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Monday, June 22, 2009

An Extraordinary Evening

The Solemn Pontifical Mass (extraordinary form) I attended this past Friday was quite an event, extraordinary you might say; I wonder if I will ever witness its like again.

The setting was stupendous, the opulent Church of St. Jean-Baptiste on the Upper East Side of Manhattan (pictures courtesy the Society of St. Hugh of Cluney; many more on their website). I attempted counting the number of sacred ministers and servers as they processed and came up with 28. The mass setting was by Ockeghem Josquin (what was I thinking?), works by by Palestrina, Byrd, Victoria and, of course, chant; organ music by Butxtehude and Alain. All were performed beautifully by the choir and organist, who played on a superb sounding instrument. Truly unforgettable.

The pontiff making it all pontifical was Bishop Fernando ArĂȘas Rifan of Campos, Brazil, Apostolic Administrator of the Priestly Union of Saint Jean-Marie Vianney, a strong advocate of the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite. From the pulpit he pontificated (I assume that's what a pontiff does) not only on the occasion of the mass, the Feast of the Sacred Heart, but also on the extraordinary form itself and why it is so vital to Holy Church: without even considering its beauty and majesty, it serves as a redoubt against error and misinterpretation. I can concur with that: even in my short tenure as a Catholic I have witnessed sufficient "creative" Novus Ordo masses to last a lifetime.


As I was coming down the steps of St. Jean-Baptiste after the mass, a well-dressed, clean-cut fellow was handing out copies of a letter addressed to Archbishop Dolan that urged him to establish a parish following "the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite as contemplated by Summorum Pontificuam." The man was asking people to sign the letter and mail it to the outfit responsible for it, which in turn would bundle the whole lot and send them to the Archbishop.

I took a copy and may well sign and mail it as requested. Still, I cannot help having reservations about this project. Much as I love the extraordinary form and much as I should love to see it returned to everyday use, I am also mindful it attracts, to be tactful about it, extraordinary types (I remember their analogues in Anglo-Catholic sacristies), whose life's purpose, it seems, is knowing every jot and tittle concerning its celebration and pouncing like panthers on those they perceive as erring, no matter how inadvertently. Make no mistake, we want and need people like them, they who exercise diligence over our Holy Mass, but just imagine the lot of a priest assigned to a parish where only the extraordinary form were celebrated; he would be living under a microscope, the poor unfortunate. Far more advisable, I think it, to bring the extraordinary form back to all parishes.

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