Cardinal Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia, has recently declared that the Extraordinary Rite should be available “to those who prefer it”, and that seminarians ought to be taught to say it. He isn’t just talking the talk but walking the walk: he is introducing seminarians to the Extraordinary Form at the St Charles Borromeo seminary (this vast establishment is one of the sights of Philadelphia) with teaching on the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum “that elucidates the theology underlying the 1962 Missal so that the seminarians are afforded a clear understanding of the Motu Proprio and the Holy Father’s pastoral concern for the faithful who have a deep love for the Tridentine liturgy”. He also said that “seminary course work in theology, liturgy and Church history will cover and expound upon the Holy Father’s initiative. It will be helpful for them to see the continuity between the two expressions, but will also afford the opportunity to address the changes that took place in the liturgy following the Second Vatican Council.”
What is happening here? This isn’t the first we have heard of the idea of training seminarians in the celebration of the Extraordinary Rite: according to a CNS story in 2008, “the Vatican” was then writing to all seminaries to request that all candidates for the priesthood should be trained to celebrate the Mass according to the Tridentine Rite.
Well, it seems that now (quite soon if you think of the glacial pace at which these things happen) something seems to be stirring in Philadelphia as a result of this letter. But what about this country? Is Cardinal Rigali responding to the Vatican letter or is he acting on his own convictions? Come to think of it, was the letter, in fact, ever sent to the seminaries? The source of the CNS story was Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos, who was then still president of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei (the outfit set up to try to re-establish full communion with the SSPX), and therefore a committed traditionalist. Was Cardinal Castrillón’s statement just a bit of Roman gossip, given conviction by his own wishful thinking?
So, did our own seminaries in fact ever get a letter about the use of the Extraordinary Rite? Even if they didn’t, those running them (as well as the bishops themselves) must know that it is the Pope’s wish that the “Old Mass” should be more widely available. So are our seminarians currently being trained in the celebration of both authorised forms of the Latin rite? This is a genuine question. I would be interested to hear (anonymously if necessary) from anyone at present undergoing seminary training for the priesthood what is actually going on.
And what, while we are on the subject, about the selection of our future priests? It certainly used to be the case that any applicant for priestly training who revealed the slightest interest in or approval of, not just the “Old Mass” but even the idea of celebrating the Novus Ordo in Latin, to the diocesan bureaucrats entrusted with weeding out supposedly unsuitable candidates, would have his application immediately blocked. Has that all changed, in the new atmosphere following the papal visit? Or is it still going on?
If not, that’s the first thing to which our bishops need to turn their attention if they really want the “Benedict bounce” to maintain its momentum. They should tell their underlings to stop blocking candidates for the diocesan priesthood who want to teach and be formed by the authentic tradition of the Catholic Church.
Second, they need to be absolutely sure that it is that tradition which is the ultimate source of the priestly formation of our future clergy. And one of the things that needs to be re-established there is that in what is still officially described as “the Church of the Latin Rite”, our priests need to be competent in the Latin tongue. The deliberations of Vatican II, don’t forget, were conducted entirely in Latin: it was the lingua franca of the assembled bishops, in both formal utterances and informal conversation. If (which God forbid any time soon) there were ever a Vatican III, could the world’s bishops talk to each other in Latin? I doubt it. And simultaneous translation, with so many languages involved, would surely be impractical. So: there’s an inducement for any remaining Tabletista bishops: learn Latin yourself (and make sure your seminarians are taught it) or there will be no hope of a Vatican III, ever (hee, hee).
The first thing they should do is make sure that our future priests can at least understand and celebrate the Novus Ordo in Latin. Incidentally, while we are on the subject of the Novus Ordo, one of my SSPX friends asked me, a blog or two ago, why, if I believed that the Novus Ordo is so clearly valid (which I do), I had also written some weeks before that “the English Mass we have is by the skin of its teeth a valid Catholic rite”. What I was talking about in that blog was our reductionist English translation of the Mass, which, thank heaven, is now on its last legs: and though I didn’t say so I was thinking particularly of Eucharistic Prayer II. But in Latin, there’s no doubt at all about the validity of any of the prayers of the Novus Ordo: and our seminarians ought to be thoroughly familiar with the Rite in the ancient tongue of the Church of the Latin Rite. Start there: and we will be on our way. Then (and not too much later: a month or two at the outside) start teaching the great riches of the Extraordinary Rite and of the tradition of which it is one majestic embodiment.
I cannot resist ending by quoting Cardinal Castrillón again: “This kind of worship is so noble, so beautiful,” he said. “The worship, the music, the architecture, the painting, makes a whole that is a treasure. The Holy Father is willing to offer to all the people this possibility, not only for the few groups who demand it but so that everybody knows this way of celebrating the Eucharist in the Catholic Church.” This is not just an expression of an old man’s nostalgia: it is an aspiration for a revolution that would renew and invigorate the whole Church. There may be a mountain still to climb: but we have been pointed by the Holy Father in the right direction, we have already reached the foothills, and the only way forward is up.