This text is a summary of a report on the implementation of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum in Belgium. A full version of the report makes part of the Una Voce-report that was given to the Pope in November 2009 (personal remark - actually it was presented in October). This report was made by a group of people (laity and clergy) from the different Belgian dioceses.The situation in Belgium is more difficult and spread out due to the lack of an Una Voce organization like in the Netherlands. In general, the bishops have not undertaken action to implement the Motu Proprio. From a Catholic point of view, the Belgian Catholic Church is seriously ill, it could even be described as terminal. Most seminaries are nearly empty (an exception is the seminary of Namur, Mgr. Léonard, although even there : most seminarians come from outside the diocese and from the neo-catechumenal movement). The situation is most dramatic in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium (dioceses of Mechelen-Brussel, Brugge, Gent, Antwerpen and Hasselt). There are only two seminaries left: Brugge and Leuven. The number of people attending Mass is continuously decreasing and their average age is every year higher. In many parishes there is ‘liturgical anarchy’. In some cities, it is even hard to find a valid Novus Ordo Mass.The sense and the meaning of a sacrament has almost completely disappeared among the faithful. Several relatively young parish priests (age 40-50) are in crisis and about to leave the ministry. For the dioceses of Brugge and Hasselt, we know of dozens of young priests that resigned the past decennia. It is obvious that the reason of this crisis is a crisis of faith and a lack of real Catholic teaching in the seminaries. The last years it occurred frequently that (even recently ordained) priests criticised the Church in public media for having strict rules concerning celibacy, ordination of women etc.
1. The Tradional Latin Mass in Belgium
The traditional Roman liturgy is not a hot topic in the Belgian church. In Flanders it is currently completely suppressed. Most faithful and priests do not even know the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum. The bishop of Liège once said: “Rome est loin d’ici”. In the ecclesiastical structures in Belgium, there is an ‘ecclesiastical correctness’: information and decisions that come from Rome are concealed. Priests or lay people have to look themselves through the Internet to stay informed about the World Church. Among diocesan staffs in the whole country there is a strong fear of an “old fashioned Catholicism” coming back. Where faithful have the permission for a Traditional Mass, they are asked not to give publicity to it. That is the case for the monthly Mass in Brugge and for the weekly Mass of the Una Cum association in Brussels. This also applies to the priests of the Servi Jesu et Mariae Congregation that assist occasionally father Van Isacker SJ, who has a daily Traditional Latin Mass in the diocese of Hasselt. In the diocese of Liège the Bishop refused to welcome the Regular Canons of the Mother of God (now in Lagrasse, France), who were planning to settle in the Abbey of Val-Dieu. Several Flemish young men are preparing for the priesthood in an Ecclesia Dei congregation. Also many students at the universities of Gent, Antwerp and Leuven are very interested in the Traditional Latin Mass. Recently a Flemish seminarian of the Servi Jesu et Mariae Congregation was ordained priest. Another one is training for the priesthood. However, up to now, the SJM do not have permission from one of the bishops to work in Belgium. For other ‘Ecclesia Dei’- communities, the Flemish part of Belgium and The Netherlands are difficult because of the language. The priestly Fraternity St. Pius X in Belgium has 5 locations where Holy Mass is celebrated. Since the Motu Proprio, they also celebrate a Holy Mass twice a month in a little village in the diocese of Brugge.
2. Situation in the Dioceses
In Brussels, since 2002, with permission of Cardinal Danneels, a weekly Traditional Mass is celebrated by Mgr. Gryson. Also the Fraternity of St. Peter celebrates two Holy Masses a month, in the Minimes parish. The Institute of Christ the King has a school and a daily Holy Mass (weekdays). In Brussels, however, there is ‘competition’ with the Fraternity of St. Pius X. They have a magnificent church, a very active ‘parish life’, daily Holy Mass and their own school. In Bierbeek (near Leuven): there was a weekly Holy Mass for several years, with permission of the Archdiocese. This permission was withdrawn last year after several problems. And now, priests of the fraternity of St. Pius X are celebrating Mass in the Maranatha-chapel. Since the Motu Proprio, on a private initiative, there was a monthly Traditional Latin Mass in the parish church of Dongelberg, a rural village between Ottignies and Hoegaarden. Some months ago, the initiative was stopped because of a lack of faithful attending Mass.
Occasional Latin Masses:
1 November 2007, a priest of the Servi Jesu et Mariae Congregation celebrated a Holy Mass at the Christus Sacerdos Chapel in Maleizen (+- 400 people attended this Mass, very positive reactions)
11 October 2009, Fr. Verbeken SJM celebrated his First Holy Mass in Mollem (Asse, near Brussels). Also 400 faithful attended Mass. At the Catholic University of Leuven, several students are interested in a weekly of monthly Traditional Latin Mass. However, up to now, Holy Masses are celebrated only occasionally.
In 2007 some young people founded the Mysterium Fidei association, in order to promote the Traditional Latin Mass. The first year, 3 Masses were celebrated in the Basilica of the Holy Blood in Brugge. Since September 2008 there is a monthly Holy Mass, celebrated by a priest of the Fraternity of St. Peter. To achieve this, all was done to have a good relation with the responsible persons: the rector of the Basilica and the vicar of the diocese. They were very friendly, but did not want to ‘promote’ the initiative. So it is not possible to advertise it and the Mass has to be celebrated outside of opening times. Every month between 25 and 50 people are attending mass, 1/3 of them are young people (in the ordinary Masses, one will see rarely young people). The Mass is also known by tourists visiting Brugge.We know of at least is one priest in the diocese that celebrates a Traditional Latin Mass occasionally in private. There are also some priests interested to learn it, but it’s difficult to find someone that can train them. Besides that, they have to be very cautious because of the reactions of other priests or parish assistants.
In the Gent diocese there is no frequent Traditional Latin Mass (except the weekly Holy Mass celebrated by the FSSPX in the city of Gent). There is an annual Christmas midnight Mass in Oostakker (near Gent, celebrated by Fr. Van de Kerkhove). At the University of Ghent, there is a Catholic student association. Fr. Van de Kerkhove is their chaplain and occasionally celebrates a Traditional Mass for the students. Now, there is an initiative to start with a monthly Traditional Mass for students (talks with the Fraternity of St. Peter are going on).There has also been an initiative by Mysterium Fidei in the Gent diocese. In Zele there was a unique mass to celebrate 1200 years of St Liudger with permission of the local dean and in cooperation with the SJM. There are still talks of turning this into an annual event. We know also at least two priests that celebrate occasionally a Traditional Latin Mass in private.
Since the Motu Proprio, Fr. Vandervoort is celebrating a Traditional Latin Mass every day in the Foyer de Charité (Marthe Robin) in Brasschaat(Antwerpen). Fr. Vandervoort has a bad reputation in the diocese of Antwerpen, because of his strong Catholic position. Mgr. Vanden Berghe discharged him. Although he appealed to Rome against this decision, and won his case, he was not rehabilitated in the diocese.In July, 2008 some Catholic families asked for a monthly Traditional Mass. Mgr. de Maere, pastor of the St. James church in the city of Antwerpen, granted their request. Fr. Van de Kerkhove celebrates the monthly Mass. However, the number of faithful attending Mass is not so big (+- 20). In Antwerpen there is also ‘competition’ with a very active FSSPX ‘parish’.The Servi Jesu et Mariae Congregation has asked the new bishop of Antwerpen, Mgr. Johan Bonny, the permission to start their working in the diocese. The permission was refused.
In Niel bij As, there is a daily Traditional Latin Mass, celebrated by Fr. Van Isacker SJ (96 years). Given his age, the future of this chapel is uncertain.In the Basilica of Kortenbos (St.-Truiden), Fr. Michiels o. praem.celebrates a weekly Mass (since the Motu proprio).
The diocese of Liège is largely French speaking, with a small German speaking population, consisting in just one deanship. Places where the Traditional Mass is celebrated regularly: At the chapel of Bavière, a former hospital chapel: three times a week and on Sunday. In Liège, in the Saint-Sacrement church, at the biggest avenue of the city: every Sunday. At the Saint Lambert Chapel in Verviers: since 35 years, offered every Sunday and on feast days. In Tancrémont (near Banneux): every Wednesday, every first Friday and first Saturday. In Herstal, the Fraternity of St. Peter manages a chapel. We know of a young priest that was appointed as a parish priest recently and has already stated that he wanted to celebrate the extraordinary form in his parishes once a month.
In the German speaking area of the diocese, no Traditional Latin Mass is celebrated, except a Sedevacantist mass. No alternative has been offered by the bishop to faithful attached to traditional Mass. In Malmedy, a group faithful asked their parish priest for a Mass according the traditional liturgy. The priest rejected this. The faithful went to the bishop, Mgr.Jousten, – according to the directions of the Motu proprio – who in turn also refused. At the Shrine of Banneux, in the summer of 2008, there was a question from a pilgrimage group to have the extraordinary form. While all other masses are announced at the entrance of the Sanctuary (even Maronites, Orthodox or Copts can celebrate their liturgy in the Sanctuary, which is also announced everywhere), this was not done for the extraordinary form.
The Benelux provincial house of the Fraternity of St. Peter is based in Namur. Among the Belgian bishops, Mgr. Léonard is most open to the extraordinary form (occasionally he celebrates the Traditional Latin Mass in their chapel and in 2007 he ordained priests for the Fraternity of St. Peter in Wigratzbad). Since the motu proprio, however, little has changed in favour of the Traditional Mass. The willingness to admit other traditional congregations, especially the more contemplative ones (e.g. the monks of Le Barroux once asked it), is low. There are no other priests in the diocese celebrating the Traditional Mass. At least three young priests would want to do it, but not risk it because of the ‘intellectual terror’ of their deans. The FSSP has his own chapel (St. Thérèse) in Namur, where Mass is celebrated every Sunday Mass. On weekdays, they celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass in the cathedral of Namur. At the Shrine of Beauraing, occasionally a Traditional Latin Mass is celebrated.
In the past, Mgr. Harpigny has celebrated the extraordinary form occasionally. Because of that, there was a huge opposition of his diocese staff members. Two Traditional Masses are permitted in the diocese, but with the interdiction the advertise it. There is a daily Latin Mass in Havré, offered by a priest of the Institute Christ the King. In Bramenil, every Sunday and feast day there is a Latin Mass, celebrated by a priest of the Institute.
Since the motu proprio, all initiatives in Belgium come from laity people or individual priests. In general, the bishops do not take initiative to implement the motu proprio. Priests who would like to celebrate in the extraordinary form, are isolated. They don’t know enough faithful that would support it, or they think people are not interested. They are also afraid of the reactions of other clergy. For young priests it’s very difficult to learn the traditional rite.
In Flanders, the Mysterium Fidei group is today the only active laity organization concerned with the extraordinary form. They have succeeded in establishing a monthly mass in the Basilica of the Holy Blood in Brugge, in cooperation with the FSSP. They support also the private initiative of the monthly Mass in the St.James Church in Antwerpen and other occasional Latin Masses. The bishops, especially in Flanders, are very reluctant towards the extraordinary form, arguing that the faithful are not interested. The Flemish seminaries have a problem in attracting young men to become priests. It is known that seminarians are not introduced to the extraordinary form. Flemish men that went abroad (mostly to The Netherlands) to become a priest, do not receive permission to come back. Also for foreign congregations – even congregations that are not ‘traditionalistic’ at all - it is very difficult to get the permission to start their apostolate in Flanders.
Godwin's comment: in many aspects, a similar situation exists in Malta.