Gratitude for Summorum Pontificum

Last weekend, Pope Benedict XVI released his motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum, which enables the greater use of the Pre-Vatican II liturgy, now commonly known as the Tridentine Latin Mass.  Under Summorum Pontificum, any priest who is "worthy and not impeded by law" may celebrate the Tridentine Mass and in parishes where a group of faithful that "exists stably" requests celebration of the Old Mass, the pastor should "willingly accede to their requests."

Thus far, the reaction to Summorum Pontificum reported in news accounts has been overwhelmingly negative, probably due to the mass media's instinctive hatred of anything traditional.  Among the reasons frequently cited for the opposition to the Pope's move are that most people do not understand Latin, a wider use of the Tridentine Mass could cause divisiveness in parishes, and various complaints from special interest groups, both inside and outside the Church, many of which seem either ignorant or to have missed the point entirely.

Well, let at least one voice be raised in favor of Summorum Pontificum: I am delighted with the motu proprio and very grateful to the Holy Father for this immense and generous gift. 

Before my conversion, my image of the Catholic Church was formed by the Latin Mass, then the Roman Catholic Church's primary form of worship.  Even before I understood Catholicism, I could easily see how it differed from the Episcopal Church in which I was raised.  By virtue of its liturgy, the Catholic Church was its own Thing — there was nothing on earth remotely like it.

 When thinking of the Catholic Church, I visualized the elaborate and mysterious ritual I had seen in countless television shows and movies.  For when Hollywood wanted to show the reverent, the sacred or practically anything else having to do with religion, it was the Catholic Church and her sacraments that best provided the visualization of the tangible presence of the supernatural in human life.  Like many, I was attracted to It without really knowing what It really was.  But there is something strange and yet familiar about the whole atmosphere of Catholic worship, much having to do with use of the beautiful sounding Latin, a language you could love without knowing a word of it.

By the time I converted in 1983, of course, the liturgy had changed drastically from what I expected.  Over the years, I attended folk masses, rock masses, and children's masses, where kids frolicked in the sanctuary while Father tried to keep us focused on the liturgy; listened to weepy, sentimental songs at Mass whose melodies echoed the Top 40; saw receiving the Eucharist in the hand appear and altar rails disappear; watched as priests became scarce and altar girls abundant.  But in all that time there was one thing I never saw: the ancient liturgy that formed my notion of what made Catholicism special in the first place.

It was at least fifteen years after converting before I attended a Traditional Latin Mass.  Although the ritual was different, somehow I immediately felt like I had arrived back home.  This was the Catholicism that I unconsciously had known without really knowing it, the Faith to which I instinctively reacted before actually encountering it.

Although finding a Tridentine Mass in my area (Los Angeles archdiocese) is difficult and the times inconvenient, I attend one whenever possible.  To me, nothing conveys the richness and sense of the supernatural the way the Old Mass does: its magnificent prayers constantly remind us that the Mass is, first and foremost, a Eucharistic Sacrifice; the beautiful, strictly defined rubrics; the wonderful ancient hymns that contain not a hint of pop schmaltz about them; the solemn reception of the Body and Blood of Our Lord kneeling and on the tongue; and, at the end of Mass, the reading of the beginning of John's Gospel, perhaps the most profound words ever written.  

By attending the Old Mass, my conversion has become deeper and more complete.  The catechesis provided through this magnificent ritual has guided me toward the Church's Sacred Tradition: toward Her teachings elaborated in Papal Encyclicals; toward working for the Social Reign of Jesus Christ; toward an understanding of the Faith and a love of the Blessed Mother; and, most importantly, toward an awed appreciation for the glorious treasure of Her liturgy.

It should be remembered that the Traditional Mass produced the Church's greatest saints and provided the formation of every pope for the past 1500 years, and has been praised by poets, artists and other intellectuals as the crown jewel of modern culture.  Thus, if we are obligated to offer our sacrifice to God in the manner most pleasing to Him, Pope Benedict has given a great gift to every Catholic — indeed to the entire world.  Only good can come from the celebration of more Traditional Latin Masses.  May God bless Pope Benedict XVI for this great pastoral act and may bishops around the world receive his motu proprio in the spirit in which it was intended.

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  • Guest

    James: It was interesting to read your perspective; like you, I came into the fullness of the faith through the Los Angeles archdiocese. (I entered about a decade later than you did, through Holy Family in South Pasadena.)

    While your Episcopalean background gave you a certain comfort level with liturgical worship, I was raised in various non-liturgical and "non-denominational" traditions. Consequently, I had precisely the opposite reaction that you did to the "new" liturgy. I was relieved because the Mass was nothing like the one others (primarily anti-Catholics who now attended the faith communities in which I grew up) had warned me against.

    The Latin form would have been too great a leap for me to handle at the outset. God brought me into the Church through the door He knew I could manage. (I write more about this on my Streams of Mercy" blog, if you'd like to read about it: 

    Now that I've been "in the fold" for a while and have had a chance to become more familiar with Church teachings, I hope to attend a Latin Mass in the near future. I also can appreciate why others love it so. However, because the liturgical form of 1970 remains the "ordinary" form, a faithful Catholic could conceivably go his or her whole life without ever setting foot in a Latin Mass.

    The Holy Father took great pains to make us understand that there are not two rites, simply two forms of the same rite. Those who attend the Tridentine liturgies are not necessarily "better" or more fullly formed Catholics. God leads each of us along different paths, depending on what we need.

    God bless you! Heidi Saxton

    Heidi Hess Saxton Editor, "Canticle" Magazine Blogroll

  • Guest

    Thank you so much for your fine article!! I cannot say anything else, but that I totally agree with what you say. May God bless our good holy father and all of us! I hope this will be a new liturgical spring for the entire church. 

    Greetings from Finland!
  • Guest

    Just for clarification, it can be confusing to simply speak of "the Latin Mass".  Currently, the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church has the Novus Ordo Mass as the "ordinary" Mass.  This Mass, at any time, could always be said in Latin.  No special permission was needed by the local bishop.  Therefore, there are many people who have been born after the '60s and have participate in a Mass that was primarily in Latin (except for readings and homily).  But it has been the Novus Ordo Mass.

    What Pope Benedict has done with the motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum, is he has made the Tridentine Mass (so different from the Novus Ordo Mass we know, whether in Latin or the vernacular) available to be said without special permission from the bishop.

    If you were to walk into a Novus Ordo Mass being said in Latin, you would pretty much know where you were in the Mass…what prayers were being said when…you just wouldn't know the words.

    If you were to walk into a Tridentine Mass (which is always said in Latin), you may not know exactly what was going on in each "part" because the "format" is a little different (if you will). 

    Just as if you were to walk into a Byzantine Rite Mass (Catholic, but a different Rite), you wouldn't know exactly what was going on in each "part" because their "format" is a little different, too.


    So simply referring to "the Latin Mass" is a bit confusing.  Because it doesn't specify WHICH Mass…the Tridentine?  or the Novus Ordo said in Latin.

  • Guest

    John BH

    I drive about 6 Kms here in Lyon, France to assist at a Latin Mass, I've been doing so for about 6 months or so. I have to say I'm quite at ease also when the Mass is celebrated in French and is "coordinated" if that's the right word, by the Emmanuel community. Sorry to say, I just can't abide a Mass where the Priest addlibs and improvises; Yes, without the slightest doubt, the Mass has in many ways lost it's Sacred and awe inspiring character down through the years, it's rather sad to witness this change. Here in France some of the hymnes are particularly dismal and uninspired. I'm not ashamed to say that I miss the "Sweet Heart of Jesus" and "Hail Queen of Heaven" of my childhood in Dublin. Well done Benedict XVI. I agree with Pilvi from Finland, a new Liturgical spring for the Church. Greetings to all at Catholic Exchange.   

  • Guest

    I too am glad that the Holy Father has brought back this form of worship.  Not because I intend to regularly attend this extraordinary form of the Mass, but because it may bring more conformity and Latin back into the ordinary form of the Mass (Novus Ordo).  I've been to Latin Masses and though there were 3 things I loved about it:  1)the music; 2) the way the lay people dressed; and 3) receiving Communion on my knees, I missed terribly the extra scripture readings (there are hardly any readings from the Old Testament) and my own participation (the priest mumbled the Our Father so quietly you couldn't even participate by saying the prayer that Jesus taught us!), I felt left out.  So once again, my biggest hope is that this brings more reverance and Latin to the Novus Ordo, where when it is done properly as it is most of the time at my parish, my own faith is constantly deepened and enlarged.

  • Guest

    Todd Davis

    As a lay Baptist Minister I would go on Sunday afternoon to the Novus mass after worshiping and serving in my Baptist Church. Once I became Catholic I went in a different town to a Novus mass where it seemed very protestant. I was glad for it at the time. 12 years later. I have gone from enjoying that to enjoying a more latin filled Novus like Ewtns mass, to enjoying the tridentine mass. Right now I could go to a mass like Ewtn has or a tridentine mass and very much enjoy both. Although if I could, I would rather go to a tridentine mass. I guess it has alot to do with where people are in there faith. 



  • Guest


    am I misunderstamding something–Is the Tridentine Mass the same as the Mass of John XXIII?

  • Guest

    There's an ebb and flow to everything and so it is in the Church. The Holy Father has determined that the Mass that always was still is. The vernacular Mass in some circles was and is a bit of a rebellious statement. It's time for the "child" to reconcile with the "father". It's not the laity that will or should determine which Mass it wants. Those who are afraid of a rift or confusion are the very ones who are the source of both. Peter has spoken, the Holy Spirit who inspired this will also see it through, rest assured. Deum gracias.


  • Guest

    God loves you .

    I can certainly see how the Tridentine Latin Mass will hold the improvs and ad-libs down. Then again, most of the pew dwellers won’t even notice the ‘off-roading’ if it is given in Latin – tho, I just might.

    Remember, I love you, too

    Reminding that we are all on the same side – His,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell or …