Tridentine Analysis

Jeffrey Tucker asks how the supposedly immanent “liberalization” of the 1570/1962 Missal will affect “Catholic liturgical culture.” You can check the original post here, but you’ll have to look a bit down the cluster of 26/03/07 posts. I’ll comment on each of his theses and add a few of my own.

Jeffrey dismisses the thought of Roman Catholicism returning wholesale to the past. He’s spot on correct: it will never happen. Likewise, he thinks little of the notion that the upcoming motu proprio will signal a return to autocratic ways of the past.

It provides people more choice, not less. It is granting more liberty, not taking liberty away,” Tucker writes.

I doubt that freedom is necessarily on the minds of promoters of the 1570/1962 Rite or the CDWDS. If it were, a good exercise in freedom would be any number of reasonable liturgical reforms moving ahead for the Church as a whole or for particular groups who would benefit. I do think we’re seeing an era in which uniformity is prized as some sort of magical recipe for liturgical success. The consideration that an unreformed 1570/1962 Rite should be more “free” is a glaring exception as an excuse/benefit, and perhaps something of a hypocritical one.

Jeffrey also doubts a “bifurcation,” a notion I would call the ghetto-ization of Catholic liturgy. It was tried in the 70’s. It’s still found wanting. We can do without the medusa heads of folk Mass, organ Mass, family Mass, quiet Mass, youth Mass, polka Mass, LifeTeen Mass, and the like. I think most mainstream parishes will not see a 2PM Tridentine Low Mass as part of their schedule. Ironically, it will be the traditionalists clinging to the liturgical ghetto mentality as the progressives try to clean the muck off the soles of their platform shoes.

I put less faith in the notion that a “freed” traditional liturgy will somehow inspire a lifting of the liturgical level in the Church. Read Jeffrey’s thesis:


However you look at it, the Motu Proprio revives the classical ideal as a kind of religio-cultural currency. Its status will be re-legitimized. This is hugely important because of one of the grave defects in the modern rite: it lacks rubrics that dictate a certain liturgical result. For this reason, it is too often used as a vessel into which the celebrant and the liturgy teams dump their agenda. Some of this is tendency results from bad intentions but lots of it is entirely innocent. People don’t have the model of the old Mass in their mind. Sometimes it takes only one attendance to create the epiphany: oh so that’s how Catholic liturgy is supposed to sound and feel! This impact here could be huge, and, I think, overshadow the bifurcation tendency mentioned above. There is also this interesting possibility: pastors will be inspired to fix up the new rite and make it more solemn and correct precisely to forestall what they consider a worse choice of actually having to learn the old rite and put it in place as a parish option.

I’m unconvinced by this line of thinking. First, the “certain liturgical result” is dependent on God, not on human beings executing the proper directions. Now, I’m not saying that following rubrics and guidelines is meaningless. I am saying that though horrific errors were made in implementation and in the Mass in many places, the simple fact is that people worshipped God and experienced a measure of sanctification despite holding hands, lay preaching, non-classical music, and even liturgical dancing.

Ironically, it is the traditionalists, who by ignoring even their own potential implementation of Vatican II, have made their own liturgical observance a vessel for their own political statements on ministry, ecclesiology, and culture, not to mention in the most radical fringes, part of an advocacy for racism, elitism, and other unseemly and misanthropic sensibilities.

Will pastors really be inspired to fix up the new rite when their urban parish is crumbling, their rural parish bleeds its young adults, or their suburban complex awaits new computers and labs, a new ball field and gym, all the while their school gobbles upwards of 75% of the parish budget only to feed 8th graders into an elite college prep system instead of Sunday Mass? Fifty to two hundred Tridentine worshippers per diocese will hardly register for pragmatic pastors who are barely trained in liturgy, let alone the guys who want to do right by liturgy, but just don’t see their way out of the forest.

Like the Vatican II documents, Jeffrey ends on a note of optimism. If this happens, I would welcome it:


They will then have to take a new look at mainstream Catholic life in the U.S. and begin to make themselves part of it. They will have to adapt to the new reality, come out of their bunkers, and make a positive contribution to Catholic life in this country. They will also have to adjust to the fact that the major source of their disgruntlement will have been addressed. They will have to be happy again, and, oddly, this change doesn’t always come easy for people who have lived in despair for so long.

The genius of the liturgical reforms of Vatican II included a rejection of the magic-rubric connection. The obvious drawback is that clergy and lay leadership could be emboldened to put way too much of a personal mark on the Mass. Where rubrics were silent, mischief sometimes giggled.

And yet the bulk of the post-conciliar work on better presiding and preaching has come from progressives or moderates such as Bob Hovda or Walter Burghardt. Very little material of consequence to mainstream Catholicism has come from traditionalists. Even progressive musicians and publishers have maintained the offerings of high-quality classical music used in many parishes. Granted, it is hard to collaborate from a bunker. But what are traditionalists asking for? A sense of Sinatra, let-me-have-it-my-way? Is that really Catholic?

To be treated with any sense of collaboration, I do think the traditionalists will eventually have to address areas of conflict with the prescriptions of Vatican II. Naturally, I wouldn’t expect them to adopt everything from Inter Oecumenici on forward, but the conciliar criticisms of the 1570 Rite will indeed require answers on some level. Otherwise, one might logically conclude that a whole lot of Vatican II was optional and why wouldn’t or shouldn’t more license be granted to local Churches beyond what conservatives in the curia or the cathedra might grudgingly concede?

So maybe this freeing will be a fact, and maybe not. These would be my predictions:

1. The secular press will misconstrue it and blow the announcement, if it really does happen, out of proportion.

2. The Catholic press will surface the news on the diocesan level with the blandness of watered-down skim milk.

3. Parish pastors, musicians, and liturgists, will shake their heads, will find the sun rising the following day, and get back to the important work at hand: leading the parish’s liturgy.

4. If the announcement does come, it will be criticized by far more on the right than those who will welcome it. It won’t usher in a liturgical nirvana. Therefore: work of the devil. Or a spineless, fluffy pope.

5. It will still depend on local clergy or imports from afar. Many American traditionalists might find their more progressive expectations in administration a bit befuddled by arch-conservative priests. If you had more than one traditionalist parish within a locale, people would flock to the one headed by the most attractive priest. That can’t be a recipe for success.

6. Essentially, the 1570/1962 Mass will be a centerpeice of a sort of quasi-missionary liturgical activity. Not too different sociologically than seeker services.

7. Pope Benedict is smart enough to see the traditionalists have almost the best of things right now. They can pour resources into isolated locations. Most aren’t burdened with schools, funerals, and the other headaches of parish life. More 1570/1962 Rite observances will divide, weaken, and dilute the efforts to preservation. If you had a Catholic Church with half worshipping 1962-style and the other half looking ahead, I suspect the cream would pour to the progressive end.

But until it’s actually a done, promulgated deal, it’s still all speculation.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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4 Responses to Tridentine Analysis

  1. Tony says:

    What I don’t understand is why these traditionalists, with all the traditional priests that they expect to be coming out of the woodwork after this “vaporware” is promulgated, have not simply been dedicating themselves to a more prayerful liturgy using Latin if they wish, organ, chant and plainsong? Use as much incense as they like and candles and bell ringing?

    If this sort of worship is so popular, why isn’t it more widespread?

    Maybe I’m missing something. Is the 1966 missal some sort of “magic formula” for the Holy Mass? Isn’t this a particularly insidious sort of idolatry?

    I tend to agree with you. Our parish life is probably not going to change at all. There are many things we are allowed to do at mass that we don’t do. The Tridentine rite will simply be one of them.

    I think the next thing the traddies will work on is beseeching the Pope to “make them do it!”.

  2. Gavin says:

    Todd, as much as I share your (ahem) “enthusiasm” for the MP, I must say I enjoyed Jeff’s article, although I found some predictions far-fetched. Given I’m too swamped in Holy Week work to enjoy discussing why the MP is a bad idea, I’ll simply respond to your predictions (hey, it’s better than writing bulletins!)

    1. absolutely.

    2. No, I think they’ll do the same thing as the secular press: exaggerate. OR they’ll relegate it to a tiny collumn in the corner.

    3. If you’re referring to those on the more “progressive” side of liturgy, yes I do think they’ll likely ignore it, although the far-out liberals may get into some rage over it. But that’s how you identify the “far-out” ones. Plus they all write for NPR.

    I should mention I don’t think good liturgically “conservative” church workers will do much either. My boss has been studying the Pian Mass, but he also knows better than to drop it on a parish that doesn’t want it. People doing Latin, chant, etc. will realize “hey, this is pretty nice in itself, why bother with the 1962 Mass?” and stick to what we’ve been doing.

    4. Agreed. Basically, as Tony hinted at, they don’t REALLY want “liberation”. Well, many do, but there’s also many of them who want to see the new Mass gotten rid of. We all know who they are from reading NLM.

    5. As opposed to the “flood of priests” that all of them predict? Yeah, I don’t see much happening in terms of growth of the movement. Perhaps the biggest benefit for them is that they won’t have to feel like outsiders anymore. Which will no doubt harm the movement in itself. Even consider vocations. It’s pretty easy to get seminarians when you’re a repressed minority. Once you’re accepted and closer to “mainstream”, it loses some of the romance. Which is actually quite unfortunate, as we all know how much priests are needed.

    6. Too many long words.

    7. A couple interesting points in there that I don’t feel like adressing.

    Tony makes the #1 point, which is where’s the organ, chant, and Latin at these parishes with “repressed” members and priests? Perhaps what it comes down to is that, rather than WORKING at introducing these things, the traditionalist just wants to be able to be at a parish where everyone already wants them. Think about it: the easiest job a priest who follows the liturgical law can have is at a Tridentine parish. You don’t have to fight people over Latin, or work against a “progressive” musician or have people complaining that you’re taking them back to the ’50s (especially if that IS what they’re trying to do). Meanwhile, the hundreds of priests across the country starting with Latin, chant, and all are the ones actually sticking their necks out to do what the Church wants. The Tridentine folks just want it all handed to them.

  3. Liam says:


    I can agree strongly with a good deal of this, and quibble on some points.

    I would add, as I have strongly argued over at NLM, that the reliance on papal unilateralism here has effect of reinforcing the idea of the liturgy as something made, not received, and made or unmade to the current wishes of whoever happens to sit in Peter’s chair at the moment. A truly conservative approach would hesistate at reinforcing that centralization. At least a number of commenters over at NLM acknowledged that this indeed is a problem.

    There’s a post over at NLM commending an article from Homiletic & Pastoral Review as a good, non-technical apologia for the TLM’s continued viability. I read it and found my preference for the current normative ritual reinforced, ironically. To note a few salient topics it covered:

    1. Ad oriens: this is the one area where I would tend to say that I am happy either way. I can justify both approaches, and were I a priest I might employ both if it contribtued to the santification of the community, and also help to de-ideologize the issue.

    2. Lectionary: While there are certain problems with the current Lectionary, it’s still a vast improvement.

    3. Silent prayers: I am *so* not sold on the notion of much silent presidential prayers in the liturgy.

    4. Repetitions: While I am no anti-repitition fetishist, the culling of certain repetitions was a good thing.

    Et cet.

    Just waiting for a Polka TLM. The more widespread it becomes, if it so becomes, the more likely that is to happen, after all.

  4. aptak says:

    I am looking forward to the MP, but not for the reasons that most of you have stated. Recent statistics have shown that TLM attendance has drawn between 1-2% of the active Catholic population – a small but significant number considering how difficult it is to find these Masses. I predict that liberlaizing the TLM will most likely attract up to 10% of active Catholics, simply because the current form of the NO (as celebrated in most parishes)simply cant compare or compete. It will be this new interest in the expanded use of the TLM which will cause liturgists around the world to wake up and take notice, and look to the TLM as the model with which to copy. It has been a desire by B16 that the TLM become the ‘anchor’ for further refinement and organic development for the NO, to improve upon the form that seems to be lost and ‘all over the map.’ None of this will be quick, and may take another 40 years for the situation to improve. Also, it is still interesting that uncomprimised orthodoxy is what attracts men to the priesthood. Unfortunately, our current NO church is severly lacking vocations due to many reasons, but foremost due to the fact that men want a strong and challenging mission. Our current liturgy does not represent that, but instead reflects whimsy, flexibility, and something that does not transcend. The TLM is wonderful in its sense of mystery and sacredness, and in displaying Christ crucified and Christ resurrected. Because of this, I also predict that this will have an impact on future young men who may look upon the Catholic church as something worthy to live (and perhaps die) for. These young men will take the best that the TLM has to offer, improve upon the NO (organically), and perhaps even stablize it. This is, after all, what B16 wants.

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