The Extraordinary Form Mass

On July 7, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI promulgated an Apostolic Letter ‘Motu Propio’ (on his own initiative) Summorum Pontificum on the use of the Roman liturgy prior to the reform of 1970.  In that letter, while emphasizing that Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI and subsequently revised by St. John Paul II remains the “Ordinary Form” (OF) for the celebration of the Mass of Roman Rite, the Missal of 1962 had never been abrogated, was always permitted, and could henceforth be used almost without restriction as the “Extraordinary Form” (EF) for the celebration of the Mass of one and the same Roman Rite. For use in parishes about the only limitation on the celebration of the EF is the desire of the faithful and availability of a qualified priest.

The EF Mass is commonly referred to as the “Latin Mass”, which is inaccurate since it is perfectly legitimate to celebrate the OF Mass in Latin and indeed the Latin edition of the Missal remains the standard from which all vernacular editions are translated.

Sometimes the EF Mass is referred to as the “Traditional Mass” which is a bit of a problem because it often involves an implicit accusation, a claim that the OF involve Masse involves a departure from the sacred Tradition through which the word of God is handed on in the Church and which is binding on all Catholics.

That accusation has been exacerbated because indeed the Second Vatican Council (1961-1965) and the reform of the Rite of Mass, as the most visible fruit of that Council, have often been falsely interpreted as involving a complete break with the Church’s past.

For my part, though I only entered the Church through baptism in 1981, I often heard people speak of the Church before the Council making use of expressions that conveyed the idea of a ‘bad old Church’. There were expressions that gave the impression that only now, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, were we beginning to discover the real meaning of Christianity. There were expressions that equated ‘old’ and ‘pre-conciliar’ with ‘bad’ and ‘new’ and in the ‘spirit of Vatican II’ as good.

We must remember that in every age since the time of the Apostles until today, the Catholic Church, through her teaching, her sacraments, and her discipline has born fruit in the lives of the saints. Along these same lines Pope Benedict wrote: “There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal.  In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture.  What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.” (Letter to Bishops on occasion of Summorum Pontificum)

The Pope correctly perceived that the ‘de facto’ rupture that had taken place in the wake of the Second Vatican Council and the change of the liturgy could not be good and was in fact a destructive force in the life of the Church. For this reason, the main purpose of his writing the ‘Motu Proprio’ Summorum Pontificum was to contribute to the needed reconciliation in the heart of the Church. (Ibid.)

Indeed, the Second Vatican Council’s document on the reform of the Liturgy laid down the fundamental principal that “care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing.” (SC 23) The principle of ‘organic growth’ is a thoroughly Catholic principle that recognizes the role of sacred Tradition in the transmission of the word of God. The Church is not rebuilt anew in every age, but draws its life as a tree in connection with its roots, through an unbroken transmission of the deposit of faith, reaching back through the Apostles to Jesus Christ himself.

Moving to practical matters. The norms provided by Summorum Pontificum provide that “In parishes where a group of the faithful attached to the previous liturgical tradition stably exists, the parish priest should willingly accede to their requests to celebrate Holy Mass according to the rite of the 1962 Roman Missal.” (Article 5.1) Since, my arrival at St. Peter’s I have from time to time met with such a request, but even though I have the ability to celebrate according the Extraordinary Form, I have not acceded to that request because I am the only priest in the parish and have a full Mass schedule. Further, I did not have the time to train altar servers for that special purpose.

During the course of the past year I finally agreed that if I were provided with trained altar servers I would be willing to try a monthly Sunday afternoon Mass according to the Extraordinary Form. The assistance of another priest in the training of altar servers has made this possible.

So now I have the pleasure of announcing our inaugural Mass according to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. On Sunday, August 27 I will sing a High Mass at 5:30PM. This is an extra Mass and does not at all detract from the regular Mass schedule. No one is obliged to attend, but certainly all are welcome. Printed matter with English and Spanish translations for both the fixed and variable parts of the Mass will be made available and I will give a brief orientation about 10 minutes before the start of the Mass.

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.