What has happened recently to the local practice of The Tridentine Mass or Traditional Latin Mass? 

You may know that there are a few, while not many, Catholics who don’t prefer the Novus Ordo (New Mass) for Mass but want the older form, much like the Mass was done in pre-Vatican II times. Thus, there is an Old Mass of 1962, that is used by some traditional Catholics. That Mass is done in Latin, even with readings done so in an older Lectionary, with the priest facing away (ad orientem) or as to the altar, with male altar servers, and Communion on the tongue kneeling, and just traditional music, and more things like that. 

This is the TLM movement.  The Traditional Latin Mass usage was done by breakaway groups after Vatican II, such as those following out behind Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. In 1970 he began the Society of St. Pius X.  They wanted nothing to do with the Vatican II goings of the Church.  Then Pope Benedict fashioned a way for some of these followers to get back into communion with the whole Catholic Church, and the TLM was going on as separate Masses for those who wanted them, and perhaps 2 or 3 % of Catholics went that way.  Benedict also sought a reform to the Missal to be more formal, and it is the Missal we use at Mass today for the past decade or so.  

The TLM followers became ‘ramped up a bit’ after the new Millennium and into the pontificate of Pope Francis. More attempts for the TLM spread became happening in dioceses, with some younger clergy preferring it, for its reverence and strictness of liturgy.  Pope Francis began to react to the movement with asking for respect to the Novus Ordo usage, done in most every parish in the world—but there was some TLM backlash, denouncing the Vatican II change of the Mass as a bad turn for the Church. Last year, Pope Francis made a declaration called “Traditionis Custodes,”, in which he laid down some advised direction to his fellow bishops to reign in the TLM to better control, as to keep unity in their flocks. 

Our Cardinal Gregory, in response to Pope Francis asking for dioceses to maintain some control over its usage, just drew some limitations and changed church assignments of where and how the TLM may be done in the Archdiocese. You can read the ADW website for what he said in his July 22 decision on it. 

In the pontificate of Pope Benedict, it was allowed for Catholics to come and do these Old Masses, so to keep traditional (“trad”) Catholics in the fold. Locally in the DC area, for some years, it meant for a few places like Old St. John church in Forest Glen, or St. Mary’s downtown or a St. Francis parish down in Benedict (off the Pax. River) to offer the Masses. There were enough Archdiocesan priests able and interested in doing them at these sites. But in recent years, many other parishes and priests were introducing it in their parishes, and some clergy (as in our Archdiocese) were doing Masses as ad orientem lately (facing away the people or up at a high altar facing the altar/tabernacle). Old vestment styles were also coming back by these priests and other traditional signs. This trend led for present Pope Francis to want to control how all of that was going, and he has changed the allowance for such to be done now only with permissions from the local ordinaries of dioceses (the bishops). Cardinal Wilton Gregory’s policy has just been made on Friday, July 22nd, and released for the ongoing celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the liturgy in our Archdiocese. It is a model much like the Chicago Archdiocese has done under Cardinal Cupich.  It was a big decision to make. Not all agree on how or why or when it was done here, or of other dioceses. It comes at a time folks in the churches were already divided over some political issues or of health separations by Covid. But it’s done. It had much to do of what was happening, really without permissions given, out in parish churches or rectories. It was a slow down to the TLM movement, but not a stopping of it, just a curtailing.

In our local Church of Washington, Gregory’s policy will now limit the Old Mass to three locations. Starting Sept. 21, the Extraordinary Form of the Mass will only be allowed to be offered at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in Washington, St. John the Evangelist in Silver Spring, Maryland, and St. Dominic in Aquasco, Maryland. His rules now require priests who want permission to say the old Mass to affirm, in writing, “the validity and legitimacy of the liturgical reform dictated by the Second Vatican Council and the Magisterium of the Supreme Pontiffs.” (You see, a problem was spreading of calling the present and popular Novus Ordo Mass as a lesser Mass or one to avoid. That TLM movement message was divisive and judging, in some episcopacy regard.) Now the clergy of Washington is required to ask the bishop’s permission if they wish to say the TLM or even of the Ordinary Form (New Mass) of the liturgy as  ad orientem. The priests now doing it in the Old Form say that they do so facing the altar so as to face the Lord, as with all the people’s direction. They thought that the New Mass folks would like this change of the priest’s orientation. (That really was not the case, as it confused the faithful of the Novus Ordo celebrations—as in “what is the priest doing?”)  The older churches in the Archdiocese had high altars still around, so often the liturgy was done from there, too. The priests doing the Mass in this traditional sense wanted to do it “up there” and with backs to the people. 

The trend of more traditional priests being the ones responding to vocations and being ordained in The Church had led to this preference change of theirs, and of some Catholics, though of the minority. Interestingly, these young clergymen did not live in the era of the pre-Vatican II Mass.  They had not experienced it. They grew up after it, but had some dislike of liturgical practices going on in their time, and thought perhaps Vatican II had made mistakes or been misapplied or thought that the Church had liturgists that modernized, secularized or simplified the Sacred Liturgy too much.  

Enter Pope Francis and some liturgy leaders of the Church… they felt the traditional Latin Mass, permitted back by Pope Benedict, had opened up again divided paths of practice of Holy Mass. Francis felt it was disrupting some unity in The Church at its Sacred Liturgy, and so he wanted the Church to favor the newer liturgy forms of what was implemented at Vatican II. 

Those not agreeing with that Francis view, said that Vatican II had not asked with the doing away of the traditional ways of liturgy, and that the newer one did not accommodate or keep enough of the pre-1962 liturgy. So they wanted to go back to it. Thus, there was a bit of a split going on. 

By about 1970, most our our US parishes had instituted the new Mass in English and with its missal and lectionary and such.  I recall that in the lead up of 1966-70, my parish in Bowie had a mix of Latin and English going on, as I was altar boy trained to know both languages and of practices of the old and of new ones coming along.  We had a traditional Mass at 1045 in our parish, but the 9 a.m. Mass was a folk group modern one. We had a priest that liked the 1045 (Fr. Duffy) and a priest that liked the 900 (Fr. Muzzey). They did not want to do the other at all. 

Pope Benedict had tried to reconcile the Latin-only and old-Mass version only people to the modern church. He thought he had mildly succeeded. Mass in both practices kept going, helping keep happy both modern and traditional followers for the Mass. Next he introduced a with a revised Mass and Missal (as you remember happening a decade or so ago, which we use today. ) It was a more formal English missal, for sure. Yet Traditional Latin Mass people did not like it. 

Benedict asked for more chants and silence in Mass and Latin songs to be tried in Mass, for a happy medium.  

Pope Francis saw presently, in his view, too much of a divide going on for too long over new or old Mass celebrations. Archbishop Gregory has concurred, saying in his 7 page Friday letter: “As my predecessors in the Archdiocese of Washington have followed the intentions of the Holy Father in regards to the celebration of the Mass according to the 1962 Roman Missal, I, too, desire to follow the path most recently traced out for us by Pope Francis… priests and deacons (of mine) are now to request and receive written permission to celebrate the Eucharist using the Roman Missal of 1962, either privately or publicly, in the territory of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.” He added that “weddings or baptisms in the Extraordinary Form (of Mass) will not happen in the Archdiocese.”

The appointed three places will make available this liturgy of the Old Mass to people within an hour of their home in our territory. The cardinal’s letter explained that during a series of Archdiocesan listening sessions, that he heard from Catholics who attend Extraordinary Form liturgies, and so this plan can provide pastoral care to such Catholics, within a reasonable commute. However, two of the parishes of its greatest popularity in the ADW had it dismissed from their places (St. Francis—Benedict and Old St. Mary’s—DC), so people will need to change where they go from those most popular sites of recent past decades.  The whole letter can be found here.  

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