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The Extraordinary Form?


By Michael J. Matt

Editor, The Remnant


(Posted June 6, 2010 Editor, The Remnant I’ve noticed that you and your writers use the term “tridentine” when referring to the Latin Mass rather than “Extraordinary Form”. Do you have some problem with the EF? ….J. Loveland, Cincinnati, Ohio

Well it’s hard to teach old dogs new tricks, for one thing; but I suppose it’s more than that. And if our lexicon has to be updated in order to accommodate all the new recruits to the Traditional Catholic movement, I say Deo Gratias

Think of it: The Novus Ordo is clearly withering on the vine, Tradition is becoming almost mainstream, and the traditional Latin Mass movement is morphing into an international youth movement.  I’ve just returned from France, in fact, where thousands of young Catholics walked a 3-day pilgrimage at which the traditional Mass was the only Mass. Entire generations are growing up now having known no other liturgy save the traditional Roman Rite. Isn't that extraordinary!

Still, there is an urgent need to guard against complacency, especially when considering the sacrifices made by pioneer Traditionalists during the lean years.

Many of us remember when Tradition was a dead letter and the old Mass a liturgical dinosaur with which only a few “old cranks” bothered to concern themselves. This was back when scapulars, chapel veils and Latin were still the lampoonable trappings of “fanatics on a dangerous trajectory towards schism”.

At that time, being labeled a Traditionalist meant you’d become something of a pariah in your parish because you’d stubbornly refused to let go of 2000 years of Catholic Tradition. Secular traditions, on the other hand, such as baseball’s 7th inning stretch or the singing of My Old Kentucky Home at the Kentucky Derby, remained untouchable and sacred, of course. But Catholic traditions were to be eagerly piled high on the progressivist pyres whose flames illuminated the skies over those days of darkness.

Panis Angelicus was out and, God help us, On Eagles Wings was in. Roman vestments rotted in mothballs while priests in muumuus pranced around the “worship space” pitching the latest liturgical novelty. Sermons gave way to hip, happy “homilies” while large butcher blocks eclipsed high altars and hippie churchmen giddily proclaimed the Church’s surrender to the modern world.

In that climate of self-loathing ‘reform’, the majority of Catholics did one of two things: Left the Church in disgust or just faded away like the Faith itself. Churches emptied, nuns disappeared, and those comparatively few Catholic priests who hadn’t yet run off to get married, styled their hair and became liturgical entertainment directors.

Clearly, Satan was at work.

But some Catholics refused to click their heels to the jackbooted Modernist thugs in charge. They stayed on to fight when nearly everyone else was waving the felt banner of surrender. With sneering distain they were derided as Traditionalist “extremists” who “think themselves more Catholic than the pope”.

Those men and women sacrificed everything for the touchstone of the Catholic Faith which was then (and is still today) the immemorial Tridentine Mass.   Yes, I know, we’re not supposed to call it that anymore. Now it’s the “Extraordinary Form”, which makes some sense, I suppose, given the sheer ordinariness of the New Mass. But why this insistence on “Extraordinary Form”? God knows. Perhaps a new name was needed for the old Mass—one that doesn’t imply allegiance to the clarity of Trent over the ambiguity of Vatican II. Perhaps suggesting two forms of one Rite provided cover for the bizarre spectacle and abrupt rupture of an entirely New Mass.  I don’t know.

Whatever it is, for many of us the traditional Mass will always be the Tridentine Mass. This is so for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it’s what they called it—the early Traditionalists who stood against the whole world in  defense of the Roman Rite offered in the ancient tongue by a priest who faced the altar of God, just as priests had always done for thousands of years. It was codified at Trent by the same sainted pontiff who’d codified the 15-decade traditional rosary— St. Pius V, spiritual general of Lepanto, and the great pope who’d saved Europe from both Islam and Protestantism.

The Mass for which pioneer Traditionalists had sacrificed so much was part and parcel of the dogmatic Council of Trent that had carved in stone Catholic doctrine and liturgy against the great assault on both that was the Protestant Revolution. The Tridentine Mass was the Mass St. Pius had handed down to Catholics of all ages in perpetuity, and surely it was the Mass Traditionalists intended to hand down to their own sons and daughters.

“It’s the Mass that matters”! Again and again they’d reminded themselves that “It’s the Tridentine Mass that matters!” They knew what it was and what it was not. They knew very well that important components of it predated Trent by some 1500 years. But by referring to it as the “Tridentine Mass” they lashed themselves to the  mast of Catholic Tradition—the dogmatic Council of Trent, Quo Primum and the flagship of the Catholic fleet that would preserve the Faith of the Ages against the onslaught of Novelty, Protestantism and a burgeoning Novus Ordo Seclorum.

Through tumultuous post-conciliar seas they followed a course charted by Catholics in 16th century England and 18th century France during the war for altar and throne in the Vendee. Trent was their guiding star. They didn’t merely “prefer” the Tridentine Mass. They were defined by it.

Archbishop Lefebvre, in many ways the sacrificial lamb of the Catholic counterrevolution, would be “excommunicated” for his dogged defense of all things Tridentine. But his historic stand would give birth to a worldwide Catholic restoration movement, and now his cause has been introduced in Rome.

The great Michael Davies worked himself into an early grave in defense of the Tridentine Mass, as did Hamish Fraser, William Marra, John Senior and thousands of serious men for whom liturgical “smells and bells” meant little. 

My own father gave up everything except Faith and family in the name of the Tridentine cause. After thirty years in harness as editor of The Wanderer he left his birthright behind in order to work for the full restoration of Tradition and the Tridentine Mass.

These men were traditionalists long before it was fashionable to be so. They put their reputations, careers and financial wellbeing on the line in the name of Catholic counterrevolution.

In 1956, young Hungarians defended their homeland against Soviet tanks with brooms and whatever else they could lay their hands on. They were crushed to death by communists but immortalized by history. 

In the ‘70s, a small band of faithful Catholics did something similar against Modernist tanks that were rolling over the Catholic city. They’d determined to remain what their fathers had raised them to be—Catholics! And in the name of the Tridentine Mass they were banished from their parishes and castigated as “schismatic”. But they kept the Faith. History has yet to determine how to cast these men, but those of us who knew some of them remember the faces and names of heroes who held the Catholic ground that even popes and priests were abandoning.

The Extraordinary Form?  Sure, but one day it will again be the only form of the Roman Rite, and then perhaps the spirits of the early Traditionalists can  rest in peace.  You say EF, I say TLM; but if it hadn’t been for them we’d all be saying NOM. 

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