Monday, 7 March 2016

Provision of Latin Masses - some thoughts

Paul Waddington, Local Representative for Middlesbrough Diocese writes:

27 FEBRUARY 2016


Is there Sufficient Provision of Usus Antiquior Masses?

A couple of months ago there appeared an article by one Monsignor Pope who argued that interest in the Traditional Latin Mass had reached a plateau, and was possibly even declining.  His view was that the expansion in the provision of Latin Masses far exceeded the demand, with the consequence of too many poorly attended Masses.  The implication was that the number of Latin masses should be reduced.  He was speaking in an American context, where the response to summorum pontificum was more generous than at this side of the Atlantic.  I will not comment on his arguments, as my knowledge of the American scene is limited.

However, I do feel able to comment on the extent and adequacy of the provision to extraordinary form Masses in England and Wales.  Prior to summorum pontificum, the extent, frequency and location of Latin Masses was largely at the discretion of the local ordinary, and provision varied markedly from diocese to diocese.  In only a handful of dioceses was there a regular Sunday Mass in the older form at a convenient time,  In most dioceses where there was provision for Sunday Masses, these took place at constantly moving locations, and at varying times, almost always in the afternoon.

In the aftermath of summorum pontificum, there was a significant increase in the provision - the average number of Sunday Masses in England and Wales increasing from about 25 to about 50. Mostly, the additional Masses were scheduled on a roster basis so that followers of the traditional Mass were expected to travel to a different church each Sunday to attend Masses scheduled at different times.  This was probably not a deliberate policy, but resulted from the difficulty in finding priests who were willing, and had the time, to celebrate additional Masses.  The possibility of substituting an established Novus Ordo Mass by an Extraordinary Form one was hardly considered for obvious reasons.

An additional point is that the location of EF Masses has generally been determined by the presence of a well disposed priests, rather than any strategic planning.  As a consequence, it is not uncommon for there to be two Latin Masses relatively near to each other, when there are huge areas in  the same diocese with no provision at all. This is something that can only be remedied by each diocese taking a lead and coming up with a coherent plan.  The evidence is that this has not happened in most dioceses.

The question of whether there is sufficient provision of usus antiquior Masses is not a simple one.  If one just looks at the average size of the congregation at Latin Masses, it is clear that there is over-provision, as congregations are generally small.  Looked at another way, there are many of the faithful who would dearly like to attend a Latin Mass, but cannot do so, because there is no provision in their area.  This would suggest under-provision.

One difficulty is in quantifying the inconvenience factor.  If Novus Ordo Masses were scheduled for 3pm or only took place on the third Sunday of the month, what would be the size of their congregation be?  Another factor is the need to allow congregations to build up.  The experience is that, given a convenient time in a decent church with an able priest at a suitable location, Latin Mass congregations will grow.  When the church of Sts Peter, Paul and Philomena in New Brighton was reopened by the Institute of Christ the King Supreme priest, the Sunday congregation was only about 40.  Now it is about four times that and still growing.

So, in judging the adequacy of provision, it is not sufficient to look at the attendance at existing Masses.  The demand needs to be assessed and then considerable thought needs to be given to the best way of satisfying the demand, always mindful of the limited resources that are available.

The above is a brief introduction to the current state of affairs in England and Wales.  The next post will consider some possible ways forward.


So How Should the Demand for the Latin Mass be Satisfied?

We must start from the premise that almost all diocesan priests are already overworked and would find difficulty taking on the celebration of additional Masses.  It follows that, either more priests must be found or that Latin Masses will need to be provided in substitution  for existing novus ordo Masses, rather than in addition.

Taking the first point, there is an emerging source of priests who are more than keen to to provide usus antiquior Masses.  I refer to the traditional Orders.  The Priestly Fraternity of St Peter has had several Englishmen ordained to the priesthood in recent years, and expects to have a steady stream of ordinations during the next decade.  There is every prospect that the number of vocations to the priesthood in the traditional orders will continue to grow.

We have already benefited from the Institute of Christ the King Supreme Priest taking over churches in New Brighton and Preston, and the FSSP taking over one in Warrington.  Although it is too soon to make a final judgement, the indications are that these are prospering as centres for traditional liturgies.  It is to be hoped that as the traditional orders ordain more priests, churches will continue to be handed over to their care.  This solution tends to work well in the larger towns that have several Catholic Churches, and where consideration is already being given to closing churches.  This is surely a win-win solution.

A second approach is for each diocese to consider where Latin Masses would be best located.  In most cases, this would mean selecting churches in the greater centres of population, where larger congregations can be expected.  Currently, Latin Masses are frequently provided in remote or village locations, and it is unsurprising that these attract small congregations.  In the case of the Diocese of Middlesbrough,  The obvious locations would be Hull, York, Scarborough and Middlesbrough itself, all of which have multiple churches.

A process of merging parishes in in these locations has been going on for years, and surely such mergers should provide the opportunity to reconsider Latin Mass provision.

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