A Can of Worms: In Praise of the Latin Mass
Since I began blogging here at The American Catholic, I’ve yet to see a debate open up between liturgical traditionalists and modernists. Most other Catholic sites I have visited on the Web usually end up in them at least once, if not multiple times. This leads me to wonder: is there an unspoken consensus at TAC about the liturgy, or is it simply a topic no one has yet broached?
Speaking for myself, I am partial to the Latin Mass, the Tridentine rite as it is sometimes called. When I live in the Phoenix area, I am fortunate enough to be able to attend a daily Latin Mass offered by a priest affiliated with the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP), though they are also offered by the Norbertines here in Orange County (needless to say, I do not attend Masses offered by “schismatic” sects). I am equally drawn to the peace and quiet of the daily Low Mass and the beautiful chant of the Sunday High Mass. And I also find it quite tragic that had I not been looking for it, I would have never found it – though I know the local community there is now making attempts to publicize itself.
I have never been impressed by some of the common gripes I hear about the Latin Mass or some of the arguments I have heard in favor of the Novus Ordo Rite. I can also admit that my views are largely subjective. But I do not, and never have had, some burning desire to “participate” in the Mass in the particular way some people do. I don’t mind that the priest faces the altar; I don’t mind that the language is Latin; I don’t mind that we don’t all shake hands in the middle of Mass. Having taken the time to understand what each part of the Mass actually represents, what they actually mean, I don’t find them “boring” or “alienating”.
That said, I realize that Novus Ordo is here to stay, that some people – I guess, most people – actually prefer it (though most people I know don’t even realize they can still attend the Latin Mass, and many are fascinated and excited about the prospect when I bring it up to them in my personal life). So I am not one of those “trads” who is on a crusade to either purge the Church or start a new sect. I consider myself loyal to the Papacy, and Pope Benedict, in his wisdom, has protected the ancient liturgy and clarified its validity. For that I and millions of others are extremely grateful.
I believe time will vindicate the Latin Mass. I know it may cause great offense to some people, and I wish I could help that, but I can’t, when I say that I just don’t see the Novus Ordo Rite carrying the Church into the future. In many places I have seen it practiced it is not beautiful or inspiring to me. And when it is done with a “charismatic” bent, it just becomes hokey. Of course I realize that certain hot-headed partisans of NO will retaliate with sinde comments about our “little red books” (with the English translation of Latin). Fair game, right, if I am going to point out what I don’t like about NO? I suppose so. But don’t expect me to be impressed. Whatever shortcomings I find in the NO rite, they don’t come anywhere close to the sheer level of uncharitable contempt and hatred that both extreme traditionalists and extreme modernist/liberals have for one another.
I think a lot of the conflict between some of the more reasonable people on both sides might be resolved if we remember that Mass, while it is an important part of Cahtolic life, is not the only part. Throughout her history the Church has accomodated different preferences and desires in other areas of religious life, from the proliferation of religious orders and lay organizations to the establishment of particular feast days for different societal occupations and roles. No one save the hysterical radical who wanted to “tear it all down” was left out of the Church’s consideration.
In today’s terms a revival of the Latin Mass could go hand-in-hand with the proliferation of any number of organizations that host more “charismatic” events for the young and the restless. In that way the next Catholic generation might recover a greater sense of sacredness and solemnity that is truly worthy of God while also being able to pursue different avenues of worship and expression on their own time. Speaking from experience, I’ve seen the benefits of the Latin Mass in my own spiritual life. I would urge anyone who hasn’t been to try it out for a little while if they can. You may end up pleasantly surprised.