Asking Your Bishop for the Old Mass in Latin
Do you want the old Mass in Latin? Do you want it readily available for yourself and your family?
The only problem is that your bishop has not yet implemented Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter of July 2, 1988, Ecclesia Dei. So, do you want the old Latin Mass enough to work for it? Here is what you can do.
Now wait a minute. Why should YOU have to do anything? Isn’t the public worship of the Church, that is, the liturgy, the province of the bishop of each diocese? Of course it is. But most bishops have no idea of the extent of the attachment of the Catholic Faithful to “some previous liturgical and disciplinary form of the Latin tradition” (to quote Ecclesia Dei). Some still act as if Ecclesia Dei had never been written or as if one token Tridentine Mass in their Diocese each week, or even each month, fulfills their obligation.
Your bishop, like most others, is a busy man, a good executive and administrator. For information, he relies upon reports from his staff. And where does he get reports on laity acceptance of current liturgical practice within the diocese? Why, from bright young Father Sprightly, well trained in the seminary by the avant-garde of the liturgical innovators.
Father Sprightly sees his ecclesiastical career as depending upon his whole hearted efforts to implement the latest directives from the liturgical bureaucracy, and in presenting to his bishop the best possible view of the actual state of worship in the parishes of the diocese.
“Why, your Excellency, if the latest tabulation shows that only 28% of our baptized Catholics attend Sunday Mass, I suggest that we initiate new programs to help every pastor use more Eucharistic ministers, lectors, usherettes, altar girls, and so on, to further involve the laity, increasing audience… (oops!, I mean congregational) participation. We must provide more options for the creative presiders at liturgical functions, so that the people of God will feel more fully involved. In this way we will draw more people back to Church.”
What Father Sprightly fails to see is that these are the very sort of attitudes and activities that have driven many Catholics away from church, or are sending them parish-shopping in desperation, or are causing them to think wistfully of the old Mass in Latin.
Some Catholics prefer to worship in silence, with a sense of internal reverence and awe, the opportunity to worship God with that interior fervor which gets lost in the hubbub of exterior activity, hand shakes, songs, and responses that seem to characterize new Mass celebrations in most parishes in the United States and Canada. Interior participation and silent prayer can be just as real and just as genuine as that which is external and vocal.
In an infrequently quoted paragraph from Ecclesia Dei, our Holy Father stressed: However, it is necessary that all Pastors and the other faithful have a new awareness, not only of the lawfulness but also of the richness for the Church of a diversity of charisms, and traditions of spirituality and apostolate, which also constitutes the beauty of unity in variety: of that blended ‘harmony’ which the earthly Church raises up to heaven under the impulse of the Holy Spirit. (5a)
This statement provides ample room for the old Mass to co-exist alongside the new Mass, as is now the case in many parishes across the United States and Canada.
But back to your reluctant bishop. Given his faulty lines of communication, how is the bishop going to know that there are Catholics in his diocese who prefer the old Mass in Latin unless some of them tell him that they do so prefer?
Any individual or group which politely and respectfully informs their bishop of interest among the faithful in his diocese in the Tridentine Mass is performing a service and doing the bishop and themselves a favor. They should certainly not be considered as trying to tell the bishop how to run his diocese.
It is not going to help Catholics get more approved Tridentine Masses if some of those who could be the most articulate and effective petitioners hold back because they don’t think it is appropriate, or it isn’t their job, or that the bishop doesn’t need to be told, and that the laity shouldn’t meddle in matters concerning the liturgy.
Unfortunately, if no one asks them for the Tridentine Mass, the bishops aren’t going to know that there are any Catholics in their diocese who want it.
In the Fall of 1990, the
prestigious Gallup organization was commissioned to survey Catholics in the
United States regarding their attitudes toward the pre-Vatican II traditional
Mass in Latin. The results revealed that three out of four Catholics would
attend this Mass at least occasional, in preference to the new Mass in the
venacular, if the traditional Latin Mass were offered every Sunday at convenient
times and locations.
The poll showed that eight percent of Catholics would attend the traditional Mass all the time, and 17% said they would attend frequently. Another 51% would attend occasionally and only 22% said that they would never attend.
Eight percent of Catholics in the United States is a large group, over four million people, more than the 2.7 million members of the Episcopal Church in this country. There is much more involved here than the nostalgic reminiscences of a few die-hard pre-Vatican II Catholics.
The Gallup poll also revealed that only 30% of Catholics were aware that the Tridentine Mass is now approved by the Holy Father and many bishops, and that they could ask their bishop for it if he has not made it available to them.
Clearly there is a large, untapped “market” for the Tridentine Mass. As to just who are some of the Catholics comprising this group, an apt description was give by a young Italian priest now serving in Ireland.
Father Joseph Vallauri, who offers the Tridentine Mass on the New Video from Ireland, “The Most Beautiful Thing This Side of Heaven”, is too young to have learned the old rite of the Mass in the Seminary. He has studied it and taught himself the rubrics, words, and their meanings. In an interview with Kieron Wood, producer of the video, Father Vallauri made an interesting observation. Father Vallauri said: “I have come across many, many people not that old who had known the Tridentine Mass in their youth and who manifested to me, to my great surprise, that they had been deeply upset at the time the changes had occurred for all sorts of reasons and had a secret longing for the Tridentine rite but never actually manifested it, maybe because they thought it would be disobedient or going against the trend or whatever. But once the occasion arose, they expressed their feelings.
Another sizable group would consist of the young Catholics, brought up entirely with the New Mass in the Venacular, who, when exposed to the Tridentine Mass for the first time, immediately prefer it to the form of worship they have grown up with.
More Masses in the U.S.
There are more traditional Latin Masses in the United States approved under Ecclesia Dei than in any other country in the world.
As of this printing (November 1997), these include over 130 Masses every Sunday in 82 U.S. dioceses and an additional 80 Sunday Masses every month in 50 diocese (19 of these 50 dioceses also have a Sunday Mass every week at another place). In other dioceses Sunday Masses are scheduled a few times a year; in others, masses are on weekdays once a month. Daily Tridentine Masses are offered in 20 different dioceses.
The first Masses were authorized under a Papal Indult of October, 1984, which allowed bishops to permit the old Mass in Latin under certain very restrictive conditions. Bishop Gracida in Corpus Christi and Bishop Maher in San Diego gave permission in 1985 for the weekly Sunday Tridentine Masses in their diocese. These Masses continue and flourish, despite difficulties and opposition mainly from a few priests in each diocese.
The first Masses were authorized under a Papal Indult of October, 1984, which allowed bishops to permit the old Mass in Latin under certain very restrictive conditions. Bishop Gracida in Corpus Christi and Bishop Maher in San Diego gave permission in 1985 for weekly Sunday Tridentine Masses in their dioceses. These Masses continue and flourish, despite difficulties and opposition mainly from a few priests in each diocese.
In the months after Ecclesia Dei was issued by the Holy Father, in July of 1988, the bishops of Omaha, St. Louis, New York City, and Washington, DC, each authorized a Sunday Tridentine Mass every week in their dioceses. The list has grown steadily ever since, and now in over a dozen dioceses there are two or more Masses every Sunday. In Syracuse, New York, one church in each of 4 different towns has a Sunday Tridentine Mass each week. In New York City there are also 4 locations, and in Chicago and Scranton, three.
How did these Masses get started? What approach has worked in these dioceses that might be use-fill to Catholics in other places?
So far as we know, every per-mission for the Tridentine Mass under Ecclesia Dei has been given because someone asked their bishop. This is not a requirement stated in Ecclesia Del; it is, again, just a matter of the bishop needing to know that there are Catholics in his diocese who want the Tridentine Mass.
There is no one formula or pattern that will work in every diocese. Each diocese is a special case, each bishop has his own way of running his diocese. A few examples will illustrate.
Some Success Stories
In a mid-western diocese, one enterprising woman spearheaded the effort. On making a mid-week visit to a church unfamiliar to her, she realized how perfect it would be as a site for a Tridentine Mass, with the altar rail intact, and the tabernacle still in the center of the beautiful high altar.
As she left the church she told the pastor her thoughts, and he said that the old Mass wasn't allowed any more. He had never even heard of Ecclesia Dei. (This was in 1989!) Helen just happened to have a copy of the Apostolic Letter in her purse and offered it to Father, who either through politeness or genuine interest said that yes, he would be happy to read it.
On checking back a few weeks later, Helen was told that Father would be interested in having the Tridentine Mass in his church, and would be willing to ask the bishop, but that first he would need to consult the parish council. Helen provided him with a copy of Ecclesia Dei for each member of the parish council, and began to pray fervently!
The parish council members decided to defer to the pastor's wishes, the bishop agreed to a Sunday Mass every week, and in 1992 the parish celebrated the third anniversary of the weekly Sunday Tridentine Mass.
· In a parish in a western diocese it was the pastor himself who presented the bishop with 300 petition signatures for the old Mass in Latin. The bishop said that didn't show enough interest in the traditional Latin Mass. Several months later the pastor returned with another batch of petitions, 300 additional signatures. The Mass started soon thereafter, and has continued every Sunday since. The bishop himself came to offer the Mass last year, to celebrate an anniversary of the dedication of the church.
· Another bishop was adamant in his refusal to allow any Tridentine Mass under the 1984 Indult. Undaunted, a determined group of Catholics decided to "go over his head". They began a monthly prayer vigil outside the Cathedral. Every first Saturday evening, a group ranging from 12 people to over 50 made their outdoor holy hour, with Rosary, Marian hymns and other traditional prayers.
After 45 months the bishop relented, gave permission for a weekly Tridentine Mass, and the group rounded out their 4 years with the last three vigils filled with prayers of gratitude and thanksgiving.
These are examples of how the Tridentine Mass was re-instated under Ecclesia Dei in three dioceses.
Writing to Your Bishop
Just where should you begin in your diocese? The best place could be with a simple letter to your bishop asking him to authorize a weekly Sunday Mass in Latin according to the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal (Missale Romanum) in a convenient location. You can quote from the Apostolic Letter Ecclesia Dei itself so that the bishop will realize that you know what you are asking for.
Keep your letter courteous, short and to the point. It can be as matter-of-fact as that above.
Note: The correct salutation for a bishop or archbishop is "Your Excellency"; for a cardinal, "Your Eminence”.
My family and I are Catholics from St. Patrick Parish, Anytown.
We would like to be able to attend a Sunday Tridentine
Mass every week in our parish church or other central location.
We understand that the Holy Father has authorized you to give this
permission in his Apostolic Letter Ecclesia Dei.
We know other Catholics in Anytown who would welcome the chance
to hear the Mass in Latin offered according to
the 1962 Roman Missal.
Thank you for your consideration of our request. We pray for your intentions
and favorable response.
Respectfully yours in Christ,
Mr. John Q. Catholic
Remember: the longer your letter, the less likely it is to be read and acted upon. Stick to one subject; your desire for the Tridentine Mass. Save all other matters for an-other letter
The Coalition in Support of Ecclesia Dei has other sample letters and many informative articles to help you in enlisting others to write the bishop.
If you receive no reply in a month or so, a phone call to the chancery office might be in order. Unless yours is a very small diocese and you happen to know the bishop personally, it is unlikely that you will be put through to the bishop himself.
This being the case, prepare yourself with a question for the chancery official who takes your call: "Do you know when the diocese will start a Tridentine Mass every Sunday as is being done in Chicago, New York, Washington, Boston, St. Louis...?" Depending upon the response, you might inq~e as to the best way to proceed with your request. Some bishops prefer personal letters, for others petition signatures are acceptable, m other cases it is preferable that the approach come from a pastor who would be willing to host a Tridentine Mass in his parish. Remember to be polite and courteous even if your question is treated with frigid incredulity!
There is always the possibility that you received no reply because the bishop himself didn't actually get your letter It is sometimes suggested that a letter be sent to a bishop with "Return Receipt Requested". But a returned signature card means that someone in the bishop's office signed for your letter, not necessarily the bishop.
Your bishop undoubtedly has many scheduled public appearances, for confirmation, church dedications, and the like. The dates are often published in the diocesan paper. When the bishop comes to your community or on nearby, have your letter ready, be in the receiving line to hand him the letter with a smile and a “Please read this later, your Excellency.” If there is time to talk, by all means tell your bishop about how well the Tridentine Mass is being received in other dioceses. But don’t be disappointed if there is no time for conversation. Your letter has been hand delivered and that’s what matters.
If the answer is “no”, you will of course be disappointed, but don’t give up! Analyze the reasons your bishop give for his refusal and try again. Get more people to write, or collect more petition signatures. Remember that prayer, patience, persistence, perseverance, and more prayer are the keys to success!
Organize! Get everyone you can contact to pray for the specific intention of the Tridentine Mass in your diocese. If you don't know anyone else who wants the old Mass ask them to pray anyway, for a special intention that is very important to you. If you need help in explaining why you prefer the Tridentine Mass, show your friends and family the video "The Most Beautiful Thing This Side of Heaven". It may not make "converts" but it will certainly help to explain your position.
After a few months, repeat your request. Conditions change, many bishops have changed their minds on this issue. This time you can include a few details in your letter regarding the success of the Tridentine Mass in other diocese. You can tell your bishop how the old Mass in Latin is bringing converts into the Church, and drawing back many Catholics who had stopped coming to Mass.
If your bishop persists in refusing permission for a Tridentine Mass every Sunday perhaps someone can ask him for a special occasion Mass, for instance for a 50th wedding anniversary… or a Tridentine Mass for the First Fridays or First Saturdays, every month or just a few times a year.
Of course, this is not what you hoped for. But in several dioceses such permissions have led to more Masses, and in time to Sunday Masses. Remember; your bishop has been told that this whole idea is crazy and will never work. If you can show him that it does work, so much the better.
A few bishops have given permission for a Latin Novus Ordo Mass instead of the traditional Latin Mass according to the 1962 Missal. This is not what Catholics want when they request the Tridentine Mass.
The new Mass in Latin can be offered very reverently. It may even be said with the priest facing the Altar and the tabernacle. But it seldom is.
The new Mass omits the prayers at the foot of the Altar, uses the abbreviated new offertory prayers, has the option of four different Canons, uses the "Memorial Acclamation" after the Consecration (which is ambiguous as to just what is "the Mystery of Faith"), calls for the "Handshake of Peace" before Communion, omits the Last Gospel-these are a few of the differences.
Politely tell your bishop that it is not Latin that you want, but the old Mass in Latin.
When the Answer Again---Is No
In the face of repeated refusals, send copies of all pertinent correspondence to Rome. His Eminence Antonio Cardinal Innocenti, President of Commission Ecclesia Dei, is currently in charge of implementing the Holy Father's wishes regarding the traditional Latin Mass. He works quietly behind the scenes and this approach has been effective in some cases.
If no results are forthcoming from the Commission, there are still other avenues that you may pursue. Contact other officials in the Vatican Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, or Angelo Cardinal Sodana, Vatican Secretary of State.
When you think you have exhausted all other possibilities, you may want to consider a Canonical lawsuit against your bishop. The Saint Joseph Foundation has thoroughly researched this process, and has helped Catholics in San Francisco, Detroit, and Rochester to initiate such action against their bishops. See the article in the September/October, 1992, issue of the Latin Mass magazine for details, and contact Mr. Charles Wilson if you are interested. (14ote: many names and addresses of sources for information, Missals, Ordos, music, etc., are included at the end of this article.)
Possible objections that your bishop may offer to the idea of a Tridentine Mass in his diocese might include: (1) It is divisive. (2) There is no place, no priest, no people who really want this. (3) Catholics don't know the difference between the new Mass in Latin and the old Mass. (4) This nostalgia for the old Mass is just a passing whim, the older Catholics are dying off, the young people have no interest in this liturgy. (5) No one will under-stand the old Mass or be able to participate in it.
We've heard all of these before, several times! And none of these objections are valid. For more details, please contact the Coalition.
In general, the old Mass is not divisive, and most people do know the difference. There are parishes across the United States and Canada where the new Mass in Latin and the old co-exist successfully, every Sunday of the year.
With the Booklet Missal published by the Coalition (available in both Latin-English and Latin-Spanish versions) the Tridentine Mass congregation can easily follow the actions and prayers of the priest at the altar, and many sing the Missa De Angelis at a high Mass, or give the responses with the servers at a dialogue Mass.
As for the idea that the old Mass is just for the old folks, this is disproved every Sunday. In letters and articles we receive from all over the country, and from personal observation, we can report that there are many young Catholics coming to the Tridentine Mass, perhaps once out of curiosity, but after that returning every time they can. These include high school and college students, young adults, young families bringing their children (starting with babes in arms).
We hasten to mention the great enthusiasm on the part of many young priests (and the quiet interest of many seminarians) in the old Mass in Latin.
Yes, there is great hope for the future of the Church and for the future of the Tridentine Mass with this renewed and growing interest in tradition that cuts across all age groups.
When the Answer Is Yes
When your bishop says “yes” to your request, offer to do anything he would like in the way of making arrangements. This usually does not include finding a priest and a location. Most bishops rightly feel that this is their prerogative. If the priests designated to say the Mass are interested, you can tell them about or order for them the English translation of the rubrics of the 1962 Missale Romanum (from the Latin Liturgy Association) and the videotape of the Tridentine Mass and its rubrics, "The Most Beautiful Thing This Side of Heaven" (from the Coalition in Support of Ecclesia Dei).
The laity can often help to recruit singers for a choir, to arrange for ushers for the Masses, and to find and train young men and boys to serve the Tridentine Mass. Some pastors like the idea of a coffee hour after the Tridentine Mass, since typically many Catholics will drive some distance to attend this Mass. This is a place where a committee can really help to do all the work.
Be sure to ask the pastor if a supply of Booklet Missals can be ordered in plenty of time for the first Mass. If the bishop has not specifically forbidden publicity, alert the local newspaper; radio and TV station about the first Mass. Many times good coverage will result in more Catholics finding out about the Tridentine Mass, and such reports are the least expensive form of advertising you can find!
Prayers of thanksgiving are certainly in order for the new Tridentine Mass. Be sure to thank the bishop for his generosity, publicly and often. Try to ensure that all who wrote to request the Mass or signed petitions, and all others who attend the Mass, write a short thank-you note to the bishop and assure him of their prayers.
And please ask everyone to include in their prayers the intentions of all the Catholics in other dioceses who are still trying to get permission for the old Mass in Latin.
Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei
His Eminence Angelo Cardinal
Fetid, President, Piazza del Sant'
Uffizio 11, 00120 Vatican City,
Coalition in Support of Ecclesia Dei
P0 Box 2071
Glenview, IL 60025-6071
- Information, suggestions, sample letters, petition forms; schedule of approved Tridentine Masses; video, manual on the rubrics and ceremonies of the Tridentine Mass; Booklet Missals in Latin-English, Latin-Spanish; & Wedding, Funeral
Latin Liturgy Association,
Dr. Robert Edgeworth
740 Carriage Way
Baton Rouge, LA 70808
-Directory of Latin Masses; English translation
of the Rubrics of the 1962 Roman Missal.
The Latin Mass Magazine,
1331 Red Cedar Circle - No.4
Fort Collins, CO 80524
-6 issues, $26/year.
Institute of Christ the King, (U.S.)
Fn Timothy Svea
P0 Box 5417
McLean, VA 22103
Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, (U.S.)
Fr. Arnaud Devillers
P0 Box 196
Elmhurst, PA 18416
Augsburg Fortress Publishers
3224 Beverly Blvd., Box 57974
Los Angeles, CA 90057.
- Large selection of books, sheet music and recordings.
P0 Box 1568
Orleans, MA 02653.
- Distributors for the Gregorian Chant books published by Les Editions de Solesmes, France. Many records, audiotapes, and CD's of chant.
Daniel J. Pross
143 Duncan Ave. #4
Jersey City Nj 07306-6028
-Send $5 for list of sheet music.
Saint Gregory Society
P0 Box 891
New Haven, CT 06504
-Advice on sacred music and liturgical ceremonials.
The Robert Gaspard Co.
200 North Janacek Rd
Waukesha, WI 53186.414-784-6800
-Traditional style vestments.
The House of Hansen
4223 W. Irving Park Road
Chicago, IL 60641.773-736-5858
-Traditional style vestments.
Loome Theological Booksellers
320 N. Fourth Street
Stillwater, MN 55082.612-4301092
-Altar Missals (1962 & before) and hand missals.
Mother of Our Savior Company
P0 Box 100
Pekin, IN 47165.
- Religious goods, books, candles, altar boy supplies.
Mueller Kaiser Plating Company
5815 Hampton Ave.
St. Louis, MO 63109
-All types of Catholic sacred metal ware at reasonable prices; quality refinishing.
P0 Box 1 704
Santa Monica, CA 90406
-Daily missals; booklet of instructions for altar servers.
CANON LAW ASSISTANCE
The Saint Joseph Foundation
11107 Wurzbach - No. 601B,
San Antonio, TX 78230-2553.
210-697-0717 - Newsletter.
Charles M. Wilson, Exec. Dir.