Sunday, 30 September 2007

...and the Spirit said : 'You cannot defeat me; for I am Hope...'

Fr. Echert's point about the priest not needing to wait for the faithful to initiate requests for the traditional mass but, lacking such interest, he is perfectly within his rights and, indeed, merely being a good shepherd of the souls entrusted to his care, to explain to them why it would be enormously beneficial to them to have a traditional mass available.

Daily Traditional Mass Restored : Diocesan priests speaks out on tradition, the Mass and the Pope's MP

Interviewed by Michael J. Matt
Editor, The Remnant

Fr. John Echert offers first daily traditional

Mass at Holy Trinity since 1969
Editor's Note: We are very pleased to present the following interview
of Father John Echert— pastor of the Church of St. Augustine (site of
the Indult Mass here in St. Paul/Minneapolis since 1984) and the
Church of the Holy Trinity (So. St. Paul). Ever since Pope Benedict
XVI released his historic motu proprio in July of this year, we have
maintained that not only the prayers of traditional Catholic
laypeople have been answered, but also those of countless tradition-
minded priests within the diocesan structure of the Church. It is
also our contention that a seismic shift in the direction of
Tradition is taking place. As persecution of the Church throughout
the world becomes imminent, it shouldn't surprise any Catholic that
God in His mercy would allow this dramatic restoration of the Old
Mass (even on a daily basis) as part of the process by which we might
all strengthen our resolve and prepare our souls for whatever
eventuality may be in the offing. Fr. Echert's courageous compliance
with the wishes of the Holy Father is well worth considering and
perhaps could be seen as a model for other diocesan priests trying to
return to Tradition during these turbulent days in the life of the
Church. MJM

Michael Matt: Can you give us some background on your priestly career
thus far, i.e., your areas of expertise and maybe a word or two on
the apostolates you've served?

Fr. John Echert: I was ordained twenty years ago, though my awareness
of a vocation to the priesthood goes back about forty-five years (I
just turned fifty).

Even as a little boy I knew that I wanted to be a priest, and
expressed that dream to my parents and any priest who would listen.
Without doubt my vocational awareness was awakened by the traditional
form of the Mass, even at that young age. My parents were in the
church choir and I have lasting memories of the beautiful music, the
smell of incense, and the graceful movements of the priest in the
sanctuary. Were it not for those early experiences which occasioned
a very strong desire in me to be a priest, I do not know that I would
have found sufficient inspiration in subsequent years.

As for my assignments as a priest: after having served three years in
a large suburban parish, I was sent away for studies in Sacred
Scripture to the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and the Ecole
Biblique in Jerusalem, after which I spent a dozen years teaching in
my field at the local major seminary and Catholic university. During
this period I also served as a Catholic Chaplain in the Air Force
Reserves and Air National Guard, and was twice deployed to desert
locations in connection with the War in Iraq. Five years ago I began
assisting at the local Indult Parish, and a bit over two years ago I
was assigned as pastor of two parishes, one of which is that same
Indult Parish at which I had assisted.

MJM: So, how is life these days for a tradition-minded priest serving
in the military chaplaincy?

Fr. Echert: I have been connected with the military since 1975, at
which time I enlisted in the Air Force right out of high school.
Years later I received a commission as a Catholic Chaplain. With
regard to the issue of serving as a priest in the military, it is not
without its complexities. When we are serving our own religious
communities we have full freedom to operate as we would with any
civilian congregation or individual. But when we function within the
context of the broader military community, there are limitations.

Recently, as a response to a Protestant Chaplain who was too
evangelical with troops, the military curtailed many aspects of our
public function as chaplains. This actually seems preferable to
having the troops exposed to evangelization by non-Catholic chaplains
and to requiring Catholic chaplains to dumb-down their invocations to
the lowest common religious denominator—which is now quite low, given
the plurality of religions and chaplains in the military.

The military follows the principle of "religious liberty": one has
the right to any religion, but no religion is favored or excluded—
unfortunately! Once in Kuwait I had a Satanist request to use the
chapel altar, and in Qatar I had Wickens request religious support.
In both cases I did not accommodate them but these are examples
of "religious liberty" at its worst. Still, at least one fourth of
our military troops identify themselves as Roman Catholics on their
dog tags (whether or not they attend Mass), and we represent the
largest single religious group. Let me add that with regard to the
present situation in Iraq, over time I have reconsidered my position
on the war and its aftermath; still, my months of priestly ministry
to the troops there were rewarding. As they say, "there are no
atheists in foxholes"—or behind sand dunes.

MJM: So, some years ago you began offering the Traditional Mass.

Fr. Echert: I began offering the traditional form of the Mass about
five years ago, at a time when there was a need for a priest to
assume primary responsibility for the weekly Indult Mass. I had the
advantage of college Latin studies and so my language skills were
functional. I was encouraged by close traditional friends to learn
the Mass and request permission from the local bishop to say the Mass
at the Indult parish.

I learned the Mass through videos, attending the Tridentine Mass
itself, and with the assistance of a priest friend who was steeped in
tradition. For weeks I offered the Mass in private and, once
comfortable and after approval, I began offering the weekly Indult
Mass. Beyond my love for the traditional language and form of the
Mass, I was also becoming more familiar with aspects of traditional
thinking, through books and publications (to include The Remnant) and
conversations with tradition-minded Catholics.

MJM: In the first sermon you preached after July 7, 2007, you said
something that hadn't, to my knowledge, been considered before: You
said it is well within the spirit of Pope Benedict's motu proprio for
a priest to actually initiate with his parishioners the discussion of
the benefits of restoring the old Mass. Can you explain?

Fr. Echert: The Holy Spirit works in many ways and through the
instrumentality of human beings. If we are called to evangelize the
nations with regard to Christ and the Church, it is also legitimate—
and imperative, may we say—to evangelize with regard to tradition,
including the traditional form of the Mass. In other words, instead
of waiting for the Holy Spirit to whisper to the souls of the
faithful or for someone to stumble into the world of tradition,
should not traditional parish priests be inclined to introduce the
souls entrusted to them to the traditional form of the Mass? It
seems to me that the allowance of the Holy Father that any priest can
privately offer the traditional Mass without restriction, at which
the faithful may be present, suggests this as support for this view
and even a means to accomplish this end of the evangelization of

MJM: You recently restored weekday Masses according to the
Traditional Rite both in your Indult parish as well as in the other
parish (non-traditionalist !) you serve as pastor (thus providing
Catholics with daily access to the Traditional Mass). Can you tell
me why you took this dramatic step in accord with the MP?

Fr. Echert: The past model for the now defunct Indult system often
became the means to contain, control and restrict the traditional
Mass and Sacraments—the "leper colony" approach. The new model
allows for an expansion of the traditional Mass and Sacraments to any
parish or community which desires it, with minimal restrictions
(faithful who request it and a priest capable of offering it). While
I could have continued with the old model and scheduled all
additional traditional Masses at the former Indult parish, I didn't
do that because I see a positive value in introducing this venerable
form of the Mass into my other parish as well, with the consequence
that more Catholics will have contact with and access to the
Tridentine Mass. Again, it is a method of the evangelization of

Thus, I used the following strategy: in the former Indult parish, I
changed some weekday Masses to Tridentine; but in the other parish, I
also added some Tridentine Masses to the existing schedule. In both
cases, I have heard very few complaints from those accustomed to
English Masses only—many of whom are now attending both forms of the
Mass and learning more about tradition every day. I suspect that
Pope Benedict XVI sees value in having the Novus Ordo and the
Tridentine forms of the Mass side-by-side in parishes in order that
contact with the traditional Mass by the faithful will eventually
lead to a reform of the Mass of Paul VI or a complete return to the
traditional form.

MJM: Communion rails are reportedly being reinstalled and table
altars permanently removed from some churches that now offer the old
Mass around the world (most recently, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of
Dublin designated St. Kevin's church in Dublin as a chaplaincy where
Mass will be celebrated regularly using the 1962 Missal, and the
priest in Dublin is now permanently restoring the interior of the
church building to accommodate the Traditional Mass.) What are your
thoughts on this development and how do you account for such a strong
desire among priests to implement Benedict's MP that they'd
voluntarily renovate their sanctuaries to facilitate this initiative?

Fr. Echert: In my own parishes, this is being accomplished even now.
In the former Indult parish we have eliminated the free-standing
altar completely, even for the Novus Ordo Masses. By the grace of
God and with many words, my Parish Council (with only one
traditionalist among the dozen members) was recently persuaded of the
value of this change. Many parishioners who attend only English
Masses urged me to eliminate the free-standing altar, and several
guest priests who have assisted us at the English Masses later told
me that saying the Mass ad orientem was a most reverent experience
for them. In my other parish, which has only now been introduced to
the Tridentine Mass, we are presently soliciting funds to restore the
Communion Rail that was discarded decades ago. Again, even from
among those who are only familiar with English Masses, there are many
who support this restoration plan.

Two months ago, I had our parish carpenters rebuild the front steps
to the High Altar, which, ironically enough, they were quite happy to
do since a previous pastor had long ago directed these same men to
remove them.

MJM: On the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, you compared
the Church's rediscovery of the traditional Mass to the rediscovery
of the true Cross in AD 312. This is a fascinating analogy and I
wonder if you would be good enough explain what you mean by it.

Fr. Echert: It is the comparison of something which is most sacred
and precious that had been lost—or taken—that has now been restored
to its rightful place. In one case it was the most sacred relic of
the Church: the True Cross of Christ; in the other case it is the
most sacred worship of the Church: the Traditional Mass. Just as our
Lord taught in the parables recorded by Saint Luke (chapter fifteen):
there should be great cause for rejoicing when that which is lost has
been found! In many ways, having been nearly without the traditional
form of the Mass for forty years (practically speaking), I anticipate
that as this Mass is more widely restored to its rightful place, the
faithful will appreciate it all the more—that is the experience of
many already.

MJM: Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis was, I believe, the first
bishop to introduce daily Masses according to the old Rite after the
MP (I'm told he's now set up a program to teach Latin and the old
Rite to the many young priests requesting instruction, as well).
Bishop Finn, who himself recently offered the Old Mass in Kansas,
also seems to be looking in that direction, as does, obviously, the
Archbishop of Dublin, Ireland. Is such a thing possible here in St.
Paul, and is there any move to establish traditional personal
parishes here?

Fr. Echert: Thus far there has been no official communication to
priests in this diocese with regard to the implementation of the motu
proprio. I am not complaining about that silence, as it is
preferable to other dioceses in which there have been directives
which may thwart its implementation. I know of several priests—
mostly young—who are interested in learning the Tridentine Mass and
hope for opportunities to say it publicly. I have an open invitation
to them to offer Mass in my two parishes.

For the short term, then, it appears that in this diocese my
parishes will remain the primary parishes to serve traditional
faithful, though I know of Catholics in many other parts of the
diocese who are requesting the traditional Mass of their pastors.
This is the beauty of the motu proprio: it falls to the faithful and
pastors (the grass roots) to bring about the resurgence of this Mass,
rather than from the top down—which did not work well or at all, in
countless dioceses.

As to personal parishes (those which are strictly and fully
traditional) , I pray that such parishes will be allowed in every
diocese and region worldwide. It is a very complicated matter to
have a fully functioning mixture of Novus Ordo and Tridentine
faithful and Sacraments in the same parish and it would be preferable
for both pastor and congregation that there would be exclusively
traditional parishes. My hope is that one day I will serve as pastor
of such a parish. Locally we have had the support of the Ordinary
for a limited use of the Tridentine Mass since the Indult was first
granted; pray for a generous response to the allowance of the Holy
Father for bishops to establish personal parishes in their dioceses.

MJM: In an interview with Vatican Radio on September 13, Cardinal
Castrillon Hoyos explained that Pope Benedict's MP affirms the right
of any priest to use the "extraordinary form" of the Latin liturgy
even without his bishop's permission. The Cardinal seems intent to
prevent certain liberal bishops from frustrating the Pope's plan to
restore the old Mass as they did with John Paul's 1988 MP Ecclesia
Dei. Why do you suppose the Pope is so determined to establish wider
use of this Mass that he would even encourage his priests to offer it
without their bishops' permission if it comes to that?

Fr. Echert: The Pope is affirming a universal right which belongs to
all clergy in good standing with the Church, as is fitting for his
supreme office and the matter at hand. One thing I learned in the
military: a subordinate authority does not have the right to
countermand the law of a higher authority. In spite of the fact that
Pope John Paul II asked for generosity on the part of bishops in
establishing Indult parishes in their dioceses, this approach did not
work. In my own state, there were only two Indult parishes with
weekly Sunday Masses, which meant that many Catholics had to drive
incredible distances to attend a Tridentine Mass (one man drove 500
miles round trip to my parish). Had this motu proprio entrusted
primary responsibility to the bishops to establish the traditional
Mass, there is no reason to believe the outcome would have measurably
exceeded that of the Indult in the past.

In spite of incredible pressure to the contrary—as was widely
reported—the Holy Father entrusted responsibility for responding to
the needs of the faithful into the hands of pastors. And while there
will be many pastors who will not comply, there are many more
parishes than dioceses, and traditional Masses will soon be found
scattered everywhere.

MJM: There are a few traditionalists who still argue that so-
called "approved" traditional priests are more or less in business
only to undermine "unapproved" traditionalist priests. Judging from
your sermons, however, undermining anyone except modernists and
liberals doesn't seem to enter your mind. You seem to have a good
relationship with the priests in the SSPX, for example, and I've
heard you recommend The Remnant from the pulpit. Is it fair to say,
then, that you offer the old Mass because you regard its restoration
as vital for the life of the whole Church and that you are not
attempting to undermine anyone?

Fr. Echert: I offer the traditional Mass for its own value and for
what it has to offer to the faithful and the future of the Church. I
have never offered the traditional Mass with any ulterior motive of
undermining other expressions of tradition. I am on good terms with
priests who belong to the SSPX and have worked with the local Society
pastor on some pastoral issues of mutual concern. I am an avid
reader of The Remnant and many other traditional publications and
books. These are difficult times and sadly there is much discord
among traditionalists. Even at my Indult parish there is not
universal agreement on many of the fine points of liturgy, theology
and strategy, and so the issues get battled out in the parking lot or
at coffee and donuts in the church hall. I know that there are many
Catholics and clergy in particular who view the Indult as a means to
keep Catholics from SSPX and other expressions of tradition but this
has never been a motive or goal for me. I believe that the
multiplicity of adherents to tradition has collectively helped to
bring about this important step of Pope Benedict. As you note, I
principally go after the modernists, who should be the common enemy
of all traditionalists— and all Catholics!

MJM: Father, put your prophet's hat for a moment. How's all this
going to end? If the Mass is restored widely and throughout the
whole world, would that change everything, or is it too late?

Fr. Echert: It is never too late, unless we are living in the end
times, of which I am not yet convinced. It will be like seed which
is widely scattered but in a variety of difficult and sometimes
extreme conditions. Here and there a seed will take root but it will
be some time before the field is clothed in the mantel of tradition.
There will be many clergy who will resolutely oppose it and refuse it
to the faithful, but there will be others who will enable it.

There are certainly some initial hurdles, but, over the course of
years—less than a blink of the divine eye—this Mass will be widely
found throughout the Church. One of the looming questions is what
impact it will have upon the Novus Ordo Mass. Will there be
a "reform of the reform," as some suggest, or a replacement of the
reform with the traditional form? One concern I have is that some
priests—including some good-willed priests who are misguided—will
offer Tridentine Masses in their parishes, but may allow some modern
practices to infiltrate the traditional Mass: altar girls, the new
lectionary, Communion in the hand. Hopefully, clarifications from
Rome will prohibit such aberrations.

Let me sum up my hope with this biblical lesson: forty is often a
number of testing (Israel in the Old Testament, our Lord in the New
Testament). We have wandered through a veritable desert for forty
years but now have a glimpse of the Promised Land (forgotten land).
We have not yet arrived, by any means, but we have taken a giant step
in the right direction. May the Lord now speed us on our pilgrimage
back to tradition!

MJM: If you had to choose one rite of Mass to offer exclusively every
day for the rest of your life which would it be, New or Old? Why?

Fr. Echert: The traditional Mass, hands down! It was the Mass which
first inspired in me a vocation to the priesthood and it is the Mass
which I intend to offer until my last breath on earth.

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