Arlington bishop curtails Traditional Latin Masses

A Traditional Latin Mass A Traditional Latin Mass. | Andrew Gardner via Wikimedia (CC BY 4.0).

Thirteen parishes in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, must stop offering Traditional Latin Masses come Sept. 8 under new rules issued Friday by Bishop Michael J. Burbidge to conform with Pope Francis' liturgical directives.

Under the rules, eight other parishes may continue to offer Masses in what is called the Extraordinary Form, but five of those may only do so in other locations besides their churches, including school buildings and a former church.

Moreover, none of the eight parishes may publish the times of their Latin Masses in their bulletins, parish websites, or social media channels, in conformity with the Vatican's requirements.

Three parishes in the 70-parish diocese may continue to host Latin Masses in their churches. They are: St. Anthony Mission in King George, St. Rita Church in Alexandria, and St. John the Beloved in McLean.

In a five-page document outlining the policy Burbidge says the rules are meant to “strengthen ecclesial communion” within the diocese and conform to the mandates Pope Francis published a little over a year ago in his motu proprio Traditionis custodes, as well as more specific restrictions the Vatican issued in December.

“The unique expression of the sacred liturgy is found in the liturgical books reformed according to the desires of the Second Vatican Council and promulgated by Pope Saint Paul VI and Pope Saint John Paul,” Burbidge says in the document.

The new policy makes no explicit mention of a ban on Masses said ad orientem, or facing away from the congregation, in either the new or old form, as is now in place in the neighboring Archdiocese of Washington.

The Arlington Diocese's policy goes into effect Sept. 8, the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The list of off-site TLM locations

A statement published on the Arlington Diocese’s website says Burbidge submitted a “request for dispensation from Traditionis custodes” to the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in Rome.

Burbidge made the request so that “the approximately 2.5% of local, Mass-attending Catholics who prefer this liturgical form” in the diocese could continue to have access to Traditional Latin Masses, the statement says.

“Consequently, three parishes were granted permission to continue celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass in their parish churches for a term of two years,” the statement continues.

The diocese's policy says that this permission “may be extended upon the approval of the Dicastery, so long as ongoing work toward a unitary form (use of the third edition of the Roman Missal, promulgated in English in 2011 and in Spanish in 2018) of celebration of the Sacred Liturgy continues."

An additional five parishes may offer Latin Masses at off-site locations. They are:

  • St. John the Baptist Church, Front Royal, in Chelsea Academy, Front Royal;

  • Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, Winchester, in Sacred Heart Academy;

  • All Saints Church, Manassas, in Renaissance Montessori School, Nokesville;

  • St. John the Apostle Church, Leesburg, in the historic chapel, and

  • St. Patrick Church, Fredericksburg, in the former church building.

‘Pushed to the side’?

For some Catholics like Sean and Jennifer Nelson who prefer the Traditional Latin Mass, Burbidge's new policy came as a shock.

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The Stafford, Virginia, couple, both adult converts, began attending Latin Masses at St. Patrick’s in Fredericksburg a year ago, drawn by the liturgy's timeless, sacred beauty.

“I can’t think of any greater countersign to the world than the liturgy of the old rite,” said Sean Nelson, 34.

“The interior participation, the beauty of the words, everything about it signals that this is a foretaste of heaven, that this is where you should be, this is the world of God,” he said.

“And I think that's especially important nowadays where we're losing so much of that sense of God's presence … to be in a place where that's so abundantly clear,” he said. “It just opens your heart up to the salvation that Christ and the Church offers.”

Sean and Jennifer Nelson, of Stafford, Virginia, on Easter Sunday 2022 at St. Patrick Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia, with their three sons: (left to right) Luke, Mark, and Matthew. Courtesy of Sean Nelson
Sean and Jennifer Nelson, of Stafford, Virginia, on Easter Sunday 2022 at St. Patrick Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia, with their three sons: (left to right) Luke, Mark, and Matthew. Courtesy of Sean Nelson

In January, Burbidge prohibited the use of the Extraordinary Form for baptisms, weddings, and other sacraments, in conformance with the Vatican's directives, but he allowed the then 21 parishes offering the Traditional Latin Mass to continue doing so for the time being.

Nelson said his family has been praying for the preservation of the Latin Mass at St. Patrick’s since Pope Francis issued his motu proprio a year ago. Their hope was that any additional policies the diocese might implement to conform to the pope’s directive would not result in dramatic changes.

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Instead, Nelson learned Friday night that nearly two-thirds of the parishes in the diocese that now offer Latin Masses can no longer do so after Sept. 8. Also, St. Patrick’s Latin Masses must move from the parish’s new, classically styled church to its former, more modern-looking worship space, which no longer has pews and functions mostly as a “fellowship hall,” Nelson said.

“And so it was just sort of a shock and disappointing,” he said. “I felt like we're being pushed to the side.”

Nelson believes the diocese’s new policy may spark additional interest in the old liturgy. Even if that doesn’t happen, he wonders how just eight approved parishes and alternate sites will accommodate the diocese’s flourishing Traditional Latin Mass community.

As for Nelson and his family, they’ll squeeze into the alternate worship space or stand outside on the sidewalk if it comes to that.

“As long as we’re allowed to have it, we’re going to be there, however difficult it is,” he said.

“We'll just just pray harder and hope that people see that we're working to build the church and spread the Gospel, and do it the best way that we can.”

Delegate named

Burbidge named Father Bjorn Lundberg, pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Winchester, as his delegate “to assist with the implementation of this policy and to oversee the pastoral and spiritual care of the faithful who are impacted by it.”

Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington. CNA Photo
Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington. CNA Photo

“While these new norms will bring some change to the places and times of worship, I ask all in our diocese to maintain a spirit of unity and fidelity,” Burbidge said in a letter accompanying the new policy.

“The promulgation of Traditionis Custodes recalls for all of us, Christ's faithful, the Second Vatican Council's teaching found in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium: ‘Liturgical services are not private functions, but are celebrations of the Church, which is the “sacrament of unity,” namely, the holy people united and ordered under their bishops,'" the policy states.

“For this reason, we ask the Holy Spirit to increase his gifts of unity and peace within the universal Church and within our local church. Let us pray with ever greater fervor that God Our Father will be pleased to grant her peace, and guard, unite and govern her throughout the whole world."

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