The Traditional Latin Mass in seminaries? The Magic Circle will have a fit
Will it soon be a requirement for Catholic seminarians to learn to say the Traditional Latin Mass? Bobbie Mickens made this claim in the Tablet a couple of weeks ago – just think how livid he must be at the prospect! – and now John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter is saying exactly the same thing. He reckons that Ecclesia Dei’s forthcoming instruction on the implementation of Summorum Pontificum will “call for seminarians to be trained not just in Latin, but in the older rite itself, at least so they will know how to execute it faithfully and understand what’s being said”.
Allen’s piece is headed “April may be cruel month for relations with traditionalists”, which I find puzzling. Cruel? What he means is that some traditionalists will be upset by (a) the instruction’s apparent refusal to allow diocesan seminaries to ordain priests according to the pre-Vatican II ritual and (b) the collapse of negotiations with the SSPX.
Actually, I think most traditionalists will be relaxed on both counts (not to say relieved that the instruction doesn’t revoke their privileges, as they had feared). It doesn’t greatly matter which rite of ordination is used if a priest is perfectly free to celebrate in the Extraordinary Form. As for the SSPX negotiations, did anyone seriously think they were going to succeed? The Lefebvrists won’t budge on Vatican II any more than the C of E will accept papal infallibility. It’s a shame, but there you go.
In contrast, the proposal to teach all seminarians to celebrate the Tridentine Mass is a seriously big deal. In many ways it’s as radical as Summorum Pontificum itself.
According to John Allen, bishops around the world “haven’t exactly bent over backwards” to make the Old Mass widely available since 2007. That sounds about right. In England and Wales, most dioceses don’t flagrantly disregard Summorum Pontificum – but they don’t need to. On paper, the self-implementing features of the motu proprio challenge the power of the bishop: a priest doesn’t need permission to celebrate the EF. In practice, it’s easy to turn the document into a dead letter, since most parish priests come from a Vatican II generation unsympathetic to traditional rubrics and most lay people have never been near a Tridentine Mass and don’t know what they’re missing.
I don’t think the older form of the Roman Rite will ever supplant the vernacular liturgy. But we won’t discover the true level of demand for it until there are priests happy to celebrate it – offering it, perhaps, as an early morning service like BCP Holy Communion in Anglican parishes, or as the centrepiece of particular feast days. Most of the pious young Catholics I know agree with Pope Benedict that the Ordinary and Extraordinary forms of the Roman Rite should complement each other – but then they’re lucky enough to live in or near London, where the Old Mass is unusually accessible.
The nightmare for diehard opponents of the EF is the formation of a generation of priests who know how to use the 1962 Missal and are perfectly happy to do so in every diocese.
This is only a guess, but I reckon that half our current seminarians would like to be taught how to say the Old Mass – an unthinkable proportion 30 years ago, when today’s senior clergy were training for the priesthood. However, these students are smart enough to keep their mouths shut. Seminaries are run by the Magic Circle: until recently, rectors had no difficulty picking out the matey-but-deferential liberal students who would be tomorrow’s monsignors; now the supply of liberals has all but dried up, and they face the tougher task of distinguishing moderate conservatives from secret traditionalists.
The last thing they want – absolutely the last thing – is for every seminarian to be trained to celebrate the “Mass of the Ages”. Not only would this make it more difficult to root out undesirable traddies, but it would also eventually carry the ancient liturgy into parishes untouched by Summorum Pontificum. That would be a disaster from the Magic Circle’s point of view. The promotion of the Extraordinary Form even as an occasional alternative in local churches would accelerate a cultural shift towards traditional Catholicism that the hierarchy is already struggling to control.
The ramifications of an instruction to seminaries to teach students the Extraordinary Form – and enough Latin to know what they’re saying – are enormous. For that reason, I expect a very big effort to circumvent any such obligation. We can’t be sure that Mickens’s and Allen’s sources are right about the document, of course; but we can be certain that bishops and seminary rectors have heard the same rumours and are working on a contingency plan. If the instruction tries to force the Old Missal into seminaries, then liberal canon lawyers will be crawling all over it the second it appears, looking for loopholes. And if there aren’t any, then expect lots of delaying tactics and excuses involving lack of staff, resources, time etc.
And all this just as the new English Missal is coming in. We do live in interesting times.
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