But a big thank you to all who sent comments on or offline on my post earlier in the week on the state of the Extraordinary Form (EF) Mass in Australia.
The problem of priests!
Today I just wanted to pick up some issues raised in those comments, on the problem of priests.
The first issue is the continuing shortage of priests willing and able to say the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM). The second is around the problem of leadership to expand EF communities.
One commenter, Fr K, suggested that it was ridiculous that priests are covering vast distances in order to say the EF. He suggested that 'no one is indispensible'.
I beg to differ.
As I've made clear in many posts on this blog, I believe the Church in Australia is dying. The Holy Spirit guarantees the continuation of the Church as a whole, but there are no such promises about the Church in particular places and times.
Under attack from without, and being subverted from within, there is no sign, as far as I am aware, that Mass attendance rates are reviving. There is no sign that Catholics are flocking back to confession. And though there have been some increases in the number of priestly vocations in some dioceses, the numbers are not sufficient to counter the losses of recent decades.
Changing this requires every single one of us to respond generously to what the Holy Spirit is asking of us.
Sure, if one of us falters, God will find another way. But we shouldn't kid ourselves and think that this other way will come without a cost in souls. And that cost will be weighed against us in the final judgment.
Liturgy as a necessary condition for evangelization
No one took me up on the question I posed in my earlier blog piece on whether the traditional Mass leads us to holiness.
But let me propose an answer to this question: personally, I believe that good liturgy is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for holiness, and one of the vital keys to the revival of the Church in Australia.
And like any action, our act of offering or attending the Extraordinary Form will ultimately be judged by God against our object in doing it, the circumstances in which we act, and the end to which we are directing our efforts. It is not enough just to do something that is on the face of it, objectively good: we must do it for the right reasons, in the right way, in order to achieve a proper end.
Does it have to be an Extraordinary Form Mass in order to constitute good liturgy?
Possibly not. While I personally will always prefer the EF for reasons I can't fully articulate, the kind of excellence in the OF modelled at places like the Brompton Oratory in London (ad orientem in Latin, sung propers and ordinary, no sign of peace among the people, etc) can, I would suggest, do the job pretty well!
The problem is getting that to happen.
It was good to hear over at a A Secular Priest, that Archbishop Coleridge's installation mass featured chanted propers for the introit, offertory and communio, and abolition of assorted abuses that had previously featured at Brisbane Cathedral. That's an excellent start! Less cheering was the news that Brisbane's rather strong EF community didn't crack an invite to the ceremony for its priest or people...(*Update: although this seems happily to have been remedied when pointed out).
But in any case the reality is that the Mass one encounters at pretty much any parish in Australia is so far away from the ideal, and the OF has so many inherent features that makes it difficult to perform as good liturgy that regardless of what one thinks of the virtues or otherwise of the OF, it is hard to disagree with the Pope's proposition that a revival of the EF is desperately needed as a way of moving us towards a happy norm.
Availability of the EF and priests
In Australia today a number of priests continue to drive or fly vast distances in order to respond to the desire of the faithful for the EF Mass - and I'm particularly thinking here not just of Fr Terence Mary, who I mentioned in my post, but also of Fr Rowe (WA), Fr Durham (Rockhampton) and a number of others...
And in New Zealand, the Ecclesia Dei Society are asking for prayers for the future of the only dedicated Extraordinary Form Mass Centre in Auckland, where the illness of Fr Meuli, the priest there has led to the cancellation of almost half the masses said there.
The hard reality is that we are still dependent on so few priests, that the loss of even one can be a catastrophe for an EF community, and for the hope of revival in the Church more generally.
Accordingly we need to pray hard, fast, and offer whatever other sacrifices we can for these priests.
We need to encourage them to work with other sympathetic priests and seminarians so as to give them a chance to experience the EF and learn it.
And we need to do whatever we can ourselves to encourage other priests to learn the EF and say it, including getting up petitions for the Mass from groups of the faithful.
The tension between lay and priestly leadership
There is though a paradoxical problem, I think, that often seems to arise once an EF community gets going.
One commenter on my earlier post noted the excellent work done to get the Wangaratta EF Community going, including the work to promote it to potential mass goers and to integrate it within the parish made possible by Summorum Pontificum.
It is worth remembering though, I think, that this model isn't really that different to that employed to start most of the EF communities in Australia. While a few reflect decisions of priests to only or mostly say the EF, most in fact came about because groups of the laity lobbied their bishops for a TLM under the old Ecclesia Dei provisions: the acquisition of permanent priests for those communities came later.
But of course, once those communities did obtain permanent chaplaincy arrangements, leadership of the communities eventually (sometimes in the face of some resistance!) and quite properly moved to the chaplain.
Sometimes, I think, something has been lost in that process.
Circling the wagons vs outreach
The natural tendency of a new priest coming in to act as chaplain of an EF community is to focus first on providing the Mass and perhaps other existing community activities, and on its existing members.
In many if not most cases, the chaplains involved are more or less straight out of seminary, needing to learn how to be priests themselves, often placed in difficult situations without much of a support structure.
They may also have been taught a model of priestly leadership, pastoral practices and appropriate roles for the laity that may have worked well in a different era, but which on the face of it are ill-suited to what is essentially a missionary environment.
The result is that in more than a few cases, EF communities remain relatively small and inwardly looking, rather than forces for change within their dioceses.
The challenge, in my view is to change that.
In my view, to do it requires some rethinking of the fundamentals of the organization of EF communities in this country.
I'm not suggesting that this is easy territory of course: we all know the degree of resistance that exists to the EF in any form, let alone it occurring at any time or place where the ever fewer 'mainstream' catholics might stumble across it.
But I'd be interested in other's views on this subject...