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Latin traditional tridentine indult Mass

hugh of grenoble - godfrey of amiens - calixtus ii - robert grosseteste

Rev. Rama Coomaraswamy


Of course Rome is aware of the conflict that these issues have produced and has moved to ease our consciences. It has provided us with an 'Indult Mass' (often called the 'Latin Mass,' and mistakenly even the 'Tridentine Mass.') This Mass established by John XXIII to test the reaction of the Laity to ritual change (and which incidentally destroyed the traditional Breviary which is the spiritual nourishment of the priest), altered relatively few things and retained unquestionable validity. Initially, to take advantage of this, one had to go to the chancery office and sign a statement accepting both the new mass and the teachings of Vatican II. This was equivalent to stating that one had no doctrinal objections to the new mass or Vatican II, and simply preferred the older forms of worship on aesthetic grounds. While this is no longer required, it is implicit in the Indult, and current Rome has made it clear that the Indult Mass is a temporary measure aimed at keeping the disaffected within the new church - that it will eventually be phased out completely. Beyond this, the Indult Mass is not easy to find - it is forbidden in some dioceses, allowed only once or twice a month in others, and usually in remote churches at awkward hours. Priests who provide this service to the laity do so on tables (not altars) and often use hosts 'consecrated' at previously said novus ordo masses. And finally, unless the officiating priest was consecrated prior to 1968, one can have no certainty that he has the power to consecrate anything.12

A Catholic cannot embrace an opinion in religious matters that goes against reason. While some things are above reason, such as the Trinity, they are not contra to reason. If a conservative novus ordo Catholic rejects some of the teachings of Vatican II, and/or if he refuses to attend the novus ordo missae, he must acknowledge the fact that he is denying the authority of the post-Conciliar 'popes.' He may have good grounds for doing this, for no one has the right to change our faith -not even as St. Paul tells us, an angel from heaven. But he cannot do this while proclaiming that he is a loyal follower of these 'popes.' If these individuals are true popes, let us stop playing games and understand that they have authority; Christ's authority. Let us then accept their teachings and their governance and stop trying to be 'traditional.' If I accepted their authority, I would never attend a Tridentine Mass or argue against any of the propositions in Vatican II that I don't approve of. Once Rome has spoken, the matter is settled.

This is not just a problem for the conservative Novus Ordo Catholic. One meets with numerous Traditional Catholics who insist on the Tridentine Mass, but refuse to accept the Church's teaching with regard to Baptism of Desire - one such individual recently assuring me that St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine and several other doctors of the Church were in error with regard to this subject. Another traditional priest informs me that the women in his congregation refuse to cover their heads during Mass because it is old fashioned. More recently a clerical colleague of mine was asked to say Mass in a remote area, but was told by the lay committee that he could not discuss certain doctrinal issues in his sermon. Traditional priests are plagued with lay theologians and canonists who think they know better how to run the Church and just what is acceptable and what is not. One could provide a long list of similar examples, but the point is clear. These individuals are also taking only those parts of the Church's teaching which they find acceptable - the rest they are happy to leave behind.

We see in this situation, not a debate about how to delineate the post-Conciliar 'popes' but a crisis in the concept of authority. A religion based on revelation can never be a democratic organization. Just as within the soul, one must have a hierarchy of values. One cannot allow feelings or prejudices to have the same value as Truth. So also in religion, Truth must be the supreme criteria. One of the first official attacks against this principle was Vatican II's teaching on Collegiality. But the concept goes deeper. We live in an atmosphere where our thinking has been strongly influenced by the dominant liberal ideation which can be summarized as 'what's true for you is true for you, but may well not be true for me.' Bringing this into the field of religion, many Catholics of both the conservative novus ordo variety as well as those who proclaim themselves to be traditional have decided that they (or sometimes Father X) will decide just what is traditional and acceptable to them. This tendency to decide for oneself just what is and isn't acceptable I have labeled Laissez Faire Catholicism. This has become so prevalent among certain traditional groups that the laity have no compunction about telling priests what they may or may not say in their sermons, and the Good Lord help those priests who do not say the Mass the way some group thinks it should be said. A Dominican priest I know has at times been criticized because people are unaware that the Dominican rite is slightly different from the Roman.

What then of traditional priests or laity who deny the authority of the current 'popes,' on the grounds that they would have to apostatize from the faith if they accepted their teachings. They must also base their decisions on authority, and indeed follow some authority apart from personal opinion in what they teach and do. If the post-Conciliar 'popes' have defected from the Faith (which is the only grounds which would allow us to disobey them) then the Faith remains intact. And we must give that Faith our submission and obedience. Now that faith is incorporated in the living Magisterium of the Church. Most traditional priests will adhere to the Magisterium up to the time of the death of Pius XII, and considering the See of Peter to be without authority after his death, refuse to accept either Vatican II or the liturgical and sacramental changes that followed. It is true that they lack formal jurisdiction, but they see that the jurisdiction available to them through normal channels from the post-Conciliar church gives them permission to say the mass of Luther - a mass that is a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, but no longer a sacrifice of propitiation and immolation.. Now, if they lack formal jurisdiction because of the present emergency situation, the Church provides them with jurisdiction under the principle of Epekeia as expounded in Canon 188 of the 1917 Code. At the same time, they abide by the 1917 Code in every thing that is possible. (God may ask us to be reasonable, but being reasonable Himself, does not ask of us the impossible.) When a traditional bishop is available, they align themselves with him and seek his advise when canonical decisions have to be made. Certainly such is not ideal, but they consider themselves much like priests functioning in Communist Russia during an earlier period. Their task was to provide teaching and sacraments to the faithful and often they went for years without contact with higher authorities. Fortunately, most problems have occurred over the centuries and indeed the decisions of the Church as incorporated in the Magisterium are more than sufficient to carry us both now and in the future.

Unfortunately, traditional priests suffer from what seems to be an interminable about of bickering over minor issues. They agree on 99% of issues, but spend enormous amounts of energy fighting about the small residua. These problems are resolvable with good will and one can only hope that their recognition of the common authority that directs their lives will enable them to do this.

It can properly be asked if Ecclesiastical history provides us with a parallel situation. Perhaps the closest example is the case of Pope Paschal II who reigned between 1099 and 1118. It was a period when the battles between the Church and State were fiercely raging - he issue in question was that of 'investiture' - in essence, who should appoint the members of the hierarchy (bishops): the Church or the Emperor? It was a particularly touchy matter as the bishops of the Church in that era controlled large tracts of land which were obliged to provide the state with soldiers and support in the event of war. The issue had been settled in an Ecumenical council during the reign of his predecessor Gregory VII, and this after great struggles. The Church was to retain control of their appointment, but the traditional feudal obligations of land owners towards the temporal authority was to be preserved.

Despite this the issue was of such great importance that Henry V, Emperor of Germany, actually invaded Italy and made the pope a prisoner. For two months Paschal II was subjected to the most fearful threats and cruel treatment. Finally, under pressure from his own fellow-captive bishops, he signed a treaty with the king allowing him to invest by 'ring and crozier' - spiritual symbols - [both lay and cleric] and further signed away to the emperor the right of deciding between rival claimants in contested elections and the privilege of rejecting papal appointments. He also surrendered to the king monastic lands and possessions. This treaty in essence gave the king complete control of the Church's hierarchy in over half the territory of Europe. Further, the Pope swore not to avenge himself on the Emperor for his actions and never to revoke the treaty if he was released.

When he was released the Pope felt bound by his oath and hesitated to repudiate this treaty. Godfrey, the zealous Abbot of Nendome, contrasted his actions with the heroic resolution of the martyrs of old, and particularly with the examples of SS. Peter and Paul. He wrote to the Pope that 'if the successor of the Apostles has disregarded their example, he should hasten, if he would not forfeit their glorious crown, to undo and repair what he had done, and like a second Peter, expiate his fault with tears of repentance.' Lay investiture, he added, whereby power was granted to laymen to convey possessions, and therewith jurisdiction in spiritual matters, was equivalent to the denial of the faith, destructive of the liberty of the Church, and out-and-out heresy.

The Abbot of Monte Cassino, when ordered to surrender the monastic lands, refused. 'I love you,' he wrote to the Pope, 'as my lord and as my father, and I have no desire for another as pope. But the Lord has said, 'whosoever loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me...' As for this outrageous treaty, wrung from you by violence and treachery, how can I praise it? Or indeed, how can you...? Your own laws have condemned and excommunicated the cleric who submits to lay investiture...'

Another prelate, the Archbishop of Lyons, urged the pope in still stronger terms: 'Detestable pilot that your are, in times of peace a bully, and before the storm a coward.'

The Archbishop of Vienne, Paschal's own legate in France, called a Council and declared lay investiture to be heretical, and proceeded to excommunicate Henry V. At this Council, three subsequently canonized saints - Ss. Bruno, St. Hugh of Grenoble and St. Godfrey of Amiens, as well as a future Pope, Calixtus ii - all stated that unless he revoked his agreement with the Emperor, 'we should be obliged to withdraw our allegiance from you.' The Pope admitted he was wrong and rectified his error. At still another Council he said 'I confess that I failed and ask you to pray to God to pardon me.'

Another example is that of Robert Grosseteste. He was a doctor of Theology at Oxford when it was a center of Catholic learning. Now he was one of the staunchest defenders of the papacy, comparing the Pontiff to the Sun which illuminates the visible world. After he reluctantly accepted the bishopric of Lincoln, he was asked by the Pope to appoint an absentee priest (the Pope's new nephew) to one of the prebends of the diocese, a situation in which the priest received the income from a parish while he lived in Rome. Here is his response:

'It is not possible that the most holy Apostolic See to which has been handed down by the Holy of Holies, the Lord Jesus Christ, all manner of power, according to the Apostle, for edification and not for destruction, or command or in any way attempt anything verging upon this kind of sin, which is so hateful to Jesus Christ, detestable, abominable and pernicious to the human race. For this would be evidently a falling off and corruption and abuse of its most holy and plenary power... No faithful subject of the Holy See, no man who is not cut away by schism from the Body of Christ and the same Holy See, can submit to mandates, precepts, or any other demonstrations of this kind, no, not even if the author were the most high body of angels. He must needs repudiate them and rebel against them with all his strength. BECAUSE OF THE OBEDIENCE BY WHICH IA AM BOUND TO THE HOLY SEE, AS TO MY PARENTS, AND OUT OF MY LOVE OF MY UNION WITH THE HOLY SEE IN THE BODY OF CHRIST AS AN OBEDIENT SON, I DISOBEY, I CONTRADICT, I REBEL. You cannot take action against me, for my every word and act is not rebellion, but the filial honor due to God's command to father and mother. As I have said, the Apostolic See in its holiness cannot destroy, it can only build. This is what the plenitude of power means; it can do all things to edification. But these so-called provisions do not build up, they destroy...'

The pope was at first quite angry, but after consultation with others recognized that Grosseteste was correct and withdrew his demand. Grosseteste process for canonization was incidentally interrupted by the Reformation conflicts.

What conclusions should be drawn from all this. I would suggest that we must return to a hierarchical concept of religion. If we believe the post-Conciliar 'popes' are true popes, truly Christ's representative, functioning to bring the Church into the next millennium, let us obey them and follow ALL their teachings and obey ALL their commands. Let us stop playing games about what is acceptable and what is not. If on the other hand, we realize that to do this would force us to apostatize from the Faith, then let us withdraw our obedience from them and seek that residual authority - still a full authority - that comes from following Christ. There was a time when you could go to any priest with a question and get the same answer because the Church was a monolithic structure. Such no longer is the case and indeed, one can hardly find two priests who will give the same answer to any given question. Hence it is that we must make the effort to know just what the teaching of the Church is on many subjects. This requires work, but is highly rewarding - and indeed, if our religion is worth anything, it is certainly worth the effort we put into studying such things as the stock market. Otherwise, we will fall into the trap of picking and choosing what we feel we should believe and our children will fall away from the Faith. This has a further implication. There was a time when one could speak of falling away from the Faith. Now our children are falling away from a variety of Faiths precisely because we have been put in the position of teaching them a variety of faiths. Instead of arguing about how to characterize the 'popes,' (which in fact admits their defective nature), let us constantly ask ourselves 'by what authority.' By what authority are we to live our lives and save our souls.

One last caveat. In the present confusion many individuals take it upon themselves to direct the lives of others. For example, one nun tells people that they should not go to the Novus Ordo Missae because it is heretical, but that they should also not go to the traditional Mass because the traditional priests do not have jurisdiction. Yet another informs us that the Church is dead, and discourages any and all from going to any Mass. Still others advocate adhering to the pseudo-religious cult of Michael Davies or the Abbe of Nantes. Now the principle is clear. It is always legitimate to encourage others to follow the teachings of the Church. However, one's private solution to the present situation which certainly one is obliged in conscience to follow oneself, is one thing. To foster said solution on others without clear mandate is quite another.

For example, Michael Davies insistence that those going to a traditional Mass should ask the priest if he says una cum is a classical example in which he takes a magisterial function upon himself - and this quite apart from the fact that if one is una cum with John Paul II, one has no business saying or going to a Tridentine Mass. (The Indult Mass is implicitly is una cum.) When lay people presume to give spiritual direction to others (apart from explaining and encouraging adherence to the teachings of the Church), they assume an awesome responsibility for that persons soul and will have to answer for it.


12 The ordaining of priests, and the consecrating of bishops were significantly changed in 1968. It is a Catholic teaching that a dubious sacrament is not a valid sacrament. Holy Orders and especially the consecration of bishops since that time is to say the least, dubious. See my The Problems with the Other Sacraments, TAN, in press.

latin mass - tridentine mass - indult - priest - novus ordo - traditional - collegiality - see of peter - abbot - archbishop - bruno - hugh of grenoble - godfrey of amiens - calixtus ii - robert grosseteste

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