How to apply for a Traditional Latin Mass (Mass according to the usus antiquior or Extraordinary Form) in your area.
The Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum is extremely flexible and generous in giving lay people the right to the Traditional Mass and in giving priests the right to celebrate it. Priests may initiate a celebration, including on a Sunday, spontaneously, and do not need permission to do so. A group of lay people may ask for it, and if their request is not fulfilled it should go up the chain of command until a solution is found: from Parish Priest, to Bishop, to the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei (PCED). The PCED will, if necessary, write to bishops to insist that provision is made for a group asking for the Extraordinary Form. For the whole process to be successful, however, you must follow certain steps carefully. (You will almost certainly face objections, and these are dealt with later in this article.)
A Step-by-step Guide
- Establish a 'stable group'. Members of the group do NOT have to reside in the same parish. They do NOT have to have an attachment to the Traditional Mass going back to 1969. They must rather be a group sufficiently committed and sufficiently local that, if a Mass were established for them, they would support it. There is no minimum size fixed for such groups, but to be taken seriously you need to show that numbers are at least in double figures. Your local Latin Mass Society Representative should be informed at this stage and should be able to put you in touch with other people who will support your project.
- Write to the parish priest. You need to choose a parish either where most of the members of your group live, or one where an additional Mass would be easiest to establish (i.e. one where there are not too many Sunday Masses taking place already), or one where the priest is most friendly to your cause. If this Parish Priest is unable to help you it will be up to the Bishop to suggest to nearby parishes that they may accommodate your group if that is the best way forward.
- Include with your letter a simple petition in its support ('We the undersigned support this request for a Sunday Mass in the X area celebrated in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite'), and get all the members of your group to sign it, and include their postal addresses. KEEP COPIES OF WHAT YOU SEND.
- If the parish priest does not respond within a fortnight, send your letter to him again - it may have got lost or forgotten about. Politely suggest that if you do not hear back from him within a month you will take the matter to the bishop, in accordance with the provisions of the Motu Proprio.
- If you receive a negative response, you may be able (politely) to help your parish priest to overcome any misunderstandings about the Motu Proprio with the aid of the FAQs below. If his response remains negative, or if he does not respond at all, you must write to the bishop explaining that you have applied for the Traditional Mass under the Motu Proprio and are passing the matter to him as the Motu Proprio requires. Include with your letter to the bishop a copy of your letter(s) to the Parish Priest, and your petition.
- With the bishop, as with the Parish Priest in step 4 and 5, if there is no response after a fortnight, write again with a month deadline. If there are objections based on a misreading of the Motu Proprio, you may be able to respond with the help of the FAQs below. If, finally, there is a negative response or no response at all, you need to write to the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei.
- For this step, you should get in touch with the Latin Mass Society office. We will advise you on the wording of your letter, and we can arrange hand delivery in Rome, which will give your letter more force. You will need to include with your letter all your previous correspondence: letters to and from the parish priest and the bishop.
- It is of the utmost importance that all of the letters from your side are polite, succinct, clearly written, and well informed about the Motu Proprio.
- Will you get a response? The PCED may, or may not, acknowledge your letter. They will read it, however, and they will be in touch with your bishop. They will seek to negotiate with the bishop, and this may take time, and may result in an offer from the bishop of a Mass in a different church than originally anticipated, in a rota of churches, or with some other arrangement. Such offers, even if not ideal, should be accepted if at all practical, and used as a basis for the establishment of a community committed to the Traditional Mass. This will demonstrate to the bishop and local priests that allowing the Traditional Mass will not cause problems and divisions in the diocese.
- If there is no response, and no progress, then after a year has passed it would be legitimate to go through the whole procedure again.
- Polite persistence is the key to success.
Joining the Latin Mass Society
At this point, it is worth pointing out that if you are serious about applying for a Traditional Mass in your area, you should really consider joining the LMS if you haven't already. As we hope will be clear from the above, we have long experience of dealing with these difficult matters and, in recent years, have had a growing record of success in getting the Traditional Latin Mass introduced into parishes. As a member of the LMS you will receive our support and guidance in dealing with problems as they arise.
Working for the wider availability of Mass in the Extraordinary Form, as desired by Pope Benedict XVI, requires a united, co-ordinated approach. Working in isolation to get your parish priest to introduce the Traditional Latin Mass can be a dispiriting and demoralising matter. By joining the LMS you will be in the company of others doing the same, as well as be supporting the wealth of other projects we undertake to advance the cause of orthodoxy within the Catholic Church. Please consider joining us.
FAQs - Responding to objections to the introduction of the Traditional Latin Mass in accordance with Summorum Pontificum
(see also Universae Ecclesiae, issued on 13 May 2011)
Q: Summorum Pontificum calls the Traditional Latin Mass the 'Extraordinary Form'. Doesn't that mean it is foreseen that it will only be used occasionally and in special circumstances?
A: While Summorum Pontificum does indeed call the Traditional Latin Mass the 'Extraordinary Form' of the Roman Rite, this is only in order to indicate its legal relationship with the Mass of Paul VI. Both are 'usages' of the Roman Rite, and while the Mass of Paul VI is the 'ordinary' use the Mass of John XXIII can be used by any priest of the Latin Church. Article 1 states that: 'The Roman Missal promulgated by Paul VI is the ordinary expression of the 'Lex orandi' (Law of prayer) of the Catholic Church of the Latin rite. Nonetheless, the Roman Missal promulgated by St Pius V and reissued by Bl. John XXIII is to be considered as an extraordinary expression of that same 'Lex orandi,' and must be given due honour for its venerable and ancient usage. These two expressions of the Church's Lex orandi will in no any way lead to a division in the Church's 'Lex credendi' (Law of belief). They are, in fact two usages of the one Roman rite.'
Summorum Pontificum expressly states that it can be used on a regular, even daily, basis in any parish where it is desired, and in addition to this it may be and is the 'ordinary' form of Mass for particular religious orders, and 'personal parishes' set up for this purpose. The Holy Father affirms that there are, and have always been, 'equal rights' between the two forms of the Mass, and that the introduction of the New Missal did not indicate any abrogation of the older Rite, which continues to represent not only a legitimate expression of the Roman Rite but a source of 'liturgical riches' for the Church.
Q: Summorum Pontificum says that the Extraordinary Form of the Mass is only for 'stable groups' of Traditionalists. There are already lots of Traditional Masses celebrated for those who want it. Why do I need to introduce it in my parish too?
A: Summorum Pontificum actually makes it possible for any priest to celebrate according to the Missal of 1962, without reference to requests from the faithful. Article 2 states that priests need no permission from their Ordinary, or the Apostolic See, to do this, and Article 4 allows the lay faithful to attend these Masses (confusingly called Masses 'sine populo' in Latin) if they wish.
Article 5.1, on the other hand, lays out conditions for the lay faithful to request the celebration of Mass in the Extraordinary Form. In the terms of this article, if there is a 'group of lay faithful' who desire to hear Mass in the older form of the Rite, their parish priest is asked to 'willingly accept' this legitimate request, and to make appropriate provision for such celebrations. On the question of the 'group' see below.
Article 7 states that: 'If a group of lay faithful, as mentioned in Art. 5.1, has not obtained satisfaction to their requests from the pastor, they should inform the diocesan bishop. The bishop is strongly requested to satisfy their wishes. If he cannot arrange for such celebration to take place, the matter should be referred to the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei".'
It is also clear from the Holy Father's accompanying letter that he is concerned to ensure the evident continuity in the Church's liturgical traditions, and that this entails an altogether new and different pastoral task from that imposed by his St John-Paul II' s motu proprio Ecclesia Dei Adflicta (1988), and the Indult Quattuor abhinc annos (1984). Those earlier documents were more clearly directed at Traditional communities that maintained a ' legitimate desire' to celebrate using the Traditional liturgy. Summorum Pontificum, on the other hand, is pastorally directed to all the faithful. Thus, the Holy Father says: ' In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. 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. It behoves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church's faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.' [italics added] In his accompanying letter it is made abundantly clear that the Holy Father sees his motu proprio as a contribution to the more faithful celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass in the reformed liturgy as well, and thus to have a significance for both forms of the Mass, and not only the Traditional Rite. He notes that, ' The celebration of the Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI will be able to demonstrate, more powerfully than has been the case hitherto, the sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage. The most sure guarantee that the Missal of Paul VI can unite parish communities and be loved by them consists in its being celebrated with great reverence in harmony with the liturgical directives. This will bring out the spiritual richness and the theological depth of this Missal.'
To conclude this answer, it is well worth considering the words of Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos, the former President of the Pontifical Commission ' Ecclesia Dei' , speaking at a Press Interview in London on 14 June 2008, who, when asked ' would the Pope like to see many ordinary parishes making provision for the Gregorian Rite?', responded: ' All the parishes. Not many - all the parishes, because this is a gift of God. He offers these riches, and it is very important for new generations to know the past of the Church. This kind of worship is so noble, so beautiful - the deepest theologians' way to express our faith. The worship, the music, the architecture, the painting, makes a whole that is a treasure. The Holy Father offers to all the people this possibility, not only the groups who demand it, but so that everybody knows this way of celebrating the Eucharist in the Catholic Church.'
Q: I am only required to introduce the Extraordinary Form of the Mass if there is a 'stable group' that desires it. But you don' t qualify as a 'stable group' so why should I start celebrating it for you?
A: In the expression 'stable group', the stability in question is to be understood as referring to the group's adherence to the Traditional Latin Mass, and not to its stability in terms of membership or location. The official Latin text of the Motu Proprio refers to a ‘coetus fidelium traditioni liturgicæ antecedenti adhærentium stabiliter exsistit’ , which can be translated 'a group of the faithful who stably adhere to the earlier liturgical tradition' (Rorate Coeli). No other qualifications are made as to what constitutes a 'stable group' .
At the press interview in London on 14 June 2008, cited above, Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos sought to give a more concrete expression to Article 5.1. Since 'Ecclesia Dei' has the ultimate responsibility for making the Extraordinary Form of the Mass available for those groups that desire it, his judgement is therefore very significant. He said, when asked what constituted a ' stable group' : ' It is not possible to give two persons a Mass, but two here, two there, two elsewhere -- they can have it. They are a stable group.'
Q: Trying to introduce the Extraordinary Form of the Mass into my parish will be a source of tension and disunity, won't it?
A: This too is an issue that the Holy Father has sought to address in his accompanying letter to Summorum Pontificum. There he says that: 'the fear was expressed in discussions about the awaited Motu Proprio, that the possibility of a wider use of the 1962 Missal would lead to disarray or even divisions within parish communities. This fear ... strikes me as quite unfounded. The use of the old Missal presupposes a certain degree of liturgical formation and some knowledge of the Latin language, neither of these is found very often. Already from these concrete presuppositions, it is clearly seen that the new Missal will certainly remain the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, not only on account of the juridical norms, but also because of the actual situation of the communities of the faithful.'
Two things can be concluded from this. Firstly that the Holy Father does not anticipate that those who are happy with the revised form of the Roman Rite introduced in 1970 need fear that they will in any way be deprived of the New Mass. Secondly, that any introduction of the Traditional Latin Mass into a parish where it hasn't previously been celebrated will necessitate some catechetical work to help the lay faithful in that parish know what to expect and how to conduct themselves in celebrations of the older form of the Rite. And, naturally, it is in the course of this catechesis that the parish priest will allay any fears about 'disunity' or 'disobedience' attendant on the use of the Extraordinary Form.
The Holy Father has many times stated the fact that there is no 'contradiction' between the two forms of the Rite. Thus in Article 1 he expressly says: 'These two expressions of the Church's Lex orandi will in no way lead to a division in the Church's 'Lex credendi' (Law of belief). They are, in fact two usages of the one Roman rite.' If there is to be any disobedience it will come from those who refuse the Traditional Latin Mass on what are now clearly erroneous grounds, that it has been surpassed, is without value, or is theologically suspect.
The experience of parishes which have introduced the Extraordinary Form has been that, far from being a source of disruption, or lack of harmony, the Traditional Mass has contributed to a flourishing of parish life. A visit to one of these parishes, or a look at their parish newsletters or reports in the Latin Mass Society's Mass of Ages, should be enough to demonstrate this.
Q: I am already so overloaded with responsibilities in my parish. How can I ever find the time to learn and then celebrate in the Extraordinary Form, not to speak of all the additional catechetical work among my parishioners that it will require?
A: Naturally any new venture in the life of a parish will involve a great deal of work to set up and get started. This is true of the establishment of groups of the lay faithful such as the Legion of Mary or the Society of St Vincent de Paul, as well as RCIA and catechetical classes, prayer groups, or indeed anything else that involves the coordinated efforts of a number of people. Establishing the regular celebration of Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite is no different. To begin with the lay faithful should ideally be provided with some formation in the liturgy of the old Mass, the priest himself needs to make sure that he is fully trained in the practice of the Rite, and very often new Missal booklets, hymn books and so on will need to be provided to assist the laity in participating at Mass.
However, there are now many resources available to assist priests and their parishioners in preparing for, and celebrating, the Traditional Latin Mass. Firstly there is the Latin Mass Society, which is a lay-led organisation of the faithful in full communion with the Holy Father, whose aim is to promote the use of the older Roman Rite. The Society can help in providing Mass booklets, as well as other catechetical material, but also in providing training for priests, and even the provision of priests where a parish priest is unable to celebrate himself, but wishes to make such a provision for his parishioners. The Latin Mass Society also promotes Masses by advertising them and reporting on the activities of parishes that celebrate in the Extraordinary Form.
There are also a number of priestly societies that can provide assistance to parishes that wish to introduce the Traditional Latin Mass. The Priestly Fraternity of St Peter (FSSP), for example, which has headquarters in the UK in Reading and Warrington, and the Institute of Christ the King (ICKSP), which serves several parishes in the North East. Both can provide training for priests, and can also, on occasion, provide priests to celebrate Mass. Recently the Fraternity has produced an extremely thorough and useful training DVD, The Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite: An Instructional Video for Priests and Seminarians, which you may very well want to make available to your priest should he be considering introducing the older Rite into your parish. Even if he has been trained, this DVD not only serves as a reminder of the all the rites, but also provides lots of background information and advice for priests.
Article 7 of Summorum Pontificum also gives the local Ordinaries responsibility for ensuring that the 'legitimate aspirations' of those faithful who wish to attend Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite are met in cases where, for whatever reason, their parish priest is unable to accede to that wish. Article 7 states: 'If a group of lay faithful, as mentioned in art. 5.1, has not obtained satisfaction to their requests from the pastor, they should inform the diocesan bishop. The bishop is strongly requested to satisfy their wishes.' And lastly, where this fails, the Pontifical Commission ' Ecclesia Dei' , has ultimate responsibility to satisfy the requests of those 'stable groups' if there appear to be problems in the provision of such Masses that neither the parish priests nor their Ordinaries can resolve: ' If he [the Ordinary] cannot arrange for such celebration to take place, the matter should be referred to the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei".'
Consequently, over and above the simple desire of the faithful to support their priest, there are a number of different levels of assistance that can be given so that no priest should ever feel that it is beyond his power to make such provisions in his parish.