Rorate Caeli

Guest Op-Ed: First Things First
The Traditional Latin Mass and the Fort Worth Affair

a guest-post by Steve Skojec

Yesterday, news broke here on Rorate that the Most Rev. Michael Olson of the diocese of Fort Worth had ordered Fisher More College to completely cease offering Mass in the Extraordinary Form. Despite the implication of some schismatic attitude (perhaps "crypto-Lefebvrian" in nature?), the college made an immediate announcement of its compliance.

As one might expect, reports concerning this suppression of the Traditional Latin Mass reverberated like a shot heard round the world. A shot, as it were, over the bow of every Catholic attached to the ancient liturgy of the Roman Rite.

As social networks and comment boxes lit up with passionate discussion, again and again came the pleas to reserve judgment and wait for more information to come to light. "There are problems at Fisher More," people reminded us, and people not directly involved "don't really know what's going on."

Anyone who has followed the saga of the college, which has lost major contributors and has struggled to raise money to continue its operations, knows that there is turmoil brewing at the school. Some of this turmoil has surrounded the traditionalist theological orientation of the school itself -- a major draw for many prospective students. Certainly, the official statement of the college on the matter is difficult to find fault with. That the Bishop suppressed the Extraordinary Form at a college which offers this liturgy as a principal draw to its prospective students raises a red flag. It is difficult not to question whether this decision was, in fact, aimed at the very destruction of the school. Take away their Mass, and surely many of the students will no longer come.

But these issues, while important on their own and relevant to the future of Fisher More, are distractions from the larger -- and dare I say, more dangerous -- ecclesiastical action that took place, which sets a precedent for the larger Church. In the wake of the situation with the FFI, it is, in fact, strikingly inauspicious. Bishop Olson chose to target the Extraordinary Form -- and only the Extraordinary Form -- as an apparent disciplinary action in violation of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum.

While I do not represent myself as an expert in such matters, the Canon Law Center has issued a canonical opinion on the matter that cuts to the quick:

With the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum, the diocesan bishop no longer has the discretion either to permit or restrict the celebration of Mass according to the usus antiquor, a prerogative he previously enjoyed. Thus, no bishop has the authority to arbitrarily restrict the celebration of Mass according to the traditional Roman Rite. While the diocesan bishop has “all ordinary, proper, and immediate power which is required for the exercise of his pastoral function” (CIC/83, c. 381, §1), his authority is not absolute.
The faithful have a right, enshrined in ecclesiastical law, to have access to the Mass and sacraments celebrated according to the usus antiquior. Celebration of the traditional Roman liturgy is no longer a privilege extended to the faithful on an individual basis but rather a right that can be properly vindicated if requests for such celebrations are not satisfied (cf. SP, art. 7).
For several years following the promulgation of Summorum, the legal mechanisms for the vindication of rights relative to the proper implementation of the motu proprio left much to be desired. With the promulgation of the Instruction Universae Ecclesiae of April 30, 2011, the universal law of Summorum was effectively given teeth: the process of hierarchical recourse may now be utilized by faithful who believe their rights have been violated by a decision of an Ordinary which appears to be contrary to the motu proprio. (cf. UE, 10 § 1)
The recent letter of Bishop Olson to Fisher-More College certainly appears to represent such a decision. Insofar as it has unlawfully restricted the rights of the faithful, the bishop’s administrative act can and ought to be challenged.

The canonical opinion above validates my own understanding of the matter, namely: the authority for a bishop to forbid this Mass which was "never abrogated" (SP, art. 1) does not exist. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in the accompanying letter to Summorum, "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."

Contrast these words with those of Bishop Olson, who wrote (after forbidding the Extraordinary Form and making provision only for celebration of the Ordinary Form), “I make these norms out of my pastoral solicitude and care for the students of Fisher-More College as well as for your own soul.”

These words imply that continuing to offer the Traditional Latin Mass at Fisher More would be substantively harmful to the souls who attend it. Bishop Olson also makes the draconian threat that any violation of his proscription would result in “withdrawal of permission to celebrate the Eucharist in your chapel along with withdrawal of permission to reserve the Blessed Sacrament in the Chapel.”

What it seems Bishop Olson disregards is the critical phrase, "Never abrogated." Had it been abrogated, no priest would licitly be able to celebrate it. Since it has not been abrogated, every priest of the Roman Rite has the *right* to say it. It is, in fact, a completely licit and authorized Mass of the rite in which he received his ordination. There is no legal suppression of one Mass in favor of the other. This is the very situation Summorum sought to address. A bishop has authority over sacramental jurisdiction, and can at his discretion order that no Masses be said in a certain chapel. What he does not have the authority to say is, "You may have only the Ordinary Form of Mass, but not the Extraordinary Form." This creates a false dichotomy between the forms, and violates the rights and freedom of the faithful.

It is true that there are certain restrictions in Summorum Pontificum which apply to the approved celebration of the Extraordinary Form. These are clearly not meant as impediments, but as safeguards against the potential for disruptive autonomy on the issue, which is why they appear in reference most specifically to "Communities of Institutes of consecrated life and of Societies of apostolic life" (SP, art. 3) and "not parish or conventual churches" (Sp, art. 5 § 5). Put another way: approval is needed in situations where lack of oversight concerning the discretion of which form of Mass to celebrate could create considerable conflict.
If Summorum is to be referenced at all in favor of Bishop Olson's decision, it is the provision in article 5 § 5, that strikes me as the most likely to be invoked. Still, a full reading of the text of this section should put the question to rest (emphasis mine):

§ 5 In churches that are not parish or conventual churches, it is the duty of the Rector of the church to grant the above permission.

A college chapel is neither a parish or conventual church. The Code of Canon law makes clear (556-557) that "Rectors of churches are here understood to be priests to whom is entrusted the care of some church which is neither a parochial nor a capitular church ... which holds services in it" and that rectors of churches are "freely appointed by the diocesan Bishop". But a rector has a duty to grant the permission for celebration of the Extraordinary Form, not the authority to forbid it. If permission is not granted and the bishop will not accommodate the faithful who request it, they have recourse to the Ecclesia Dei commission directly (SP, art. 7).

In the post-Summorum Church, there is almost no instance where it is possible to legally suppress an Extraordinary Form Mass that has been requested by the faithful. In fact, I have yet to hear of such an example.

Pope Benedict spoke often of the "hermeneutic of continuity." In this instance, the connection seems clear: Summorum Pontificum reaffirmed what Quo Primum guaranteed.

Steve Skojec is a Catholic writer. He blogs at