Summorum Pontificum, Eight Years Later

When Pope Emertius Benedict XVI’s motu proprio Summorum Pontificum first came out back in 2007, I remember there being a lot of excitement at St F’s because we widely believed that it would cause a proliferation of Latin Masses in the archdiocese. Eight years later, the number of officially sanctioned Latin Masses in the Archdiocese of Atlanta is the same as it was then: one. I checked the Latin Mass Times site for all Latin Mass sites in the state of Georgia, and it lists three “independent chapels” (whatever that means), the SSPX parish up in Roswell, an official Latin Mass once a month at a parish in Macon, a weekly official one at the cathedral in Savannah, and St. F (http://www.latinmasstimes.com/Georgia). For those of you who aren’t familiar with Georgia geography, Atlanta, Macon, and Savannah are all in completely different parts of the state. When I was still “orthodox,” I visited the church in Macon where the Latin Mass is held, and the woman who ran the parish bookstore told me that it’s mostly attended by elderly people. If Catholics are demanding the Latin Mass, as traditionalists claim, they don’t seem to be in Georgia.

When I heard the woman at the church bookstore in Macon say that the Latin Mass was primarily a senior citizens’ affair, I was shocked. I assumed that there had to be tons of Latin Mass loving millenials in central Georgia, because the conservotrad and traditionalist blogs I was reading at the time were assuring me that serious young Catholics like myself were all about Gregorian chant and polyphony. It wasn’t until some years later when my lapsed cradle Catholic psychologist asked me what the Society of St. Pius X was that I realized that all of the liturgical and ecclesiastical controversies that I had concerned myself with for so long didn’t even register as important for the vast majority of “ordinary Catholics.”

Part of the traditionalist narrative is that “Novus Ordo” parishes that have mass in the vernacular are shrinking, while those that are based around the Latin Mass are growing. From what I can tell, this isn’t true (see here for more: https://extraecclesiamestlibertas.wordpress.com/2015/05/12/liturgical-churches-and-millenials/), but it keeps coming up. While there is a decent-sized and very vocal minority of Catholics for whom the Latin Mass is the foundation of their religious and spiritual life, the vast majority of Catholics don’t care about it. They may regard the Latin Mass as an interesting curiosity, but they aren’t going to drive two or three hours one way just to attend one, as some of the St F regulars did. The “Latin Mass or nothing at all” mentality isn’t very common in real life, although it is on the Internet.

Maybe in the immediate years after Vatican II there was a push to suppress the Latin Mass, but with Summorum Pontificum, any community that wants a diocesan-sanctioned Latin Mass is theoretically supposed to have it. Even if the hierarchy was bent on suppressing the Latin Mass, I don’t think they could if enough people rose up in protest. That there haven’t been thousands of new Latin Mass communities popping up like mushrooms after a rainstorm suggests that the demand for the Latin Mass isn’t as great as some of its devotees seem to think.

Then there’s also the fact that many hardcore traditionalists don’t want to be associated with the institutional Catholic church because they think it’s a hotbed of liberalism, “modernism,” and felt banners (see this thread from the Fish Eaters Forum: http://www.fisheaters.com/forums/index.php?topic=3438693.0). Such people enjoy being on the outside of official religious channels, and would prefer to support one of the “independent chapels” even if a diocesan Latin Mass was available, because they think that the “Novus Ordo church” is essentially a completely different religion than “traditional Catholicism.” Truthfully, I think that such people like being in a relatively small religious milieu, because it’s much easier to control or pressure everyone into conforming to traditionalist norms, from wearing chapel veils, to homeschooling, to eschewing birth control.

One of the great and terrible things about the Internet in general is that it allows people with fringe interests to find like-minded people. This isn’t such a bad thing if your interest is something relatively benign like, say, crocheting anime characters (see here: http://www.cnet.com/news/crocheting-a-love-of-video-games-anime/), but when your interest are more transgressive, problems can arise. In terms of religion, I think the Internet can normalize extreme religious ideologies in the minds of believers. If you got all of your ideas about the Catholic church in the US from the Internet, you’d probably come away with the impression that it consists of suburban American whites with libertarian tendencies and an obsession with the Latin Mass. But such people are rare in real life, especially when one factors in the global popularity of charismatic and Pentecostal forms of Christianity.

Unlike Benedict XVI, the Latin Mass does not appear to be part of Francis’ personal spirituality, and he hasn’t gone out of his way to make overtures to the traditionalist crowd. As the first pope from the Americas and the developing world, Francis clearly has a very different idea of what the future of the church ought to look like than Benedict, who may turn out to be the last pope from Europe for the foreseeable future. In Latin America and Africa, the Catholic church has to compete with Pentecostalism, and incorporating charismatic forms of worship into the mass helps keep the Catholic “brand” competitive. In many part of West Africa, dance is a legitimate form of religious expression that goes back for centuries, and it wouldn’t surprise me if one day liturgical dancing is formally incorporated into the Roman Rite. Since the more hardcore traditionalists refuse to have anything to do with the “Novus Ordo church” and even those attending FSSP parishes tend to purposefully isolate themselves from the archdiocese and “ordinary Catholics,” it’s unclear how much of an influence the Latin Mass movement as a whole can have on the wider church. I think that traditionalism will eventually become to Catholicism what the Old Believers are to Russian Orthodoxy: a historical curiosity, but not something many people will want to join.

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