Monday, August 27, 2007

Tupelo Two Step

From a letter to the editor in the Diocese Of Jackson Mississippi.

Do we really want to go back?
Dear Editor
Lex Grandi, Lex Credendi.
“Have you ‘heard’ Mass lately?”
In recent months I have seen reports of a move in the church to make the Mass of Pope Pius V (Tridentine Mass) more available to the laity. This would include returning to the Mass being “said” by the priest with his back to the people. A recent article on this subject in the Tupelo paper, the Daily Journal, quoted one lay woman who attends this Mass describe the priest as the pilot and the laity as passengers. She said she would not want the pilot flying her plane to be facing the passengers.
I have some questions I wish to raise regarding the Mass of Pius V.
1. Does the Mass of Pius V give the worshipper a sense of God’s presence (the holy) among the worshippers gathered or is the “holy” only present on the altar?
2. Does the Mass of Pius V give the worshipper a sense of being gathered together for corporate worship or private, personal devotion?
3. Does the Mass of Pius V help foster in the worshipper a sense of their own priesthood (per baptism) which enables them to offer the Mass with the priest (per ordination)?
4. Does the Mass of Pius V promote in the worshipper a sense of God who is immersed in the world and their life, or a sense of God removed from the world and their life? A God removed from flesh or a God made flesh?
5. Does the Mass of Pius V help convey the bond of intimacy between God and his people intended by the covenant ritual or does it promote a sense of God’s aloofness from his people?
One of the most potent tools the church has to catechize both the priests and laity is the way Mass is celebrated, whether that of Pius V or Paul VI. These two forms of the Mass operate from very different theologies. They convey very different ideas about God, Jesus, holiness, priesthood, laity, worship, and spirituality – I believe the Mass of Pius V, with its heavy emphasis on the transcendent nature of God contributed to most Catholics not receiving Holy Communion at Mass. It took Pope Pius X to make it a law of the church for Catholics to receive Holy Communion at least once-a-year for them to be in good standing in the church. I am old enough to remember those days.
Do we truly want to go back to an experience of Mass where the priest’s role is described as “saying Mass” and the laity’s role that of “hearing Mass”?
“Lex orandi, lex credendi.”

Fr. Henry Shelton
St. James Parish, Tupelo

Who wants to answer this one?


David L Alexander said...

Okay, I'll take this one.

1. Both.

2. The first primarily, the second... only in my weaker moments (and I do have them, or I wouldn't be there in the first place).

3. For the last fifteen centuries, yes.

4. All of the above.

5. The former.

To the last question: I want to go back to praying the Mass, as opposed to a self-indulgent love-fest.

Anonymous said...

Do I want to go back to a time when the Priest at the beginning of the Mass at the foot of the alter lead us to the foot of the cross through to the sacrifice of the Mass, where one fond the true sense of the sacred instead of all the women and girl alter servers running around the alter. Where we swinging and swaying to the latest tuns, seeing how many hands we can shack instead of preparing our self to receive our Lord in Communion and all the other innovations over the last 40 years. Well YES I WANT TO GO BACK. And thank God I am in a position that I have the Mass of the Ages with all that is good and beautiful before all those changes and I can not and will not return to the new Mass.

chestertonian said...

This priest is not only a possible heretic, he also is too stinking lazy to read the MP.

Russ said...

Restate all questions beginning with "Does the Novus Ordo Mass...."

Anonymous said...

He's got a point... ad orientem and Latin is fine... but I suspect we're called to do a little more than merely "hear" mass. What about pray?

chestertonian said...

but I suspect we're called to do a little more than merely "hear" mass. What about pray?

In the first place, anon, to say as much about the extraordinary form of the Mass was a gross mis-characterization of it. People really should study that Mass, and the Pope's MP, and his explanatory letter, before purporting to comment on it.

Anonymous said...

It needs to be pointed out that the Church had the law for Communion for hundreds of years prior to Pius X. They first made a law that Catholics receive 3 times a year in the 12th century, and then in the 15th century a law that they do so once a year.

Rather than happening from any lack of participation, the drop in communion reflected a strong sense of unworthiness and it was emphasized how prepared one ought to be.

One thinks of the counsels, still found in some early 20th century books, that if one does not receive often they should abstain from the marital act the night before Communion, or take up so devotions several days prior. In War and Peace (granting it is Russian Orthodox) one character goes through a long period of fast preparing for communion.

While this mentality emphasized, perhaps, certain elements to the exclusion of others, is it really better to forget how sinful we are and the need to prepare in exchange for frequenter communion?

Fr Sean Coyle said...

I couldn’t find any evidence of heresy in Father Shelton’s letter, which appeared in the 17 August issue of Mississippi Catholic. Nor is there clear evidence that he didn’t read the Motu Proprio. He raised valid questions. I still hear even young people here in the Philippines speaking about ‘hearing’ Mass and I still find some people at home in Ireland praying the rosary even when the word of God is being proclaimed during Mass.

The two different ways of celebrating Mass do reflect different theologies and the tension that will always be there as we try to follow Jesus, God who became Man. The MP clearly states that that the Mass of Paul VI is the ‘ordinary form’ while the Mass of St Pius V is the ‘extraordinary form’. Pope Benedict’s intention is very clear in the opening sentence of the MP: ‘Up to our own times, it has been the constant concern of supreme pontiffs to ensure that the Church of Christ offers a worthy ritual to the Divine Majesty, “to the praise and glory of His name,” and “to the benefit of all His Holy Church.” He wants both forms of the Mass to reflect this.

I checked the blog profile of the person who suggested that Father Shelton might be a heretic and discovered that he, the blogger, is a devotee of astrology since he gives his zodiac sign. Zodiac signs are utter nonsense, an expression of superstition that is inimical to our Catholic faith.

chestertonian said...

I checked the blog profile of the person who suggested that Father Shelton might be a heretic and discovered that he, the blogger, is a devotee of astrology since he gives his zodiac sign. Zodiac signs are utter nonsense, an expression of superstition that is inimical to our Catholic faith.

I honestly cannot tell if you are being sarcastic -- giving me a bit of my own medicine -- or if you are being serious. If the former, ha ha. If the latter, lighten up. I enter my birthdate in my blogger profile, it is apparently programmed to list a zodiac sign. I have no control over it, and I choose to give my age so as to keep the teeny-boppers at bay. With good looks like mine you can't be too careful.

Respectfully, father, it is beneath the dignity of a priest for you to assume that I am "a devotee of astrology" just because my Blogger profile says I am a libra.

I'll concede that accusing Fr. Shelton of possible heresy may have been over the top, and uncharitable to boot.

But I stand by my assertion that he most obviously did not read the MP. Or if he did, he is deliberately misrepresenting what it says. He repeatedly refers to the traditional Mass as "the Mass of Pius V." No where does Pope Benny call it that. He calls it the Mass of Bl. Pope John XXIII, or the Mass according to the Missal of 1962, or the extraordinary form of the Mass.

For anyone who has read the MP, or the Pope's accompanying letter, for Fr. Shelton to repleadly use the expression "Mass of Pius V" is an automatic red flag. It tells me that the good priest is not interested in the unity that the Pope is calling for, or providing generous access to the traditional Mass that the Pope wants, but that he is out to discredit those of us who prefer the extraordinary form.

Speaking of which, father, I have to ask you, respectfully, if you understand what the Pope means by "extraordinary form"? Because it seems to me -- and I may be wrong -- that you are interpreting the Pope to mean that celebrations of the Mass according to the 1962 missal are to be rare, occasional, or whatever.

Yet in the other common use of the word "extraordinary," by which I mean extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, the practice is that Eucharistic ministers are anything but extraordinary. They are exceedingly numerous, with a small army of them surrounding the priest on the altar every Sunday.

Will such liberality be applied to the use of the extraordinary form of the Mass as well? One would hope so.

Finally, if people are speaking of merely "hearing" the Mass, in either form, could the fault for such poor catechesis possibly lie with the priests, who are supposed to teach them otherwise?

Sean P. Dailey, born in October.

Fr Sean Coyle said...

To my namesake, Sean P. Dailey:

Thank you for your response. Maybe I was being somewhat sarcastic but I do consider all that goes with zodiac signs as harmful nonsense and incompatible with our faith. I take it that you are an admirer of Chesterton to whom is attributed the saying “When man stops believing in something he’ll believe in anything.” So I see an inconsistency in your giving your zodiac sign. Read St Basil the Great on this at

Article 1 of the MP refers to the “Roman Missal promulgated by St Pius V . . .” Maybe Father Shelton used the term “Mass of Pius V” as a “red flag” but I don’t read it that way. It is more accurate than “the Tridentine Mass”, and far more accurate than “the Latin Mass”, both of which are popularly used without necessarily having pejorative overtones.

My understanding of the term “extraordinary form” is that it will not be the norm. The Mass of the Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI will. In other words, in most Masses the Missal of Pope Paul VI will be used. However, it is clear that Pope Benedict wants a generous interpretation of the MP. Like you, Sean, I hope that this will happen. As I understand the MP, the Pope wants the Mass of Blessed John XXIII to be widely available. But I doubt if the word “extraordinary” will be interpreted as elastically in this case as it is in the context of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. I was at the funeral of a priest in a parish church in Ireland a few months ago where there were 30 to 40 concelebrants. But at Holy Communion four lay persons came up to assist the celebrating priest.

Where I am in the Philippines I’m not aware of any great demand for the extraordinary form of the Mass, though I know the followers of Marcel Lefebvre have centers in some of the major cities. I’m not based in a parish. However, I would be more than happy to learn how to celebrate Mass according to the Missal of Blessed John XXIII. I grew up with the “Old Mass”.

Catechesis is all important and I think that we priests have to keep teaching the very basics of the faith “in season and out of season”. We have to keep teaching that the Mass is a sacrifice, that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, that Jesus is God who became Man, that He is now the Risen Lord. Very many, sadly, don’t have these basics.

I do believe that you and I, and Father Shelton, along with Pope Benedict, understand the importance of “Lex orandi, lex credendi” in every celebration of the Mass. God’s blessings.

Anonymous said...

I will answer his questions with questions.

1. Ought the worshipper to observe WHAT is holy in the person beside them (i.e. devotion and attention to the Lord) or just to degrade the meaning of holiness to the least common denominator in a mob of Christians?

2. Doesn't creating a dichotomy between private, personal devotion and corporate devotion undermine the human element in passing down inspired Tradition and teachings from person to person, not just book to book?

3. Does the priesthood derived from baptism participate in the sacrifice merely on its own or through the the priesthood instituted by Christ?

4. Do we just see the resurrected Jesus Christ taking a walk down the street everyday, such that we should not see ourselves as somewhat removed from him via the Ascension?

5. Does "omnipotence" and "glory" and "divinity" convey aloofness rather than the majesty of God? If so, does one have an intimate relationship with a real God or just with one of their own creation?

In answer to the final question. Yes, I want a priest to say Mass, and I would prefer to be there listening to it. This is because, when we attend to the Mass, we are hearing a prayer, not just any prayer but the prayer of Love between the person of Christ and the Heavenly Father. Hence, one should treat the Mass, from beginning to end, like a prayer in itself, to which we are permitted to glance in for a foretaste of the union between our soul and God.
What I would ask is this question: Do we really want to continue the kind of anti-intellectual, anti-cultural, and anti-historical remarks against prior ages of Catholicism, like teenagers trying to assert independence, or do we want to grow up a little bit and act like adults, fully reconciled to our past?

CPKS said...

I agree with Fr Sean Coyle that Fr Shelton's questions merit serious consideration - and that some of the sharp abreactions we've seen, whilst understandable in view of the unjust distortions we've suffered for 40 years, are evidence that there is some unhealthy polarization on these questions.

To take just one of the issues raised: Fr Shelton's fourth question particularly raises the issue of God's transcendence and immanence. Is God transcendent? Yes. Is God immanent in the world? Yes. Can a liturgy emphasize one of these attributes to the detriment of the other? Clearly, this is possible. Those who dislike the missa normativa see it as emphasizing the immanent at the expense of the transcendent. Those who dislike the usus antiquior see it as emphasizing the transcendent at the expense of the immanent. And those who love either of those two liturgies affirm that the emphasis on the one doesn't detract from the other.

What we have seen over the last 40 years has struck some of us as an unjust prejudice against the usus antiquior: we have seen not so much an adjustment or a correction of some deficiencies as a radical break, such that it has become necesssary to state that the older use was never abrogated. For very many of us, it is as if the older use was indeed abrogated. In the cagey response to the MP that we have seen from some quarters, it is hard to avoid seeing some sort of antipathy.

Personally, I have been impressed by the way that this antipathy has been expressed not by argument or persuasion or indeed with charity, but (in many cases) by a high-handed authoritarianism. What we see in Fr Shelton's questions is the beginning of an argument why the usus antiquior might have stood in need of some reform: there were some things that it expressed well, but (arguably) some things it expressed less well, and the balance needed to be redressed. It is no coincidence, I think, that many of the strongest supporters of the usus antiquior are those who don't remember it as it was, whereas a number of those most hostile to it are today's "dinosaurs".

My suspicion is that prior to Vatican II, the liturgical pendulum had swung too far in one direction, and that the reaction made it swing (much) too far in the other.

My suspicion is that Summorum Pontificium has it about right: it's high time we stopped polarizing and looked for a point of equilibrium.

Anonymous said...

Well I think this Priest has a problem. It seems the Church he belongs to didn't exist until Vatican II. Surely he would mistrust any "new Theology" because it has no past. I do!!

MSCatholic said...

Hey Fr,
I would like to comment on some of the ones you mentioned praying the rosary during mass.

What are we supposed to do IF the priest is preaching some strange stuff? Like the following;
Moses MADE God more merciful;
The prophet Isaiah was too focused on "doom and gloom" and would not have been in trouble with the others if he had lightened up;
Jesus contradicted himself when he said that few would enter heaven because he then goes on to say that people will come from N S E and W;
Jesus really didn't mean what he said in the Gospel-the Gospel was just cut and pasted together;
Corpus Christi Sunday-the real miracle was not the multiplication of fish BUT that the disciples had a change of heart....

The only think I know to do during these fuzzy theology courses is to pray the rosary for our priest and Bishop. What else are we to do?
It is strange that what we do understand seems at odds with the Church's teachings.

RC Dinosaur said...

This priest is in my heretical offence....and yeah from what I hear he is labeled heretic to most people.