Friday, 7 July 2017

Ten years of Summorum Pontificum

Decimo recurrente anniversario fautissimae evulgationis litterarum apostolicarum, quas Summorum Pontificum incipiunt, foris a Benedicto XVI suo motu proprio datarum, cogitationes nostras de eodem successu hic proferamus.

Happy 10th anniversary!

La misa
Salvador Tuset Tuset, s.f.
Colección privada

Summorum Pontificum was written to address the status quo and make everyone’s lives easier: priests would no longer need to apply for an indult; bishops would no longer need to decide whether to grant or deny such application; and the faithful would now have easier access to the Traditional Latin Mass. Overhead, what the motu proprio envisioned looked tantalisingly easy, but human behaviour, and the purpose of the document itself, is much, much more complicated.

Many clung to the hope that Summorum Pontificum, by lifting the traditional strictures that hampered access to the Old Rite, would little by little gain for this Old Rite wider and wider acceptance to such a point where, in every parish throughout the world, it would coexist with the New Rite, even surpass it, or dare we say supplant it. Ten years is quite a time, but not sufficient to scale the mountain this goal represented. The problem with this vision is the absence of a failsafe mechanism for spreading the Old Rite. The truth is, the motu proprio does not provide any instruction or encouragement whatsoever on propagating the usus antiquior. It is an edict of universal toleration and permission, not a blueprint for the restoration of Tradition.

The motu proprio puts most of the burden on the faithful who wish to attend the Traditional Mass. The faithful are its principal preoccupation. In one homily by a priest regularly offering the Traditional Latin Mass, he observes how today’s Catholics automatically construe faithful as only comprising of the lay, as though priests, bishops, nuns, among others, were a different species altogether. This indeed is a tragedy of modern Catholic thought. Putting so great an emphasis on pastoral care, pastoral reason, and whatever other pastoral affairs there be, has so compartmentalised our thinking to the point of appropriating said term solely for the non-ordained and the non-consecrated amongst us. Be that is it may, however saddening it is, we shall employ this impaired distinction, given that Summorum Pontificum more than once uses it as well.

In many places, Summorum Pontificum charges bishops and priests to accede to the requests of the faithful who would petition for the Old Rite, but it never instructs pastors to spread the word about it. The possibility of opening a personal parish for the Traditional Latin Mass is juxtaposed against the existence of a coetus fidelium. Priests can freely admit the faithful into the Masses they would celebrate privately according to the Old Rite, which they can offer anytime they want; yet their admission is predicated on the condition that they asked to attend so of their own free will, which would at least require prior knowledge of and immediate desire for the Traditional Latin Mass.

In the past ten years, so much has been said about Filipino bishops and priests keeping mum about Summorum Pontificum, when, in fact, the motu proprio does not morally oblige them to trumpet it around. And most bishops and priests would rather dwell in the lull than stir up something that could end in a disaster. Even when a regular TLM is celebrated under diocesan auspices, one cannot expect to find details about it in the website or directory of the see. In the ordinary Filipino Sunday life, there are arguably many opportunities to talk about the Traditional Latin Mass, but the exigency and the prospect for a break-even are both missing. Filipino priests deliver sermons in a format inspired more by holiday standup comedians than by true practitioners of pontification, blabber homilies containing more details about the newest primetime teleserye than the day’s gospel. While bad sermons can teach us something about the theology of the Mass, on most days they leave very little room for matters worthy of contemplation.

Filipino priests who do speak about the Traditional Latin Mass oftentimes are those who offer it themselves. We can say that the number of Filipino priests favourably talking about Summorum Pontificum and the Traditional Latin Mass increased because the number of Filipino priests celebrating the Traditional Latin Mass increased in the past ten years. But then again, they speak about the motu proprio in their own Traditional Masses, before a congregation who prefers the Old Rite, and rarely, if not never at all, before their parishioners in one of their reverently-celebrated Masses in the New Rite. It is more likely for these priests to mention the Novus Ordo Mass in a Traditional Mass than to mention the Traditional Mass in a Novus Ordo Mass. We are convinced delicadeza is at work here, because the Filipino hierarchy, like most national hierarchies in the world, enjoys being corralled in a liturgical playground where titled brats have no qualms bullying and heckling the mitred under whose noses some fully vested priest said the Mass from the prayers at the foot of the altar to the Last Gospel in defiance to the approved masterplan for liturgical nationalisation. In a politicised hierarchy, such as ours, with vague ambitions of democracy, where pockets of displeasure disperse via a trickle-down trajectory, the poor parish priest ultimately bears the brunt of the interventions.

This notwithstanding the factoid that Filipino Catholics are known to pamper their priests. If there is such a thing as a cultural learned helplessness, there may be such a thing as well as a Catholic learned obsequiousness unique to Filipinos. If we allow ourselves to hear the grumblings of the aggrieved ilustrados, we can treat learned obsequiousness as a survival mechanism practiced by the colonial elite to secure their political position. After all, the colonial clergy had access to the powers that be. Mutatis mutandis, however, the colonial elite became the parish elite, and the political position became purely social. Learned obsequiousness is no longer a mere method; it has become a weapon in the ongoing democratisation and deparochialisation of the parish. The parish elite now has access to the priest’s immediate superior, his ordinary. A toe out of line by the priest can mean a reprimand from the bishop. This is precisely the reason why a Filipino priest will think twice before acting on an initiative to make the Traditional Latin Mass available to a crowd other than his extraterritorial congregants. Even with the right catechesis, if he plops a Traditional Latin Mass down his congregation with an unsuspecting attendee bold enough to complain to the bishop, the effects can be very, very ugly.

While Summorum Pontificum freed priests from the direct control of their bishops as far as celebrating the Vetus Ordo is concerned, it did not deliver them from the same appalling payoffs only carefully obviated by no small amount of discretion. Some Filipino bishops continue to repay the activity of their priests involved in the Traditional community with interesting rewards. Had we not learned to give others the benefit of the doubt, we might have considered outright these rewards as calculated efforts to benignly discourage the priest and benevolently demoralise the faithful “attached to the ancient Latin liturgical tradition”, to whose attitude “exaggerations and at times social aspects [have been] unduly linked”, which, as Benedict XVI expresses in Con grande fiducia, can be improved by the “charity and pastoral prudence” of bishops. Ten years later, charity and pastoral prudence seem to still consist only of one reaction: indifferent tolerance. Which is infinitely better than suppression or active persecution, by the way.

José Benlliure y Gil, s.f.
Colección Juan Martín Oneto Gaona

In the aforesaid letter introducing the motu proprio, as much as in the document itself, Benedict XVI goes on to contemplate on two age groups: the old, who “remain strongly attached to [the older] usage of the Roman Rite, which had been familiar to them from childhood”, and the young, who “[having discovered the older] liturgical form, [feel] its attraction and find in it a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist particularly suited to them”. In any given Traditional Filipino community, these two groups are present with an almost defined set of roles assigned to them. The old contributes with the influence they wield and the wisdom they embody; the young, with their eagerness to learn and their love for narrative. The old and the young exist in symbiosis (synergy is too careeristic a term to use here), a communion of polar opposites. Where seniors freeze in their intransigence, there juniors thaw with their enthusiasm; where juniors seethe with folly, there seniors cool with sobriety.

And so it came to pass ten years hence as it was half a score ago, where the older and younger generations unite in their love for the Old Rite, there they diverge in their approach to its propagation. The motu proprio laid the groundwork for the “return” of the Traditional Latin Mass, and trusted the faithful to do the remaining work of telling others about it. Understandably, those who already knew about the Traditional Latin Mass, and regularly attended it prior to 2007, were poised to reap the fruits of Summorum Pontificum when it came out ten years ago. Those who had no idea about the Old Rite yet had either to wait to be led to it by those who already knew it, or had to claw their way through the proverbial darkness to reach the equally proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. Personal experience tells us that many of us did not stumble upon the TLM by the mere fact that Summorum Pontificum was published. Why, we might have attended our first TLM with no knowledge whatsoever at all about the document that made the celebration available and accessible! Word of mouth, whether virtual or real-time, was and remains to be the most potent vehicle for awareness about the TLM. Networking, in other words. We were convinced to attend the TLM because of suggestions by our friends, colleagues, classmates.

Older Filipinos tapped into their vast and solid time-honoured network of friends and acquaintances. Knowing how lolo and lola fondly practice their quid pro quo negotiation skills with their legion of apo, it is not hard to picture overjoyed senior citizens brooking neither difficulty nor awkwardness in attempting to draw their prayer and catechism class companions, co-retirees and co-devotees, even their caregivers, into the ambit of the Traditional Latin Mass. To some extent this was crucial in building a base of people that are no longer harried by day to day geographical motions characteristic of middle-aged careerists. Ten years hence, it is difficult to imagine a Traditional Filipino community surviving without the smattering of older and wiser couples and individuals, the occasional sprightly spinster, or the even rarer generous widow ready to part with some monies to support the immediate costs of the celebrations (not that we know of any old-money widow showering donations upon a Traditional Filipino community in the same way as the Baroness of Castillo de Chirel had done to the splinter group that now forms an enclave in El Palmar de Troya), and quick to present themselves at Masses offered at hours eschewed by a youth more comfortable with the afternoon and the after-dusk.

Younger Filipinos, on the other hand, relied heavily on their Internet-mediated liaisons. Amongst them were the apo with whom lolo and lola sampled their diplomatic prowess, and the brave souls who finally found their grail after a long search. Puberty stirs in a teenager that strange double-edged desire to rebel and to be approved of, to stand out and to fit, something that can persist for a long time in others. The World Wide Web is one such outlet for this aspiration. Ten years ago, Friendster and Multiply were the it platforms for online socialisation, which is to say that the level of interaction they offered were primitive. They were protozoans compared to the multicellular organism that is Facebook today, when the great mysteries of the Faith are trafficked in photos and videos in a virtual world at a real-time pace. But beyond ensuring that the Traditional Latin Mass leaves an online footprint, the spectacle of young Filipinos at Mass today assures us that our Traditional communities can survive not only because high school and university students or young professionals are ready to volunteer to fill in roles in the sanctuary and in the loft, but most importantly because we can see a pool of young men and women discerning their vocation. There is no other place in the world where we can discover isolation and inclusion so programmatically sutured to one another more successfully than in social media, except in the priesthood and in the consecrated life. Naturally, we have no solid statistics for the archipelago to back up what we asserted between the lines: that the TLM cultivates the vocation of many Filipino youth. But without resorting to clear-cut figures, we can name a seminarian or two who had once served in the TLM, and this is enough for us now.

Propagation is one goal. The other is growth. When we look at the number of likes a post about the Traditional Latin Mass generates on Facebook overnight, we cannot help but wonder what would happen if all these online supporters actually went to the Mass that was celebrated. A thousand likes against eighty in attendance is an obscene discrepancy of two orders of magnitude. Which says two things about the situation of the TLM in the Philippines. One, TLM communities, knowing the Filipino propensity for the spectacular, for one reason or another, fail or refuse to offer enough additional incentives to coax potential members out from under the rock of default spectatorship. Perhaps many Filipino Catholics, otherwise predisposed against subverting the so-called spirit of Vatican II, condescend to tolerate Traditional communities because they are not making any perceptible impact. If significant, not consistent. They are keeping the lull and not brewing disaster. Geography is partly to blame here: The Philippines is an archipelago where travel is either prehistoric and cheap or less prehistoric but exorbitant. Even in metropolitan centres, where traffic can turn major thoroughfares into parking lots, mobilisation is a feat achieved only by a few. And this brings us to our second point. Virtual approval is never to be considered a reliable barometer of actual Filipino acceptance of the TLM because a post on social media reaches people living outside the archipelago.

While it is clear that technology contributed and continues to contribute a lot in the area of TLM propagation, we cannot hold it in the same lofty esteem when we tackle the question of actually ensuring the survival of Traditional communities in the foreseeable future. A Filipino planning to attend his first TLM can use the Internet to familiarise himself with everything about the Old Rite. If the target date gets pushed back, maybe because by an unfortunate syzygy there is no forceful tug yet on Evelyn Waugh’s metaphorical thread, if the quarantine period prolongs indefinitely, the curiosity might erode. On top of this, Filipinos harbour a “homecooked meal” mentality—if it does not taste like Mama’s sinigang, it ain’t sinigang at all—which only means that, if that first TLM, or the ones after it, failed to deliver the awe that the photos and videos promised, well, we might witness a fallout faster than an emotional breakdown in a romcom flick. The astonishing completeness of online collections of photos so detailed and chronological—to a point one can “attend” Mass by just “looking” at the powerful and magical near-choreographed perfection crystallised in the images—might eventually lead these disgruntled individuals into foregoing actual attendance in favour of Sunday livestreams and the de-rigueur post-Missam uploads.

In an age of microdemocracy and hashtag activism, demographic winter is as much a real prospect in non-contracepting TLM communities as it is a policy-mediated problem in contracepting countries. Filipino Catholics—priests, religious, and lay—dedicated to Tradition oftentimes willingly cross four civil jurisdictions and five ecclesiastical circumscriptions every Sunday to celebrate or attend Mass in the Old Rite, sacrifice vacations and weekends, even workhours. Raw longing for that “encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist”, for that communion with the Lord in the Mass, according to the Old Rite sustains them. Intrigue and monotony have their way of whittling down that longing. The challenge therefore to Filipino groups at the helm of this more-than-a-decade-old affair, now that the document that revolutionised it is entering its second decade, is to see to it that those already involved in the movement—not just a selected few in the rank and file—find encouragement for spiritual growth over and above the doldrums of warm fraternisation.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

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