Dear Friend of Catholic Answers:
A few days ago I hiked up White Mountain, at 14,246 feet the third highest peak in California, and then drove 400 miles home, arriving at the stroke of midnight. Fatigue hit me hard, and I slept deeply. I had an unusually vivid dream. At least I think it was a dream ...
I found myself in a large cathedral. A bishop was in the ambo. I could not tell whether he had just concluded his homily or had returned to the ambo at the end of Mass.
The first several pews were occupied by priests--the diocese's entire contingent, I supposed. Laymen occupied the rest of the pews and stood packed together in the aisles and in the vestibule. There was an air of expectancy, as the bishop stood motionless, apparently gathering his thoughts. Then he looked up. To the best of my recollection, this is what he said:
"My brother priests, my dear people: I want to speak to you today about the Holy Father's recent motu proprio, 'Summorum Pontificum,' and how it will be implemented in our diocese. This, as you know, is the document concerning what is commonly called the 'old Latin Mass' or the 'Tridentine Mass.'
"Ours was one of the first dioceses to make provisions for the so-called Indult Mass. My predecessor allowed those who were fond of the old Mass to have it celebrated each Sunday in the chapel of the monastery on the hill. This seemed sufficient to him, and, when I was transferred to this diocese, it seemed sufficient to me. I honestly thought that there was so little interest in the old Mass that there was no reason to extend its use.
"So it has been for the many years I have led this diocese. But then, some months ago, I heard the first reports about a possible motu proprio. I found myself one day praying that the Holy Spirit would enlighten me about his will regarding what I should do if such a motu proprio ever came to pass.
"It was a brief, almost off-the-cuff prayer, but it was sincere. The next morning I awoke with a sure knowledge of what I ought to do. I was a bit surprised, not often having had a sense of a real answer to prayer. I took this sureness as a sign from God to go ahead.
"What I did was to begin studying how to celebrate the old Mass in Latin. As you may remember, when I came to this diocese, my language skills were modest. They still are. It took me a long time to learn enough Spanish to celebrate Mass in that language. I hope, after all these years, that I have learned to do so competently. That I was able to pick up Spanish gave me confidence that I could pick up Latin. After all, the languages are related.
"Studying has not been easy for me, but I am pleased to say that I think my Latin is now sufficient for the task, and so I announce to you that, on September 16, the first Sunday after the motu proprio goes into effect, I will celebrate Mass in this cathedral according to the Missal of Bl. John XXIII--and I will continue to celebrate Mass in the old form at least once each Sunday that I am in town.
"Of course, I will continue to celebrate Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI--that is, using the form you have been used to for nearly four decades--in English or Spanish, as appropriate.
"Today I am not telling you only what I will do. I also am telling you what I hope--even expect--the priests of this dioceses to do. I am taking to heart the aspirations of the Holy Father, as given in the motu proprio, and I hope my brother priests and all of you will do likewise.
"I urge each of our priests to learn Latin sufficiently to be able to celebrate Mass according to the old form. The diocese will help with securing instruction for you. We will bring into the diocese priests from religious orders that have been celebrating the old Mass exclusively, under papal approval. They will help you not only with the language but also with the rubrics.
"I hereby give each pastor authority to institute in his own parish one or more Masses according to the Missal of Bl. John XXIII, beginning September 16 or as early as practicable thereafter, given each priest's ability to become proficient in celebrating in Latin. For the time being, these Masses shall be restricted to mornings, beginning not earlier than 8:00 a.m. and not later than noon. These hours apply both to weekends and weekdays. There will be no Saturday evening or Sunday afternoon Masses in the old form without my explicit permission.
"No parish will be mandated to celebrate Mass under the old form, except for parishes that now have five or more Masses from Saturday evening through Sunday afternoon. All such parishes must institute at least one Mass in the old form no later than the first Sunday in Advent in 2008. Such Masses may be instituted sooner than that, but this schedule permits priests enough time to get up to speed with the Latin language and with the rubrics.
"I have heard a few priests--none from our diocese, of course!--grumble that they are too old or too ignorant to learn the Latin needed for Mass. I have much confidence in our priests, and I know that if I have been able to learn what needs to be learned, my brother priests will have little trouble doing so when given twice the time to study.
"Pastors of parishes with five or more weekend Masses who believe themselves incapable of instituting these Masses within the allotted time are invited to consult with me regarding alternative parish assignments.
"Now let me speak not to our priests but to our lay people. Some of you, I know, remember the old Mass and look forward to its free availability. Others of you, much too young to have known that Mass, look forward to it because you are seeking a depth or sense of reverence that you have had trouble finding in the current form. But most of you, I think, are unsure whether you will be comfortable at a Mass in Latin. You do not know the language and have no time--and perhaps no interest--in learning it.
"I understand that. Do not let yourself be put off by unnecessary worries. I remember when, as a youth, all Masses were in Latin. I did not know the language in those years--you may recall that I attended public schools and not Catholic schools and so had no chance for instruction in Latin--but I had no problem following the Mass because the missals used by those of us in the pews had Latin and English on facing pages.
"To make the transition as easy and as inexpensive as possible for those Catholics of this diocese who will opt to attend the Mass in its old form, the diocese will arrange to purchase at discount a large number of Latin-English missals (and Latin-Spanish missals, if we can locate them). These will be made available to you at our cost. They will be simple but serviceable. Of course, you will be free to obtain your own, nicer missals if you wish.
"To help further with the transition, I am instructing our priests to use in Sunday vernacular Masses the first Eucharistic prayer. This is the one most similar to the canon of the old Mass. It is the most formal and the most traditional of the many Eucharistic prayers that a priest may choose from. I believe that if those who prefer to attend Mass in the vernacular get used to this Eucharistic prayer, they will feel more confident about trying out the old Mass.
"To make this transition easier yet, I am instructing our priests to use at all Sunday Masses in the new form the Greek Kyrie instead of the vernacular Kyrie and the Latin Agnus Dei instead of the vernacular Agnus Dei. I invite them to incorporate Latin elsewhere too, where permitted by the rubrics that govern the Missal of Paul VI.
"Lastly, I instruct our priests to be generous toward their parishioners. The Holy Father, in his motu proprio, says that parishes should offer the old form of the Mass when there can be shown to be a stable group of parishioners who desire to assist at the old form. He has set no minimum number for such a group, and neither do I. An initial group might consist of a handful of people.
"It is my intuition that over time a fair proportion of our lay people will come to prefer the old form. That is why I have mandated that parishes with five or more weekend Masses offer at least one in the old form.
"Perhaps some of you, both priests and lay people, look forward to these changes with a little trepidation. If so, I hope you will come to see these changes as an opportunity for a deepening of our common Catholic faith, not as something that will pit one Catholic against another or one parish against another.
"I have made these decisions with a sense of peace. I believe I am working under the promptings given me by the Holy Spirit, both in my office as a successor to the apostles and, more immediately, in answer to the prayer I mentioned earlier. I hope you will join me now in prayer, as our diocese moves forward in union not just with the letter but also with the spirit of the Holy Father's motu proprio."
... And then I woke up.