Mass of Ages, the quarterly magazine of the Latin Mass Society of England & Wales, has an interview in their Summer 2015 edition with Bishop Mark O’Toole of Plymouth, in which he discusses his desire to “establish a regularity of provision and systematized provision” of the Traditional Latin Mass.
[T]he former rector of Allen Hall, the seminary for the Westminster archdiocese, and a former private secretary to Cardinal Cormac, is not only ‘open’ to learning to
celebrate Mass in the Extraordinary Form, he is actively working to ensure good provision of the Old Rite in his diocese.
In an interview with Mass of Ages, Bishop Mark, who has been at Plymouth for just over a year, disclosed his plans to ‘normalise’ attendance at Old Rite Masses; create a new centre for Traditional liturgy in the east of his diocese; encourage traditional orders to take over a parish and provide pastoral support. And he praised the ‘fidelity’ of those who like to attend Mass in the Extraordinary Form. The bishop, whose family come from the Connemara Gaeltacht, further said that he can envisage that some seminarians may learn to celebrate in the Extraordinary Form, if that is what their bishops wish, and he argued that there is no danger from the plurality of Rites.
With no prompting at all, Bishop Mark said: ‘It is very clear to me that there is a significant number of people who are attached to Mass in the traditional form. One of the things I have seen is quite a number of letters about this. I would like to establish a regularity of provision and systematised provision.
‘People are travelling vast distances [to attend Old Rite Mass in the Plymouth diocese]. I want to support that desire,’ he said. Bishop Mark revealed that, before Christmas, he ‘asked the priests who are saying these Masses to come together’. He said: ‘I have asked them to put together a list of what is available, so that we can advertise it…I’d like it to have But the bishop’s ambitions do not stop there.
‘In terms of a more creative venture, I had a very good meeting with Fr Armand de Malleray [of the FSSP]. One of the things I was very interested to hear from him is that there are a significant number of seminarians, who are originally from England, studying in Nebraska. Some are quite well advanced. I was interested in whether they would be interested in manning a parish in the diocese. I would be open to that.’
One of Bishop Mark’s concerns is to establish proper provision, though, not just have another EF Mass celebrated. ‘It is not just about making provision for the celebration of Mass. There is also a question of how you pastorally accompany the people who come to it – the priestly support in terms of catechesis and support and advice.’
He added: ‘I don’t like the idea of someone just going round and saying Mass here, there and everywhere. It’s much better to have some consistent provision. Which provides people, not just with the celebration of the sacraments, but also with the pastoral side.’His vision is to create a centre for traditional liturgy.
Somebody pinch me. This is a dream come true. This is exactly the kind of thing devotees of the Traditional Latin Mass have been looking for since…well, since the Mass was changed.
If you don’t attend the TLM regularly, you may not realize what a challenge it can be. The typical situation in the United States is that it is offered at a regular parish, usually in the afternoon after the conclusion of all the other Masses (and at a terrible time for small children to behave when they should be eating/sleeping) by a priest who is willing to do so. This priest is not always from the parish in question. Sometimes he is retired, or infirm. There are in many cases insufficient resources for a schola or choir, and even in places where those things could happen, there can be a conflict with the parish music director over…territorial issues. In a diocese where there are only one or two TLMs, people drive long distances to get there — over an hour is not uncommon — only to attend a low Mass with little to no music. Afterwards, the attendees may have nowhere to congregate, and there is often a sense that we are unwelcome guests, who interrupt the baptism schedule or are always re-arranging the altar furniture. If the Mass was long — as is often the case with older priests or those not well-trained in the ancient liturgy — they know that they then have to drive their large families back another hour to get home, so they may not stay long even if there is a coffee hour or a place to talk.
And this doesn’t even include the difficulty of getting to holy day masses. Daily Mass is almost always out of the question. And then there are sacraments. In the past, we’ve had to fly in a priest from the FSSP to do a baptism in the old rite when there were no local priests able to perform it. In another case, we had to drive over two hours to a chapel where we could get this done.
It is a far from ideal situation. And it takes a toll.
What Bishop O’Toole is offering is exactly what all of our shepherds should be doing for those members of their flock who love the Church’s ancient worship and sacraments: training for priests, adequate provision, a dedicated parish, an a center for all things traditional.
In other words: treating us like something other than second-class citizens.
Bishop O’Toole gives an interesting insight into one of the facts on the ground that is influencing his thinking:
Plymouth is a very large geographical diocese, encompassing as it does Cornwall, Devon and most of Dorset. But it does not have a Catholic community to match. According to Bishop Mark, between three and four per cent of the population admit to being Catholic. Parishes are far and wide and Plymouth has not been an Old Rite ‘hot spot’.
The young (in episcopal terms) bishop is hoping all that will change. Bishop Mark, who is on the Bishops’ national committee for evangelisation, would like to see a significant increase in the Catholic population of Plymouth.
‘If we could get to 8-10 per cent in the Plymouth diocese who were practising, that would be wonderful. It would triple our numbers.’
This goes back to something Eric Sammons wrote yesterday about the recent Pew numbers on the large defection from mainline churches:
The first, and most important, take-away should be this: what we are currently doing isn’t working. I realize this might come across as blindingly obvious, but for many Catholic leaders it doesn’t appear to be. If you attend a typical Catholic event today, most of the talk will be about how great everything is: our schools, our parishes, our youth groups, etc. Nary any mention of the reality that our pews are emptying.
Another take-away should also be clear: this is not a simple problem with a simple solution. Millions upon millions of people are leaving the Catholic Church, and to assume it is for one reason alone would be terribly naïve and simplistic. Any attempt to stem the tide of fallen-away Catholics will need to be multi-faceted and address problems in every aspect of Catholic life.
Bishop O’Toole appears to understand this:
Bishop Mark does not rule out the idea of the Extraordinary Form becoming part oflife in an ordinary parish. And he acknowledged that most who attend such Masses in the diocese are
not members of the LMS.
‘…I’m open to the normalisation, certainly. I think there is some place for that. I think also we need to look… at the whole place of Latin and chant in the liturgy because I think there is a bridge there. When a lot of people talk about their love of the old Mass, it is often their love of the Gregorian chant and what goes with it. Those things should be introduced and a normal part of Catholic celebrations.’
‘I am very aware that people feel slightly marginalised,’ he said. ‘That’s unfortunate because it’s very clear to me that they have a great love of the
Church and the Church’s liturgy and great faithfulness. One of the things I have always been impressed by is when you reflect on the nature of Church…many of the saints’ experience was of the Tridentine Mass, this is what formed them. So the thing for me is one of integration, and normalisation.’
Bishop Mark said: ‘How can you say the people who celebrated it for 1,500 years [were wrong] -you can’t ban it or regard it as lesser. It is a matter of recognising that it has a legitimate place.’
God bless this bishop. I hope his efforts are met with resounding success. I encourage you to contact him and thank him for this great work he is undertaking.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have eight children. You can find more of his writing at his Substack, The Skojec File.