By Fr. Jeffrey Burwell, S.J.
Catholic Knight Blog
Pope Benedict XVI issued a decree in July, 2007 concerning the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, called by many either the traditional Latin mass or the Tridentine liturgy. He explained that the ancient liturgy of the Church, normative for more than a thousand years until Pope Paul VI released the new missal in 1970, had never been abrogated. Rather, he claimed, the old mass was such an important part of Catholic tradition that it “must be given due honour for its venerable and ancient usage.”
His moto proprio document, entitled Summorum Pontificum, and its subsequent clarifications provided priests an opportunity—for the first time in almost 50 years—to celebrate all the sacraments according to the Extraordinary Form. Additionally, he stated that they can do so without the need for ecclesial permission from bishops or religious superiors.
Recognizing that the Extraordinary Form had become a legitimate option for faithful Roman Catholics, the Archbishops of St. Boniface and Winnipeg worked together in 2011 to establish a joint-Diocese parish that would celebrate exclusively the sacraments according to the Extraordinary Form. Calling upon the Society of Jesus for help in this endeavour, the two Archbishops asked Fr. Jim Webb, S.J.—the late Provincial of the Canadian Jesuits—if the Jesuits in Winnipeg could take responsibility for the parish and administer the sacraments of the Extraordinary Form. Much to my delight, my name was selected for this endeavour.
Over the last year, our small congregation has grown exponentially. What began with a few families now includes individuals of every age and social demographic. Occasionally, someone asks me what people find appealing about the Latin language. The natural and legitimate response is that the celebration of the sacraments according to the Extraordinary Form is not just question of language—it is question of theology and attitude. With the mass, as just one example, I celebrate ad orientem—facing the cross and not the congregation. Because of this, my attention is directed more toward the Eucharistic sacrifice and less toward what goes on in the pews.
Along with the sacraments, our Extraordinary Form parish offers many opportunities to rediscover the venerable traditions of the Church. For the first time in almost 50 years, we had a Corpus Christi celebration involving a movement of more than two hundred people through the streets. Led by 16 altar boys, our procession with the Blessed Sacrament meandered throughout the city in a manifestation of faith that nobody had seen in decades. It was—to be certain—a sublime experience. It was an experience that all will remember for many years.
Despite the many graces that come from the celebration of the Extraordinary Form, the ancient traditions are not without their critics. I have heard many people claim that such a liturgical mandate is either retroactive or contrary to the spirit of Vatican II. To these individuals, I often remind them that Lumen Gentium—a great document from the Council—states that the Holy Father has a power of primacy over all the faithful that remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, he has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. He is always free to exercise that power to make decisions.
Without doubt, the Holy Father had the complete right to permit the increased use of the Extraordinary Form. Those who choose to use this sacramental option are therefore no less a part of the Roman Catholic Church than those who attend a parish that uses the Ordinary (1970) Form. As part of the Roman Catholic Church, we are blessed to have two expressions of one liturgical rite. In addition, the wisdom of the Holy Father led him to see that these two expressions “will in no any way lead to a division.” Instead, as he so plainly stated, they are merely “two usages of the one Roman rite.”
The spirituality of the Jesuits has in fact long embraced the notion of tantum quantum—the presumption that something is good and should be used insofar as it leads us toward God. Nobody can rightly claim that the Extraordinary Form will initially appeal to everyone. However, it is a legitimate and good option for Roman Catholics in the Church today. Support those who find the ancient sacramental expressions of the Church helpful; if you have the chance, go and see if they might bear fruit for you also.
Fr. Jeff Burwell, S.J. is the Parochial Vicar at St. Paul the Apostle – St. Ann's Parishes. He is also a Faculty Member at the Jesuit Centre for Catholic Studies at St. Paul's College at the University of Manitoba.