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For Those Who Remember the 40 Years in the Liturgical Desert

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Editor’s Note: From New Liturgical Movement, Gregory Di Pippo reposts Jeffrey Tucker’s short summary of those terrible years before Summorum Pontificum. Unless one is old enough to have lived all the way through them, it is impossible to understand the deep suffering, spiritual abandonment, and hopelessness with which we had to live. It is no wonder that so many Catholics just walked away thinking, : “They took away our Mass, the Rock upon which we laid the foundation of our spiritual lives and vocations.” A time when millions of Souls were lost because the church flippantly dismissed them and turned away from them, as the article explains. If it were not for one Bishop in the world, a French Bishop who refused to adopt the new mass, there would have never been a Summorum Pontificum and a return of the Mass of the Ages. Yet, our Mass is still not fully and conveniently available to us. We are still treated like “exceptions” and “a very small insignificant minority” who have to travel many miles to go to Mass. It is very sad that after all these years there is still not a Traditional Latin Mass in Center City Philadelphia, the hub of activity, the largest concentration of Catholics in the Archdiocese, and where the Mass of the Ages would flourish the most.

From the Archives – “Summorum Pontificum: An Act of Extraordinary Humility”, by Jeffrey Tucker

On September 14, 2007, the day that the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum became legally active, Jeffrey Tucker, a long-time contributor to NLM and my predecessor as editor, published this brief essay. I make bold to suggest that it is worth a second read, and holds up quite well after the period of more than a decade that has subsequently passed.

At the beginning of the new millennium, Pope John Paul II prayed a prayer that sought forgiveness for many errors of the past, times when leaders and members of the Church have not lived up to Christian ideals. “We humbly ask for forgiveness for the part that each of us with his or her behaviors has played in such evils, thus contributing to disrupting the face of the Church. At the same time, as we confess our sins, let us forgive the faults committed by others towards us.”

In some ways, Summorum Pontificum extends this model of humility to address what will surely go down in history as one of the most imprudent and ill-conceived actions to follow any Church Council: the suppression of the traditional Roman Missal and the imposition of a new Missal that, in many respects, had not developed from the old, but rather, in crucial ways, represented a new creation entirely. This was most striking in its externals: Latin to the vernacular, strict rubrics to only vague guidelines, required prayers to more options than most people can keep up with. It was imposed without the proper preparations concerning music, rubrics, and other matters.

It came at a time of incredible cultural upheaval, so the dramatic change flung open the doors of sacred space to admit a blizzard of profane actions, words, and music. It was not entirely the fault of the new form, but the conditions under which it came about led millions of Catholics the world over to believe that the Faith had somehow undergone a kind of extreme makeover, and so every old doctrine and moral teaching came into question, unleashing a kind of chaos that persisted for decades. Orders of priests and nuns collapsed. Publishers went bankrupt. Mass attendance plummeted. Confessions fell. Traditional and beautiful churches were gutted to make way for the new. Treasures were thrown out. New forms of architectural outrages were given free reign.

And what of those who long for the Mass of old? In the new sociological environment following the Council, they were made to believe that they were inferior members of the Church, not with the times, rebellious to authority, and hopelessly outdated. They were ridiculed and caricatured, psychologically tormented merely for believing what they had been taught to believe. They were told that there was only one choice: conform to the new or leave. Many left, demoralized and confused. Those who persisted in saying and attending the old Mass occupied a confusing status within the law of the Church, most famously the order of St Pius X. There developed an atmosphere resembling a witch hunt for “traditionalists,” who were told that they must learn to loathe the old and praise the new. Pastors and bishops treated regular Catholics who asked for the old usage as unworthy of serious consideration.

This environment, so clearly untenable and unsustainable in retrospect, lasted nearly forty years, if you date its beginning to the promulgation of the new Mass. Finally this year, Pope Benedict XVI intervened with the only real answer to the problem: not half measures, or vague permissions, but the complete liberalization of the old usage. He gave all priests in the Roman Rite permission to use the old Missal in public and private, with very few qualifiers, and went a step further to clarify that that the ordinary form of the Mass should not be regarded as something wholly new, but part of the same Roman Rite of the ages. The decision concerning the form resides at the parish level, consistent with the idea of subsidiarity. This action ended, in one fell swoop, the wholly misconceived error of the suppression of old forms. It was an act of extraordinary humility for a Pope, an admission of error in judgment. In many ways, then, this Pope has picked up on a theme from the last Pope; for this he deserves our deepest gratitude. It is a model we should all follow in our lives.


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