiar today. Whether one prefers the Ordinary or the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, it is important to point out that both expressions are to convey, according to the Pope Benedict XVI, the desire of the Second Vatican Council “that the respect and reverence due to divine worship should be renewed and adapted to the needs of our time” (Summorum Pontificum).
It goes without saying that the implementation of the New Order of Mass since the Second Vatican Council has been largely problematic in a number of areas. Many places took liberties with the liturgy that were never the intention of the Council nor of Pope St. Paul VI when he implemented the new liturgy. People were shocked and saddened to see altar rails, statues, and stained-glass windows being stripped from their beloved churches. There were all sorts of abuses that were introduced into the Mass itself that were not in the rubrics nor in the prayers of the Mass. Hence, a number of good and faithful Catholics longed for the old rite of the Mass because they craved the transcendental beauty and reverence that had long been associated with it. Some of these Catholics have grouped together with each other along with certain priests and have become widely known as traditionalists.
I have spent a good amount of time dialoguing with traditionalists and trying to understand their views and perspective. While traditionalists can hold a wide range of views in regard to the Church and her liturgy, one thing they all have in common is a strong love and preference for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (also called the Tridentine Mass or the Traditional Latin Mass). They also crave solid traditional Catholic teaching and preaching. Most of the traditionalists with whom I have interacted are very good people who love Christ and his Church and who care for the salvation of souls. They desire to have priests and bishops who act as spiritual fathers rather than distant politicians.
Yet there was one common theme that has emerged among traditionalists with which I could never fully agree. Many of them hold negative views, to a greater or lesser extent, towards the Second Vatican Council and the New Mass (also known as the Ordinary Form or the Novus Ordo). Some of the more extreme traditionalists are known as “sedevacantists” (Latin for “vacant seat”), who go so far as to reject all of the popes who have been elected since the Second Vatican Council to the present. Unfortunately, such a position as sedevacantism places one in a state of schism with the Catholic Church, which is a grave sin. But then there are others who accept all of the popes to the present but they reject parts or the entirety of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, even though Pope Paul VI declared in a General Audience on January 12, 1966: “[the Council] provided its teaching with the authority of the Ordinary Magisterium which must be accepted with docility according to the mind of the Council concerning the nature and aims of each document.” There are some traditionalists who claim that the New Mass was not validly or licitly promulgated or that the old Mass was established by Pope St. Pius V for all time and could not be change by anyone including a pope. The problem with this position is that the promulgation of a revision of the Mass is a disciplinary matter that is well within the power and authority of the Supreme Pontiff. The pope has the authority to alter discipline but not doctrine.
I suppose that my intention in writing this is primarily to encourage fruitful discussion and dialogue among Catholics of different stripes with an open mind… While we may have legitimate disagreements with each other, we should keep in mind that regardless of which form of the Mass we attend, we all hold to the same Catholic faith are united in Christ Jesus, particularly in the Holy Eucharist.
My intention in writing this is not to refute all of the arguments presented by the traditionalists. Again, I think that many traditionalists are good and faithful Catholics. I may fundamentally disagree with some of their positions on Vatican II and the New Mass but I share their passion for truth, reverence, and for the perennial teaching of the Catholic Church. I also share their love for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. I do accept and love the New Mass as well especially when it is celebrated properly according to the mind of the Church (as we strive to do at the EWTN Chapel and the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament). Yet I understand the appeal of the Extraordinary Form along with its beauty, reverence, and solemnity. For many, the EF Mass speaks to the sublime, religious impulse that is natural to man to worship his Creator in the most fitting way possible. I suppose that my intention in writing this is primarily to encourage fruitful discussion and dialogue among Catholics of different stripes with an open mind. I have witnessed some of the discussions that have taken place on social media amongst Catholics. Some are quite amicable while others can become bitter and loaded with vitriol and insulting language. The latter does not exemplify the behavior of a good Christian. While we may have legitimate disagreements with each other, we should keep in mind that regardless of which form of the Mass we attend, we all hold to the same Catholic faith are united in Christ Jesus, particularly in the Holy Eucharist. We would do well when engaging with others to call to mind the words of St. Paul: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32). Let’s keep the dialogue going amongst all Catholics of goodwill and show the world the love and charity that each of us are to have for one another in Christ Jesus!
– Fr. Matthew Mary, MFVA