The Pastoral Necessity for Priests to Know the Latin Mass

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Over at New Liturgical Movement, Father Thomas Kocik recently wrote about a positive development down in the Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi:

“In the first week of September, at the invitation of the new bishop of Jackson…the Most Reverend Joseph R. Kopacz, the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius gave a Sancta Missa Latin Mass Workshop in cooperation with Una Voce Mississippi. Priests learned to offer Mass according to the 1962 Missale Romanum, as men learned to serve at the altar for Low Mass and High Mass.”

It has been seven years since the implementation of Summorum Pontificum on September 14, 2007. With it’s release, Pope Benedict XVI formally recognized that the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church included both an Ordinary Form of the Mass and Extraordinary Form.

In these intervening years an entire group of men have entered seminary, completed their formation and have since been ordained to the priesthood. Yet, we still find a widespread inability among these priests to even offer the Traditional Latin Mass. Bishops do not require it; seminaries therefore do not teach it. In part, that is what makes the events which occurred in the Jackson diocese earlier this month so significant. As this is still very much the exception and not the norm, it is news.

I recently spoke with a priest, a good and holy man, who none-the-less believes that there is no real need for priests to learn the Extraordinary Form. In his view, as long as one priest at one parish in a diocese is offering one Latin Mass, then demand is being met. Anything more than this and you will simply have clergy “inventing a demand” for it. By and large, he continued, there are few people asking for it, so why should priests learn it, let alone offer it?

Pastoral. That’s the buzzword today. We have heard it repeated ad nauseum. The Church needs to be pastoral in Her response to the faithful. And yet, at times, we do not see that same approach being applied to the faithful who long for the Traditional Latin Mass. Instead, we still hear views expressed like those above. A true recognition of the necessity for priests to know both forms of the Mass in the Roman Rite is still deemed by many to be superfluous.

At the same time, I have discussed this with priests who know both masses. To a man, the priests I have spoken with who are able to offer both forms of the Roman Rite believe they are better for being able to do so. Their understanding of the true sacrificial nature of the Mass, and the theology and spirituality of the mass, is further enhanced by their knowledge of the older liturgy.

Ultimately, there must be an acceptance by priests and bishops of the real possibility that as clergy and episcopal assignments change, the ability to offer both forms of the Mass becomes vital. A priest may be sent to a stable community that has been celebrating the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. A bishop may be moved to a diocese with multiple parishes offering the old Mass. Familiarity with both forms of the mass is truly pastoral.

No prelate has addressed this topic better than Archbishop Alexander Sample did this past March in his homily during a Solemn Pontifical Mass offered in the Archdiocese of Portland (emphasis mine):

“And that’s why, too, for this liturgy to flourish in the Church is a great blessing, and I’m not at all embarrassed or ashamed to be celebrating this liturgy. I’m sure it will raise a few eyebrows. But it’s the liturgy of the Church; it’s a liturgy permitted by the Church; it’s a liturgy even encouraged by the Church.

I learned this liturgy when Summorum Pontificum came out. I’d never celebrated it before as a priest or in my early years as a bishop. I had always been interested in it but had never taken the time to learn it. When Summorum Pontificum came out and the Holy Father said: this is one of the forms of the Latin Rite, the extraordinary form. I said, ‘I am a bishop of the Church, I must know this rite.’ And I encourage my priests and my seminarians to learn and to know this rite.

Even if you never have a chance to celebrate it, knowing it, experiencing it, I guarantee you will affect the way you celebrate the ordinary form. It will do so.”

May his Excellency’s brother bishops take these words to heart. Anything less would be unpastoral.

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