Catholic World News News Feature

"Wide and Generous?" January 09, 2002

Last May, when Cardinal Alfons Stickler celebrated the Tridentine-rite Mass at New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral, he deemed it an event of international significance. The Traditional Latin Mass, a rite that has remained essentially unchanged for centuries, had not been sung in the cathedral for 35 years. In fact, since the Second Vatican Council revised the Mass in 1962, the Tridentine Mass has virtually disappeared, to the dismay of many Catholics saddened by years of liturgical abuses.

These faithful, old and young alike, yearn for reverence they find in the old rite. But their hope have been frustrated by a hierarchy that is often unwilling to allow the celebration of the Tridentine liturgy. Some observers, including Latin Mass editor Roger McCaffrey, hope the Mass at St. Patrick's signals a change. "It means we've turned a corner," he says. "[The Tridentine rite] is now acceptable, even to a Pope who prefers the new rite, but who has insisted on a multiplicity of rites." Indeed, in his 1988 apostolic letter Ecclesia Dei, the Pope wrote: "Respect must everywhere be shown for the feelings of all those who are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition, by a wide and generous application of the directives already issued some time ago by the Apostolic See, for the use of the Roman Missal according to the edition of 1962."


But respect has been hard to come by for the traditional crowd--nearly as hard to come by as a Tridentine Mass under diocesan auspices. And the bishops who frustrate the traditionalists’ desires are not always those who are considered as "liberals" among the American hierarchy. Even many bishops who are generally considered conservative lag behind; McCaffrey suggests this may be because they "get a reading from Rome that they don't have to do this and they won't be taken to task for their failure."

While traditionalists see the Church bending over backward to accommodate all sorts of groups and movements, they feel ignored--or worse. "The NCCB liturgists hate our guts," McCaffrey charges, adding that "most bishops who don't follow the Pope's wishes (in providing the old Latin Mass) treat those of us in communion with Rome" with the same contempt they reserve for those who belong to the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre's schismatic group.

His frustration is compounded when he sees SSPX chapels and other "independent" chapels cropping up across the country. But he understands the impulse that draws people to the Latin Mass, wherever they can find it. "It's Catholic," he says. "It's true and good, and that appeals to people who want to be faithful to Christ... Obviously people are interested in their heritage, [but] when bishops suppress it, of course you're going to have rebels."

In his own diocese, which offers one diocesan Tridentine-rite Mass a month, the SSPX has a retreat house, and each Sunday, some 200 people attend the Society's Mass. Across the country the story is the same. According to the National Registry of Traditional Latin Masses, there are currently 554 traditional Latin Mass sites in the US and Canada, many offering more than one Mass on a Sunday or offering weekday Masses. Of these, 36 percent are offered under the auspices of the local diocese. The majority are offered through either the Society of St. Pius X or other independent Roman Catholic organizations and priests.

Among Catholics who long for the traditional rite, there is a steadily growing trend to look outside the approved channels, toward these "independent" chapels. Father M.E. Morrison, of the National Registry, says that "the number of Masses being offered outside the auspices of local dioceses has been growing at an increasing rate since 1988, and that increase shows no signs of decreasing, as the number of traditional Roman Catholics grows and becomes more vocal in demanding a return to the traditional Latin Mass."


With so many independent chapels cropping up around the country, some Catholics may be confused or even deceived. For example, when the SSPX or other independent communities advertise as "completely in union with Rome," they are often being deceitful, McCaffrey points out. "Even those sympathetic to them see that deceitfulness," he says. Certainly Lincoln, Nebraska's Bishop Fabian Brushkewitz was concerned. He cited the SSPX as one of twelve organizations "perilous to the Catholic faith," and threatened members of these groups with excommunication. But Bishop Bruskewitz has not ignored those wishing to attend the old Latin Mass. "He's made it abundantly clear that traditionalists are welcome," McCaffrey says. "He has a traditional Mass every day."

Although members of the SSPX would staunchly deny it, they are nonetheless "cafeteria Catholics," just as much as those who refuse to accept Humanae Vitae, argues Mary Kraychy, head of the Coalition in Support of Ecclesia Dei. The Coalition, formed in 1988 to educate Catholics to the fact that the Tridentine-rite Mass is an available option, lists all the traditional Latin Masses under papal indult in the US and Canada. Currently, there are 120 dioceses offering the Mass, though not every Sunday. Kraychy says there are now more than 110 Masses every Sunday, in 75 dioceses. And while she would like to see one Tridentine Mass every Sunday in every parish, she admits, "it's the bishop's prerogative to establish norms in his diocese."

So what are people to do when their bishops are not "wide and generous" in offering the old Latin Mass? Kraychy says they can attend an Eastern-rite Church that is in union with Rome, since the Byzantine liturgy has been largely spared from the liturgical aberrations of the Latin rite. They can also pray, she says, for the return of the Tridentine Mass. "Those prayers do more to bring it back," she adds.

But, as the numbers reveal, traditionalist Catholics who feel that they have no other choice often go to SSPX or other independent chapels. Again McCaffrey sympathizes. "These people are wandering sheep without shepherds," he says. "It's obviously not healthy, but I don't blame these people. I blame the Church leaders."

Many traditional-minded Catholics, who search for a Tridentine-rite Mass with the best of intentions, find themselves facing unexpected difficulties. As Father Vladimir Kozina argues in the October 1995 Homiletic and Pastoral Review, "Priests who advertise or ask people to come to the 'private chapels' do more harm to the traditional Catholic faithful than good. They are guilty of the sin of disobedience. Catholics who attend Mass in 'private chapels,' if they know the true situation, are also guilty of the same sin." Moreover, says canon lawyer Edward Peters, unauthorized Tridentine Masses are "clearly illicit, even though they are valid."

Peters argues that while there are many good reasons that might prompt the faithful to seek out a licit Tridentine Mass, "attendance at illegal ones suggests different motives." For example, he explains, the motive might be "protest, maybe against the bishop or the Pope; maybe protest against liturgical abuses in the new rite. Obviously there are better ways of dealing with these things than by attending illegal Masses."

The priests who open "independent chapels," and others who have separated themselves from the local bishops or other religious superiors, are "driving without a license," says Father Kozina. "It is our obligation to fight all legitimate means against everything which is evil and against all the cunning heresies which are polluting the Church," he notes. "However, this fight against evil must not be based on disobedience against the lawful authority of the Church."


One group helping to provide a solution for both lay people and clergy is the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP). The FSSP, a traditionalist order, was chartered by the Pope in 1988 after Archbishop Lefebvre's illicit consecration of four bishops. It was founded by twelve traditionalist priests and twenty seminarians who left the Society after the consecrations, wishing to remain in full communion with Rome. Today the Fraternity has grown to some 60 priests and more than a hundred seminarians and has developed apostolates throughout Europe and North America. Priests in the Fraternity celebrate Mass and administer the sacraments according to the liturgical books of 1962. They accept the teachings of Vatican II, understood in the light of previous councils and current papal teaching. Their mission, in cooperation with the bishops, is to reconcile and educate those Catholics who have fallen away or joined schismatic groups because they have been scandalized by abuses in the liturgy, catechesis or theology.

The Fraternity, says McCaffrey, has been "very, very effective where they go, always managing to reconcile large numbers" of Catholics. Father Nathan Vail, administrator of the Fraternity's Our Lady of Guadalupe seminary in Elmhurst, Pennsylvania, explains that the priests who lead the independent chapels come in all ages. "A good number are retired," he says. "They've become fed up over the years and set up shop to go ahead and have public Masses without the permission of the diocese. There are also a number of younger priests... who are attracted to it for the same factors that attract people to go to indult Masses. They find in it a sense of reverence."

Yet the priests in the independent movement feel morally justified in what they are doing. Father Carlos Casavantes, who was once an "independent" traditionalist priest but is now a member of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, says that when he whose part of the independent movement, "if I had died and stood before God, I'd have had no qualms."

Father Casavantes, ordained in 1986 by the Pope, is a case study in the type of work the Fraternity does. He says many of his friends in the independent movement "have been mistreated and maligned, and as a result "they don't trust Rome." He, too, once shared those suspicions. He left the Diocese of El Paso in 1988 to become chaplain of an independent traditionalist chapel in Ohio. Shortly thereafter he contacted the Ecclesia Dei Commission, hoping to regularize the canonical status of his chapel--as well as his own status. For the next 18 months, the commission mediated negotiations between Father Casavantes and Bishop James Malone of Youngstown, Ohio. The traditionalist priest finally discontinued talks in frustration. In an interview in Latin Mass magazine he explains: "The bishop would graciously concede the use of the 1962 Missal, and for the time being, the right to administer the other sacraments according to the traditional formulas, until such time as I could catechize the people into accepting the new rites and implementing the new rites in Latin there."

It was at this time that the Fraternity of St. Peter first approached Father Casavantes. He was, he now admits, suspicious at first, fearing "they were out to compromise and were just the means by which Rome was going to pull everybody back to the new Mass." It took them four years to convince him otherwise, and today Father Casavantes serves the Fraternity in Corpus Christi, Texas. In addition to individual priests, the Fraternity has also had success reconciling entire communities, including one in New Jersey that numbered in the thousands.

Priests within the Fraternity feel that many other independent priests and their communities feel the same "longing to belong" to the universal Church. Father Casavantes believes that the American bishops, could nurture their desire for reconciliation by showing more pastoral concern for traditionalists. While a bishop may feel there is little he can do about these independent groups, says Father Vail, "he has an obligation to try his best to reconcile the people who are out there." By the same token traditionalists, who have legitimate reasons to be upset at the liturgical abuses in their parishes, would do well to heed the words of Father Arnaud Devillers, the FSSP superior for North America: "to those who might be tempted to refuse to be part of the same Church where the true teaching of Christ does not seem to be heeded, where moral decay is too often observed, and where liturgical irreverence is often daily bread, we say to you: Do not leave the Ark of Salvation!"

[AUTHOR ID] Tracy Moran is a young mother and free-lance journalist based in San Diego.



When seeking out a Tridentine-rite Mass, the faithful must be aware that some groups deceptively claim to be in communion with Rome, and an unauthorized Mass, while valid, is illicit. Mary Kraychy, head of the Coalition in Support of Ecclesia Dei, says she sometimes receives calls from people enthralled by the wonderful Latin Mass they have found. But, they ask, why is it not included in the Coalition's listing? She must explain to the caller that the Coalition lists only those traditional Masses in the US and Canada that are offered with the bishop’s approval, under papal indult. The confusion is understandable because the majority of traditional Latin Masses are not offered under diocesan auspices.

A more recent compilation, the National Registry of Traditional Latin Masses, lists all known locations in the US and Canada of regularly scheduled public traditional Latin Masses. The Registry indicates whether Masses are under the auspices of a diocese, the Congregation Mariae Reginae Immaculatae, the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), the Society of St. Pius V (SSPV), or another independent group. The Registry also lists traditional seminaries and religious orders, clearly stating their affiliation. The listing is available as a paperback book from Santa Monica, California-based Veritas Press.

The more outlandish regimes are easy to identify. The self-proclaimed "popes" in Kansas and Canada, the Spanish "pope" with his own full court of cardinals, the Washington community which insists that there has been no true pope since Pius XII--no one is likely to assume that these groups are in communion with the Holy See. On the other hand there is the much better known Society of St. Pius X, the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre's schismatic group, which in the mid-1980s spawned the Society of St. Pius V.

Members of the Society of St. Pius X argue that they have not broken with Rome but have remained faithful to the eternal Rome. As Pope John Paul II explains in Ecclesia Dei: "It is impossible to remain faithful to the tradition while breaking the ecclesial bond him to whom, in the person of the apostle Peter, Christ himself entrusted the ministry of unity in his Church." Further, the Pope warned, "Everyone should be aware that formal adherence to the schism is a grave offense against God and carries the penalty of excommunication decreed by the Church's law."