The LMS’s second annual conference to train priests in the Usus Antquior took place at Merton College, Oxford from 28 July to 1 August. Fifty-seven priests attended. Father Bede Rowe, a young priest of the Clifton diocese, reports.
The Latin Mass Society training conferences at Merton College, Oxford, by happy coincidence, or the work of Almighty God, have taken place at moments of great significance in the Church’s recent history.
Of course there have only been two conferences so far. They straddle, however, the implementation of His Holiness’ Motu Proprio and so they can be seen, in many ways, as a before and after snapshot of the Church in England and Wales, i.e. a reflection of the state of the liturgical life, and therefore the fundamental life, of the Church.
I did not attend the LMS training conference in 2007, so I do not have any first hand experience of the mood of the participants. Many who were there, however, have spoken of an atmosphere bristling with opportunity and hope (and I am sure not a little fear). This year contained realistic rejoicing. There is no need to hope and wonder what will happen, because it is taking place now. The only questions concern the details regarding the implementation of the Motu Proprio.
The world of the internet has reflected upon this change in situation, and its initial response is instructive. One of the strongest reactions recorded on blogsites has been the priests’ response not so much to the conference, but to the brotherhood it shed light on. In many ways this is as important as information imparted, or classes given (more of which below). This feeling was one of acceptance; acceptance of one’s priesthood, of one’s liturgical stand, simply of one’s ecclesiology. For the first time, many felt at ease in the presence of their brother clergy, and more than that, not only at ease but positively enjoying it.
Until recently, as the Extraordinary Form of Holy Mass was sidelined and in many quarters derided, so the priests who were attached to it were, in many cases, similarly sidelined and derided. Thank God that faithful priests kept the lamp of the Mass burning, though they suffered for it. Now, the world is different, and as the ancient form of Mass can no longer be marginalised, neither can the self-understanding of the priesthood which underpins it.
Perhaps this is why many priests at Merton College felt that they ‘belonged’.
This must be kept in mind when assessing the fruits of the conference. It performed a function: teaching priests to offer the Sacraments and Holy Mass according to the ancient forms. It also did something more intangible: it encouraged the priests involved.
So what then happened at this conference to bring about such results?
The conference was aimed at priests at varying stages of familiarity with the ancient rites. One group was concerned with learning the rubrics of Low Mass, while others concentrated on Sung and High Mass. There were also classes in the traditional rites of the Sacraments, Latin and the Breviary.
Fruits of the conference
I was not present at the classes for learning Low Mass. There was, however, one to one instruction and there is never a substitute for this. No matter where it happens, be it on an altar or a chest of drawers, this manner of training is a great aid for the bread and butter rubrics. Many of us, when first we come across the Extraordinary Form, have to unlearn laissez faire attitudes to rubrics. This takes patience and humility. The dedication of the teaching priests at Merton College is to be commended. By their fruits shall ye know them, and so it was with great joy that we learned that by the end of the conference a number of priests said their first Masses in the Extraordinary Form.
I am convinced that one of the reasons why priests are reluctant to say the Traditional Mass, or even allow it to be celebrated, is that they are embarrassed by being unable to perform what would previously have been the basic actions of a priest. This was not the case with those who came to Merton open to being taught, but it is a great sign to others that lack of rubrical knowledge and Latin are not insurmountable objections to implementing the Motu Proprio. Learning rubrics can of course be carried out with a book, but there is nothing to compare with the practical hands-on advice and guidance of a fellow priest. All of these things, of course, would have been available in traditional seminary instruction. The LMS conference at Merton has supplied this gap in formation. Let us hope that we are the last generation of priests to have such a lack in our knowledge.
It must have been more difficult to arrange the detailed instruction for the groups studying the Missa Cantata and High Mass. However, being taught to sing the prayers was again a process of showing that the skills were already there in the priests’ experience. All that was needed was for them to be brought out, and for the priests to realise that there was nothing to fear! I can also say, from personal knowledge, that this was an excellent time simply to ask questions of a very basic nature: I now know when to sing that tone for the prophecy!
We also had an informative High Mass ‘walk through’. It lacked the strength of the Low Mass mentoring - one-to-one accompaniment - but this was not possible, of course, for a group of thirty. However, for light relief we did have the unforgettable moment of Fr Seán Finnegan intoning the Gloria to a guitar-accompanied ‘Salazar’ setting!
Other groups studied the Sacraments of Baptism, Marriage and Anointing. The liturgical books are quite clear concerning these, so the main point of the sessions was simply encouragement and to look at the wealth and background of the rites themselves. There were also sessions on the funeral rite, the Traditional Calendar and Vespers and Benediction.
Rediscovering the Divine
The conference also included three profound lectures. The Revd Dr Laurence Hemming spoke on the first day of the theology of the Liturgy. This set the Liturgy not just in the history of the Church, but also in its current societal setting. The throw away society cannot be incorporated into a Catholic theology for it leads, as we have seen, to discontinuity. Doctor Hemming exposed the untruth that in the fourth century the holy rites were put into a vernacular language (Latin, as it happens), and that the post-Vatican II reformers were simply restoring this preference for the vernacular. This staple fodder of current seminary training is, of course nonsense. The realm of the Divine is, by its very nature and for our protection, ‘above and beyond’ and is shielded by language and ritual action. These ritual actions are hierarchically arranged, especially liturgically.
Father Tim Finigan spoke the next day on the implementation of the Motu Proprio in a parish setting (see page 11). He addressed common complaints made by some parishioners about the ancient use of the Church - people do not understand Latin, the priest ‘has his back to the people’ and the plaintive question, “Why are we going back?” While identifying the problems that many face, and the honest reasons why some people have problems with the Extraordinary Form, Fr Finigan encouraged implementation step by step. Education was the key: an education that was often missing in the post-1960s.
Finally, Dr Alcuin Reid spoke concerning Summorum Pontificum one year on (see page 4). He addressed particular responses that had been made concerning the implementation of the Motu Proprio. We are all aware that these are many and varied! His key point was that Summorum Pontificum is a legal document with legal consequences. The world has changed; we must all get used to it.
Having reported on the social and educational aspects of the Merton conference, only the liturgy remains. There was a great generosity extended by the Oxford Oratory in allowing private Masses to be said by the priest participants every morning. The logistics of this were excellently executed. There was also no pressure on any priest to say Holy Mass in one form or the other. This is essential in our dealings with those who are discovering the Traditional Rite. If priests have felt forced into one groove in the past, then we, of all people, should have the grace to extend a truly liberal hand to our brother priests.
We know of the importance of the hinges of Lauds and Vespers and the centrality of Holy Mass. The fullest form of worship is sung, and the Church speaks of noble simplicity. Contrary to what you may have heard, noble simplicity includes copes, incense, acolytes, beautiful vestments, plainchant and polyphony. It does not include whitewashed, naked banality. The public celebration of the Traditional Rites was our lived reality for a week. The variety of the celebrations of Mass, from Pontifical High Mass to simple Sung Mass, gave an example of both the beauty and ease of these liturgies, and the possibilities of what can be achieved in a parish setting. A great help in this were the schola (who had specially travelled from France) and organist. All such adornments aid the proper celebration of Holy Mass. To stand in the courts of God and participate properly in the worship of Almighty God, in a way which does not involve endless ‘doing’, is indeed a foretaste of Heaven.
Bishop Malcolm McMahon of Nottingham presided at Pontifical Vespers and said many good things to the priest participants at supper afterwards. These were reported extensively in the Catholic press. He spoke well and was well received. Abbot Emmanuel-Marie of St Mary’s Abbey, Lagrasse, pontificated at the High Mass on the final day with great grace and dignity.
The LMS training conference at Merton College delivers many different benefits: beautiful liturgy and priestly fraternity are in themselves enough to commend it, but there was also the crucial matter of the practical teaching of the Extraordinary Form. All those involved in the teaching and the organisation of the conference are to be thanked.
Let me finish by giving you an example of how the LMS conference leads to practical change. My parish in Warminster, Wiltshire offers the Extraordinary Form most weekdays and every Sunday. These are all Low Masses. On Sunday 31 August (the great feast of the sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost) I and two fellow priests sang a High Mass. A fuller expression of the worship of God took place. This would not have happened without the encouragement of the LMS conference. I am very grateful - as are my people.
[Taken from "Mass of Ages" November 2008, The Latin Mass Society's quarterly magazine]