Common Wisdom Episkopos Eleison

Bishop Frank Harrison of the Syracuse, New .1-.) York diocese has halted the celebration of Mass in the Tridentine rite. According to news reports, the decision to discontinue this practice, allowed under the Papal Indult, was based on the belief that the Mass had become the occa­sion for dissenters to question the legitimacy of the “new Mass.”

I do not intend to argue for or against either of the legitimate rites. I have attended the Tridentine rite in my diocese twice during the year it has been allowed. I was im­pressed that the large church was filled on both occasions, especially since the time — 10 A.M. on Saturday — is not the most convenient time for families to attend Mass, and because, as we used to say, this Mass “doesn’t count” for the Sunday obligation. The comparison of Mass vs. Mass is not an issue that consumes my energies, but the process used to defend cancellation of the Tridentine Mass in Syracuse seems a bit unpastoral and contrived.

Apparently, the liturgist of the Syracuse diocese, Msgr. Joseph Chaplin, held a “discussion” following the ceremony at each of the four churches where the Tridentine rite was celebrated. During the question-and-answer periods of these meetings, some participants, to quote from the letter Bishop Harrison subsequently sent to the priests of the diocese, “attacked the integrity of church officials and the orthodoxy of church teaching pertaining to the Mass of Pope Paul VI.” Was Msgr. Chaplin really surprised that the first Tridentine Mass held in the diocese would be used as an oc­casion for followers of Archbishop Lefevre to air their com­plaints?

Surely, it was predictable that holding “discussions” after the Mass would bring out those who feel disenfran­chised and alienated by the disappearance of the Tridentine rite. That kind of process invariably produces a “gripe ses­sion.” There is some real value in discovering the “pain and anguish” of those who mistakenly feel betrayed by the “changes” in the Mass, but such discoveries should lead to pastoral understanding and reconciliation.

One newspaper reported that “Lefevrites” encouraged the people present at the “discussion” session to attend the illicit Tridentine Mass held in the diocese. I do not defend this kind of rebellion, but I can imagine how a loyal Catholic. who appreciates the beauty of the Tridentine rite would ac­cept this offer if no other opportunity is provided for attendance at the “old Mass.” Perhaps the Syracuse diocese has invited this kind of disobedience, by what could easily appear to be arbitrary discipline lodged against loyal Catholics — by denying them access to the Tridentine rite simply because a few of those who attended the “discus­sions” were followers of Archbishop Lefevre.

 I am not a canon lawyer, but it seems to me that the dis­sent voiced during the nationwide “listening sessions” on the concerns of women in the church challenges the founda­tions of Catholicism more dangerously than dissent over which rite should be used for the Mass. During the “listen­ing sessions” I attended, I heard women attack the church’s teachings on induced abortion, contraception and, ordina­tion of women, among other things. I’m not aware of any diocese that cancelled the “listening sessions” because the legitimacy of church teaching was attacked. Quite the con­trary; there has been an almost overboard effort to accom­modate dissent.

Again, I do not support those who question the legitimacy of the Novus Ordo, nor do I support those who dissent from fundamental church teachings forbidding the direct and intentional killing of innocent unborn children. But, when discipline is handed out, it should be even­handed. The “listening sessions” were not halted even though some participants dissented from church teachings. The Tridentine Mass in Syracuse was halted because some dissented from the church’s teaching. Selective discipline is destructive to any family, including the family of the church.

The “old Mass” is a part of the personal religious history of many Catholics. The sense of reverence, majesty, awe, and yes, even comfort that many of us experience in­volves nothing sinister, nothing intended to sow the seeds of division. We just like to attend an “old Mass” on occasion. Maybe it is just a matter of taste, and, as Chesterton said, who can argue about taste? Still, many Catholics value their personal religious history, of which the Tridentine Mass is a part. It is unfair to deny us this beautiful ceremony because “some participants” are not loyal to what the church teaches.

I realize recently how speedily “little things” about one’s religious history can be lost. My son and I were watching the television awards for musical artists — of the “rock” category. I am a non-fan of this music. In fact, my son and I have an on-going battle over which radio station will hold forth in the car. (I have rather enjoyed this battle because it is identical to the struggle between my parents and myself in the fifties — Elvis or Perry Como?) Anyway, as we watched this awards program a group calling itself “Mr. Mister” appeared amidst flashing disco lights and dry-ice fog. The lead singer was dressed in modified punk with just a touch of the fifties — for tradition’s sake, no doubt. He didn’t look like an “artist” to me. (I smiled at the thought that anyone would have described Elvis as an artist when he shaked and quaked to “You Ain’t Nothin’ But A Hound Dog.”) I settled back into my comfy chair and prepared myself to give my son a good teasing about these “artists.” The singer began:

The winds blows hard against this mountainside,

across the sea into my soul;

it reaches into where I cannot hide,

setting my feet upon the road.

My heart is old, it holds my memories.

My body burns, a gemlike flame;

somewhere between the soul and soft machine

is where I find myself again.

Kyrie Eleison, down the road that I must travel,

Kyrie Eleison, through the darkness of the night.

Kyrie Eleison, where I’m goin’ will you follow

Kyrie Eleison, on a highway in the light?

I couldn’t believe my ears at first. “Kyrie Eleison”?!! The song concluded:

When I was young I thought

of growing old,

of what my life would mean to me.

Would I have followed down my chosen road,

or only wished that I could be?

Well, that sure beats “Long Tall Sally,” “Blueberry Hill,” and “Whole Lot Of Shakin’ Goin’ On.” Maybe there are some true artists among these pale and frantic young people, who scream at us with their electric sounds.

I asked my son if he knew what “Kyrie Eleison” meant. He didn’t. I

felt the same sadness I experienced when I read about Bishop Harrison’s prohibition of the Tridentine Mass. My son had missed a very beautiful contribution of the Catholic Church to the worship of God. He doesn’t remember the “old Mass” and he didn’t study Greek, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that he didn’t know the mean­ing of “Kyrie Eleison.”

I will be able to expose my son to my personal religious history as it’s contained in the Tridentine Mass by taking him to one of the Saturday morning Masses in my diocese. To do the same for their children, the mothers in Syracuse New York would have to attend a separatist church.

Episkopos Eleison!


  • Ann O'Donnell

    Ann O'Donnell is a wife, mother, and registered nurse. She is founder of Women for Faith and Family, a St. Louis-based organization formed to support Church teachings on abortion, human sexuality and family life.

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