Three Parisian events of 2013 brought out, in different ways, the beauty, dignity, and eternal youth of the extraordinary form of the Roman rite. These three events provide an opportunity to take stock of the situation regarding the application of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum in the French capital.
I – SAINT-EUGÈNE, SAINT-SULPICE, AND BEYOND . . . .
The three events to have stood out in the traditional liturgical life of Paris in 2013—with the exception of the SSPX taking back the Notre-Dame de Consolation chapel last March—are: the pilgrimage of Saint-Eugène-Sainte-Cécile parish to Notre-Dame on May 29; the celebration of Christ the King at St. Francis Xavier’s church on October 27, and, on November 16, the splendid twenty-fifth anniversary Mass of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter, which was celebrated on the high altar at Saint Sulpice.
The Saint-Eugène-Sainte-Cécile pilgrimage to Notre Dame shows the ongoing vitality of a parish that was “Summorum Pontificum” ahead of its time. Indeed, both Roman liturgical forms came to live together in Saint Eugene long before Benedict XVI promulgated his Motu Proprio and, in fact, Saint-Eugène-Sainte-Cécile is one of the rare Parisian parishes where the faithful who are attached to the traditional liturgy are offered a true parish life. It is also one of the most fruitful, if not the most fruitful, parishes of the capital in terms of priestly vocations.
The celebration of the feast of Christ the King in Saint Francis Xavier’s church by Father de Tanoüarn, the director of the Centre Saint-Paul, is a perfect example of mutual enrichment since the ceremony was part of Father Michel Viot’s “Listening With the Church” initiative, whose idea it was to celebrate the kingship of Our Lord Jesus Christ in utroque usu, that is, the last Sunday of October (in the traditional calendar) and the last Sunday before Advent (in the modern calendar).
Finally, the solemn Mass of thanksgiving for the 25th anniversary of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter showed—needless to say—that the faithful who are attached to the extraordinary form of the Roman rite have no trouble filling one of the largest churches in Paris with their presence as well as with their prayers and chants. Indeed 1,500 people took part in that ceremony last November 16 in Saint-Sulpice church.
II – THE REFLECTIONS OF PAIX LITURGIQUE
1) While the progress of the extraordinary form in Paris remains blocked, as we have had many occasions to point out in the French edition of our letters, and while the Fraternity of Saint Pius X is doing well there, the faithful step up every time there is an extraordinary event. In 2011, in our letter #290 in French, we reported the following totals: 1,000 to 1,200 people were attending officially authorized Sunday Masses (Saint Germain l'Auxerrois, Saint-Eugène, Notre-Dame-du-Travail, Notre-Dame-du-Lys, Sainte-Jeanne de Chantal, Sainte-Odile); 450 people went to private chapels (Centre Saint-Paul, Notre-Dame de la Purification); about 4,000 attended SPPX Masses. In all close to 6,000 of the faithful every week, which amounts to about 5% of Parisian churchgoers. This does not match all of the demand, at least not the demand at the parish level. The survey poll conducted by Harris Interactive for Paix Liturgique at the end of January 2010 showed that 70.5% of weekly churchgoers would attend the extraordinary form of the Roman rite at least once in a while if it were offered in their parish. One out of four churchgoers in Paris (24%) even declared his willingness usually to pick the extraordinary form if it were celebrated in HIS parish.
In Paris, as elsewhere, the traditional liturgy is therefore not a reservation set aside for the fringe element or an élite lobby. It is the food that many ordinary Catholics, who are ordinarily silent, desire to nourish their faith and their prayer with.
2) The three extraordinary ceremonies we have inventoried today went really well. This is important to point out, for some less-than-charitable wags continue to ascribe the very worst intentions and motivations to “the Tridentine Mass nostalgics.” Yet the facts say otherwise. The people of Summorum Pontificum are a people who ask only to be allowed to pray and strengthen their faith according to the lex orandi handed down through the centuries, and that made France the eldest daughter of the Church. And the priests who celebrate this liturgy have a keen sense of the unity of the Church.
As a matter of fact, at Saint-François-Xavier as well as at Saint-Sulpice and Notre-Dame, the parish priests were glad to welcome the Masses celebrated by the priests belonging to Ecclesia Dei communities. The Mass at Saint-Sulpice was even sung in the presence of the new chancellor of the diocese of Paris. In a word, the parish priests of Paris have understood that opening the doors of diocesan churches to the traditional Mass isn’t “running a risk,” but is one of those simple gestures that are a witness of Christian fraternity; they participate in a lasting reconciliation among Catholics and can function as a leaven for the New Evangelization.
3) One might hope for more. Shouldn’t two of the main providers of these extraordinary celebrations—Father de Tanoüarn’s Centre Saint-Paul, which brings together close to 400 of the faithful every Sunday in the Sentier neighborhood, and the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter—have an official Mass venue of their own in Paris, as the Communauté Saint-Martin now does?
They have been granted the grace of being able to honor, praise, and adore God publicly in such beautiful Parisian churches as Saint-François-Xavier and Saint-Sulpice, and this in the extraordinary liturgical form. Does this portend a move towards integrating the extraordinary form into what is offered, pastorally and liturgically, at the diocesan level?
4) Besides Saint-Eugène-Sainte-Cécile, the only parish churches in Paris where the the extraordinary form of the Roman rite has the rights of citizenship on Sundays and weekdays, i.e. in the spirit of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, are the parishes of Sainte-Odile, Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois, Notre-Dame-du-Travail, and Sainte-Jeanne-de-Chantal. This is not much, and it wouldn’t take much for the situation to evolve in a positive direction.
Take the case of Saint-François-Xavier where for years now, at 9am on Sundays, there has been a Gregorian Mass of Paul VI (i.e. in which the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus are sung). This Mass gathers over a hundred of the faithful who, for the most part if not all, would prefer to attend the traditional Mass pure and simple. Besides, since 2009 this church has hosted “Wednesday Masses,” now celebrated by Father Le Coq of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter. For the past twenty years these Masses have been gathering young Parisians who are attached to the traditional liturgy.
Well, if Mgr. Chauvet, the pastor at Saint-François-Xavier, were to change the 9am Sunday Mass from the ordinary form in Gregorian chant to the extraordinary form, he would not cause any problem for the life of his parish. He would, however, greatly change the life of many Parisians who would thus have an extra Sunday Mass in an easy-to-reach church. At the same time this would give the Fraternity of Saint Peter the foundation for a true apostolate in Paris—after all, Father Le Coq is there every Wednesday.
5) We’ve been criticized in the past for our harsh judgment on the bishops in Paris and environs, but we see very encouraging signs in the three ceremonies we have been satisfied to report here. Nevertheless, we are mindful of the fate of so many of the faithful, particularly those of the last remaining blue-collar districts in Paris, which remain deprived of the extraordinary form and, therefore, have to travel to the outskirts of the archdiocese. (We are here thinking particularly of the parishioners at Saint-Georges-de-la-Villette, a good number of whom are West Indian, which hardly matches up with the clichés about “the traditional Mass as privilege for whites who live in the posh neighborhoods”).
In view of the quiet success of the Masses at Notre-Dame, Saint-François-Xavier, and Saint-Sulpice, and in view of the latent demand in the capital, we have only one question: Isn’t Paris worth one (or two) more extraordinary Masses?
Source images: Photo album of the solemn Mass at Saint-Sulpice for the 25th anniversary of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter