Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos was at Westminster Cathedral in London over the weekend to lead one of the highest profile celebrations of the Roman Catholic Church’s old Latin Mass here since the 1960s. The Catholic hierarchy in England and Wales has been lukewarm about the prospect of the old rite being celebrated alongside Mass in English, so the cardinal’s presence was a clear reminder of what the Vatican wants.
Before the Mass on Saturday, Castrillon Hoyos met four journalists (myself included) to explain why Pope Benedict decided last year to promote wider use of the old Latin Mass. He praised the traditional Tridentine rite for its “power of silence,” an element of contemplation he said had disappeared from worship since the liturgical reforms of the 1960s. If his pre-Mass briefing is anything to go by, however, the Latin Mass also has a power to raise the decibel level among Catholics in Britain.
The Colombian-born cardinal, who is head of the pontifical commission Ecclesia Dei for relations with traditionalists, said the new form of the Mass had led to “abuses” that had prompted many to abandon the Church. So, he said, the pope wanted the older form to be offered again in all parishes (not only where a group of parishioners requested it, as originally said).
“The experience of these 40 years has not always been so good. Many people abandoned the sense of adoration (of God)…There is (now) an atmosphere that makes it possible for these abuses and that atmosphere must be changed,” he said in English. “It is not a matter of confrontation but of dialogue — fraternal dialogue — making efforts to understand the precious things contained in the new and the old rites.”
The cardinal added that Pope Benedict would soon clarify his motu proprio — the decree allowing wider use of the old Mass — to clear up confusion over issues ranging from the differences between liturgical calendars of the old and new rites, the use of vestments, ordinations to the sub-diaconate and the Eucharistic fast.
Elena Curti, deputy editor of the Catholic magazine The Tablet, said many Catholics like herself were confused at the new emphasis on the old rite. It seemed to diminish the role of the laity, she said, and she asked the cardinal if this was a regression from the reforms of the Second Vatican Council of 1962-1965. The cardinal said no: “The Holy Father is not returning to the past but taking from the past a treasure to make it present today along side the richness of the new rite.”
Curti’s comments sparked a declaration from Damian Thompson, Daily Telegraph religion reporter and editor-in-chief of the Catholic Herald, that he “deplored” her comments.
“I’d like to very strongly distance myself from what Elena has said and to say that there is tremendous enthusiasm among younger Catholics for the motu proprio, that many Catholics are deeply grateful to the Holy Father for making the change and many younger Catholics regard this as an extremely exciting development,” Thompson said to the cardinal.
John Medlin, General Manager of the Latin Mass Society that organised the Mass and the briefing, felt obliged to intervene and ask for “charity around the table.” Thompson (pictured at left) kept up the same tone in his two reports on the meeting — “Latin Mass to return to England and Wales” and “Victory against the sandalistas” — and on his blog Holy Smoke (with partial transcript of the briefing). Since The Tablet is a weekly, we’ll have to wait until Friday to see what Curti writes.
The revival of the Old Latin Mass has been compared to a cultural revolution within the Catholic Church. It looks like it’s off to a rousing start.