Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sitting in the Back of the Bus: the Extraordinary Form in the Diocse of Baker

The Society of St. Gregory the Great  is a membership association of Catholic laity formed in 2008 to promote divine worship in accordance with the Supreme Magisterium of the Church; the Society has sponsored a monthly Mass in the extraordinary form at the historic St. Francis Church in Bend, Oregon, since 2008. The past six months, the Society has had a very difficult time making that Mass happen.

Why? The primary reason is lack of a priest willing, able, and available to say the Mass. There are only a handful of willing and able priests in the Diocese of Baker, and they are spread far and wide. In July, Fr. Christopher Agoha traveled all the way from La Grande, OR (a 5-hour drive) to say the EF Mass in Bend on a Saturday evening, even though he was scheduled to say the same Mass in La Grande the very next day. His travel expenses were met only in part by the Society. It was a labor of love for Fr. Christopher.

There are other important reasons for lack of a priest, however. The main reason has to do with administrative decisions made by Bishop William Skylstad, currently (and temporarily) the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese. These administrative decisions were: a) on March 22 to restrict the exercise of the sacerdotal faculties of the priest who had been regularly offering this Mass in Bend; and b) on September 17 to transfer to a remote corner of the Diocese the only other local priest (Fr. Joseph Levine) willing and able to assume the responsibilities of offering these Masses for the Society. 

In short, Bishop Skylstad's actions have served to prevent these Masses and frustrate the legitimate spiritual aspirations of the faithful who desire the Mass in the extraordinary form.

The Society is attempting to follow the guidelines laid out in Summorum Pontificum and the Instruction on that document in order to reverse the trend we are now seeing toward fewer EF Mass. The Society has repeatedly asked the pastor of Saint Francis of Assisi Church in Bend to provide Holy Mass in the extraordinary form at that church on a regular and frequent basis on Sundays and holy days of obligation. It has now referred the matter to the bishop.

In related news, the EF Mass in La Grande, Oregon, has also been curtailed. The EF Mass had been offered there on a weekly basis for almost a year. Administrative decisions (due to a priest being removed from priestly ministry in this diocese) again cut into the [willing-and-able] priest's available time, and the EF Mass was the first (and only) Mass to be "cut".

At this point, there are no easily accessible EF Masses for the faithful to attend in this Diocese. This situation is directly the result of the actions taken by our Apostolic Administrators.


The Apostolic Administrator says that he doesn't have anything against the extraordinary form. Why, "we have one of those in Spokane," he told two members of the SSGG Board of Directors. Wow. Now that's saying something...

And he has nothing against Latin or Gregorian chant. Of course, he told us, it's obvious that the participation of the laity cannot possibly be as complete in Latin as it would be in the vernacular. Hmmm. I objected, and pointed out that the Society always provide a booklet with the English translation of the Latin prayers. "People won't read it," he said. He also said that, well, some people think the extraordinary form know... "just a show". Yes. He said those things. Really.

Actions do speak louder than words. No matter what "positive" things he says about the "Latin Mass" (a term he used, but he meant the extraordinary form), his actions say that: a) it is not a priority for him to provide it for the people; b) he doesn't believe it is a worthy celebration of the liturgy; and c) he has no intention of making the extraordinary form easily accessible, regularly celebrated, or a part of the liturgical life of the diocese.

Why, yes, Your Excellency...yes...I guess I am feeling a little bitter about this.

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