Mass Panic – On Limiting the Extraordinary Form

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Pope Francis in Korea
Pope Francis in Korea

There have been rumours on and off for years that Pope Francis will suppress or limit the use of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. Rumours from the conspiracy theorist side, and rumours from the rational side. Now the rumours say there is a document in development.

Let’s assume the rumours are true this time, since they come from more reliable sources. The most suitable dates for its release would be 7 July, corresponding to the release of Summorum Pontificum by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007, or 14 September, corresponding to the effective date of that document. The most suitable year for its release, in my opinion, would be after the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Otherwise restrictions, depending on their nature, would be a huge slap in his face.

Traditionalism has become toxic during Pope Francis’ pontificate, and even more so amongst the political right wing, especially in the USA and those who follow the USA like a beast, which is most of the English-speaking world. Traditionalism was probably toxic before this as well, but I didn’t really notice. But I do think Summorum Pontificum has allowed some forms of that toxicity to flourish.

Punishment

Limiting the Extraordinary Form will not solve many of the problems with the problematic branches of traditionalism, other than to limit its growth, at least in terms of liturgical gatherings of such people. For those less toxic, and there are probably many, maybe even a majority, it will be more of a punishment than a solution to a problem. And it would be a terrible loss for those people, and the more toxic end of the spectrum, and it would be a loss for the Church as a whole. But, as they say, if you can’t play nicely, your privileges get revoked. And I would now think it appropriate to classify the Extraordinary Form as a privilege, considering that the normative form is the Ordinary Form. Even if it’s currently considered a “right”, Pope Francis has the authority to change that “right” into a privilege.

The Tridentine Mass, by the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter
The Tridentine Mass, by the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter, available from http://fssp.org

Reform is needed

In a way, one of the provisions of Summorum Pontificum created a contradictory situation. The bishop is supposed to be the master of the liturgical practice of his diocese. After Summorum Pontificum, that power of the bishop seemed to become limited, creating two masters – the bishop, and any priest who disagreed with the bishop. That, I think, needs fixing. The logical fix is to revoke the free-for-all use of the Extraordinary Form by dissident priests and place it squarely at the discretion of the local bishop.

Adequate training in Latin and in the rubrics of the Extraordinary Form should also be a requirement, ideally signed off by the local bishop and not by Rome.

That, I think, is the most that will happen.

Other possible limitations

In addition to returning the liturgy to the control of the local bishop, there are other restrictions that seem logically possible. Their prudence is debatable.

The Extraordinary Form could be limited to (and promoted for) important feasts, and used much like the Divine Liturgy of St Basil, which is apparently used ten times per year in the Byzantine Churches. Mary Mother of God … Epiphany … Annunciation … Ascension Thursday Sunday … Pentecost … Corpus Christi … Assumption … Immaculate Conception … Christmas. That’s nine, a nice round number in a religious sense. You get the picture. I would exclude Holy Week for the purposes of unity, and I would include Christmas for the purpose of diversity. We already have more than one date for Easter in the Catholic Church each year, and we are working to solve that. We already have more than one date for Christmas each year, even within the Latin Church, and we have already been liberal with that, so let’s retain that diversity. Unlike with the Divine Liturgy of St Basil, the Ordinary Form would remain the norm at all these times (even while the EF Mass is promoted), at least for now.

If a bishop so chooses, additional days could be added to his diocese’s liturgical practice.

Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, USA, 2013
Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, USA, 2013

Existing groups such as the FSSP and ICKSP and Transalpine Redemptorists should get to retain their status as saying only the Extraordinary Form Mass, and maybe there can be a restriction on bishops to prevent them from disallowing FSSP et al within their diocese from using the Extraordinary Form (i.e. forcing them to use the Ordinary Form), perhaps as personal prelatures under the Pope, as some are, or even with overlapping jurisdictions such as we see with some places where Eastern Catholics and Latin Catholics coincide. Return to full communion by the SSPX would logically place them under the same rules, ideally with the same sort of governance, which would mean they do not get to retain their own bishops after the deaths of the current ones.

This would leave right wing clergy such as Frs Zuhlsdorf and Altman in a bit of a pickle, but, quite frankly, they can move to the equally racist right wing compound in Texas that Bishop Strickland is setting up, gun range and all. In fact, all problematic priests in the USA can be donated to his diocese. Elsewhere in the world, other plans will be needed.

There should be further clarity from local bishops regarding the irregular and schismatic status of the SSPX within their dioceses, with each bishop free to invite them to closer local unity or to ignore them and warn their flocks accordingly.

There could also be clarity regarding what is abrogated and what is not, what is limited / restricted and what is not.

Excommunications

I think Pope Francis is being far too lenient with the dangerous crackpots in the Church, particularly the likes of Archbishop Vigano, Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Frs Pavone and Zuhlsdorf, and prominent laity like Taylor Marshall. Their quasi-schism is growing. Restricting the Latin Mass will make them more vocal and they will infect more Catholics. I think Pope Francis should nip this in the bud right now and move them out of the Church and let them take their current extremist followers with them, and most of their followers will remain Catholic. Waiting too long before kicking out the quacks will just allow them to spread their false gospel, thereby growing the number who will leave later on. Local bishops are not doing this fast enough. Pope Francis is talking about rigidity, but I think he should get bishops to act, and act himself for those who are above the level a local bishop can act on. We do not need a COVID-denying gun-toting antivaxxer conspiracy theorist Church sui iuris set up within the universal Church with Cardinal Burke as patriarch and Trump as monarch. It is doing harm, and needs to be removed from the Church soon. Unfortunately, like such crises in the past, we will probably have to let time heal this blight.

Finally, for those of you who realise that I will never be pope, and will never be an advisor to the pope, you can now heave a sigh of relief. For those of you who do not realise this, be afraid. Be very afraid.

Further reading:

Is Pope Francis Writing New Document to Restrict the Extraordinary Form? – National Catholic Register [toxicity alert: comments]
Will Pope Francis Restrict The Latin Mass? – The Reproach of Christ

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