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Out of the Liturgical Ghetto

No matter what direction the “new liturgical movement” envisioned by Pope Benedict XVI takes, and before any “mutual enrichment” between the two extant forms of the Roman rite can take place, the Tridentine Latin Mass must experience a significant revival. If only for the sake of the liturgical patrimony of the Church, it cannot remain restricted to a handful of Masses scattered about in far-flung parochial outposts. Unfortunately, four years after the release of Summorum Pontificum, Benedict’s motu proprio liberalizing the celebration of the Latin Mass, hard data on its growth during the ensuing years is hard to come by.

All we have to go on at this point — aside from first-person accounts of isolated circumstances that appear periodically in Catholic media — are a few surveys commissioned by Pax Liturgique, a French group in communion with Rome that works to promote the spread of the Latin Mass. The results of its surveys, conducted in late 2009 and early 2010, were published in the traditionalist British Christian Order (Oct. 2010). Insofar as surveys are useful, these provide insight into the situations in Germany, Italy, England, and Portugal (a survey of French Catholics was completed in late 2008 and is thus too dated to be relevant).

Of the German Catholics who were asked whether they were aware that the Pope had issued a document allowing for wider celebration of the Latin Mass, over 43 percent said yes. Word of the motu proprio‘s release traveled farther in Italy, where 64 percent of the Catholics surveyed responded that they had heard of it. But only 39 percent of British respondents claimed to be aware of its release, as did an abysmally low 26 percent of respondents in Portugal. Pax Liturgique comments that the widespread ignorance of Portuguese Catholics about Summorum Pontificum (74 percent had never even heard of it) “is due, on the one hand, to the Portuguese media’s lack of interest for liturgical issues. On the other hand, however, it is due also to the indifference of the episcopate and a good part of the Portuguese clergy towards…the liberation of the traditional Mass.”

On the bright side, a majority of respondents in Germany (50.6 percent) and Italy (a whopping 71 percent) said they would consider it “normal” if the Latin Mass and the New Mass were celebrated regularly in their parish. Less than a quarter of respondents in either country (24.5 and 24 percent, respectively) said that such a situation would be “abnormal.” The remainder had no opinion. The results were mixed in England and Portugal: 44.9 percent of Englishmen would consider this situation “normal” (opposed to 21 percent who said it would be “abnormal”), as would 44.7 percent of Portuguese (with a full 40 percent calling it “abnormal”).

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