Matt C. Abbott
October 17, 2007
Priests' opposing views on Latin Mass
By Matt C. Abbott

In recent parish bulletins, Father J. Patrick Wissman, pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Bolivar, Mo., lashed out at Pope Benedict's motu proprio Summorum Pontificum.

Father Wissman wrote, in part:

    'The Pope seems to be out of touch with the ordinary church. He seems to be acting in good will, but giving into the 'letter writers' who have been complaining for years, he will create a shadow church and cause great divisions in every diocese. Such will be that when churches are built, they would have to accommodate both rites and seminarians would have to take courses in Latin. During many centuries seminarians have fallen through the cracks and not been able to reach the goal of the priesthood because Latin was too difficult for them. This was a scandal! To return to such a course would be lunacy!

    'The nature of the language we worship in is crucial. Worship language must be immediate...namely, not translated in the head Latin would speak to the intellect at bestand that is not good enough. The language of worship must speak to the heart as well as the head.

    'The gospel is meant to enlighten and challenge us! It is my opinion that the use of Latin should have been done away with hundreds of years ago. This is one of the things that Martin Luther was right about. After WWII Christians worldwide shook their heads in sober sadness and declared that Christianity had failed in Europe because it had let Hitler and his hateful and mad ways to succeed. Some very holy people said: 'No, Christianity was just never tried.' I fault the use of Latin as partly responsible for the rise and success of Hitler and his neo-pagan mythology which was obviously the religion he was supporting and that actually managed to capture the German imagination. I say the people, because of Latin never were confronted by the gospel. The Mass and the sacraments never really reached down deep into the soul. There are some notable exceptions of priests and laity and some very heroic ones as well as Protestant theologians who confronted the lies of Hitler of course, they were gotten rid of...."

Father John Trigilio, Jr., president of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, provided me (upon my asking) with the following response to Father Wissman's commentary.

    'This pastor was born in 1938 and ordained in 1964; hence, he grew up and was trained in the seminary according to the Tridentine Mass. Yet, most of his priesthood has been in the Novus Ordo. While he has experience of the extraordinary as well as the ordinary form of the Roman Missal, his statements and judgments about the motu proprio are totally non sequitur.

    'First, he classifies the request for a Latin (and not just Latin but the usus antiquior, i.e., Missal of 1962) as being 'selfish.' That is an ad hominem attack to say the least. Are Hispanics 'selfish' for asking for a Mass in Spanish? Are Italo-Americans selfish for wanting an Italian Mass? Of course not. The desire and request for a Latin Mass, be it Novus Ordo according to the 1970 Missal or the Tridentine based on the 1962 Missal, is not selfish. What is selfish is the prejudicial attitude to refuse and to ridicule those who have a spiritual need for something the Church allows, permits and now encourages.

    'Secondly, he insults anyone who likes Latin as being 'disobedient' and being dissenters from the Second Vatican Council. Actually, priests and bishops who refuse to implement the papal motu proprio are the ones who are disobedient, not the faithful who have the right to request the extraordinary form of the Mass and the Sacraments. Selfish priests are the ones who refuse to provide for the spiritual needs of their flock just because their requests do not conform to his own personal preferences. The same papal authority which inaugurated the ordinary form of the Mass (Novus Ordo) also issued the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. Benedict XVI is as much pope as was Paul VI. Both enjoyed full, immediate, universal and supreme authority, hence, one cannot pick and choose which pope or which act of papal authority to comply with and which to disregard.

    'It is not dissent to want and to request the Latin Mass, either. Vatican II did not mandate a totally vernacular Mass. It allowed the possibility of some parts of the Mass to be in the vernacular. Sacrosanctum Concilium (1963) #36 states '[T]he use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.' It goes on to say in #54, '[I]n Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their mother tongue ... Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.'

    'So, how can the request for Latin be construed as anti-Vatican II?

    'Third, he resorts to the reductio ad absurdam fallacy in saying the pope is 'out of touch with the ordinary church' and that he risks creating a 'shadow church' which will divide the true church. The pope is head of the universal church and not just the church in North America. With several continents, cultures, languages and ethnic traditions within Roman Catholicism, some elements of unity need to be preserved. Latin language and Gregorian chant are not threats, nor are they antithetical to English or to contemporary church music. Whenever the pope visits a nation or presides at World Youth Day, it is amazing how many Catholics from outside the U.S. can pray and sing both in Latin and in their own mother tongue. Young and old can express both unity and diversity by sharing the same liturgical language (e.g., Hebrew in Judaism, Arabic in Islam and Greek in Eastern Orthodoxy) and by retaining some of their own vernacular.

    'Fourth, Pope Benedict acutely recognizes that Catholicism is the 'great religion of the Et ... Et ' (both/and) rather than the Aut ... Aut (either/or) found in other religions. Hence, we have both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition; both faith and good works; both Eastern (Byzantine) and Western (Roman) rites. The motu proprio continues this process by affirming both the ordinary and the extraordinary forms of the Roman Rite. Father Pat, however, prefers to have it reduced to either/or. Either vernacular or Latin but not both, according to him. Pope Benedict and others believe differently.

    'Lastly, I find it most offensive and bizarre to blame Nazism on Latin. While it is true that Catholics in Germany had the Latin Mass before, during, and after 1933-1945 (Hitler's Third Reich), 62 percent of the nation was Lutheran and only 32 percent was Catholic. Germany also had the third largest population of Jews in Europe. Though he himself was born and baptized a Catholic, Hitler repudiated the Catholic faith and never received any other sacraments. He practiced no religion as an adult. There is no corollary between the Latin Mass and the Nazi rise to power, and Father Pat should be ashamed to create one. That's what is misleading, not Pope Benedict, not the motu proprio and certainly not Latin or the usus antiquior.

    'On the contrary, as Father [John] Zuhlsdorf has pointed out, there is a mutual gravitational pull between the ordinary and the extraordinary forms of the Roman rite. The 'old Latin Mass' and the 'new vernacular Mass' will reciprocally and beneficially affect each other since they come from one and the same Roman Rite. The dichotomous opposition is not intrinsic to either liturgical form, rather the focal point of animosity and foments of discontent originate in the paranoia of those who vehemently hate anything connected to Catholic tradition and custom. Catholicism preserves the best of the past while adopting the best of the new. It did so with Hebrew and Greek centuries ago and continues to do so with Latin and the vernacular today.

    'I find Latin a unifying rather than dividing language. Attend a papal Mass in Rome where millions come year round on pilgrimage. Despite the plethora of languages and cultures, everyone joins in the Sanctus, the Pater Noster and the Agnus Dei. Whether the Mass is entirely in Latin or just the common parts; whether the ordinary form (1970/2000 Missal) or the extraordinary form (1962 Missal); the beauty of Catholic Liturgy and worship is that it transcends time and space. Ironically, more irreverence and heresy have emanated from modern 'liturgical Nazis' who seek to impose their illegitimate abuses and agendas on the rest of the faithful.''

© Matt C. Abbott


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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He's been interviewed on MSNBC, NPR, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) in Madison, Wis., and has been quoted in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at

(Note: I welcome thoughtful feedback from readers. If you want our correspondence to remain confidential, please specify as such in your initial email to me. However, I reserve the right to forward and/or publish emails – complete with email addresses – that are accusatory, insulting or threatening in nature, even if those emails are marked confidential. Also, please be aware that RenewAmerica is not my website; RA's president and editor is Stephen Stone, who can be reached here. I'm just one of RA's columnists, for which I'm very grateful. I don't speak for the other RA columnists, so please don't email me to complain about what someone else has written. Thank you and God bless!)


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