Last month members of the Latin Mass community of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida were stunned to receive a letter addressed to them by their local ordinary, Bishop Robert Lynch. Following years of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass being offered at two different diocesan parishes, the faithful of both St. Anthony of Padua in San Antonio and Incarnation Catholic Church in Tampa learned that they would be losing the traditional Mass. Instead of further realizing Pope Benedict’s vision of both forms of the Roman Rite mutually enriching each other through greater availability, Bishop Lynch has instead chosen the path of displacement and containment.
The bishop’s letter is often antagonistic in its tone, surprisingly so at times, and this despite the fact that we should no longer be surprised by such overt hostility toward this group of faithful. It would seem that displacing not just one, but two traditional Catholic communities isn’t injurious enough; so the choice of words serve to inflict additional pain.
The letter clearly explains the dynamics of the parish now being designated as the new “center for the Latin Mass”:
“…this is experimental in so far as the economic viability of Epiphany will be shared by the Vietnamese community, the small remaining remnant of territorial parishioners and those availing themselves of the extraordinary form liturgy…”
I have been told by members of the Latin Mass community in Tampa that Epiphany parish may have as few as 100 people attending the English language Novus Ordo Mass on a given Sunday. It is by many accounts a parish on the decline in both registered families as well as financial viability.
With this move, however, Bishop Lynch has now successfully removed the Extraordinary Form from a parish (in the case of Incarnation Catholic Church) with over 3,800 registered families, six Sunday masses, and a parish school. It would seem that the short-lived era of Summorum Pontificum has ended in St. Petersburg, only to see a return to the indult days of the ’80s and ’90s.
Bishop Lynch’s letter also contains several unnecessarily provocative passages (emphasis mine):
“I envision this site as being capable of meeting the needs of those few people who have been attending Mass in the Extraordinary Form at both of the parishes where it has previously been celebrated.”
Parishioners have said that the weekly Sunday Latin Mass at Incarnation parish typically draws upwards of 100-150 people, comparable to the 7:30AM early mass there. It is also interesting to note, since the letter references “those few people”, that the bishop has never actually attended the Extraordinary Form Mass at Incarnation in the three years since its return, and this despite repeated invitations. The letter continues:
“Any reconstruction or remodeling of the sanctuary at Epiphany will not be possible due to the fact that it is also the site of St. Joseph Vietnamese mission.”
That statement at face value makes little sense.
The sanctuary of a Latin Rite parish, from altar to ambo, tabernacle to rail, is no different regardless of which form is being offered or which community is assisting. This reads as that tired old argument from decades past that claims the altar MUST be a free-standing table and the communion rail MUST be removed because a community celebrates the Ordinary Form. The decision for any potential remodel should largely reside with the newly assigned pastor, Fr. Edwin Palka, who has been offering the Latin Mass at St. Anthony of Padua in recent years. That is, unless the bishop wishes to tie his hands before his assignment even commences.
Bishop Lynch concludes with a comment that serves no purpose at all in the context of the stated reason for the letter. It is hard to read it as anything other than a bully looking to land one more parting shot:
“Finally, I wish to note that there are very few priests who are willing to celebrate the Mass in the extraordinary form and even fewer still who do speak and/or understand Latin.”
Bishop Lynch has lead the diocese for over 19 years. Any deficiency in the formation of his priests falls squarely on the bishop’s shoulders. The two most recently canonized popes, Saints John XXIII and John Paul II, as well as Pope Emeritus Benedict, all emphasized the importance of Latin in the education and formation of seminarians. If the priests of St. Petersburg are unprepared or unwilling to offer the Extraordinary Form of the Mass it is solely the fault of Bishop Lynch.
It is unfortunate that 8 years after Summorum Pontificum many faithful who simply wish to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass still encounter such “pastoral care” from their shepherds. The video link below shows what Incarnation Catholic Church is losing as a result of this decision by Bishop Robert Lynch.
Brian Williams is a convert who entered the Catholic Church in 2006. He is a graduate of Long Beach State University with a BA in History. Brian blogs on life, liturgy and the pursuit of holiness at liturgyguy.com. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with his wife and five children.