In a recent article for Crisis, Father Dwight Longenecker voiced his frustration with trying to unify his parish in the midst of what seems like national disintegration. He is right to be concerned, because as the Church goes, so goes the nation (and the world). The odd thing is that the Church had, in her liturgy, a strong and unifying force some 60 years ago. Yet as the Church’s liturgy has splintered—licitly and illicitly—over the last 60 years, so have the people of the Church. I would suggest, as a means of unifying parishes and Churches, the promotion of the Traditional Latin Mass.
Putting aside, if possible, the strict theology between the Traditional Latin Mass and the Ordinary Form (the form currently in widespread usage throughout the Church and which is said in the vernacular language), the change in the form of the Mass has divided us in three ways: by language, by interest, and by “personality.” The Mass in the vernacular automatically splinters a parish into linguistic groups. I am not blaming any group for this; if those whose native language is “A” can have Mass in their language, it is natural—and indeed just—that those whose native language is “B” should have Mass in their own language. And there is the problem; their own Mass. We have sanctioned, perhaps promoted, division.
In the linguistically charged culture of America today, the vernacular Mass may cause more estrangement among those who “speak the same language,” than among those speaking different ones. Intent on making or avoiding a particular point, lectors and celebrants change any word with a gender reference. This habit not only has a bit of arrogance in it, but can also rob Sacred Scripture of precious Christological references. Give it time; I’m sure we’ll have our own “Amen—and Awomen.”
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The Ordinary Form also divides parishes by interest. We have the “regular Mass,” the “children’s Mass,” the “teen Mass,” the “young adults Mass,” the “charismatic Mass,” as well as other Masses of more dubious qualifications. Done in the name of inclusion, it has put us in liturgical ghettoes. Even families don’t go as families, but instead one parent takes the toddlers to the children’s mass, another parent goes on his or her own, and the teenagers opt for (again) “their own Mass.”
If this weren’t bad enough, the Ordinary Form can rend a parish depending on the personality of the priest. There are the many shades of variation between Father Ad-Lib and Father Say-The-Black-and-Do-The-Red; the fracturing caused by the various methods of giving a homily from Father From-the-Ambo (if there is an ambo) to Father Wanderlust. I do not wholly blame the priests for this. I defy anyone to stand in front of a group of people for 30 minutes a day, or an hour on weekends (perhaps two or three times) with a microphone attached, and not come to feel as though he were a “master of ceremonies” of sorts, who must find increasingly new ways of holding the attention of the crowd. It is inherent in the form.
The actions required by the parish during the Ordinary Form Mass can also contribute to the breaches. The up and down, sit, stand, kneel, all while trying to make sure you say the right response can make me, for one, more conscious about whether I’m doing and saying the “right thing,” rather than about the Holy Sacrifice taking place. The “sign of peace” (at least pre-COVID-19) is always a time of consternation, with most parishioners looking like a slightly bewildered candidate at a campaign rally. Do I shake hands? Nod? Wave? Hug? Kiss? There is the feeling, declared or undeclared, that “meaningful participation” in the mass comes from “doing something” and activity rather than by praying, which is what the Mass is about. This has led to the formation of various “ministries,” which in turn lends itself to a not so subtle clericalism, opening more cracks in the parish.
The Mass is THE greatest action in the Church, and we seemingly can’t do it together. I don’t mean to be irreverent, but going to Mass can seem like buying a car; Catholics shop from parish to parish and Mass to Mass, looking at the various options and for the best deals, all the time dependent upon the personality of the dealer.
The Traditional Latin Mass solves these problems and unifies us. By having the Mass in one language, everywhere, for everybody, in the ancient and lapidary language of the Church, we are no longer American or Hispanic, Vietnamese or Filipino, but Catholic. The Mass deals with concepts that are precise and eternal; it should be celebrated in a language that, by usage, has come to be more precise and eternal in theological matters than any other language we have. Also, there is a decided advantage—almost the whole point of this article—in having a liturgy where the language cannot be tampered with. As far as “not understanding what is going on,” there are missals which provide accurate (enough) translations. This may involve some work and study, but is that a bad thing in dealing with the source and summit of our spiritual life?
The Traditional Latin Mass allows for some options, but by and large it is the same for everyone, and this is good. The Mass should be an anchor as one goes through life, and not a suit of clothes that varies from age to age and fashion to fashion. The feeling, wherever and whenever I find myself at Mass, should be “I am home,” not “Do I fit in?”
I don’t agree with the criticism that the laity cannot “participate” in a Tridentine Mass. We go to plays and concerts where we aren’t on the stage or in the orchestra, and participate meaningfully in them. I would say you can participate more, in terms of actually entering into the event, when you’re not worried about whether what you’re doing is what everyone else is doing or if you are doing it “right.” You “get out of yourself” more, which is what should happen at Mass.
Also, the ad orientem posture of the priest takes away his personality; again, that’s as it should be. I bet many priests would feel relief at being able to face God, and not having to worry about how they appear to the many faces staring at them (not to mention not having to look at how some in the congregation look to them).
When we had the Latin Mass, there were, in America, ethnic parishes; the Irish parish, the Polish parish, the Italian parish, etc. Yet that, in a way, provided the best of both worlds. Tony Melucci could have his Italian culture in his parish, and Molly O’Brien her Irish culture in her parish—but they could both go to the same Mass at either parish. When it came to worshipping God, they understood each other. When they got married, both families understood what was going on. There was a culture they had in common. By belonging to no temporal or contemporary zeitgeist, the Latin Mass provided a home—a common meeting ground to all.
A pastor should lead his flock. You don’t lead a flock by facing it or letting it break into cliques of their own choosing, allowing each to go their own way. The way to unify is to have one liturgy, with one language, where each knows his place.
[Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons]