Opportunity & Crisis
October 2007By Pieter Vree
When Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, we let out a cry of "Three Cheers for the Panzercardinal " (Editorial, June 2005). We had been praying that John Paul II's successor would be "more traditional, a much better administrator, more insistent on orthodoxy in the Church..., but no less saintly than John Paul." We felt that our prayers were answered with the election of Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope.
But in our June 2005 Editorial we warned that "Cardinal Ratzinger at age 78 knows he cannot dilly-dally. There's a lot of disciplinary work to be done.... We expect him to clean house." Instead, we got over two more years of the status quo. We could discern no new direction under Benedict, and sense no urgency on his part to confront the various crises facing the Church. Rather, Benedict continued John Paul's practice of puzzling promotions, and variously issued and signed off on fuzzy and speculative documents. Benedict did not implement the restructuring of the Roman Curia that was widely anticipated. We wondered if perhaps power and popularity had clouded his vision. Perhaps he was overwhelmed by the challenges. Perhaps he got bogged down by the Vatican bureaucracy he was expected to trim.
And then -- boom! -- Benedict makes a remarkable move, one that will likely go down as the defining moment of his papacy. On July 7, with the publication of his motu proprio (a document written of his own initiative and addressed to the entire Church), titled Summorum Pontificum, Benedict liberated the Tridentine Latin Mass from the general suppression it has suffered since the imposition of the New Mass by Pope Paul VI in 1970. Hallelujah! This was the type of bold stroke we expected from Benedict XVI, and he finally delivered. History may prove Patrick Buchanan correct that "Benedict XVI will take no action greater in significance for the Catholic Church than his motu proprio..." (World Net Daily, July 7). The Tridentine Mass is celebrated using the Missale Romanum codified by Pope St. Pius V in 1570 and most recently revised by Pope John XXIII in 1962. The Mass itself, which dates back some 1,500 years, is aptly called the "Mass of the Ages."
Predictably, the reaction to Benedict's Summorum Pontificum among the episcopal powers-that-be, in the U.S. and the world over, has been lukewarm, for the most part. Carlo Cardinal Martini, the former Archbishop of Milan and a notorious liberal, told ABC News (July 10) that if asked to celebrate the Tridentine Latin Mass, "I will not do it." Msgr. Luca Brandolini, an Italian bishop and a member of the Liturgical Committee of the Italian Episcopal Conference, wept upon reading Benedict's motu proprio: "I am living the saddest day of my life as a priest, as a bishop, and as a man.... I feel as if wounded in my heart..." (Inside the Vatican News Flash, July 11). Even the papal Latinist, Fr. Reginald Foster, who has held that position for 38 years, pooh-poohs the Tridentine Mass: "It is a useless mass," he told the Sunday Telegraph (Jan. 27; some six months before Benedict issued his motu proprio), "and the whole mentality is stupid." Fr. Foster incorrectly predicted that Benedict would not dare to liberate the Tridentine Mass. Additionally, five French bishops and 30 priests issued an open letter late last year protesting Benedict's impending motu proprio.
Msgr. James P. Moroney, the Executive Director of the U.S. Bishops' Secretariat for the Liturgy, said, "I'm not certain that there will be a significant increase in the number of requests for celebration of the 1962 missal" (Catholic News Service, Aug. 6). Raymond L. Delisle, a spokesman for the Diocese of Worcester, Mass., speculates that "It could be that the pope's decision is big news for just a small group of people" (Worcester Telegram & Gazette, July 10). On the contrary, we believe this is big news for the entire Church.
At the indult Latin Mass at St. Ann's in Harvard, in Delisle's Diocese of Worcester, three walls of the chapel had to be knocked down to make room for the crowds. Said Sr. Margaret Mary Baravella, "There were just so many people interested that we had to find some space." At St. John's in McLean, Va., Pastor Franklyn McAfee said, "The people here really want it [the Tridentine Mass]. All sorts of prominent people have asked me for it." Pat Buchanan notes that "the number of Catholics requesting the Tridentine Rite -- and the number attending -- has steadily grown." Msgr. Michael Schmitz, Vicar General of Institute of Christ the King, said, "Whenever the Latin rite is celebrated, you get many young people.... This is a nationwide phenomenon."
Two insights can be gleaned from the differing reactions to Benedict's motu proprio at the institutional level and the parish level of the Church.
First, it is apparent that many prelates don't believe that Summorum Pontificum will have any real effect -- or don't want it to. If left up to them, Summorum Pontificum would likely be received the way John Paul II's Ex Corde Ecclesia was received -- as a dead letter from a distant and out-of-touch Pontiff. And the Church would continue its slow but steady decline.
Second, the success or failure of Summorum Pontificum, and the Latin Mass revival, will be determined by us, the laity. It was precisely in response to the popular upsurge in requests for the Tridentine Mass that Benedict issued his motu proprio. In his letter to bishops that accompanied Summorum Pontificum, Benedict tells the bishops that "young persons too have discovered this liturgical form and felt its attraction.... Thus the need has arisen for a clearer juridical regulation...."
Benedict's bold stroke is the empowerment of the laity. In one of the most pertinent passages of Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict says in Article 5§1, "In parishes where there is a stable group of faithful who adhere to the earlier liturgical tradition, the pastor should willingly accept their requests to celebrate the Mass according to the rite of the Roman Missal published in 1962..." (italics added). The Pope continues in Article 7, "If a group of lay faithful, as mentioned in Art. 5§1, has not obtained satisfaction to their requests from the pastor, they should inform the diocesan bishop. The bishop is strongly requested to satisfy their wishes" (italics added). If the bishop can't satisfy the lay faithful's request, "the matter should be referred to the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei." Benedict has, in essence, established a grievance procedure for the laity, to ensure that requests for the Tridentine Latin Mass are satisfied. Benedict means business!
John Paul II, in his July 2, 1988, motu proprio, titled Ecclesia Dei, told the bishops that "respect must everywhere be shown for the feelings of all those who are attached to the Latin liturgical tradition, by a wide and generous application of the directives already issued some time ago by the Apostolic See for the use of the Roman Missal according to the typical edition of 1962." Begging bishops' respect and generosity didn't work. Benedict clearly realizes that.
But in order to empower the laity, Benedict had to de-power the episcopacy. In his letter to bishops that accompanied Summorum Pontificum, Benedict tells the bishops that "these new norms do not in any way lessen your own authority...." Really? Previously, with Ecclesia Dei, bishops decided where, and whether or not, to allow the celebration of the Tridentine Mass in their parishes. Now the decision-making power in regard to the availability of the Tridentine Mass has been stripped from the bishops and handed over to us, the laity, who have ultimate recourse to the Vatican's Ecclesia Dei Commission, way above the heads of our local bishops. Clearly, these new norms do lessen bishops' authority over the Tridentine Mass. Fr. Richard McBrien ruefully notes as much in his column in the National Catholic Reporter (Aug. 3): "the motu proprio...has the practical effect of undermining the authority of the local bishop of the celebration of the liturgy in his own diocese."
So it is that Pope Benedict has struck a blow for democracy in the Church. If enough of the laity (how much is enough, however, is undetermined) in a given parish raise their voices for a Tridentine Mass, the pastor is required to give it to them. If not, the faithful simply follow the chain of command until their request is satisfied. That's democracy in action! Even liberal Catholic pundit Sr. Joan Chittister, who has long agitated for the empowerment of the laity but is lukewarm about the motu proprio, recognizes this: "If some people prefer a Latin Mass to an English Mass, why not?... Now it's up to the laity to decide..." (National Catholic Reporter, Aug. 3).
The Tridentine Latin Mass, writes Benedict, "has been a spur to the spiritual life of many saints, has reinforced many peoples in the virtue of religion and fecundated their piety." We at the NOR firmly believe in the power and magnetism of the Tridentine Latin Mass, and in its ability to revitalize the Faith and re-establish a true Catholic culture in the midst of general moral decline. Catholic Tradition is the key to the future strength of the Church.
For those of us who love Tradition, the challenge now becomes how to establish the Tridentine Mass in as many of our parishes as possible, so as to foment this traditional Catholic revival. Pope Benedict has given us a procedure by which to sidestep recalcitrant pastors and bishops, but how do we go about dealing with the inevitable stalling and stonewalling we are sure to encounter? What about the reaction of parish liturgical committees, accustomed to putting their stylistic stamp on various parts of the New Mass, to being frozen out of that process in the Tridentine Mass? What about the wounded egos of the band members who are told to lay down their guitars and conga drums, bone up on chant and polyphony, and retire unseen to the choir loft? Msgr. Moroney says that the Tridentine Mass "does not envision the use of women altar servers"; so, what becomes of those "altar girls" and their parents who feel they have a "right" to serve at Mass? What about parishes that have been wreckovated in the style of a church-in-the-round? These would seem to preclude the proper celebration of the Tridentine Mass, in which priest and people face the same direction -- ad orientem, toward the Lord. What about the parishes where the Tabernacle has been moved to a side chapel and replaced with a waterfall, a bunch of twigs, or a floating Jesus? The Tridentine Mass requires that the Tabernacle -- our eucharistic Lord -- be front and center.
All these issues must be addressed as we move forward with the restoration of Catholic Tradition. It seems as though some of the changes and abuses in the post-Vatican II era at the parish level were implemented precisely to prevent such a restoration. But we must not fear or get discouraged, for every problem has a solution. With much prayer, reflection, and cooperation, the way will be illuminated for us by the Holy Spirit. The journey won't be quick or easy. But the NOR will be there every step of the way, to help ensure the faithful and widespread celebration of the Tridentine Latin Mass. But we can't do so without your help. Recent troubling developments have shaken our small world of Catholic publishing.
In his Editorial in the July/August issue of Crisis magazine, Brian Saint-Paul accurately notes that "the magazine business has been in a slow but unmistakable decline.... Postage and printing costs continue to rise, while response rates to subscription offers decline." We can attest to that. Saint-Paul characterizes the recent "20 percent postage-rate hike" as "an immense blow" and a "budget-busting obstacle." This is true for the NOR too. Says he: "As a small non-profit organization, we live close to the wire, always scrambling to pay the bills." Of course, Crisis has gotten most of its funding from wealthy neocon foundations, a luxury we at the NOR do not enjoy -- nor is it something we desire; we do not want to be beholden to the neocon agenda.
Saint-Paul then drops his bomb: "September will mark the final print edition of Crisis magazine. Beginning on September 1, Crisis will move entirely online...." Wow. Crisis magazine is no more. The postal rate hike that went into effect this July was the straw that broke the camel's back.
Crisis is not alone. Even the staid old Wanderer is feeling the squeeze at the post office. In a column titled "Small Publishers in Shock at Size of Postal Rate Increase" (July 26), Editor Al Matt Jr. says ominously, "Over the next several months we will have to find ways to keep going. In the meantime, I encourage readers to visit our web site...." The column quotes Teresa Stack, the President of The Nation, as saying, "These new [postal] rates impose huge hardships on small publications. I can say with confidence that some magazines will go out of business because of the increase."
The Catholic print media has been in a state of decline for several years now. It's no secret that circulation is down at such Catholic publications as Our Sunday Visitor, National Catholic Reporter, Homiletic & Pastoral Review, The Catholic Answer, and indeed the New Oxford Review. In addition to Crisis, and perhaps The Wanderer, several Catholic print publications have already folded up shop and headed for the crowded alleyways of the Internet. Among them are Jim Holman's four California papers, San Francisco Faith, Los Angeles Lay Catholic Mission, San Diego News Notes, and La Cruz de California, which consolidated into one Internet site, California Catholic Daily, earlier this year. No doubt, many more are destined for the same fate -- or worse, total extinction. According to its former Editor, Domenico Bettinelli, The Catholic World Report "faces a darker fate" than Crisis, due to the "neglect" it has suffered from its publisher, Ignatius Press, which hasn't given it an adequate Internet presence. In our May Editorial we read the roll call of some of the Catholic publications that have bitten the dust in the past 10 years -- no small number. The field of Catholic publishing is narrowing before our very eyes. As much as these are days of opportunity for Catholic Tradition, these are days of crisis for the Catholic print media.
In our May Editorial we discussed our plan for the postal rate hikes. Since September 2005 we have been trying to raise $176,000. Early on in the midst of this fundraising drive, we were hit with the first postal rate hike. We decided at that time not to ask for more money from our readers. But then the second postal rate hike was announced, and it was a doozy. We knew we couldn't risk not begging for more help. When we wrote our May Editorial, it was estimated that the cost of periodical postage would go up 11 percent. Using that figure, we determined that we would need to raise an additional $13,000 to withstand the rate hike for two years. Now that we have felt the full brunt of the postal increases, we realize that the rate hike is much more substantial than we had originally anticipated. Periodical postage has gone up 20 percent. Additionally, bulk subscriptions, which were previously mailed at the nonprofit periodical rate (a category eliminated by the new postal regulations), must now be mailed as bound printed matter, a 59 percent cost increase. Foreign subscriptions, which were previously mailed at the foreign publishers' periodical rate (also eliminated by the new postal regulations), must now be mailed via international surface air lift, a 27 percent increase. The nonprofit standard mail rate, which we pay for direct-mail advertising campaigns for new subscribers, has gone up eight percent. First-class domestic and foreign rates have gone up across the board.
All told, in order to withstand the rate hike for two years, we must increase our fundraising add-on for the new postal rate hike from $13,000 to $37,000. Adding this to our original goal of $176,000, and we must now increase our appeal to $213,000. To date we have raised $158,135. That means we need to raise $54,865 to meet our new goal.
We realize that one-time fundraising won't be enough to cover these permanent rate increases. Other budgetary measure must be taken. In our May Editorial we suggested that, "Given our financial constraints, we may have to scale back our website, which would be tragic." But with the death of the print edition of Crisis magazine, and its transmogrification into an Internet-only operation, and the rumblings at The Wanderer, we realize now that we simply cannot scale back our website. Indeed, we were lucky to have been ahead of the curve with regard to the Internet, to have invested in a strong Internet presence -- thanks in no small part to the generosity of our readers -- while it was still an option rather than a last resort. (Crisis and The Wanderer had minimal Internet presence when we made our foray into the Internet in 2005.) A successful website is a must in today's publishing climate.
We have been told that our website, www.newoxfordreview.org, is really superb -- thanks to the labors of our Web Editor, Michael S. Rose. But we can't sit back content with those compliments. We are constantly expanding our Archives, which now reach back to 1993. Our Ad Gallery currently contains over 60 of our distinctive and unique ads, which have been banned by countless liberal and neocon Catholic publications. We offer over 50 NOR Dossiers for research and perusal. Our En Español section contains over 40 NOR articles (and counting) translated into Spanish. The NOR Gear Shoppe is open for business. Online subscribers can now add their comments to NOR articles, New Oxford Notes, guest columns, and major book reviews. Our New Oxford News Link is updated every weekday, giving visitors a reason to return to our site on a daily basis. (If you haven't already done so, do consider signing up for our free e-mail updates.) The traffic at our website is slowly but steadily increasing; it attracts young and middle-aged Catholics to the NOR, who often subscribe to the print edition.
Though we are working constantly to improve our website, we know that it must have its place of priority. We have always looked upon our website as an adjunct to our primary apostolate, our print publication. But it is an adjunct that will continue to take on an increasingly important role. At the same time, we understand that many of our readers are not "online" and haven't, and will likely never, see our website and all it has to offer. Unlike Crisis magazine, we will do everything in our power not to abandon that tried and true segment of our readership. We want to reach more people, not fewer; we want to increase the size of our witness, not diminish it. Abandoning the print edition of the NOR is not an option either. (Curiously, Saint-Paul says of the death of his print edition, "With this move, we...expand our reach greatly...." Not so. Crisis is contracting, not expanding.)
Given that the postal increase is a permanent increase, we have already taken a few cost-cutting and revenue-producing measures. We have increased our advertising rates -- but we can only increase our rates so much, so as not to alienate regular advertisers or discourage new advertisers. Our editorial staff has taken pay cuts -- we have repeatedly emphasized that we are not running a "jobs program," that the purpose of the NOR is not to provide employment but to be a mouthpiece for Catholic orthodoxy. We have consolidated some of our offices in order to reduce our monthly overhead. These measures, though helpful, won't be enough for the long haul. We already run a shoestring operation, and budget deficits are an annual reality for nonprofit Catholic publishers such as the NOR.
Our readers have seen us through tough times before. But we are not pleased by the prospect of having to fundraise continuously in order to meet the permanent postal rate hikes. We don't want to abuse our readers' generosity by begging for money on an endless basis.
Our only other alternative is to increase our print subscription rates. We have been reluctant, to say the least, to take this measure. The last time we raised our subscription rates we lost 30.2 percent of our subscribers. We dread the thought of another such blow to our circulation and to our witness. February 2007 marked the NOR's 30th anniversary. If we want to stick around for another 30 years and beyond, we must do what is necessary to ensure our survival. Raising subscription rates is now a serious consideration.
To forestall an increase in subscription rates, we need to raise $54,865, to meet our new fundraising goal of $213,000. And we need to raise it in a hurry, to meet the new monthly costs. If we don't reach our fundraising goal by the spring of 2008, we will take that to mean that our readers prefer that we raise subscription rates.
We know this is not good news, especially to those who have supported us with generous donations throughout the years. But the writing is on the wall -- or rather in our monthly postal bills.
The revitalization of the Faith and the establishment of a true Catholic culture here in the U.S. won't come without a cost. Already many Catholic publications have breathed their last. But while those around us fall away, we will continue to take a firm stand for the Truth and sniff out and combat error and subterfuge wherever we find it. Please help ensure that the NOR will be able to sojourn with you as together we realize the real "new springtime" in the Church, the restoration of Tradition, an opportunity afforded us by His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI's Summorum Pontificum.
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