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Return to the Traditional Mass:
How long must we wait?

by James W. Bannister, B.A., LL.B.

These have been difficult times for those devoted to the Latin liturgy. Since the accession of Benedict XVI to the Throne of St. Peter, traditionalists have been eagerly anticipating a motu proprio which will lift supposed restrictions on the Tridentine Mass. But it has not come. When, we ask impatiently, will the Holy Father give the word?

A well‑known figure in traditionalist circles, Monsignor Michael Schmitz, was interviewed recently by the (UK) Catholic Herald. Msgr. Schmitz is Vicar‑General of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest (ICRSS) and Provincial Superior of its American branch. On the timing of the motu proprio, he said, “Recently, we have been thinking that any day it will come. But we may still be thinking that in 30 years’ time.”

Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior‑General of the Society of Saint Pius X, recently stated that if Benedict‑Ratzinger ever releases any new “indult” for the Mass of 1962, it will be “most probably at the end of the year, or even later.”

It seems that every time we get our hopes up, we experience disappointment. Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict XVI’s recent exhortation on the majesty of the Eucharist, was one such disappointment. Although in that document the Pontiff called for better music and the wider use of Latin, both of which are much to be desired, it appears to call more for a “reform of the reform” than for a return to the Mass of All Time.

We are led to wonder whether the Holy Father really wants a return to the Traditional Mass. “Before he became Pope,” Msgr. Schmitz observes, “he offered many indications that there should be continuity. The Church cannot ban a liturgy that has been hers for the greatest part of her history.” He opines that a return to the 1962 Mass would be a “logical continuation” from Sacramentum Caritatis.

“I believe that within the text of Sacramentum Caritatis there are some hints,” Msgr. Schmitz said in the interview. “A return to...the Traditional Mass would have a logical connection with this exhortation.” But he wants something better, something more definitive. “A document alone, with the best intentions, does not create a new world or lifestyle. ... We would be even more grateful if by an official document the Holy Father would make it known that the Mass of Always is still the Mass of Always and has come out of the closet.”

Why does the Pope not “just do it”? Apparently there is strong opposition from many Cardinals and bishops not just in the Vatican (where the spirit of Vatican II is still alive, it seems) but in various national bishops conferences. The German conference sent a letter to the Holy Father agreeing with the French bishops conference that they did not want a new “indult”. The Americans are also said to be strongly opposed.

But surely, in spite of the Vatican II “spirit of collegiality”, the Pope is still Christ’s Vicar, the head of Christ’s Holy Church. If a new “indult” is really the Holy Father’s wish, all he has to do is to sign his name to the motu proprio which (rumor has it) has already been written.

Let us pray that Benedict XVI will do what he must surely know he should do ... before thirty years and before he has to face his Eternal Judge.