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On banning the Tridentine liturgy, and selling the Edsel

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Apr 14, 2021

We’ve been hearing the claims for years now: “The Tridentine rite is unattractive.” “Young people are turned off by the old Latin Mass.” “Nobody wants it.”

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Gee, is that why liberal Catholics are so anxious to ban the old rite?

Try this: Drop in on a local car dealer’s showroom, and ask the boss whether he’d like Congress to outlaw sales of the Edsel. He’ll laugh, of course. Why? If he were worried about competition from the Edsel, maybe he’d be tempted to endorse a Congressional ban. But he’s not worried about competition, because the truth is that nobody wants to buy an Edsel. Nobody ever wanted to buy an Edsel.

But Catholics—more and more Catholics every year—are moving toward the Extraordinary Form. And the trend is all the more evident because so many Catholics, especially young Cathoilcs, are moving away from the parishes that have fully embraced the liberal approach to the liturgy: the guitars and balloons and felt banners and breezy homilies and extemporaneous Eucharistic prayers.

When he issued Summorum Pontificum in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI explained that he hoped for a renewed appreciation of the ancient liturgy, which might spark a revival of reverence in the Novus Ordo as well. The growing trend toward the Extraordinary Form demonstrates that his first wish, at least, is being fulfilled—to the increasing consternation of liberals who find that trend troublesome.

So Father Tom Reese now suggests that Summorum Pontificum should be retracted. He writes: “The church needs to be clear that it wants the unreformed liturgy to disappear and will only allow it out of pastoral kindness to older people who do not understand the need for change. Children and young people should not be allowed to attend such Masses.”

Our Jesuit friend calls for “a transparent and collegial process” to restore what he considers appropriate liturgy. It wouldn’t be terribly “collegial” to institute a ban on the ancient liturgy. But I’ll give Tom this much: it certainly would be transparent.

You’ll notice that, in his pastoral kindness, Father Tom suggests that the Extraordinary Form must remain available “to older people who do not understand the need for change.” That is a puzzling statement for several reasons:

  • For more than 50 years now, we older Catholics have been besieged with propaganda promoting the Vatican-II reforms. If we still “do not understand the need for change,” isn’t it time to recognize the acknowledge that the liberal propaganda has not been convincing?
  • And as anyone who has stopped into a traditionalist parish knows, the Catholics most attracted to the ancient liturgy are in fact not “older people;” the pews are packed with young families. These are people who do understand the need for change, and it’s not the sort of change Father Reese has in mind.
  • By the way Father Tom himself fits into the “older people” category, so we might ask whether possibly he doesn’t understand the situation.

“In the 1960s and ‘70s, Pope Paul VI implemented revolutionary liturgical reforms laid out by the Second Vatican Council,” Father Reese writes. Actually the reforms endorsed by the Council were fairly modest, but it’s true that “revolutionary” changes were imposed by a cadre of liberal reformers. And since that time, how have things been going in a typical Catholic parish? Mass attendance has plummeted, priestly and religious vocations have plummeted, and young people are leaving in droves. So our hero proposes a “transparent and collegial” solution: lay down the law.

“The church needs more and better Eucharistic prayers based on our renewed understanding of the Eucharist,” Father Reese tells us. But poll after poll reminds us that Catholics today do not understand the nature of the Eucharist, do not understand the Real Presence in the sacrament.

And why do we need more Eucharistic prayers? Why this never-ending demand for something new and different? The Novus Ordo liturgy has already produced a bewildering array of options. Isn’t it revealing, though, that the one liturgical option liberal Catholics cannot abide is the option for the ancient liturgy? You don’t feel the need to ban the competition unless you’re trying to sell the Edsel.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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Show 5 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: gregorywayland204298 - Apr. 23, 2021 11:15 AM ET USA

    Touche', Phil. Well said. Fr. Reese's remarks are transparent alright-- transparently supercilious, condescending and infuriating.

  • Posted by: fwhermann3492 - Apr. 15, 2021 12:13 PM ET USA

    And it's no wonder the Jesuits have the reputation they do.

  • Posted by: miketimmer499385 - Apr. 15, 2021 10:03 AM ET USA

    I think your analogy of the Edsel is misapplied. Any Edsels now for sale would be in demand by a discerning public, perhaps a small segment of the public, but at least a public large enough to buy up the available stock, because it has value. TLM has value, both perceived and real. The thing is, a greater supply of TLM will not reduce its value in any way. Pre-Covid my parish celebrated the most beautiful high Mass combining the old and new, classic music, now gone and probably forever. Sad.

  • Posted by: 1Jn416 - Apr. 14, 2021 4:46 PM ET USA

    I have long believed that Annibale Bugnini, architect of the Novus Ordo, is the most disruptive person in Church history since Martin Luther. The utter destruction wrought through the Novus Ordo, the loss of faith and souls, perhaps exceeds that of the Protestant Revolution. In terms of the TLM now, because it is so foreign to modern Catholics and takes work to enter into, it attracts a fairly small if very devout crowd. I've wondered how we can make it more appealing to more Catholics.

  • Posted by: Montserrat - Apr. 14, 2021 3:52 PM ET USA

    Malachi Martin's book, The Jesuits, unmasked the order in 1988. In that year, they were at war with the Pope. Now, the Holy Pontiff is one of them, in both name and nature. The Church is suffering badly and the fissure grows deeper between the false "new church" of Rev. Reese and his ilk - sadly in the majority and in control institutionally - and the faithful remnant that includes traditional Latin Mass Catholics and other seeking orthodoxy and liturgical reverence. Domine, miserere nobis.