His second First Mass

His second First Mass

In the current issue of America magazine, the Jesuit weekly, Fr. Michael Kerper gives his perspective in celebrating the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite as a self-identified progressive. Rather than approach Pope Benedict’s motu proprio Summorum Pontificum as an imposition and a regression to be opposed, he saw it as an opportunity to be pastorally solicitous to those of his flock who were in need.

As a pastor who has tried to respond to people alienated by the perceived rigid conservatism of the church, how could I walk away from people alienated by priests like myself—progressive, “low church” pastors who have no ear for traditional piety? An examination of conscience revealed an imbalance in my pastoral approach: a gracious openness to the left (like feminists, pro-choice advocates, people cohabiting and secular Catholics) and an instant skepticism toward the right (traditionalists).

So while many of us might disagree with Father’s approach to doctrinal and pastoral controversies, there’s no denying that his openness in “being pastoral” toward those with whom he disagrees is admirable. Perhaps it’s only remarkable by exception; it’s rare to find such solicitousness in “liberals” vis a vis “conservatives”.

In fact, while celebrating the Mass of Bl. John XXIII, Father Kerper experiences something of a revelation:

As I studied the Latin texts and intricate rituals I had never noticed as a boy, I discovered that the old rite’s priestly spirituality and theology were exactly the opposite of what I had expected. Whereas I had looked for the “high priest/king of the parish” spirituality, I found instead a spirituality of “unworthy instrument for the sake of the people.” The old Missal’s rubrical micromanagement made me feel like a mere machine, devoid of personality; but, I wondered, is that really so bad? I actually felt liberated from a persistent need to perform, to engage, to be forever a friendly celebrant. When I saw a photo of the old Latin Mass in our local newspaper, I suddenly recognized the rite’s ingenious ability to shrink the priest. Shot from the choir loft, I was a mere speck of green, dwarfed by the high altar. The focal point was not the priest but the gathering of the people. And isn’t that a valid image of the church, the people of God? [Emphasis added]

This is what liturgical conservatives have been saying for years, that the Mass of Paul VI, as currently formulated, puts a burden upon the priest to be the center of attention, the focal point, of the Mass, as if he were a performer, and it is this, above all, that has lead to so much liturgical abuse over the years. It may not require a complete return to the Extraordinary Form to repair this anomaly, if sufficient reforms to the Ordinary Rite can be enacted, but if more priests and laity of the “progressive” point of view can be persuaded to at least try the Extraordinary Rite with an open mind, they may discover this truth too and a path toward a “reform of the Reform” might be found that is acceptable to all.

Update: Fr. Zuhlsdorf has some trenchant observations on this article, too.

  • profound.  Absolutely profound.  A lover of tolerance actually tries something he doesn’t like and realizes he likes it.  Kinda like Life.  Try it Mikey, you might like it.

  • I really wonder if we have to have The Extraordinary Form for this to occur?  What would happen if priests just turned around and led the congregation, all facing east?  Some of this would happen no matter what language or canon was being used.  I went to a TLM and was horrified by the no english epistle and gospel.  The sermon was terrible and that was a real problem because Sunday by Sunday I listen to some of the best preaching in the country in a reverent Novus Ordo mass.  I can’t believe that it is a good thing to get rid of the new lectionary.  However, I do like the prayers of the Canon in the Traditional form.  See, I could make up my own rite in a heartbeat.

  • This may be interesting and testify for Father Kerper’s fairness. Nonetheless his view is mistaken: the focal point is neither the priest nor the “gathering of the people”, but the Lord in His sacramental presence.
    I expect good fruits from the Pope’s Motu Proprio, but all depends on one’s openness to discern the meaning integral to the Liturgy, old AND new. If I’m going to see only what I already accept and if I put the focus on my personal preferences, nothing is changed.
    The logic I see in Father Kerper’s remarks is not that he is ready to learn something, but that he can continue to promote his views even in the old rite – though he recognizes that the old rite isn’t that “high priest/king of the parish” thing.

  • Great article.  Amazing!  Most liberal priests I know are tereribly intolerant of anything other than what goes through their “infallible” minds.  Nice to see a tolerant one!  Wow!

    Now, I only wish more bishops and cardinals would publically celebrate the Extraordinary Form.