Dorothy Cummings McLean

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An anniversary worth celebrating: 10 years since Pope Benedict’s letter on Traditional Latin Mass

Dorothy Cummings McLean Dorothy Cummings McLean Follow Dorothy

EDINBURGH, Scotland, July 7, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — Benedict XVI is the author of many good books, but history may judge his most important and enduring work to be the four-page motu proprio he signed 10 years ago today on July 7, 2007.

Summorum Pontificum did nothing less than unshackle the Traditional Latin Mass from its chains and return it to the Catholic faithful. That hundreds of bishops have ignored both the apostolic letter that broadened access to the old rite and the spirit of the motu proprio is by the by. The Old Mass is ours again. If a Catholic cannot take another minute of the 1970 substitution — or at least the sad vulnerability to abuses — there is no need to follow the millions of his unhappy co-religionists who have abandoned Sunday worship. He can go to the Old Mass, the Traditional Latin Mass, the Gregorian Rite, the Mass of John XXIII, the Extraordinary Form — whichever name he prefers — instead. If he can’t find one within driving distance of his home, he can sell his house and move. People do. I would.

In his splendid new book Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness: Why the Modern Age Needs the Mass of Ages, Peter Kwasniewski celebrates the growth of the Traditional Mass in the United States. There the number of Sunday Masses in the Old Rite has gone from 20 in 1988 to 220 in 2006 to around 500 today. This is despite the disobedient vigilantism of churchmen who, in Kwasniewski’s words, “have given themselves the job of policing and protecting the mainstream Church from the ‘dangers’ and ‘errors’ and ‘bad attitudes’ of tradition-loving Catholics.”   

It’s curious that while attendance at the “ordinary” Mass has plummeted in the West since 1965, the numbers of Catholics now going to the “extraordinary” Mass has moved progressively upward. The Old Mass has been engendering priestly vocations, too. In France, the number of traditionalist priests ordained each year is steadily rising, whereas the diocesan clergy is in danger of extinction. Kwasniewski believes that eventually “the former will outnumber the latter.”

This will force French bishops to choose between shutting most of their churches or entrusting them to priests who celebrate only (or primarily) the Traditional Latin Mass. One hopes they will make the right decision. Kwasniewski, who is not immune to the half-exasperated sense of humor common to “trads”, is not so sure:

“One would think churchmen would and should do anything that promised to win souls for Christ, including the strange experiment of Tradition. Salus animarum suprema lex. [The salvation of souls is the supreme law.] When an institution is bleeding its members, when a local church is facing a catastrophic collapse in sacramental practice, one would expect its leaders to attempt even desperate and unlikely expedients, such as the revival of traditional Catholic practice. The passage of time has taught us, alas, that there are some, including far too many high-ranking clerics, who would rather lose Catholics than give up the aggiornamento. An empty church is at least a church with no Latin Mass, and empty pews will at least have no large homeschooling families that study Latin, wear veils, and give the Church vocations. Potential disaster averted.”

I myself go to Latin Mass on Sundays, among homeschooling families large and small, among newly wedded couples, elderly couples, widows, widowers, and the never-married. Most —but not all — of the girls and women wear veils. (I do.) Catholic Frenchwomen, no matter how traditionalist, tend not to wear veils, but an awful lot of the ones who visit our little FSSP (Fraternity of the Priests of Saint Peter) community do go to Masses celebrated by the SSPX (Society of Saint Pius X).

As Edinburgh Catholics who go to the Traditional Latin Mass, the FSSP congregation is a minority within a religious minority. Nevertheless, our numbers have also been rising as regulars marry, babies are born, growing families join us, and new university students take an interest. The elderly “old guard” have quietly made space for the newbies, and as most parents are good about taking squalling toddlers outside, a holy hush dominates the Mass. We “trads” don’t chat in the church before or after Mass, so there is an explosion of geniality once we reach the parking lot.  

One of the first things I noticed about the Traditional Latin Mass when I first arrived in Scotland was the reverent silence. It struck me as strange that the priest said so little aloud until I glanced at my fellow worshippers and saw how focused they were on the worship. Some of them owned black missals that they read silently; others followed along with photocopies or soft-covered booklets. Still others just gazed fixedly at the priest, their faces alight. Such obvious devotion transformed the silence from something alien to me to something mysterious and deeply desirable.

Later, I noticed that men outnumbered women in the building three to one. It wasn’t just that there was a small army of male servers on the altar and a small squad of male choristers at the back of the church. Male congregants alone outnumbered female worshippers. Outside Masses in houses of male religious and seminaries, I had never seen that before.

But I also came to discern that some of the “regular” parishioners who go to the English-language, Novus Ordo mass before us highly resent our presence in “their” church.  It’s as if they miss the old Catholic vs Protestant sectarianism that once marred Edinburgh life and desperately need someone different to look down on.

I find this both sad and incomprehensible. However, I suspect their contempt or fear (so odd in natives of such a friendly city) is the bitter fruit of priests and other well-meaning people who have bad-mouthed the Traditional Latin Mass to them for the past 50 years. Let’s hope it won’t take 50 more years for such Catholics to discover the truth and avail themselves of the wonderful treasures returned to us by Pope Benedict’s prophetic Summorum Pontificum.

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Dorothy Cummings McLean

Dorothy Cummings McLean is a Canadian journalist, essayist, and novelist. She earned an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Toronto and an M.Div./S.T.B. from Toronto’s Regis College. She was a columnist for the Toronto Catholic Register for nine years and regularly contributes to Catholic World Report.  Her first book, Seraphic Singles,  was published by Novalis (2010) in Canada, Liguori in the USA, and Homo Dei in Poland. Her second, Ceremony of Innocence, was published by Ignatius Press (2013).  Dorothy lives near Edinburgh, Scotland with her husband. 

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