Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Program for Parish Renewal (part 4)

Finally we get to the last installment in this series and come to our happy ending. Last time we looked at how our pastor introduced some traditional elements into our liturgy. This time we will be looking at the introduction of Masses ad orientem, the introduction of the Traditional Latin Mass, and some other devotions and activities introduced at the parish.

I do want to deal with one objection a reader brought up last time; I mentioned that within a month or so of the issuing of the motu proprio, there were 70 people and families who signed a petition to have the TLM at our parish requesting to have the Extraordinary Form Mass said, but that it was nevertheless three years until my pastor actually said it. One reader suggested that perhaps my pastor was disobeying the guidelines of Summorum Pontificum by not offering the Mass immediately upon its request. Although my pastor has already answered this objection in the combox to part 3, I would like to address it here as well. If so many requested the EF Mass so early on, why wasn't it said for three years?

There are several reasons why the pastor allowed this interlude, if you will allow me to defend him here. In the first place I must note my pastor's conviction that anything that is done must be done properly, deliberately and with a high degree of excellence. Just because the EF Mass was now available did not mean that he was going to rush out and say a slip-shod Mass that was hurried and without the proper training. My pastor was simply not ready to say the TLM; he had barely begun learning it when Summorum Pontificum hit. Our pastor studied the Extraordinary Form with an admirable dedication—he attended two weekend seminars put on by the Canons of St. John Cantius for priests learning to say the EF Mass. He practiced the EF in "dry runs" weekly until he got comfortable with it; he even had a priest from the FSSP come out to observe him for a weekend and help him learn it better. All this training was in addition to his regular pastoral duties, funerals, weddings, visits from the Bishop, etc. and many personal medical problems that left him precious little spare time.

In addition to this was the fact that we had none of the implements of the Mass. He had to purchase vestments, which he did with much research and great care as to quality; we had to get a biretta, altar cards and purchase the Missal. More importantly was the altar servers—as you all know, the EF Mass requires altar servers who know the liturgical rubrics intimately and can say the Latin responses. These servers had to be found and trained from scratch, which took a considerable amount of time and had to be done on top of all of his other duties. He needed to find a cantor knowledgeable of the Extraordinary Form who could commit to a weekly schedule; we never did find our own and ended up "borrowing" a guy from another parish. We also had to find a "Master of Ceremonies"; we were fortunate to come across a young man who was part of Una Voce who was able to fulfill this role. All of these people's schedules had to be coordinated to find out which day and what time the EF Mass could be said.

I also want to clarify that last time, when I said there was a petition circulated with 70 people and families in support of the EF at our parish, it was not as if there were 70 families demanding or asking for the EF. There was one gentleman who was quite intent on getting the EF said. He, on his own initiative, created a petition and circulated it, and 70 people and families signed it, saying that they would support an EF Mass at the parish and would attend it if it was made available. It was not as if there was this big group of people asking for it; rather, it was a large segment of the parish who expressed support for the idea and were open to it should the pastor choose to implement it. I suppose you could say they asked for it passively rather than demanded it actively. You may think this is hair-splitting, but it is an important distinction.

My pastor also wanted to spend a lot of time on catechesis, for which purpose there were weekly bulletin articles on liturgy, tradition, Latin and  the EF for many months leading up to the introduction of the Extraordinary Form. He had witnessed what happened when a priest tried to rush things through without proper catechesis or preparation and was careful to not go down the same road.

Finally, with regard to this delay, I want to mention and commend the docility of the parishioners. When the EF Mass was freed up by the motu proprio and the pastor did not immediately make it available, they did not start complaining and bickering with him and puffing themselves up about their rights being violated and this and that; perhaps they would have done that if our pastor was a Latin-hating progressive, but since he is a faithful priest and one of the most orthodox in the region, they were very docile to his actions and quick to assume the best possible intentions on his part. "Our pastor is a good man who loves the Faith," we reasoned; "if he is delaying, he must have a good reason." This is rare in parishes today, where people are so quick to demand their way and start hurling accusations if they don't get it. Therefore I commend our parishioners, who were faithful enough to request the TLM but humble enough to wait patiently on the pastor's prudence for its introduction. It was finally introduced in October, 2010 to a very large and supportive congregation who was used to Latin from a year's worth of practice, used to ad orientem, accustomed to receiving at communion rails, and prepared for the TLM by a year or more of catechetical instruction from the pulpit and the bulletin. It's introduction took awhile, but the transition was successful and flawless.

Therefore, though at some times I did not understand my pastor's reluctance or thought he was moving too slow, in hindsight I see that he was vindicated in his approach and think him to be blameless in his conduct.

But we are moving too far ahead...let's go back a bit...


Don't panic; I mean experimental in a good way. What I mean by this term is that, as our pastor began introducing more and more traditional elements to the Novus Ordo liturgy, he did not do them universally to every Mass. He picked one specific Mass (in our case, the Sunday 10:30) as his "experimental Mass" to try these things out in. Those who were predisposed to Tradition could attend this Mass while those who were not would not (yet) be alarmed by the introduction of Tradition into their accustomed Masses. If the changes he made to the 10:30 Mass went over well, then he would talk about them at the other Masses, tell them, "Over at the 10:30 we've been singing the Gloria in Latin and people love it!" This let the more recalcitrant of the parishioners know that the changes were already happening at other Masses and gave them a chance to get their minds settled on the idea that they may be coming to "their" Mass, though not all of the changes were introduced to every Mass. Even to this day I don't think my pastor says the 8:00 or Saturday 4:30 Mass exactly the same as the 10:30; I suppose this is where he called a "truce" with the people, though even these two Masses are much more traditional than any others in the region.


I have already mentioned how Latin was introduced piecemeal. The next step was to get the parishioners away from "hymns" and move them towards chant. Sappy, post-Vatican II hymns had already been abolished circa 2007 and we were singing good, time-tested hymns from the 18th and 19th centuries, but still the pastor wanted to introduce the people to chant proper. The abolition of hymns in favor of chant was done in three ways:

(1) The entrance hymn was replaced with a chanted introit. It was (and is) done in English, but it is chant in a traditional mode done as a response between the congregation and the cantor. This helped dispose the people to prayer more as the Mass begun, much better than the "entrance hymn."

(2) The offertory hymn was replaced by an offertory responsorial chant, again done in a traditional mode but in English with responses between the people and the cantor.

(3) Most importantly, the communion hymn was replaced by the communion antiphon chanted a capella in Latin. I cannot tell you how much more reverent and sacred this made communion feel; I think this was the most important musical change that was made. Even now the beautiful Latin chant at this most solemn part of the Mass moves me to tears.

Thus, by these few changes, three "hymns" were eliminated and replaced by chants, two of them in the vernacular, but a step in the right direction.


Our pastor began doing Mass ad orientem in January 2009, about a year after he restored the altar rails. Ad orientem Mass was prepared for by a lengthy series of homilies on the liturgy, sometimes teaching right from the GIRM that this was the preferred manner of saying Mass. When ad orientem finally happened, some people were a little put off, but most accepted it. By this time, our priest had been there long enough and had a strong enough following to basically say, "I'm going to do this," and then do it. Nevertheless, it was great news. Father asked me to write a bulletin article on my reaction to the ad orientem Mass, and this article ended up on Fr. Z's blog (here). Once people got used to it, he never went back. The Novus Ordo has been ad orientem at my parish for ten years now.

Communion at the rails was introduced shortly after this. By this time, the rails had been restored for over a year and Father had preached on how to receive communion several times. People had been well catechized on the reverence due to the Eucharist and were well disposed to begin actually using the rails that had at first ostensibly been put up just for "aesthetic" reasons. In preparing people for this, our pastor preached on two themes (1) the reverence due to our Lord in the Eucharist, and (2) the fact that nowhere in Vatican II or in the post-conciliar documents was it ever commanded to remove the altar rails.

After preaching on this, he basically just made the change, although he allowed one caveat—since the bishops of the United States, and of our diocese, allowed that standing was to be the "norm" for reception, our pastor could not forbid it; that is, he could allow and encourage reception at the rails on the tongue, but could not forbid reception standing up in the hand. Therefore, he allowed that those who wanted to receive standing up could come up the middle of the aisle and receive in the hand. It was an awkward arrangement to have three "lines" (one at the left rail, one at the right, and one in the middle standing), one I never approved of, but I don't really know what else he was supposed to do, since he could not forbid reception standing in the Novus Ordo. This is still the practice, although the vast majority of persons still choose to receive kneeling rather than stand awkwardly in the middle line. I think this line is mainly used by visitors who have no idea what communion rails are. He also initially allowed communion of both kinds at the rails, which was a little unusual. Eventually as people got used to receiving at the rails he abolished this. Communion was still offered under both kinds in the Novus Ordo, but those receiving from the chalice did so after receiving at the rails in a separate line. Many people simply chose not to receive from the chalice.

Once people began regularly receiving at the communion rails, full-blown Latin Gregorian chant was introduced for all the regular Mass parts. We'd already been doing Latin communion chants. By now, the parish was fully in support of Latin and this change only made things more beautiful.


Look at how far we have come! We have come from liturgical dancing and puppet Masses to this point. The Traditional Latin Mass was introduced in October, 2010. By this time the parish had been receiving communion at the rails for almost a year. Even the Novus Ordo Mass was ad orientem at the neo-Gothic high altar. Latin permeated the liturgy, both in the ordinary parts and the changeable antiphons, which were chanted in Latin at communion by a skilled cantor. Orthodoxy was preached and Mass was reverent. To those who had been happily introduced to orthodox preaching, Latin chant, ad orientem celebrations and communion at the rail, what else was standing in the way between them and the TLM?

When the TLM finally came it was very well attended, both by members of our own parish and by visitors who had heard about it and wanted the blessing of attending the Extraordinary Form in Michigan's second oldest parish. The pastor had done such a good job over the past five years that, when the Traditional Latin Mass finally came—which in my opinion was the jewel in the crown of all his labors—nobody complained at all. The faithful who had come to our parish from other parishes had long anticipated it; many of the old group of parishioners had been catechized and made ready for it; and those who were extremely hostile or recalcitrant had either long ago left the parish or simply gave up complaining, seeing the restoration of Tradition as a fait accompli.

I believe I have misspoken; I said above that the saying of the TLM was the crown of my pastor's labors. I take this back. The true crowning glory of this beautiful story was when, a few months after the saying of the first TLM, the Bishop of our Diocese, His Excellency Earl Boyea, came to my pastor personally and asked him to continue to say the TLM and make it widely available. Then, as if to place a most beautiful and glorious jewel at the pinnacle of an already glorious crown, the bishop affirmed and justified everything our pastor had done by visiting our parish in April, 2011 and himself said Mass in the Extraordinary Form (see here). Hallelujah!


Lest it seem that all this renewal was simply about liturgical changes alone, I should mention that everything coincided with a deepening of the devotion of the entire parish, both new comers and the older folks. Our pastor relentlessly promoted First Friday Adoration every month and tirelessly preached on the merit of Eucharistic Adoration, getting as many of his people as possible in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Confessions were made widely available. A guest priest of the Oblates was brought in by providence to lead small groups in the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. A vibrant homeschool co-op teaching in the classical tradition was formed there and now thrives with 70+ students. May crownings of our Lady. Beautiful Corpus Christi processions. A renewed Knights of Columbus council. Pro-Life activism by the Youth Group. Enrollments in the Brown Scapular. Enrollments in the Angelic Warfare Confraternity. Choir concerts featuring traditional Catholic music. Parish missions by excellent priests. The parish is a dynamic center of apostolic labor and intense spirituality, and all because one pastor had the courage and common sense to simply preach the truth, say the black, do the red and be faithful. The TLM is attended enthusiastically and the Latin Novus Ordo Masses are standing room only.

It happened at our parish...it can happen at yours!


This last section is an amendment, written 8 years after this original series was published. The pastor I spoke of so fondly in the articles has been gone since 2016, but the TLM remains and much of what he did remains intact. The TLM is not only regularly offered, but sacraments according to the traditional rubrics are available as well. We have done the Pentecost Octave in the Extraordinary Form for many years, and other traditional feasts and practices have been offered, such as the Candelmas Mass and procession.

What strikes me most about this renewal, reading these articles eight years hence, is how this was the actual conversion of a congregation to the TLM. When the TLM began being offered, it was not simply cannibalizing an existing TLM community, but rather Novus Ordo Catholics who had not regularly gone to the TLM before were now attending it. And the reverence and devotions encouraged by the TLM seeped back into the Novus Ordo. I never believed in Benedict XVI's idea of "mutual enrichment" between the TLM and NO; the TLM needs no enrichment from the NO. But if the enrichment is one directional only, I can definitely see this. Our celebration of the NO definitely benefited from the presence of the TLM. While still being inferior to the TLM objectively, it became infinitely better and more reverent than how it is offered in 90% of Catholic parishes. The result is that rather than simply subdivide among an existing group of traditionalists, the changes in the parish rather opened up regular Novus Ordo Catholics to the riches of the traditional Mass—Catholics who would not otherwise have been exposed to it.

Despite this wonderful story, there is a hint of injustice in all of this. Though my pastor did a wonderful thing with this parish, it is inherently unjust that the access to our tradition (or lack thereof) should have had to depend on the preferences of a particular pastor. Really, all of this should have been accessible to us just by virtue of being Catholic. The parishioners should not have had to wait for fate and the passage of time to finally send them a priest who would simply give them the Catholic tradition. Stepping back and looking at this saga's meta-narrative, it's inherently ridiculous that we needed a heroic priest merely to do what any Catholic priest is supposed to do. But, such are the times we live in, and I am grateful for what we have.


Marco da Vinha said...

Has your pastor ever thought about having some of the Canonical Hours prayed in church?

Anonymous said...

Truly an inspiration and you are Blessed to have such a Priest. There is much to observe and learn from his methods and behavior.

Anonymous said...

Your pastor sounds like he is on his way to sainthood.

I've always wondered what would happen if the lefty's methods were turned against them. Boiling up a pot of frogs 'til their traditional!

And the Angelic Warfare Confraternity; I was inducted on the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas.