On the weekend I had a chance to visit with an old friend and colleague. At one point the talk turned to the "extra ordinary" form of the mass as outlined by the recent motu proprio. The topic came up because a former student-athlete that we both knew is now attending Mass at a chapel of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) in a town about two hours away. While driving two hours to attend Mass is evidence of amazing devotion I wondered if she and her family would return to the local parish if the parish began to offer Mass according to the 1962 missal.
I think that one of the motives behind the motu was to restore some of these people (like our former student) to their proper parishes. After some discussion I'm not sure that a simple "if you build it, they will come" approach to this is going to work. Many of the people that we know who attend the SSPX mass have complicated issues in the area of religion. On reflection the one explanation for this that makes partial sense to me comes from a book that I read when preparing for a master's degree project a few years back. In the book (What Prevents Christian Adults from Learning? by John Hull) the author describes several possible reactions to the increasing disconnect between religion and modern culture. He suggests that a common reaction is an attachment to something (or anything) that seems to provide certainty. So, people (even people like our student who was not alive in 1962) develop an attachment to the "old Mass" because it represents a time when things were more "black and white". I recall another example of this kind of attitude. Several years ago during a discussion on high school religious education I was told that we could solve a lot of the problems we were having with our young people if we only had more altar calls. This clearly is another example of someone seeing an overly simple solution to a complex problem. Still, my friend tells me that the SSPX chapel in his community in Southern Alberta has two Sunday Masses that attract 80 to 100 persons. That certainly represents a "stable number" referred to in the motu. If those numbers could be restored to the Church simply by instituting a regular "old Mass" in the parish it would be worth the time and effort. Still, its not certain that there are simple solutions to this situation (SSPX) as I've already said.