What Modernist Bishops Fear
While the kids are laughing and playing in the courtyard, the adults have gathered in various groups. A few homeschooling mothers are talking about what curriculum they’ll be using in the upcoming school year. Some men debate the latest political news. A small group surrounds a young family that recently lost their child, giving comfort and any practical assistance they can offer. A few altar servers gather around the new young priest, listening to him talk about his days in seminary. A group of twenty-something men and women laugh and talk about whatever it is that young people talk about these days.
It’s a scene that’s repeated each week at many TLM parishes around the world. And it’s a scene that the Vatican is working hard to eliminate. While traditional Catholics understand that the worst part of Traditionis Custodes will be the restricting of the traditional Latin Mass, the shuttering of these Masses will have far-reaching consequences, including the potential wiping out of strong Catholic communities. Yet it’s possible that these communities can remain intact, even if the TLM is stolen from them.
Anyone familiar with the traditional Latin Mass knows that vibrant communities often develop around it. These communities grow organically and provide countless benefits to their participants. They provide help in times of trial, share life’s joys and sorrows, supply the infrastructure for cooperative schooling ventures, generate religious vocations, and become the environment for matchmaking future Catholic marriages. Most importantly, these communities provide a strong sense of belonging in a world awash in loneliness.
It is exactly these communities that are being obliterated by soulless bishops shutting down or moving traditional Latin Masses, for communities cannot be easily transferred to another location or recreated at another parish. The TLM communities developed as they did because their members have a shared view of the world and of the Church, one that is anchored in Catholic Tradition and eternal truths. In fact, this is why these communities have found themselves in the bishops’ crosshairs—while the TLM is the focus of the attack, enemies of the TLM also want to destroy the TLM communities, because the worldview of the average TLM-goer is radically opposed to the worldview of the Modernist bishop who looks the other way at mortal sin. Although the pope can’t keep a community from gathering, he can attempt to shut down the event they typically gather around.
And it’s unfortunately likely Traditionis Custodes will be the end of many TLM communities. If a strong community developed around a diocesan parish’s TLM, and that TLM is forcibly ended, where will the TLM attendees go? There are multiple options, none of them ideal. Some might decide to find another TLM farther away. Others might begin attending the Novus Ordo at the same parish or another nearby Novus Ordo parish. Some might find an Eastern Catholic or Ordinariate parish. These are prudential decisions, and TLM community members will take different paths. This will mean that every Sunday morning this formerly strong community will be spread to the four corners of the diocese, possibly never to gather together again.
An Opportunity for an Old Tradition?
Must these communities be dispersed? Can we not keep the community intact, even if its members don’t attend the same Mass every Sunday morning? This was the question posed to me by a friend, the Director of Sacred Music at a TLM parish, after I recorded a podcast about what TLM parishioners should do if their Mass is shut down. He had a unique idea to try to save our TLM communities even if the TLM is taken away.
Why not have a non-TLM liturgical service such as Vespers each week at the parish, in the late afternoon on either Saturday or Sunday? Everyone from the TLM community could attend this service, regardless of where they go to Mass each Sunday. Following Vespers the community could share a potluck dinner to nourish the bonds they share as well as build new ones.
In a way, this idea is actually a restoration of an old tradition. It was common in past centuries, particularly in England, to hold public Sunday evening Vespers, which was often as well attended—or even better attended—than Sunday morning Mass. In some places, in fact, the weekly homily was said at Vespers instead of Mass.
Needless to say, if an entire TLM parish has been shut down, even having weekly Vespers isn’t a possibility. But for those TLM communities that gathered at a NO parish, it might work. Of course, buy-in from the pastor is necessary, both for approval and to lead Vespers each week. But most pastors know the importance of their TLM community and I imagine many would want to try to keep it together.
The countless benefits of the TLM community would be retained, even though the TLM itself is removed. Further, the community would remain in place waiting for the day, hopefully not far away, when the TLM is restored and openly celebrated in the Church.
There would be challenges, of course. As I already noted, getting the support of the pastor is essential, and most pastors are already overextended. Further, people would need to commit to attending Vespers, something outside their regular habits. For most practicing Catholics, attending Mass on Sunday morning is second nature; it falls automatically onto our calendar of weekly events. Adding another time to drive to church is more difficult and would take some getting used to.
Another challenge would be the temptation to bicker over each other’s diverse choices for Sunday Mass. Can families that make different choices still co-exist in community? I pray that they can, and that they remember the benefits of being together in previous years. One way to avoid such conflicts would be to implement (via honor system, of course) a “no Mass choice” discussion rule. Simply don’t argue about where everyone’s going on Sunday morning but instead focus on everything members of the community hold in common.
Is this a perfect plan? Of course not. Is it a replacement for a community that’s centered on a parish’s TLM? No. But we live in times in which the TLM is being assailed—along with the communities built around it. As the laity we can raise our voices in protest, but we have no real power to stop the machinations of Vatican bureaucrats. They can (unjustly) command the cessation of the TLM, but they cannot prevent us from gathering together in community, supporting each other and waiting for their day to be over, when communities can one again flourish around the celebration of the traditional Latin Mass.
Photo credit: Unsplash.
Eric Sammons is the Executive Director of Crisis Publications. He is the author of eight books, including Deadly Indifference: How the Church Lost Her Mission and How We Can Reclaim It.