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VATICAN LETTER Sep-19-2008 (1,110 words) Backgrounder. xxxi

Mixed reviews: Implementation of Tridentine ruling frustrates some

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A year after Pope Benedict XVI opened the way to wider use of the Tridentine Mass, implementation of the papal directive is drawing mixed reviews from its target audience.

Catholic traditionalists remain grateful for the pope's document and say it has given them a certain legitimacy in local church communities, as well as greater practical access to the old rite.

But some -- backed by a Vatican official -- have complained that bishops and pastors continue to place obstacles in the way of groups seeking the Tridentine liturgy.

On a long-term issue, traditionalists are pleased at new efforts to instruct priests in celebrating Mass in the older rite. Meanwhile, those who envisioned Tridentine Masses popping up in every parish are somewhat frustrated.

"We're only looking at one calendar year, and we know that in the church these things take time. But the problem -- dare anyone say this? -- the problem is the bishops. Because you have bishops who aren't on board," said John Paul Sonnen, an American Catholic who lives in Rome.

Sonnen and about 150 others attended a small but significant conference in Rome in mid-September on the theme: "'Summorum Pontificum': One Year After."

"Summorum Pontificum" was the title of the pope's 2007 apostolic letter that said Mass celebrated according to the 1962 Roman Missal, commonly known as the Tridentine rite, should be made available in every parish where groups of the faithful desire it. In his letter, the pope said the Mass from the Roman Missal in use since 1970 remains the ordinary form of the Mass, while celebration of the Tridentine Mass is the extraordinary form.

The response to the papal letter varied around the world. In the United States, many bishops -- even those not enthusiastic about the new policy -- took steps to explain it to their faithful and put it into practice.

But in Europe and Latin America, conference participants said, there's been less favorable reaction.

"In Italy, with just a few admirable exceptions, the bishops have put obstacles in the way of applying ('Summorum Pontificum')," Msgr. Camille Perl told the Rome conference.

"I would have to say the same thing about the major superiors of religious orders who forbid their priests from celebrating Mass in the old rite," Msgr. Perl said.

Msgr. Perl is vice president of the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei," which oversees implementation of the papal document, so his words carried weight. Italian newspapers reported his comments under the headline "The bishops are boycotting the pope."

Two Brazilian priests attending the conference complained that they're facing a similar situation in their country.

"I think there's a great desire on the part of young priests to learn the older rite. But we don't study it in seminaries, and the bishops don't cooperate on that," said Father Giuseppe Olivera of Sao Paolo.

Msgr. Perl said letters received by his commission indicate considerable interest in setting up local Tridentine Masses in France, Great Britain, Canada, the United States and Australia. He said there have been fewer requests for the older Mass in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, who heads the "Ecclesia Dei" commission, said recently that Pope Benedict would eventually like to see the Tridentine rite offered in every parish. But for now, in the pope's own Diocese of Rome, a single church, Santissima Trinita dei Pellegrini, has been designated as a "personal parish" for traditionalists.

That's a solution that appeals to some dioceses, especially those that include large cities, but it tends to separate traditionalists from other local parishes. It also seems to put bishops in charge of the decision of where and when a Tridentine Mass is offered, instead of the local pastor, as indicated by "Summorum Pontificum."

Father Joseph Kramer, pastor at Rome's Santissima Trinita church, said that so far his parish is attracting a lot of younger people and those over 50, but not many in between and few young families.

In general, he said, it's important for traditionalist Catholics to make it clear that they accept the changes of the Second Vatican Council, in order not to frighten off "normal" Catholics who might be attracted to the older rite.

U.S. Father John Zuhlsdorf runs a blog -- "What Does the Prayer Really Say?" -- that's become a sounding board for reaction to "Summorum Pontificum" among traditionalist Catholics.

One recent comment on the blog began: "Frankly, I'm sick and tired. Tired of waiting. 'Summorum Pontificum' has been in force for one year now and, in spite of the fact that I live in a huge metropolitan area, there is no TLM (traditional Latin Mass) to which I can go" without driving at least an hour.

Father Zuhlsdorf, who attended the Rome conference, said he understands some of these frustrations but takes a generally positive view of the first year of "Summorum Pontificum."

One good thing, he said, is that the papal directive has deeply affected priests, especially younger priests, and their perception of "who they are at the altar." As time goes on and older priests and bishops retire, this interest will have a ripple effect on parish life, he said.

Another plus is that resources for the older rite, including beautifully bound missals, are being produced and published. These could appeal to Catholics and "help change the culture of participating at Mass," Father Zuhlsdorf said.

In addition, he said, some U.S. seminaries are beginning to introduce courses in celebrating the Tridentine rite. Private training programs for priests, workshops and Web sites also have been established.

He compared it to the Ford Motor Co. putting a new model into production.

"It takes a long time to construct the assembly plant, but once you get the thing built you can get the product out more quickly," he said.

In the more-to-be-done category, Father Zuhlsdorf said there are still some priests and bishops who have "a bit of a stingy attitude" about the legitimate requests of traditionalists.

He said Latin proficiency is an example of where a double standard seems to be used to create an obstacle to the wider offering of the older Mass. While it's true that a priest celebrating in Latin has to know what he's saying at the altar, he said, one could also ask about proficiency in English among priests coming from a foreign country to serve in the United States.

In any case, he said, the Code of Canon Law requires that all seminarians be well-trained in Latin. If that isn't being done today, seminary officials should be addressing the problem, he said.

END


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