By Bill Brewer
Diocese of Knoxville priests who celebrate Mass in the extraordinary form of the Roman rite can still do so, and those Latin Mass communities in the diocese can continue to worship in diocesan churches, at least for the time being, according to guidance from Bishop Richard F. Stika issued July 21.
The letter from Bishop Stika was delivered following the July 16 motu proprio from Pope Francis, titled Traditionis custodes (Guardians of the tradition), which restricts the use of the traditional Latin Mass and prohibits it from being celebrated in parochial churches.
Traditionis custodes states that it is each bishop’s “exclusive competence” to authorize the use of the Latin Mass in his diocese according to the 1962 Roman Missal.
The pope’s apostolic letter revokes the faculty given by Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI that allowed priests to celebrate Mass in the extraordinary form of the Roman rite without needing the permission of their bishop.
In his letter, Bishop Stika acknowledged the conflict many bishops are facing between adhering to the precepts of Pope Francis’ motu proprio, which places primacy on the post-Second Vatican Council liturgy, and serving an active and faithful segment of the Catholic Church devoted to pre-Vatican II liturgy.
“I take seriously my role as guardian of the sacred liturgy for the Diocese of Knoxville; therefore, it is my duty to direct the celebration of the pre-conciliar liturgy in accord with the mind of the Church expressed in this latest document from Pope Francis. However, I have a pastoral solicitude for those attached to this liturgy and see in them much faithfulness and fruitfulness,” Bishop Stika wrote.
“With the express provision that those attached to this form of the Mass reaffirm their submission to the Roman Pontiff, the full teachings of the Second Vatican Council, and the validity and liceity of the post-conciliar reforms of the liturgy, I wish to offer the opportunity for this liturgy to continue in the Diocese of Knoxville,” he added.
Bishop Stika also acknowledged the difficulty in canceling Latin Masses celebrated in diocesan churches and forcing them to move offsite from church property on such short notice. Pope Francis’ directive was effective July 16.
“One provision of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Letter states that bishops are to ‘designate’ the locations of traditional liturgies, adding that they cannot be offered at ‘parochial churches.’ Owing to the fact that currently all of the places where this Mass is offered are in parochial churches, with no readily available alternatives, for the good of the faithful, I temporarily dispense from this provision for the sake of the common good. It is my hope that in the course of time and with due clarification from proper authority, we will be able to arrive at a sound solution to this provision of the new document,” Bishop Stika stated.
Latin Mass congregations in the diocese have been digesting Pope Francis’ surprising decision. Two of the larger congregations, at the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul and Holy Ghost, were addressed by those pastors during July 18 Masses.
At the basilica in Chattanooga, Father David Carter spoke of his church’s Latin Mass community, “full of life and enthusiasm for the faith,” and exhorted it to deepen their faith in Christ and His Church by embracing the universal Church and its teachings.
“This is a moment for us to do a deep examination of conscience. Are we Catholic or are we Protestant? Do we belong to the Universal Church founded by Christ upon the Rock of Peter, or do we protest that authority and separate ourselves in schism or apostasy from the vicar of Christ, the successor of Peter? It is OK to be hurt and to grieve. Peter is not always prudent, as he proved over and again in the Scriptures. But we must not make the mistake of Job or follow the error of Judas,” Father Carter said.
“We have all been confused by the words and actions of Pope Francis. But that does not give us the right to rebellion or sedition within the Church. You may have been wounded by the harsh words of our Holy Father. I have been, too. How will we react? This is the question we must ask ourselves. Will we contribute to the further wounding of the Body of Christ, or will we be healed by humility? I preach to myself as first in need of hearing this message! Do we submit with intellect and will to the teaching authority and governance of the Church established by Christ upon the Rock of St. Peter, or do we cling in pride and a sense of righteousness and purity to another for our salvation?” he asked.
At Holy Ghost in Knoxville, Father Bill McNeeley spoke to some 500 faithful who filled the church for the Latin Mass celebration on July 18.
“I’m supportive of Latin Mass here, and I know our bishop is as well. We’re going to do what we can to figure out how to have a Latin Mass for our Latin Mass community. I can tell you that there are parishioners who do not go to the Latin Mass who have called me to express their concern. The bishop supports us, and I’m here with him, and we’re going to figure this out,” Father McNeeley said.
Father McNeeley discussed what a challenge the Vatican’s decision on Latin Mass is.
“It’s easy to be a faithful Catholic when we like what is being said; when we agree with everything. It really shows our faith when we are willing to be faithful to the Church and faithful to our earthly shepherds, even when we’re not sure where that shepherd is taking us. … I’m here to serve you, to serve Christ and His Church to the glory of God,” he added.
Father Adam Kane, who celebrated the Holy Ghost Latin Mass, echoed Father McNeeley in assuring the congregation that Bishop Stika supports it.
“I would encourage you to pray, pray, and pray some more, especially appealing to Our Lady and also the saints who have gone through the same thing,” Father Kane said.