A couple of months ago there appeared an article by one Monsignor Pope who argued that interest in the Traditional Latin Mass had reached a plateau, and was possibly even declining. His view was that the expansion in the provision of Latin Masses far exceeded the demand, with the consequence of too many poorly attended Masses. The implication was that the number of Latin masses should be reduced. He was speaking in an American context, where the response to summorum pontificum was more generous than at this side of the Atlantic. I will not comment on his arguments, as my knowledge of the American scene is limited.
However, I do feel able to comment on the extent and adequacy of the provision to extraordinary form Masses in England and Wales. Prior to summorum pontificum, the extent, frequency and location of Latin Masses was largely at the discretion of the local ordinary, and provision varied markedly from diocese to diocese. In only a handful of dioceses was there a regular Sunday Mass in the older form at a convenient time, In most dioceses where there was provision for Sunday Masses, these took place at constantly moving locations, and at varying times, almost always in the afternoon.
In the aftermath of summorum pontificum, there was a significant increase in the provision - the average number of Sunday Masses in England and Wales increasing from about 25 to about 50. Mostly, the additional Masses were scheduled on a roster basis so that followers of the traditional Mass were expected to travel to a different church each Sunday to attend Masses scheduled at different times. This was probably not a deliberate policy, but resulted from the difficulty in finding priests who were willing, and had the time, to celebrate additional Masses. The possibility of substituting an established Novus Ordo Mass by an Extraordinary Form one was hardly considered for obvious reasons.
An additional point is that the location of EF Masses has generally been determined by the presence of a well disposed priests, rather than any strategic planning. As a consequence, it is not uncommon for there to be two Latin Masses relatively near to each other, when there are huge areas in the same diocese with no provision at all. This is something that can only be remedied by each diocese taking a lead and coming up with a coherent plan. The evidence is that this has not happened in most dioceses.
The question of whether there is sufficient provision of usus antiquior Masses is not a simple one. If one just looks at the average size of the congregation at Latin Masses, it is clear that there is over-provision, as congregations are generally small. Looked at another way, there are many of the faithful who would dearly like to attend a Latin Mass, but cannot do so, because there is no provision in their area. This would suggest under-provision.
One difficulty is in quantifying the inconvenience factor. If Novus Ordo Masses were scheduled for 3pm or only took place on the third Sunday of the month, what would be the size of their congregation be? Another factor is the need to allow congregations to build up. The experience is that, given a convenient time in a decent church with an able priest at a suitable location, Latin Mass congregations will grow. When the church of Sts Peter, Paul and Philomena in New Brighton was reopened by the Institute of Christ the King Supreme priest, the Sunday congregation was only about 40. Now it is about four times that and still growing.
So, in judging the adequacy of provision, it is not sufficient to look at the attendance at existing Masses. The demand needs to be assessed and then considerable thought needs to be given to the best way of satisfying the demand, always mindful of the limited resources that are available.
The above is a brief introduction to the current state of affairs in England and Wales. The next post will consider some possible ways forward.