If you follow news about the Catholic Church, you have surely heard about and probably read the letter motu proprio issued by Pope Francis on Friday, 16 July 2021, which restricts with immediate effect the celebration of what used to be called the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, sometimes also called the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM), Latin Mass, Tridentine Mass, Pian Mass, Mass of 1962, or Mass of 1570.
If none of this makes sense to you, I will refer you to Tim Stanley in the UK Spectator; Chris Altieri, Christophe Geffroy, and Fr. Peter Stravinskas, all in Catholic World Report; and, last but certainly not least, Amy Welborn (1, 2, 3) for further analysis. (I am a regular reader of Amy’s and encourage you to follow her, because she’s always insightful and grounded. I don’t always agree with her, but I greatly respect her.)
Even though I have never regularly attended Mass in the old form, I love the old rite and I am quite distraught over these developments. I have no analysis to offer which is not available elsewhere, and polemic has never been my thing. But I’m not too shabby at telling stories, so I’m going to tell a story here about my participation in the old rite as a singer and choir director.
Between 2017 and 2019 my schola sang for a traditional-rite Mass twice a year, on St. Joseph’s Day and All Souls’, at St. Joseph’s, the oldest church in Peoria, IL.
Mass was celebrated by the rector of the cathedral, who is also pastor of St. Joseph’s. The parish serves a large Hispanic community, mostly Mexican immigrants, and they would show up in large numbers for these Masses. The rest of the congregation would be filled out with devotees of the traditional rite and various local religious including the Missionaries of Charity, whose white-and-blue saris stood out in the congregation as viewed from the loft. The head preacher of a nearby Black church would usually drop in. Mass was always very well-attended.
St. Joseph’s also provides a community food aid apostolate called Sophia’s Kitchen. After Mass, the large common room of Sophia’s Kitchen would be used to host a reception/party, usually with Mexican food and pastries, and my children’s favorite, Mexican hot chocolate. It was fellowship of a kind Catholics are not usually known for, and very much Here Comes Everyone.
In March 2019 the parishioners wished to perform a traditional Mexican dance/procession honoring St. Joseph before Mass, something like the concheros who dance in the plaza before the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe on her feast day. St. Joseph’s has no outdoor space of that kind, so it had to be done in the church. The rector agreed, and the procession was made with all due pageantry 30 minutes before Mass.
I am sorry that I have no pictures to share; I was in the loft staying focused on the music we were about to sing.
The juxtaposition of the sober traditional Roman liturgy with this procession, with everyone in strange costume carrying banners with images of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, moving ceremoniously along the aisles to the relentless beat of drums, was quite strange to my Anglo-American eyes, but I did not find it objectionable. As I told one of the priests in attendance, it felt rather like I had traveled back in time, to a Mexican church circa 1700 or so. And yet I was not a stranger but a friend, nay, a brother to all those present. It was genuine inculturation in action and a demonstration both of the essential unity and the wild diversity of the Church in her members.
In my opinion it is not the cantankerous scolds, nor the crank sedevacantists, nor the angry and bitter Catholics who intemperately and viciously criticize the hierarchy, nor even the Society of St. Pius X who will be hurt by Traditionis Custodes. It will most hurt people like those whose procession I witnessed and whose Mass I sang for, people who couldn’t give a fig for politics in the Church but very much love the beauty of God’s house. They have no rebellious intent and desire to remain in unity with the Church, but now these semiannual festivals have been ripped from them, perhaps never to return.
In our age people like these are marginalized in society. We need not marginalize them in the Church as well.