An FSSP Parishioner Responds to Fr. Reese

by Claudio Salvucci

The Rev. Thomas Reese, SJ discusses the future of the Traditional Latin Mass in his recent article “The future of Catholic liturgical reform“,  where he calls for…well…maybe it’s best to let him say it himself:

It is time to return to bishops the authority over the Tridentine liturgy in their dioceses. The church needs to be clear that it wants the unreformed  liturgy [i.e., the Latin Mass] to disappear and will only allow it out of pastoral kindness to older people who do not understand the need for change. Children and young people should not be allowed to attend such Masses.

Upon reading this, I had the rather colorful emotional response that one might expect of an FSSP parishioner and father of five whose ancestors inhabited the Kingdom of Two Sicilies. But along with all the less-than-edifying emotions, some sage advice from C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle popped into my head:

“And peace, Eustace. Do not scold, like a kitchen-girl. No warrior scolds. Courteous words or else hard knocks are his only language.”

I will try my best to confine myself to the former.

When Fr. Reese states that “the church needs to be clear that it wants the unreformed liturgy to disappear“, the first thing that strikes me is that “the church” wants no such thing.

It is actually Fr. Reese who wants that. Perhaps he is not aware that he is positing some strangely personal application of subsistit in whereby his personal desires are coterminous with the sensus fidelium of the entire Western world, but I would strongly caution him to not make that error. It is exceptionally bad form.

And while I understand that Fr. Reese has no affection for the traditional Roman Rite, he could at least do its partisans the courtesy of investigating–if only on a purely scholarly level–why we attend it. The Latin Mass is not some sort of palliative liturgical hospice, a comfortable pastel room where deteriorating minds can enjoy their lingering memories in geriatric senescence.

We attend the Latin Mass because it is, to us, where Holy Mother Church feels most alive and most like Herself: a wise Mater et Magistra unaffected by passing fads and cheap, trendy gimmicks but beautiful and wonderful and complicated as life itself.

I am not a child or young person, so I’m not sure how I would fare under Fr. Reese’s proposal. But I suspect he wouldn’t appreciate that my registering at an FSSP parish is not out of nostalgia. I was born in the early 1970s after the liturgical change. I have no memory whatsoever of the traditional Mass. In fact, I was initially quite resistant to it and once argued the superiority of the new liturgy to my future wife–quite unsuccessfully, I might add.

My love for the Mass of the Ages came by lived experience, by attending it and then sorting out in my own mind whether the Missal of 1962 or the Missal of 1970 was best suited to my Catholic life.  Nor am I the only one that had this transformative experience; at every traditional community one will find people and families who could tell very similar stories.

We laity of the traditional movement have gotten used to being the black sheep of the larger Catholic world. On a personal level that may be a frustrating space to inhabit, yes, but it seems a small price to pay for the spiritual treasures we have discovered in our parishes. Think us weird all you like–just let us sing the Asperges and sit in quiet reverence during the Roman Canon.

Apparently, though, the “live and let live” philosophy we hear bandied about ad nauseam nowadays can’t quite suffer us to continue existing.

To some, we are more than an oddity: we are a constant irritation. It is not enough that many traditionalists are walled off into dedicated liturgical ghettos, separated from our fellow Catholics by whispers, suspicions, and distrust of those crazy people who go that church. It is not enough that we have, effectively, a grand total of 3 FSSP parishes that can adequately serve us in the entirety of eastern Pennsylvania–and we’re even lucky to have that many.

Apparently, the ghettos need to be dismantled, and the 3 parishes need to be zero.

Perhaps Fr. Reese is not aware of the depth of the laity’s commitment to the traditional liturgy. So let me state it quite directly. As for my wife and I, we plan on attending the traditional Latin Mass until we lie in repose under the solemn tones of the Requiem and the Dies Irae. Moreover, as long as our own “children and young people” are under our parental care, they will be at every Latin Mass with us: serving at the altar, wearing veils, and learning the language that is their liturgical birthright and that my wife is diligently teaching them. I am not sure why anyone thinks they are capable of not “allowing” my children to do all this. But as an indication of our familial resolve, permit me to quote another character from the Narnia series:

“My own plans are made….While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world into some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.”

I would not have felt compelled to write any response to Fr. Reese if he had merely stated his dislike for our liturgy and not taken such an absolutist stance on the question. Traditionalists have held a minority position within the Church for decades, and we are quite used to the idea that many do not agree with us. But the minority is growing, and the majority is shrinking, every single year. Perhaps the unquestionable success of the Latin Mass, defying predictions to the contrary by many soi disant experts in such things, is indeed what prompted Fr. Reese to offer such a sweeping solution.

And, of course, if young people were not interested in attending the traditional Roman Mass, they would not have to be prevented from attending, would they?

They simply wouldn’t bother to show up. The traditional movement would die out on its own quite organically…the way many stubbornly keep insisting that it will.

Fr. Reese seems to be keen on Scriptural themes. So I will end by reminding him how the members of the Sanhedrin in Acts 5 wanted to suppress the Apostles’ preaching, only to be persuaded by the argument of Rabbi Gamaliel:

And now, therefore, I say to you, refrain from these men, and let them alone; for if this council or this work be of men, it will come to naught; But if it be of God, you cannot overthrow it, lest perhaps you be found even to fight against God.


April 14, 2021