When a wealthy couple complained to Detroit's Abp. Allen Vigneron several months ago that they don’t much like the way the Mass is being celebrated at their parish, he wasted little time in acceding to their demands — even though it required stomping on a young priest, ordained 11 years ago, whose offense is being too faithful to the Church.
The couple, according to multiple sources, are generous contributors to the archdiocese and are offended that long-time pastor of St. Edward on the Lake, Fr. Lee Acervo, has been saying the Novus Ordo Mass ad orientem ("to the East"). This means he celebrates the Novus Ordo Mass in English facing God in the tabernacle.
According to sources familiar with the controversy at the parish, located in St. Clair County, the whole region has a strong history of traditional liturgical practice. The complaint from the couple is the single complaint against ad orientem at the parish since Fr. Acervo introduced it during Advent 13 months ago.
In a long column in the Jan. 20 issue of his parish bulletin describing the chain of events leading to hostile measures against him, Fr. Acervo notes that he has been personally enriched by the ad orientem posture:
I like to think that it has had a positive impact on us as a parish. I know for myself as a priest offering the Mass, I find it so edifying and prayerful. It’s amazing how different it is when I turn back the other way. Mass ad orientem is like having an intimate conversation with the Lord. I’ve also heard from so many of you about how it has enriched you.
Additionally, Fr. Acervo wrote, "I received a couple dozen copies of letters written by you to the Archbishop stating your appreciation of the ad orientem worship. Thank you for your support."
But based on the single complaint from the wealthy donors, the priest's liturgical practice is being severely restricted. As explained in a letter from Auxiliary Bishop Robert Fisher, beginning on Feb. 1, Fr. Acervo is forbidden to use ad orientem except for one weekend a month and only twice during weekday Masses.
Vigneron's dramatic reaction to that single complaint is in stark contrast to how he routinely ignores virtually all complaints about egregious liturgical abuses of every sort in liberal and heterodox parishes, including the Dignity/Detroit Mass, which has been forbidden by the Vatican since 1986, but which Vigneron passive-aggressively defends with a vengeance.
Vigneron's interference against a rather mild embrace of liturgical practice at St. Edward on the Lake also sends yet another shot across the bow to tradition-minded folks in his jurisdiction that there are serious limits to his claims of "changing the DNA" within the local Church — a catch phrase of his "Unleashing the Gospel" campaign, which aims to raise $220 million for his archdiocese. The archdiocese has a long history of hostility to all things Latin, even though the situation changed dramatically after Summorum Pontificum in 2007, which restricted the ability of bishops to forbid the Tridentine Mass. Thus, it remains safe for Fr. Acervo to celebrate the Tridentine Mass every Sunday at 8 p.m. in his parish.
Detroit-area native Alex Begin, who has been encouraging the expansion of Traditional liturgy in the archdiocese since 1985 and has become nationally prominent as a lay expert on such matters, even training priests from dioceses around the country on how to say Mass in the Extraordinary Form, told Church Militant, "St. Edward on the Lake has a long traditional history."
Father Acervo likewise has always been known as profoundly traditional, even before he was ordained by Cdl. Adam Maida in May 2008.
Begin produces a series of programs for EWTN titled "Extraordinary Faith," featuring traditional liturgical practice. Vigneron's own newspaper, The Michigan Catholic, featured an article about the series that included coverage of Fr. Acervo as an expert in traditional worship.
Despite the setback in his parish, Fr. Acervo is optimistic that the tide is turning against the likes of Abp. Vigneron, mainly because a new breed of priests and seminarians reject archdiocesan-style modernism. Those were not Acervo's words exactly, of course; he put it this way in his column:
I know that some of you might be wondering what the big deal is or might be frustrated by all the politics (I am too). But my task as a pastor is to glorify God in all things and to lead souls to Him, and the Sacred Liturgy is the primary means by which this happens. I can tell you that other priests are offering Mass ad orientem, especially younger priests like myself (forty-four is still "young," yes?) Even priests who I never thought would offer Mass ad orientem are doing so at least occasionally.
More and more seminarians, as young people are learning about the beauty of our Catholic heritage and wondering why so much of our tradition was abandoned after Vatican II, are drawn toward ad orientem worship and are speaking about it openly when my generation of seminarians would never have dared to talk about it openly for fear of correction. [emphasis added]
So while disappointed, I am also edified by the spark of hope that exists in some of our future priests. I am also reminded that we (all of us) must be willing to suffer patiently for what is good — especially for what is eternally good. And isn't that what we are reminded of every time we look at the Cross?