This essay by Msgr. Charles Pope has attracted a lot of attention, and generated a lot of ink (and a fair amount of criticism in some circles). In sum, he offers the opinion that the Traditional Latin Mass—or Mass in the Extraordinary Form—may have hit a ceiling:
Explanations abound among the traditional Catholics I speak to about the lack of growth in attendance at the Traditional Latin Mass. Some say that it is because more options are now available. But one of the promises was that if parishes would just offer the Traditional Latin Mass each parish would be filled again. Others say there are parking issues, or that the Mass times are not convenient, or that the Masses are too far away. But these things were all true 20 years ago when the Solemn Mass was thriving. It seems that a ceiling has been hit. The Traditional Latin Mass appeals to a certain niche group of Catholics, but the number in that group appears to have reached its maximum. Some traditional Catholics I speak to say, “If only the archdiocese would promote us more,” or “If only the bishop would celebrate it at all or more frequently.” Perhaps, but many other niche groups in the archdiocese say the same thing about their particular interest. At the end of the day, for any particular movement, prayer form, organization, or even liturgy, the job of promoting it must belong to those who love it most. Shepherds don’t have sheep; sheep have sheep. And once again we are back to the fundamental point: numbers matter. Groups that seek respect, recognition, and promotion in the highest places need to remember that numbers do matter; it’s just the way life works. If we who love the Traditional Latin Mass want to be near the top of the bishop’s priority list, we’re going to have to be more than one-half of one percent of Catholics in the pews.
I was reminded of a piece by David Alexander I read a few years ago that is now getting additional traction on social media. I’m not sure if his facts and figures still hold up, but he does offer a lengthy and very thoughtful appraisal of TLM. It should be required reading for anyone who cares about this form of worship. He notes:
The realities of supply, especially when it is limited, are usually the result of demand. For our first case in point, we turn to the Buckeye State of Ohio, to the area where I was raised. The Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Ohio, has an estimated 500,000 baptized Catholics. They are spread out over an area in the southwestern portion of Ohio that comprises nineteen counties. The territory is over fifty miles in length running east to west, and over one hundred miles running north to south. Sitting roughly in the middle is the city of Dayton, where a priest of the Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP) offers the Traditional Mass every day of the week, at a magnificent urban parish church, Holy Family. Once slated for closing, it is now dedicated to this apostolate, and is thriving. Hold that thought. Of the half million baptized Catholics, let us suppose (for want of a better method) that ONE PERCENT of them would drive for up to an hour to attend the Traditional Mass. That gives us a total of 5,000. However dedicated, they are nonetheless very small in number relative to the whole. With a central location devoted to them on a daily basis, and a second one in another high-population area for Sundays, one would ask if they are adequately served. Five thousand souls produces more than enough for two good-sized parishes. You would think that the number alone would justify making it available in more locations, wouldn’t you? To answer that question poses another: how is either meeting the demand? Holy Family in Dayton has about three hundred attendees on average, and the church building they use is nearly half full. Sacred Heart Church in Cincinnati has about two hundred attendees on average for its Traditional Mass, and it is about half full. That would put the number at about five hundred, or ONE TENTH OF ONE PERCENT of the faithful. The location in Cincinnati uses a rotating schedule of priests from outside the parish, but both locations begin before noon. If the attendance were merely to double or to triple, you might have a good case for expansion, ergo the support of yet another parish. But for whatever reason, it has not. …But what if the numbers didn’t matter? Surely if it were already more available, people would be drawn to it like bees to honey. For that, we look at the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, with just over 400,000 faithful, in 68 parishes and missions. This diocese is very fortunate, in that the Traditional Latin Mass is offered every Sunday at EIGHT locations. A generous estimate of regular attendees at all locations put together would be around 1,300, or roughly ONE THIRD OF ONE PERCENT of the faithful, availing themselves of that which is provided by just under TWELVE PERCENT of the parishes and missions of the diocese. While the latter does represent an increase in demand per capita, it is contingent upon the participation of roughly ONE-EIGHTH of the parishes of the diocese. That and the relatively small numbers hardly make for a dramatic trend — so far.
Read it all. And, as the author suggests, then read it again.