Going backwards to go forwards.

From Life Site News (my emphasis):

A historic U.S. Catholic Church has escaped closure thanks to the return of the traditional Latin Mass.

St. Mary’s Church on Broadway in Providence, Rhode Island was the focus of a WPRI news spot this past Sunday because the ancient liturgy now being celebrated there has increased the congregation, leading to a fuller collection basket and thus a future for the 150-year-old church. St. Mary’s “is going back in time in order to move forward,” said WPRI News reporter Julianne Lima in the two-minute report…

the church has been saved thanks to the current Bishop of Providence. In August 2018, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin asked a liturgically traditional order of priests to take charge of St. Mary’s. Father John Berg of the Fraternity of the Priests of Saint Peter (FSSP) is now the pastor and offers Mass solely in the traditional form … the restoration drew Catholics from all over New England to St. Mary’s: the average parishioner now travels for 45 minutes to attend or, to use traditional language, “assist” at the Mass… ‘It will never close now,’ (a parishioner) told WPRI News.

Here is the website for St. Mary's in Providence, RI. In particular, I want to direct your attention to the Activities tab. Look at each subtab: the St. Mary’s calendar, the Server's Guild, the Rosa Mystica Girls Society. Let me sketch a few points, and make comparisons.

What St. Mary’s offers, and (in my experience) all the FSSP parishes offer, is a “full community life”, to borrow a phrase from one of the parishioners in the Life Site article. That means, first and foremost, Masses offered weekly, and all Holy Days, at accessible times, in the main part of the church building. Not at some weird time or place (7AM, 6PM, basement or side chapel, what have you). When the TLM is only offered in a parish at some off the wall time and/or place, that only emphasizes the general notion out there in Catholic land that the TLM is just some weird thing, and makes it profoundly difficult for the TLM to flourish.

“Full community life” also means that there are other things that regularly go on that draw laity into, and strengthen the life of, the parish. These include items such as those under the “Activities” tab. In my experience they also include things like most excellent weekly after Mass gatherings for refreshment and socialization. Some Novus ordo parishes do some of these “community life” things, and some do them well. Others don’t do them at all.

Which brings me to the comparisons.

To the best of my knowledge, the FSSP won’t have a parish with only one priest. There’s always two priests, or at least a priest and a rotating FSSP seminarian. Also, to the best of my knowledge, there are no cluster parishes in the FSSP world. There are two men running one church building. Thus, they are able to focus on one parish, and devote all of their attention to it’s many needs. Finally, and this is really important: the FSSP congregation is self-selected. The people there want to be there, they are not a cross section of the modern American Catholic world. The FSSP priest individually offers no fewer masses on a daily basis as his Novus ordo confrere, and has the same sorts of management headaches, as his Novus ordo brother, but he is doing it all in the same place, the same building, the same congregation. There is only one set of bills, one parking lot needing to be plowed and, most importantly, one (generally heavily invested) congregation.

In the Novus ordo world, you have one parish priest, and maybe a parochial vicar or two, running two, three, five, or more individual churches which were once upon a time separate parishes with their own priests but now have been clustered into a single uber-parish. Thus, you have the priest running out of the 8AM Sunday mass in one church to get to the 10:30AM mass across town, with the 6PM mass out at the other church over the hill and far away yet to come. While the individual priest has limits on the number of masses he can say in a day, it’s still a lot schedule coordination between the (usually multiple) priests, and a lot of driving around and refocusing. Plus, the parish priest has maybe a dozen buildings (church buildings, rectories, parish halls, etc) he has to manage. Finally, unlike the FSSP priests, the N.O cluster parish priest has as many different congregations (with their own needs, wants and oddities) as there are church buildings in the cluster. These congregations are, unlike the self-selected FSSP congregation, a cross section of American Catholics today, and they are every bit as fragmented and fractured as Americans are in general.

Add to that the fact that most (not all) N.O. priests don’t know anything about Latin (although it is supposed to be taught in seminary) and don’t know anything about the TLM. Finally, even priests who are well intentioned towards the TLM know that, were they to try to anything that might suggest “traditional Catholicism”, some of their parishioners (generally of a certain very vocal “boomer” generation of which I am embarrassed to be a member) would simply disapparate.

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Nobody needs that.

Last, but by no means least, is the diocesan bishop. The bishop can be a big support to a parish priest trying to bring Tradition to his parish. He can also be big thumb in the eye. And then there is this: once upon a time not too long ago, a priest was assigned to a parish more or less for life. Problem priests could be removed for grave reasons, but in general “parish priest” was a lifetime appointment. In the past few decades, however, the practice has appeared where bishops arbitrarily move priests around every few years. Thus, there is no incentive for a priest to get too heavily invested in long term projects in his parish: build a new school, build a new church, build a new catechetical program, build a robust altar server program, build a Latin Mass. Why should he? All his efforts may just go down the tubes when the bishop decides to move him out and move in a new man who isn’t interested in, say, a school, a catechetical program, or training altar servers, or Tradition.

Our Diocesan priests who want to offer the TLM have many impediments, we laity need to be aware of them. We laity cannot offer Mass, and we cannot decide how a Mass, whether a TLM or Novus ordo missae is done, or whether the Mass is done poorly or well. That is the priest’s responsibility. We can, however, understand the obstacles the priests have, and do what we can in terms of time, talent, and treasure, to assist him.

Curate, ut valeatis.

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