Rorate Caeli

Benedict XVI and the Future of the Mass

In a post on this blog three days ago, it was said:

This Thursday, the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops assembled at the Vatican to develop and approve the schema of the [post-Synodal] "Apostolic Exhortation", the papal document regarding the liturgy. Everything seems to indicate the solemnity and ceremony of another era shall be return to the Mass. This document is expected in October, along with the indult favoring the Tridentine Mass.

What does it mean, in practical terms, that "the solemnity and ceremony of another era" will be returned to the liturgy? What shape will this reform-of-the-reform take? Will it be something that Traditionalists can fully embrace? Tolerate? Will it simply be more of the same?

A now out-of-print book by Fr. Brian Houghton called Mitre and Crook may offer us some clue as to what the revised liturgy will look like. In this fictional book, Houghton chronicles the activity of a Bishop Forester (of Stamford) in the late 1970s, when the bishop finally decided that he was done participating in the revolution, and the time had come to clean up the mess.

Much in the same way that the revolution took its initial steps by first revising the Mass, so also Bishop Forester began the "reform of the reform" (if you will) in his diocese by laying down new laws for the celebration of the liturgy. His approach to the problem seems to very closely mirror the thought of Benedict XVI: the future reform must curb excesses, stop abuses, and restore the sacred to the Mass, but it must not consist of a total rejection of the Novus Ordo, for this would do much greater harm to the credibility of priests, bishops, and Rome itself.

The details of Bishop Forester's reform are given in Mitre and Crook in the reproduction of the text of Bishop Forester's letter to the priests of his diocese. This letter, along with some introductory comments, can be found in my essay Reforming the Revolution: The Future Shape of the Mass. The reader is invited to review this piece of history and draw his own conclusions: can we expect Benedict XVI's reform to closely resemble the reforms implemented by Bishop Forester? Does the logic displayed by His Excellency seem to be consonant with what we know of Benedict XVI's thoughts on matters liturgical? Is a reform such as the one detailed by Bishop Forester something that a Catholic could support? With a liturgical "reform of the reform" looming in the not too-distant future, it may be wise to begin consider these issues as real possibilities.


  1. Golly! What a brave bishop!

    What happened to him, do you know? Did things go okay in his diocese or was there resistance from below and threats from above?

    How did the next bishop handle things? And what happened to the diocese of Stamford? Other than one for Ukrainian Greek Catholics, there doesn't seem to be one now...

    Or is it all a "what if?" scenario?

  2. No Bishop Forester listed on either.

    Nice imaginative exercise, though, I bet!

  3. Jam - you fail to make it clear that Fr Houghton's book was a work of fiction.

  4. I am not confident that what comes out of Rome in October will effectively address the inherent defects of the Novus Ordo Mass. Was Fr. Ratzinger not part of the Consilium that created the New Mass?

    The New Mass is Protestant in nature as I argue in my post linked here:

    Ecclesia Militans

    The "normative" Mass must be de-Protestantized.

  5. you fail to make it clear that Fr Houghton's book was a work of fiction

    Well spoke - not that this should have any bearing on the content of what was said, but all the same, I have modified the essay to note that the book in question is fictional.

  6. If you want to see the reform of the reform already in action, since about 1972, all you need to do is observe the ceremonies at the London Oratory. Novus Ordo, in Latin, ad Orientem, with two assisting priests in chasuable, the rest in choir, Gregorian Chant, sacred polyphony, communion under one species, on the tongue, kneeling, the traditional office sung every weekend and feast day...and thousands in attendance. Works every time.

  7. at the London Oratory...two assisting priests in chasuable

    close, in fact at the London Oratory the two assistants are in dalmatic and tunicle, and are not necessarily priests as there is no concelebration. Yes it works, but the Traditional rite makes better sense ceremonially and theologically.

  8. JAM: I referenced one of your articles on our blog, re the gutting of Gospels in the NOM and Pentecost. Check it out:

  9. hobdomadary wrote:
    If you want to see the reform of the reform already in action, since about 1972, all you need to do is observe the ceremonies at the London Oratory. Novus Ordo, in Latin, ad Orientem, with two assisting priests in chasuable, the rest in choir, Gregorian Chant, sacred polyphony, communion under one species, on the tongue, kneeling, the traditional office sung every weekend and feast day...and thousands in attendance. Works every time.

    And just how are normal parishes to pull off all this? Understand - I am completely in favor of everything you point out (except maybe the one-species communion), but having all that great music and a space that does it justice, with stained glass and sculptures and so on, costs $$$.

    I suppose one answer is "if you build it, they will come"; people will contribute more to a building that is special, unlike so many churches built during the past century. But, that's a dangerous proposition, as in the immediate sense, many will in fact *leave* these parishes, even the Catholic Church altogether, if they never hear “On Eagle’s Wings” again at a funeral.

  10. In re: cantor

    I agree. Here the Tridentine Mass is popular with mostly seniors and traditional families (read lots of children.) What these two groups do not have is lots of money. Unless you live a large metropolitan area, there isn't going to be the support for new anything.

    When I lived in San Jose, the Diocese got into some large financial difficulties when it restored a Jesuit mission church for its cathedral. It is a beautiful church though.

  11. Here is an excellent reflection on the Indult and SSPX situation.

    Indult & SSPX

  12. Dear Cantor,

    Five years ago four untrained musicians at the indult mass wanted to learn from one trained musician how to sing Gregorian chant from the punctum notation. Five years, six annual tenebrae's, four Feasts of St. Philip Neri, three Pontifical Vespers, any mumber of Sunday Vespers, and a terce before Pontifical High Mass later (not to mention quite a number of Oratory style missa cantatas and recently our first Tridentine Requiem), there are nineteen active members of a group called Chorus Breviarii who accomplish these things in parishes and without any $$ except what they contribute themselves to the production of these liturgies. The currency of such activity is the will of the laity to accomplish them. Don't get me wrong, I'm not lecturing or posturing, just being succinct. It's up to the people in the pews, but it only takes one to start facilitate change. Bear in mind that as to chant, it was written for monks, not rocket scientists. It's WAY simpler than most people (and many musicians - note the distinction!) think. Plus, it doesn't all happen at once. Start singing compline. If they kick you out of the church, sing it on the sidewalk. Find a friendly priest and go into self production. It can be done. It's being done.
    As to one species communion, we have on occasion - in NO, Lat., ad orientem celebration - given communion (kneeling and on the tongue) by intinction. Look at the website and see what we do, then try it yourself. It works.

  13. I should add, we're in San Diego, hardly the center of the Catholic Universe!

  14. The website is

  15. Hebdomadary, I think I'll meet you tonight for rehearsal. :-)

  16. hebdom:

    I am a music director in a parish, so I suppose I am one of the ones who needs this conviction.

    Believe me, I am doing what I can to change things in my parish - a typical American parish flooded with Haugen/Haas, Spirit & Song, and worse. Two contemporary Masses (where the organ is basically forbidden), and one Mass where the organ is tolerated (the youngest crowd, incidentally, but also the latest Sunday morning Mass). Before I came there was next to no traditional Catholic music; I have since had the choir sing a number of new-to-them chant hymns, polyphony, etc.

    I don’t, though, have the support of any other staff member, most of whom are aging baby boomers, the priest included.

    Another issue is that we sing from the sanctuary. The whole thing is madness, really, but very influential (and wealthy) members of the parish, of the aforementioned aging baby-boomer demographic, would surely forestall any effort at permanently moving to the choir loft.

    What I would love to have is Latin Ordinaries, ideally chant or good modern music (a la Proulx) and English or Latin propers (perhaps from the Anglican Use gradual). If the parish were growing, or I could get an evening Mass started somewhere, that is exactly what I would do. But alas, such is opposite to our situation; my parish is not doing well at all financially, and the clergy shortage makes things worse.

    But, the Office might work; I have wanted to start having Vespers from time to time. Any musical ideas? Solesmes, as far as I know, hasn’t yet put forth an antiphonary for the 1975 Liturgy of the Hours....

  17. Cantor, I literally have to run to rehearsal. We need to talk. I'll be back and answer some of your observations and concerns later tonight. But don't lose heart. Change is coming, and sooner than later.

  18. Mass or Mess?

    There will be no changes in the Unholy Modern Mess because to change to the Mass of All Times would be tantamount to admitting what thinking Catholics know already - the NO Mess is the reason for the collapse of Faith among modern catholics. Pope Benedict XVI has to share the responsibility for the current state of affairs in which he is now held captive.
    The bishops will ensure any possible reversion to customary norms and values are systematically disobeyed as they have with most papal directives for the last 45 years.

  19. There will be no changes in the Unholy Modern Mess ... the NO Mess is the reason for the collapse of Faith among modern catholics.

    I work in a small elementary school, and I feel compelled to tell you what I have told several students: there is no room for pessimism here. To succumb to pessimism is to admit defeat. And there can be no defeat where Christ reigns.

    In the words of Robert Kennedy, "It is not enough to understand, or to see clearly. The future will be shaped in the arena of human activity, by those willing to commit their minds and their bodies to the task. "

  20. "Doing a complete about-face would probably do more harm than good."

    Ho, ho, ho! The way we go to the land of Relativism!

  21. "Ho, ho, ho! The way we go to the land of Relativism!"

    There certainly are Absolutes. But to act as if EVERYTHING is an absolute is absolutely nuts.

  22. Listen Mack (I've always wanted to say that!), don't blame me for tidying up a bit, and having a degree of liturgical success doing it. This isn't a matter of BEST, but it certainly makes things BETTER. Without an indult it's all I can do, except to keep stirring the pot. But part of what has led to this malaise is that many of the faithful, if they can't have it all, refuse to accept anything. Sorry, wrong approach. It's OUR responsibility, not a Bishop's. It becomes a question of perseverence and determination. No bishop can tell you not to pray in the traditional way; if you want to, get a Breviary and start doing it; then do it with a friend; then a group; then do it in public; find a way. It's trench work, but the faithful have to want it enough to do it, not look for it on a silver platter. Of course turning the NO mess into the way of tradition is only putting things on the road to the old rite, but it does help for the present.

  23. What I am stating is not pessimism - it stems from realism. Anyone who really thinks the current pontiff is actually capable of effecting any real change for the better is wasting precious prayer time. This is already a severely compromised papacy [I won't elaborate on this well-documented issue]. He is also excellent at intellectual smoke-screening: one moment you think he might be traditional but the outcome is more of the same.

    I also agree with the view that it is not up to bishops but we the lay to get behind traditional clergy and to shoulder the burden more than we have. Most bishops today are no better than the eastern style despots described by St Paul. Most have been blinded by the blind whom they follow.

    On the contrary, The Lord's Prayer contains the words "Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven". Rome is slowly being purged along with an exceedingly corrupt hierarchy and body of followers. There cannot be a genuine renaissance of Faith without that the vine-dresser prunes the vine. This is usually quite a thorough job. The decline from almost all perspectives in the NO church is very encouraging: witness, some hierarchs are even willing to admit something is wrong. In France, the Bishops have stopped trying to persecute traditionalists and force them out because they are as numerous now as NO followers there. Their modernist utopia is laid waste. However, it has to go much further than this before there is genuine movement back to the norm. The indult is a confidence trick and is not the norm - it is exploited as a way of compromising tradition. Only The Mass of All Times will do and it is up to us to insist on this, as well as the orthodox doctrines that follow it.

    While hierarchs feel they can shore up the crumbling edifice they will do all they can to stall tradition and promote their heterodox anarchy. Once the perverted modernist seminaries are empty and closed and NO congregations have all but stayed at home or gone to The Latin Mass, then there will be praise and rejoicing indeed in Jerusalem.

  24. After all the babble and jabber, I have only one thing to say, and that should close the issue:

    Listen to dear Macky (see immediately above).

  25. If any of you have seen "Spinal Tap", and IF such now we are all Catholic would not be an occasion of sin (avoid), or othwerwise sinful in itself, substitute the NO (partisans) for the Tap and just follow along as Tap slide from stadia to playing childrens puppet shows.

  26. What, pray tell, is "Spinal Tap?" A movie, a rock group, a North Beach porno peek-box?

    Methinks the laddie is stretching a metaphor beyond the snapping point.

    There probably aren't ten readers in a thousand who will know what the devil is being said, including yours truly.


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