Edward Pentin’s September 21 article for the National Catholic Register—on rumors that Pope Benedict XVI might celebrate Mass in the extraordinary form at the Vatican on November 3 for a group of traditionalist pilgrims from around the world—helped to kindle media interest in the upcoming pilgrimage, of which the Mass at St. Peter’s is the crowning event. While the rumors have proven unfounded—it was announced last week that Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, will be the celebrant of the November 3 Mass—the three-day gathering of supporters of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum is expected to draw international attention to the growing number of Catholics devoted to the older form of the Roman Rite.
Father Claude Barthe is the official chaplain of the pilgrimage, which is being organized by the Coetus Internationalis Pro Summorum Pontificum, a group that brings together the traditionalist Catholic organizations from different countries. Father Barthe has graciously granted this exclusive interview about the upcoming pilgrimage.
CWR: Father, there are people who would like to know a bit more about you. Can you please give us your brief curriculum vitae?
Father Claude Barthe: I was born in 1947 in Fleurance, in the southwest of France. My vocation goes back to my Catholic childhood. I studied at the Catholic Institute of Toulouse, as a diocesan seminarian, but the post-conciliar revolution forced me to leave the seminary. Then I studied history and law, appreciating the traditional liturgy, so much so that I went to Ecône where I was ordained a priest by Archbishop Lefebvre in 1979. Afterward I sided with the traditionalist “hardliners,” and then increasingly Roman, eventually becoming a diocesan priest. I also teach liturgy.
CWR: But how did the idea of this traditional pilgrimage come about, and why were you chosen as its chaplain?
Father Barthe: The idea of a traditional pilgrimage and a Mass in St. Peter’s for the “Summorum Pontificum people”—from both dioceses and congregations, including the Fraternity of St. Pius X—has been unfolding for about a year from Roman circles upholding the “reform of the reform,” where the extraordinary form of the Latin rite is considered to be the real backbone for a true revival of the liturgy. They thought of me for the (very small!) role of chaplain because I am seen as a supporter of “the union of the living forces,” namely of traditionalists of all persuasions.
CWR: On September 10, you held a press conference to formally announce the pilgrimage. Could you summarize the salient aspects of what was said on the occasion?
Father Barthe: First I wanted to point out that it will be a thanksgiving. The pilgrims will assist at a Mass in the extraordinary form in thanksgiving and support for the Holy Father upon the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, which, as is known, went into effect September 14, 2007. For many priests, diocesan and religious, who now celebrate their daily Mass in the extraordinary form, it is a truly immense spiritual benefit, as well as for the faithful of the parishes who can also enjoy this liturgy and its transcendence. It can be said that this act of Benedict XVI gave birth to a true “People of Summorum Pontificum.” These people want to thank him.
I must say that this will also be a demonstration of loyalty to Peter. The second purpose is to manifest our love for the Church and our fidelity to the See of Peter, particularly in the current difficult and bitter situation. We are well aware of the difficult work that the Holy Father faces today. The Traditional Roman Mass, in particular its Canon, has always been considered as a magnificent profession of Faith of the Church, Mater et Magistra: this is the liturgical creed that we would like to celebrate on the Tomb of the Apostles, with the Successor of Peter. And then our initiative will also be an offer and a plea. We want to donate this special gift to the Lord—above all to ask him the graces necessary for the Supreme Pontiff to continue the wonderful work he’s done from the beginning of his pontificate and, especially today, amid crosses and trials.
CWR: As the pilgrimage takes place soon after the opening of the Year of Faith, do you see a relationship between the two events?
Father Barthe: Sure. Our pilgrimage will also be an expression of participation in the mission of the Church. We would like to contribute to the “new evangelization” that the Holy Father wishes to promote by means of the Year of Faith with the ever-young traditional liturgy. It is quite clear that this ever-young traditional liturgy is the support of a large number of families—as well as many Catholic organizations and initiatives, especially for young people (oratories, schools, catechism classes)—and is the source of a constantly growing number of priestly and religious vocations, which today in the western world is an extremely valuable phenomenon.
CWR: I would say that sometimes there is not enough reflection on this vocational “crisis” experienced by traditional institutions, as opposed to that of ordinary dioceses, in the sense that the former are often forced to reject candidates for the priesthood due to a lack of facilities.
Father Barthe: It seems to me that it is necessary to insist on this point. By the grace of God, in some countries, such as France and the United States—but the phenomenon could concern other areas as well—the traditional liturgy, unfortunately without filling all voids, keeps growing in the important area of vocations. In France, for example, in addition to 710 diocesan seminarians, there are 140 French seminarians (including 50 of the SSPX) who are dedicated to the extraordinary form—that is to say, 16 percent of all vocations to the priesthood in France. Furthermore, the spiritual dispositions of this diocesan clergy is also in full transformation: young diocesan priests and diocesan seminarians are attracted to the celebration of the two forms of the Rite and specifically say so (in France, it is no exaggeration to say that at least one third of candidates for the diocesan priesthood can be considered favorable to Summorum Pontificum).
This is what we would like to express with the pilgrimage and Mass in St. Peter’s on November 3: what you can call the “People of Summorum Pontificum”—“le petit people” as they say in French to indicate ordinary people—is now available to the Holy Father for the Church’s mission.
CWR: Any final reflections on the upcoming pilgrimage?
Father Barthe: I would say—with words that are by no means “theology” but that the faithful will understand—that this Mass of November 3 intends to be a great “parish” mass: Catholics from all over the world come to pray together with their universal pastor, the Pope. They all want to pray together for him and with him, in this Latin Gregorian liturgy which is essentially a liturgy of communion.