Father Tim Finigan, well-known for his blog, The Hermeneutic of Continuity, presented a ‘nuts and bolts’ lecture at the LMS Merton College training conference for priests. Any priest wishing to introduce the Traditional Mass into his parish will benefit from Fr Tim’s wise words.
Since spending the first year of my priesthood finishing my licence, I have been called to serve the Church as a priest working in parishes, something I have done now for twenty-three years in various parishes in South East London. Therefore I am aware of the challenges that face many parish clergy when they seek to implement the Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum and introduce the older form of the Roman Rite in their parishes. I would like to say “Nolite timere” but I am realistic enough to recognise that there are real problems and difficulties which, as the ‘infantry’ of the Church, we need to face squarely and overcome.
Looking at Summorum Pontificum in a parish context, we must first of all recognise that the parish has its own context as a part of the diocese. The parish priest is given a canonical mission by his ordinary. Whatever view we might take of the Second Vatican Council’s emphasis upon the episcopate being the “fullness of the sacrament of orders” (Lumen Gentium n.21), there is no doubt that the priest does, juridically, work in co-operation with the ordinary and Summorum Pontificum recognises this (art.5.1).
Nevertheless, the diocese is also in a context, that of the whole Catholic Church. In some places, this ecclesial dimension of the diocese can be neglected. We have all seen the reports of those bishops who have played down Summorum Pontificum, suggesting for example that there is no demand for the Usus Antiquior. Others have attempted to reserve to themselves the decision as to whether a priest may or may not celebrate Mass according to the Usus Antiquior. The priest should, of course, be idoneus, suited to celebrating the Mass in the classical rite (Summorum Pontificum art.5.4). He should be able to pronounce the words correctly and intelligibly and carry out the ceremonies with competence.
The one thing that Summorum Pontificum does confirm without any doubt is that the priest does not need permission from his ordinary to celebrate this Mass. The Holy Father has said, motu proprio, that a priest does not need permission and this on principle because this form of the Roman Rite was never abrogated (Summorum Pontificum art.1).
As I hope we are demonstrating here at Merton College, the celebration of the ancient Roman Rite is within the reach of any priest. Some may need a little more training and practice, others less. Do not be intimidated by the magnificent liturgies that will be celebrated at this conference. They are not invented as ‘creative liturgy’: wherever you go, if a High Mass is celebrated with Deacon and Sub-deacon, the ceremonies will be exactly the same as those you will see here. It takes a little while to learn them; but once you have become familiar with them, there is nothing more to learn in terms of ceremonial: what you need to do then is to immerse yourself spiritually in the richness of the Roman Liturgy and receive from the Lord the gift of the sanctification that he brings to us through the sacred ceremonies.
In fulfilling his promise of obedience and respect to his ordinary, the priest is bound to be obedient in those matters in which the ordinary has authority over him, as St Thomas says (St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 2a 2ae q.104 art.5). The ordinary does not have the authority to require him to seek permission to celebrate the Gregorian Rite of Mass.
The duty of respect is one on which we may need to examine our conscience from time to time. However, we should also bear in mind the formulation of canon 273 of the 1984 Code of Canon Law which places reverence and obedience to the Supreme Pontiff in the first place. We should therefore accept the gift that the Holy Father has given us by liberating the older form of the Roman Rite.
Our relations with the ordinary and the diocese are also governed by the duty to acquire and practice the virtue of prudence. Taking one of two contrary excesses, I think that it is less likely that priests will deliberately and foolishly seek confrontation. The other excess, that of excessive timidity, is perhaps a greater temptation. The Holy Father has given us a good example: the Motu Proprio was obviously highly controversial. Many European bishops opposed it and yet he went ahead. His was the courageous prudence of seeing the need for a course of action, weighing it up and then taking action despite those who would seek to obfuscate, undermine, and oppose it.
In the parish
In considering the parish context of the Motu Proprio, I first wish to speak of the parish priest’s love for his people. In this gathering it is unnecessary to labour the point that I am not speaking of that disordered counterfeit which makes love to be a facile desire to keep everybody happy all the time.
Nevertheless, we should not forget that genuine Christian charity is at the heart of the parish priest’s life and mission. Those of us who have been in parishes for some years do indeed love our people. We have solemnised their marriages, baptised their children and given them their first Holy Communion: one of the most rewarding and joyful duties of the priest in the parish. We have accompanied them in the illness and death of their parents – sometimes we have had the heartbreaking duty of arranging the funeral of a child or young person.
In all these duties of his pastoral ministry, the priest builds up a web of relationships that is very much like that of a large and extended family. This is, I think, one of the best metaphors for the parish. In the life of this family of families, the Sunday Mass is of central and irreplaceable importance. This very centrality and importance means that changes to the liturgy can generate strong opinions and emotions.
Many of us would, I think, want to emphasise the parish priest’s responsibility for the liturgy. Many parishes nowadays have a ‘liturgy committee’ which arranges such things as the music to be sung. A mistaken concept of democracy in the Church has sometimes led such a group to imagine that they are ‘in charge’ of the liturgy and that the priest must obey them.
Inheriting such a situation presents particular difficulties that need great tact and wisdom to overcome. We do indeed depend on many people for the proper celebration of the liturgy. The care of the sacristy, the serving at the altar, the cleanliness and tidiness of the Church and the provision of sacred music all require that the priest co-operate with and encourage many lay people to serve the Church in these ways.
In many parishes, there will not always be a large number of people who spontaneously request the older form of the Roman Rite. It will be the responsibility of the parish priest to introduce this in order that people may benefit from the riches that the rite has to offer. He will be encouraged by the words of Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos:
Let me say this plainly: the Holy Father wants the ancient use of the Mass to become a normal occurrence in the liturgical life of the Church so that all of Christ’s faithful – young and old – can become familiar with the older rites and draw from their tangible beauty and transcendence (Address to the Latin Mass Society, London, 14 June 2008).
The introduction of the Traditional Rite will be a proper exercise of the priest’s authority in the liturgy and will be a great benefit to his parish. It will also be an important demonstration of the unity of the parish with the Holy See.
The parish priest needs to be aware of the needs of his parishioners. He will be acutely aware of the failure of the Church in England and Wales effectively to teach the doctrine of the Catholic Faith to children and the consequent lack of basic knowledge of many of his adult parishioners. They also feel this lack. He will also be aware of the failure of the liturgy as it is often celebrated, to communicate a sense of the sacred. People hold conversations in Church, receive Holy Communion without preparation or thanksgiving, and often without actually living according to the law of the Church, as for example is the case with many cohabiting couples.
Our people have need of a new experience of the sacred liturgy that speaks to them of the eternal and the transcendent. Despite well over thirty years of vernacular liturgy designed to be intelligible, people often do not understand that the Mass is a sacrifice or that Christ is substantially present in the Holy Eucharist. The very idea that the Liturgy is capable of immediate intelligibility is itself an indication that we have misunderstood the nature of that Liturgy.
The restoration of the Classical Roman Rite to our parishes cannot of itself solve all these problems immediately; but it cannot be denied that it is a help in arresting the decline. The very unfamiliarity of the rite and its striking difference from the manner in which Mass is ordinarily celebrated helps to raise those questions about the Liturgy that our people most need to be confronted with.
How do people react? Parish clergy will recognise the picture if I say that there are a few who are very favourable, a few who are strongly against and the substantial majority who simply wonder what Father is doing now. This is the case with most parish initiatives: a minority of people take an active interest; most simply come to Church, propelled by a variety of motivations, and are open to whatever is put before them, good or bad. It is important not to neglect this majority of our parishioners in deference to a vocal minority.
As a parish priest who has reintroduced the Traditional Liturgy into ordinary parish life, I am faced with a number of common objections to it. I will try to draw some lessons from the most common three.
“I don’t understand Latin”: This is a revealing objection in that there is an underlying assumption that we do understand everything about the Mass when it is celebrated in English. Leaving aside for a moment the question of the transcendent and mysterious nature of what we are celebrating, it is very obvious to me as a parish priest that the very parts of the Mass that are intended to be most intelligible are not well understood at all. After going through the new rite Sunday cycle of readings ten times in our parishes, I doubt whether those who have not specifically studied the scriptures could give a simple account of St Paul’s Letter to the Romans.
The older form of the Mass is better suited to a variety of levels of intellectual engagement. A person who is fluent in his reading skills can follow the Mass in a bilingual Missal and perhaps read up about the texts that are used. A person for whom this would be difficult need not be troubled but could participate quite effectively using a scheme of prayer that helps people to engage with the rite in terms of the mysteries that are celebrated and our response to them. So, for example, a person might make an act of contrition during the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, think of some episode from the life of Christ during the Epistle and Gospel, say some prayers of adoration and praise during the Canon or imagine himself to be at the foot of the Cross in union with Our Lady.
This can even be done with very young children. At Lourdes, I had the experience of helping some young children from my parish to participate at Mass in this way and I am convinced that they have never participated in such an informed and genuinely liturgical spirit whilst attempting to follow a passage from the Book of Numbers in their Parish Mass Book. Therefore, I think it is helpful to confront this difficulty ‘head on’.
“The priest has his back to the people”: Again, this is a telling objection. People have become used to seeing the priest as the centre of attention during the Mass, rather than God. I believe that the problem is as stark as that.
In some cases, the priest has enthusiastically taken up the role of popular entertainer. At one of our seminaries some years ago, the Professor of Liturgy advised his students to take as a model for themselves the broadcaster Terry Wogan. If the priest does not attempt this, but celebrates Mass in a formal ritual manner, using the same formulae of greeting each time and keeping his own personal comments to the notices and sermon, people may well accuse him of being cold and unwelcoming. Should he then celebrate Mass with his back to them, they simply see this as rudeness.
Mass celebrated with the priest facing eastwards is something that the people need to become accustomed to over a period of time. The priest would do well to explain why he is facing eastward and can use a number of simple phrases to characterise it. For example, he can explain that we are together turned towards the Lord, to the heavenly Jerusalem, to the Second Coming of Christ in glory.
There is no substitute, however, for habituation and experience. This may be reinforced from time to time by further explanation, but I believe that this highly visible element of Traditional liturgy cannot be satisfactorily prepared for by ‘catechesis’. For many people it will be a shock to begin with, and the priest needs to have the courage to persevere with it because it is right in principle.
“Why are we going back”: The most vociferous opposition to Traditional liturgy is found in the generation that was active in the Church as young adults in the immediate post-conciliar period. They remember the excitement of change and the friendships formed at that time. They do not remember the Church before the Council very well. They were young children then. What they will remember is the torrent of slogans saying how bad things were in the old days and how it all needed to be changed. Therefore they see the Traditional liturgy, not as a return to something bad that they had experienced, but as the return to a mythical evil past that was graphically denigrated by all of those who were promoting the new initiatives that they were engaged in as young adults.
This generation also happens to be the one that has young adult children. I find it helpful to refer to them without, I hope, any insulting undertones, as the young grandparent generation. They will be particularly sensitive to the fact that their own young adult children have lapsed from the Faith entirely or attend Church occasionally to fulfil family and social obligations. Since the young grandparents remember the revolutionary changes of their own young adulthood with enthusiasm, and the concomitant scornful rejection of the past, they will easily transfer these attitudes to their own adult children, assuming that Traditional liturgy will be the last thing to attract them. As we know from the age profile of the Traditionalist movement, nothing could be further from the truth.
We might observe that the three things I have spoken of – the use of Latin, facing eastwards, and the return to the sacred – are all elements that should be present in the newer form of the Roman Rite. The mutual enrichment spoken of by Pope Benedict in Summorum Pontificum may at least remind some priests and people of the principles that are still part of the modern liturgy.
In addition to these common objections, there is perhaps a certain confusion with regard to one of the most striking elements of the older form of the Roman Rite, the silent Canon. A parishioner wrote to me once after Midnight Mass. He was angry because his grown up child had come to the Mass and had not enjoyed it. He was particularly annoyed that the Canon had been recited quietly and said, “We were left staring into space.” This summed up for me the gap in understanding that needs to be filled, the idea that unless the priest is saying something in the hearing of the people, they are simply left ‘doing nothing’. Why not pray in union with the action of God that is taking place?
Cardinal Ratzinger addressed this in relation to the silent Canon and participation: “It really is not true that reciting the whole Eucharistic Prayer out loud and without interruptions is a prerequisite for the participation of everyone in this central act of the Mass” (The Spirit of the Liturgy, San Francisco, 2000, p.215).
For many people, the silent Canon is a more significant difference between the older and newer forms of the Roman Rite than even the use of Latin. It is here that the fundamental question of how we participate at Mass is posed. The silent Canon makes it possible to participate in various ways: either by following the texts that the priest is praying on our behalf, or by following some devotional text that takes us into the heart of the Mystery, or by meditating on the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. The last suggestion, of course, leads us to that great taboo of adherents of the later phase of the Liturgical Movement: the idea of saying the Rosary at Mass. I was amused to hear from students in Rome that Pope John Paul II did precisely this in his latter years when attending Mass but unable for health reasons to preside.
A gradual approach
In my own parish, I have attempted to manage liturgical change by bringing things in gradually, introducing some Latin, purchasing some more worthy vestments, using the Communion plate, installing altar rails, arranging for Mass to be said sometimes in Latin, and finally introducing a Latin Mass into our regular schedule of Sunday Masses.
This Latin Mass has gradually become the older form of the Mass. I have to be honest and admit that we are not fully ‘there’ yet. My choir have taken some time to become accustomed to the idea that we should sing the Mass and not sing at the Mass. I am hoping that soon we may be able to bring in the practice of singing the Propers according to a psalm tone at least. So I am not by any means presenting my parish as a model for the Traditional form of the Mass. I have the same problems as you have and, like you, I do not wish to drive people away.
Some of these Traditional practices can inform our celebrations of the novus ordo in the parish. The silent offertory, the use of careful gestures during the Mass, the use of the Roman Canon, can all help to bring the Liturgy into that unity which Pope Benedict clearly desires.
To be honest, I am not convinced that the novus ordo in Latin is a good preparation for celebration in the older form: people are sometimes disappointed that their exercises in Latin pronunciation have ‘gone to waste’. The idea of allowing freedom for different kinds of participation is a much more important concept to introduce since the idea of “actuosa participatio” has become so ingrained. This notion of participation has become equated with ‘doing things’. A useful point is to explain to people that they may respond at the older form of the Mass – but should do so quietly, in a whisper. We then get to the essence of ‘participation’ in that it does not need to be something seen or heard by others in an earthly way. It needs to be something seen and heard by Almighty God.
In all cases, we should introduce changes in the liturgy of our parishes with the motive of charity. Since we are all aware of the lapsation of so many people, their failure to be nourished by the current form of the liturgy, and the sheer joy and love of young people who have discovered the older form of the Roman Rite, it is a part of our pastoral charity for our people to make the older form more widely available and to invite our parishioners to experience it.
My current project in this regard is to encourage young families to attend the Mass. I find that young families who do not necessarily become enthusiastically involved with Traditional liturgy are nevertheless increasingly drawn to the quieter and less dialogical celebration of the Mass. They are able to come with their children and participate appropriately. It matters rather less if their baby makes a bit of noise. The structure of the Traditional sung Mass where different things are happening at the same time means that they are not so worried if they have missed a part of the action. To put it simply: they are able to come to the Church and pray.
The priest’s spiritual life
At a gathering of priests, I want to say a few words about the impact of the Usus Antiquior on the spiritual life of the priest. The old Mass has often been called the Tridentine Mass. We know that this is wrong – Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos during his recent visit to London called to it the Gregorian Mass in reference to its antiquity in all essentials far beyond the Council of Trent. However, it is worthwhile reflecting that the Tridentine priestly asceticism has, to a great degree, disappeared from our training, whether initial or ‘ongoing’, from our retreats, and from the books written for priests.
In addition to the Mass itself, there are the prayers before and after Mass, the assumption that the priest will make his meditation early in the morning, the cycle and the burden of the Roman breviary which truly sanctifies the day since the priest is always aware that he has some ‘office to say’.
Also, the celebration of the Mass in the older form is a tremendous relief for the priest. No longer the entertainer, the leader of a ‘school assembly’ style of worship, he can pray the Mass with and for his people. The same could be said about the other sacraments. Since Summorum Pontificum, I have routinely baptised children using the old Roman Ritual. Nobody has as yet complained and I still have the customary compliments (“Lovely service, Father”). Pastorally, it is so much more effective. People have a visceral sense that their baby needs to be protected from evil and they are reassured by the prayers beginning, “Exorcizo te...” They are happy that the priest carries out a rite that is unambiguously sacral and do not naturally ask for any didactic element apart from the sacred character of the rite itself.
The priest’s own holiness is central to his effectiveness in the apostolate. I believe that the celebration of the older form of the Mass is a great contribution to the priest’s life of prayer and I know many will agree with me. People will instinctively understand this and welcome it.
Fathers, it is a great pleasure to be with you in this adventure of Catholic Tradition. The form of Mass that we are celebrating publicly this week is the form of Mass that our saints and martyrs knew and loved. If nothing else were achieved than that we understand a little more clearly what they lived and died for, that would be a great deal. The main thing is that we can do more than that. As priests, we can use the Sacred Liturgy of the Church as they did, to inspire, nourish and sanctify our people whose souls we are called to lead to salvation. May God help us in this work.
Father Tim Finigan is Parish Priest of Our Lady of the Rosary in Blackfen, SE London, Dean of the Bexley Deanery of the Archdiocese of Southwark and visiting tutor in Sacramental Theology at St John’s Seminary, Wonersh.
[Taken from "Mass of Ages" November 2008, The Latin Mass Society's quarterly magazine]