Pope Benedict has gone a long way in making the extraordinary form of the Mass not only permissible, but as available as possible for those who wish to pray in that manner. Elbow room in the Catholic Church just got bigger. So now we know we can do it, but it is not entirely clear how we do it. It is another great experiment within the Church.
My parish is on the cutting edge of this movement. It is a strong, typical parish and did not need to begin celebrating the extraordinary form Mass in order to lure more people in the doors so that we could keep the lights on as is the case in many places. The Mass was begun as a service to the community in response to a real need in the area owing to a number of circumstances in play.
The pope has made it clear that there are not to be “extraordinary form” parishes but that both forms must coexist. This may sound easy enough but it requires much more than simply adding another Mass to the schedule. There are all kinds of “I never thought of that”s that come into play as we discover how one parish can provide both legitimate forms of the Mass.
To begin, the calendars do not necessarily coincide. For example there may be a feast in the ordinary form that is on a different day in the extraordinary form. At one Mass the altar may be decked out in green and the next one would need purple. This may seem minor and in many ways it is, but it something that one needs to be mindful about when doing anything in the church.
The cycle of readings is also most often different. A priest may have to prepare one homily for the ordinary form and another for the extraordinary.
Is it possible to simply redo the calendar for the extraordinary form? Perhaps. It would be wonderful to add some Masses such as for Saints that are more recently canonized. But I can only imagine the work involved in this process. If it took English speaking countries so long to come with our current English Missal, what might it be like to try to get the whole world to produce a new common Latin extraordinary form Missal?
Another area to look at is rubrical changes that affect the extraordinary form. Some laws do not change – especially those governing the Mass itself. Others do change. One is the Eucharistic fast. One need not fast from midnight until one receives Communion at the extraordinary form because the universal law has been changed. Nowhere however, as far as I am aware, are all of these things systematically written out and much advice must be sought.
Perhaps most importantly of all is the uniting of the entire community. We work hard to not have those who attend those who attend the extraordinary form of the Mass appear to be “the Latin Mass community at Saint Soandso.” Some of this is being very careful about the language that is used. One must guard against terms such as “their Mass” and “our Mass.” They are all just the Mass and we are one community. (As a side note, the extraordinary form of the Mass in not the “Latin Mass.” Any Mass may be prayed in Latin. The proper term is the extraordinary form.)
It also takes awhile to be vigilant on making sure that all parishioners are treated equally – such as in remembering to invite all to everything. This may seem obvious and easy enough, but it can be trickier than you think. Here are two examples. One is Donut Sunday. We have parish groups that volunteer to do this. That used to mean that a parish group might have to be going about the business of set up and serving donuts from about 8AM until 1PM. All of sudden beginning one weekend it meant 8AM until about 3PM. That is a long Sunday for volunteers. So how do you handle that? (Only wet babies like change.)
Even when you are sensitive to these issues things fall through the cracks. An usher’s meeting was held just before Christmas and during the opening prayer I realized to my horror that nobody had thought of inviting the new ushers from the extraordinary form of the Mass! Needless to say that became the first topic on the agenda and I had to apologize profusely to the 1:00 ushers (who were pretty good chaps about it.)
The idea of equal treatment extends to other things as well. Not wanting to treat any group of people within the parish as a separate community, we as priests at our parish often have the discussion about if we do something at one Mass, are we willing to do them at all Masses. And what of special requests – what does the parish offer the community at large and when can exceptions be made and where is the line that drawn so that exceptions don’t start dividing the community?
So far it has been a wonderful experiment. We’ve had some bumps but fortunately most people are understanding. There has also been promising developments of persons on both sides of the ordinary/extraordinary preferences visiting back and forth between forms. (That is a sign of health in my view.) The extraordinary form is also attracting additional converts to the parish we might not have had before; a couple to be welcomed into the Catholic Church within the next month and hopefully a few others on their way.
This is a unique period within the life of the Church. Those in such parishes are pioneers. We could certainly do things better and we most likely will as we cautiously figure our way, doing our best to navigate a parish community that likes everything from the ordinary form and folk music to the extraordinary form and Gregorian chant. It is a microcosm of a much larger Church that is incredibly diverse yet holds together at its center: the Eucharist.