Latin Mass Restrictions Activate the Laity
This past Saturday, a group of 300 Catholics processed five miles between St. Thomas More Cathedral in Arlington, VA (the main cathedral of the Diocese of Arlington) and St. Matthew the Apostle Cathedral in Washington, D.C. (the main cathedral of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.). We carried beautiful Catholic banners, flags, and processional crosses, chanted the rosary, and sang Marian hymns.
What could have brought so many Catholics into the street to participate in a two-hour march? The power and beauty of the Traditional Latin Mass—and the cruelty of attempts to restrict it. Specifically, this march was prompted by Traditionis Custodes and the harsh restrictions on the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass subsequently announced by Cardinal Gregory of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. (on July 22) and Bishop Burbidge of the Diocese of Arlington (on July 29, 2022).
As I noted in my speech at the end of the pilgrimage, “Traditionis Custodes, and these decrees, have done what hundreds of synodal listening sessions and ecumenical councils could not—they have activated the laity.” That is, “they have emboldened us to leave the quiet of the pews and venture into the street, to proclaim what Popes and tradition and the Church teach to be true—that ‘what earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.’”
The decrees from our bishops were harsh indeed. Cardinal Gregory’s decree ordered that the Traditional Latin Mass must end entirely at all but one parish location, and all Latin Mass attendees herded to three regional “Mass Centers.” Bishop Burbidge’s decree cancelled all but three parish Traditional Latin Masses (out of 21), and permitted five more in offsite locations such as school gyms and social halls—but not in the parish church.
However, our pilgrimage was not about protesting our bishops or the Pope, but making a show of gratitude for the Traditional Latin Mass and the graces it has given us, and a show of sorrow over what we have lost with the new restrictions. As I noted in my speech, “We pray for our Bishops, who allowed us to experience the riches of the older form of the liturgy for so long!” and “[w]e will continue to work with our Bishops, pray for our Bishops, with the confidence that these restrictions will not and cannot last.”
In our pilgrimage, we successfully demonstrated the beauty and vitality of the movement for the Traditional Latin Mass within the Church. Visually. The march was stunning. The marchers were mostly young, with many young families with small children in strollers. It is important for us to reclaim space as Catholics, and we truly had the feeling of reclaiming the space for Christ as we marched through the streets of Arlington and over the Key Bridge into Washington, D.C. The pilgrimage felt like a great spiritual army moving through Arlington and Washington, D.C., spreading the truth of Christ and His grace into the world.
The march was all the more impressive because this was a completely grassroots effort – we had no outside organizations backing us or funding us. The pilgrimage was organized in the span of a month by ordinary parishioners in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. and the Diocese of Arlington who love the Traditional Latin Mass. Catholics from all over the area came together to volunteer their knowledge, their time, and their homes to make the pilgrimage a massive success. The March strengthened our resolve to work with our Bishops to restore the free celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass. It also strengthened our resolve to take on greater leadership roles in our parishes and our dioceses. As I stated in my speech, “We will continue to be involved in our parishes and the Diocese, more actively than ever.”
Traditionis has taught us that we cannot afford to be passive as Catholics—in a fallen and sinful world, with the Church in state of confusion and crisis, we must take action to effectively stand up for our timeless Catholic faith. Sadly, the laity can no longer passively rely on Church hierarchy to protect the unity of the Church and Catholic teaching. Church leadership continues to be marred by scandal and division. Nor can we rely on the institutional Church to effectively evangelize as Catholic belief and practice continues its dramatic decline. This harsh reality places an enormous responsibility on laity. Fortunately, we have seen in the Diocese of Arlington and Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. that traditional Catholics are up to the task.
Already, the five non-parish spaces that we were given in Arlington Diocese for Mass—school gyms and social halls—have been miraculously transformed, almost overnight, into beautiful holy spaces for Mass. And that, just in the span of a couple weekends. We also saw the work of Catholic renewal afoot at the parishes in the two dioceses where the Traditional Latin Mass had been permitted. Stories abound of churches renovated and restored, and of dying parishes experiencing new life and new growth.
Thus, while these restrictions make the work of growth and renewal more difficult, they do not diminish in any way our obligation to evangelize and save souls for Christ. We have a Church to restore, and a fallen world to convert. Traditionis and its associated restrictions will force us to be more creative and resourceful—and they will ultimately provide a template for how traditional Catholicism can grow within the Church no matter what obstacles or restrictions might be placed in its way. The vibrancy and energy on display at the National Summorum Pontificum Pilgrimage leaves me with no doubt that, with the power of the Holy Spirit and Catholic Tradition and the strength of our Catholic communities, we will be successful in bringing about the Catholic renewal that the world cries out for.
Noah Peters is an attorney in Washington, D.C.