Letter 60
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In New York, over 350 North American laymen and ecclesiastics pondered the “reform of the reform” and reaffirmed the essential role of the extraordinary form of the Roman rite for liturgical renewal at the parish level.

Clockwise from the top left: Fr. Christopher Smith, Prof. Donelson and Fr. Cipolla, Fr. Kocik and Dom Alcuin Reid, Matthew Menendez. (c) Sacra Liturgia 2015

Thanks to our benefactors’ generosity, one of the editors at Paix Liturgique was able to attend the Sacra Liturgia 2015 conference, which was held in New York June 1-4. It was organized at the behest of Bishop Rey and supervised by Dom Alcuin Reid, both of the diocese of Fréjus-Toulon in southern France. Father Richard Cipolla, pastor in Norwalk, Connecticut, and Dr. Jennifer Donelson, professor of sacred music at St. Joseph’s seminary in Dunwoodie, put it together. It brought together over 350 participants over four days, including many young people: laymen and women; seminarians; and priests. Every evening, after the sometimes high-level but always clear presentations, a celebration in either form of the Roman rite brought the day to a close.

It is worth pointing out that this is the third conference of this kind, since an undertaking gains in weight as it becomes more permanent. The first of these conferences took place at the Salesian University in Rome June 20-14, 2011 (the Adoratio conference); the second one again took place in Rome, at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, June 25-28, 2013. Both events drew roughly the same number of participants and were organized along the same bi-formalist lines. The next one is slated for July 2016 in London.

We’ll certainly have the opportunity of detailing the more striking lectures in the coming weeks, for example Fr. Thomas Kocik’s report on current events in the reform of the reform, Fr. Christopher Smith’s lecture on the role of liturgical formation in Catholic identity, or that of Fr. Cipolla—a husband and father as well as a priest since he is a converted former Anglican minister—on the liturgy as source of priestly identity. When the proceedings of the conference are published, liturgy aficionados will find interest in the series of thoroughly researched commentaries on the reforms of holy week, of the lectionary, of the liturgical calendar, and of the collects.

As a first reaction, we can say that we were particularly struck by the following:
-the powerful testimony of the founder of Juventutem, Matthew Menendez, who is responsible for the successful introduction of the traditional Mass at Harvard;
-the traditional Mass according to the 1962 Missal celebrated by Fr. Sean Connolly, a young priest just ordained by Cardinal Dolan for the diocese of New York;
-the message that Cardinal Sarah, Prefect of Divine Worship, addressed to the participants.

a) Cardinal Sarah’s message
Back on the day before his nomination to Divine Worship, Cardinal Sarah had attended the presentation of the Proceedings of the 2013 Sacra Liturgia conference in Rome (see letter 55). He therefore gave a friendly greeting to the participants of Sacra Liturgia 2015, to its initiator Bishop Rey (who was detained in France), and to Cardinal Burke, who gave the keynote address. The length of Cardinal Sarah’s letter, however, indicates that this was more than a mere greeting; he intended to say something substantial to the clergy and laity assembled in New York:

-he first and foremost laid stress on the present-day importance of “the apostolate at the service of the promotion of the Holy Liturgy” and invited one and all “to do everything to put the Holy Liturgy back at the heart of the relationship between God and man”;

-he asked the participants to assist him in advancing the liturgical renewal that Benedict XVI permitted, so that they might be like the householder in the Gospel according to St. Matthew, able to bring forth from his storeroom things new and old, nova et vetera.

-lastly he suggested to the participants two avenues to work along: first, firmly to keep in mind that the Holy Liturgy (i.e. the worship of God Almighty as handed down by tradition and the encounter between humanity and the living God at work in His Church) must be celebrated faithfully in the reverence and fear of God. Second, we must attentively dedicate ourselves to the promotion of a healthy liturgical formation, calling to mind Pope Francis’s February 18, 2014 call “to the commitment to a solid and organic liturgical initiation and formation, both of lay faithful as well as clergy and consecrated persons” as “there remains much to be done for a correct and complete assimilation of the Constitution of the Holy Liturgy on the part of the baptized and ecclesial communities.”

b) Fr. Connolly’s Mass

Fr. Connolly, a young Irish-American priest (as his name indicates) in the archdiocese of New York, along with nine other diocesan seminarians and two Franciscans of the Renewal (the Bronx Franciscans), was ordained on May 23, 2015 by the Cardinal Archbishop of New York in Saint Patrick’s cathedral. We met him during the coffee break on June 2 and we found out that he was going to celebrate the first Mass of the conference that very evening, a Solemn Mass according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite. This confidence placed in a just-ordained priest at such a conference reflects the reigning climate all along the four days of Sacra Liturgia in New York: make room for the young and the lowly, so long as they manifest a genuine and full love of the Holy Liturgy!

And Fr. Connolly, who in ten days had already celebrated the traditional Mass several times, celebrated this Mass with great solemnity and deep recollection. In New York, in a diocese where until recently there was even talk of closing the only Summorum Pontificum parish in Manhattan, a young priest who wishes to live his priestly life in utroque usu (according to both forms of the Roman rite) can be open about it without running the risk of being kicked out of seminary, as sometimes happens in certain archdioceses of European capitals . . . .

In fact, this absence of ideological prejudices from a bygone era was confirmed by the significant number of diocesan seminarians who participated in the activities of Sacra Liturgia 2015: there were close to sixty!
c) The witness of the founder of Juventem at Harvard
Matthew Menendez, founder of Juventutem Boston, spoke right after Archbishop Salvatore of San Francisco, who had been eagerly awaited and was much applauded since he is American Catholicism’s current symbol of resistance against secularization and the LGBT offensive. In fact Archbishop Cordileone’s concluding remarks were that “what we need is witnesses rather than words”.

And indeed Matthew Menendez, age 24, proved to be a convicted and convincing witness. He spoke on “Youth and the Liturgy” and left a deep impression on everyone in attendance. In the humorous tale of his struggle to obtain the celebration of the extraordinary form of the Roman rite at Harvard, he wondered about the reasons for which so many Americans abandon regular Sunday Mass attendance, if not the Catholic Faith itself, as they grow out of their teens (1). According to him, the basic explanation is that their relationship with the Faith is limited to the Mass: “Young Americans are like German bishops: their only hour of Catholicism is Mass on Sunday!” This daring jab caused hilarity throughout the hall.

For this reason the quality of Sunday celebrations takes on a fundamental importance for the upkeep and strengthening of the Faith among the young. But according to Matthew Menendez the liturgical reform had three particularly harmful effects on the appreciation and the understanding of the Mass among young people, especially boys: sentimentalism; infantilization; and feminization. Without a true understanding of the Eucharist, what young people perceive in the Mass is only a show which, as they approach adulthood, ends up losing out to the shows that the world has to offer.

Yet there is a solution since “a priest can make all the difference!” For Matthew Menendez, that priest was the one who gave him the formation to understand and love the liturgy. “The story of my faith,” he magnificently summarized, “is that of my increasing understanding of the Eucharist thanks to my service as an altar server.” Then came the discovery of the traditional Mass. This is a testimony of a trajectory that matches that of many young people throughout the world who have been saved by the traditional Mass, so to speak.

All of this clear-thinking young man’s words deserve to be reported, particularly what he said regarding his stormy contacts with diocesan authorities: “If the extraordinary form is now part of the landscape at Harvard, it’s because we had to organize everything without, or even in spite of, the Church hierarchy.” Add to that his account of the victorious struggle against a satanic Mass that was planned on the university campus. Beyond the story of the small miracle that is the setting up of the traditional liturgy at the heart of what amounts to an incubator for the often liberal elites of the USA, Matthew Menendez particularly wanted to send a message to the generations older than his own. He especially wanted to reach those who, since the 1960s, have fashioned and imposed a “youth culture” deprived of any transcendence, thereby inhibiting the sense of, and taste for, the sacred among young people even as their desire for transcendence yearns to be awakened and satisfied.

He didn’t soft-pedal the gulf that separates the new Summorum Pontificum generations from the “old” traditionalist generations. The veterans strike him as having been scarred—understandably scarred, he hastens to add—by the trauma of the years when the traditional Mass was barely conceded, if not forbidden. They seem to be tempted to keep it for themselves, even unconsciously, for instance by not accepting a celebration on a modern altar or with modern vestments, or by a priest who is only just learning it and does not yet master all the rubrics. His own generation, on the other hand, grew up with Benedict XVI’s motu proprio and sees the extraordinary form not only as a given and an incredible opportunity to live out the Catholic Faith fully and more perfectly, but also as a treasure it is duty-bound to share. Nevertheless he too must put up a serious fight, just as the veterans did. Summarized as a punchy catchphrase that brought down the house with roaring applause from the entire auditorium—from grey hairs and dark alike—it came out as “You had the trauma, we have the internet!”

Clockwise from the top left: Fr. Connolly; Archbishop Cordileone; CFr. Cipolla during the opening vespers; Dom Philip Anderson, abbott of Clear Creek, next to Bishop Perry, auxiliary of Chicago, and Bishop Caggiano, bishop of Bridgeport, during the Holy Mass celebrated by Archbishop Cordileone according to Pope Paul VI's Missal (c) Sacra Liturgia 2015

1) “Gay marriage,” gender theory, the Obama administration’s attack on Catholic education, religious competition, etc.: all these threats and challenges confront the Catholic Church in America, and those who participated in Sacra Liturgia 2015 share the conviction that Catholic reconquest is essentially spiritual and liturgical. Therefore the rediscovery of the spirit of the liturgy is indispensable
2) According to the laity and clergy that were in New York, the rediscovery of the spirit of the liturgy entails standing on the bedrock of the extraordinary form of the Roman rite, in order quite literally to reorient the ordinary form (that is, to turn it towards the Orient from which the Lord will arise, the Lord whose return we await and for which we prepare). Whereas the motto of Sacra Liturgia is culmen et fons vitae et missionis Ecclesiae [the liturgy is the summit and source of the Church’s life and mission], one might add for Sacra Liturgia USA: in utroque usu, in both forms of the Roman rite, especially if these coexist within the same communities, the same parishes, the same houses of worship. The folks here have neither the spirit of partisanship nor a ghetto mentality: they simply wish to continue spreading the traditional form as well the reform of the reform that goes hand in hand with it. All of this follows upon the impulse that Benedict XVI gave, or sought to give, to a liturgical renaissance.

3) Lastly, we cannot fail to underscore the preponderant share of youth and diocesan clergy in the success of this conference. The attraction that a more dignified and solemn liturgy holds for the young is far from being a momentary fad; it continues undiminished, as Benedict XVI had pertinently noted in the letter he addressed to the bishops along with Summorum Pontificum: “It was presumed that requests for the use of the 1962 Missal would be limited to the older generation which had grown up with it, but in the meantime it has clearly been demonstrated that young persons too have discovered this liturgical form, felt its attraction and found in it a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, particularly suited to them.”

4) Back in France one hears certain laymen but also some young ecclesiastics say that “the Mass isn’t the point anymore,” that the current priorities are elsewhere: for some it is pastoral care, for others it is religious life, for others yet it is the political commitment of Christians, etc. The answer from New York, but also from Singapore, from Gabon or from Chile(2) is that it is the Mass that matters, as Michael Davies used to day; it is always at the heart of the question, and is therefore the answer. Without falling into supernaturalism, since faith and sacraments without works are dead, the Mass does remain the most efficacious and universal answer Catholics can bring to the crisis of the modern world, to the extent that it is a perfect summary of the ideal Christendom that the Church pursues. 

1) The Pew Research Center made a study on American ex-Catholics and concluded that one North American in ten is a former Catholic; see here.

2) For the first time ever a Summorum Pontificum conference will be held in Chile next month, 21-23 July. Cardinal Medina Estévez, onetime prefect of Divine Worship, will be give the keynote address.