My Parish: Where the Two Forms of the Mass Met in Mutual Enrichment

For 14 years, Benedict XVI’s hoped-for interchange between the ordinary and extraordinary forms of the Mass. In many parishes that coexistence had been taking place.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco celebrates the ‘Mass of the Americas’ using the extraordinary form of the Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., Nov. 16, 2019.
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco celebrates the ‘Mass of the Americas’ using the extraordinary form of the Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., Nov. 16, 2019. (photo: EWTN/YouTube Screen Capture)

Three seminarians sat around our dining room table in last spring, chatting about their classes at our local minor seminary.

They were all taking Latin, and ready to learn it for the sake of being able eventually to celebrate Mass in Latin and even learn to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass according to the 1962 Missal. There was no anger or bitterness over having to learn Latin, and none of them were raised going to the Traditional Latin Mass. They were simply embracing it as part of the liturgical tradition of the Church.

Listening to them talk, I had this belief that the Church was going to be moving into the next generation of priests without bitterness or division between those who prefer to attend the Traditional Latin Mass (what Benedict XVI called the “extraordinary form”) and those who prefer the new Mass of the liturgical reform (the “ordinary form”). I hoped that both forms of the Roman Rite would truly co-exist and that we would not lose in the Roman Rite the deep beauty of the extraordinary form. That future was possible and actually happening in multiple places around the Church.

Yet, with his new motu proprio Traditionis Custodes and the accompanying letter to the bishops, Pope Francis seems to be sending a message of division while claiming to be promoting unity. He says that he hopes to “re-establish throughout the Roman Rite” a “single identical prayer” and to “to provide for the good of those who are rooted in the previous form of celebration and need to return in due time to the Roman Rite promulgated by Saints Paul VI and John Paul II.”

He is treating those who prefer the extraordinary form as straying Catholics who need correcting, not Catholics with a deep love for the Church and her Tradition. It would be much better for the unity of the Church to let these two forms coexist and learn from each other, as Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his motu proprio of 2007, Summorum Pontificum. Fourteen years is not nearly enough time for this growth to happen.

Furthermore, the Pope admitted in his letter to the bishops that the new Mass is often marked by “eccentricities that can easily degenerate into abuses.” Perhaps the Church should take a closer look at these “eccentricities” and see whether they need some close addressing as well.

One example of how the two forms of the Roman Rite have peacefully coexisted is my parish in St. Paul, Minnesota, the Church of St. Agnes. St. Agnes is famous for the beautiful music and reverent liturgies that were established within her walls after the Second Vatican Council. The pastor at the time of the implementation of the new Mass, Msgr. Richard J. Schuler, had attended parts of the council and strove to implement them according to the documents. He preserved many rich, reverent traditions, such as the priest and the people all “facing East,” the use of the altar rail, and male lectors and altar servers (as they both point toward a male priesthood).

St. Agnes has several vernacular Masses on Sunday, with the crown jewel being the Latin Sung Mass of the Ordinary Form, complete with orchestral Masses and Gregorian chant. In 2007, after Summorum Pontificum, a Mass of the Extraordinary Form was added to the Sunday schedule.

The people who attend these Masses range from older lovers of reverent liturgies, to young single adults, to large and growing families. And even with all of these liturgies, we have one unified parish. We have friends within the parish who are regular attendees of all of the various forms. Some people will attend an ordinary form Mass one weekend and the extraordinary form the next. The way the two forms coexist in this one parish could be a model for the whole Roman Rite.

While St. Agnes is a unique example of how the liturgical reforms can be implemented beautifully, in other places a desire for more reverent liturgy is also taking hold. I have seen this desire expressed when the altar rail was reinstalled in my parent’s parish in St. Louis, Missouri, and in the rise of young women using chapel veils.

I have heard this desire also expressed at my book club, where I am the only regular attendee of the extraordinary form Mass. The other attendees were talking excitedly about how, since COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, their pastor has kept a kneeler for them to use when they receive Communion and how he has talked about installing an altar rail for the congregation to use. This parish has only the new Mass and my family is often there for daily Mass. But there too a desire for more traditional liturgy is being expressed. The two forms of the Roman Rite are really influencing each other. 

It will not help anyone in the Church to eliminate either form of the Roman Rite. The growing desire among the faithful for the mysterious reverence of the old Mass is a sign of active, devout faith, not a spirit of division.