A year ago to the day by coincidence, I did a fisking on an article I found which had been published in late 2019 but was so outrageous, I felt compelled to respond. Here we have something more recent from America Magazine and the title alone should give away my interest in responding.
Now I didn’t do more than read the title and skim through the first few paragraphs before deciding to respond to it. Something conservatives and many others on the right continue to fail to comprehend is that the left is driven almost entirely by emotion. They don’t care about hypocrisy, double-standards, facts, logic, blah, blah, blah. They employ these things only when it suits them and If this article ever deviates from my assumptions, I will readily admit it. Looking through the other topic’s he’s written on over the last five years, I am reasonably confident. On a side note, do people who aren’t already prominent or famous writers really have full-time jobs writing fortnightly opinion columns? I’m working too hard on this blog if this is the case.
If you look at the Twitter profiles of these people (which often represent both the nexus and limits of their thought), you will notice they tend to be preoccupied with leftist politics and the Catholic religion is really only there to be grafted on however poor a fit it is. The author Zac Davis looks to be little different.
I once fell in love with the Latin Mass—which is why I understand why Pope Francis restricted it.
This is the title.
I cried the first time I went to a traditional Latin Mass.
I could almost believe this as I was similarly emotional the first time I went to a Traditional Latin Mass. I had the conflicting feelings of something been hidden or stolen from me but a joy that I was able to be present for it nonetheless. In Zac’s case though, I’m going to have to press X to doubt but I do hope I’ll change my mind.
It would have been difficult for me not to; I was an emotionally volatile 20-year-old college kid studying theology who loved the “smells and bells” that Catholicism offered—and man, there were a lot of bells and smells going on while Mozart’s “Requiem” carried the liturgy.
After that, I was hooked. A group of friends and I asked a Jesuit, the late Robert Araujo, if he would learn how to say Mass in the extraordinary form (how the pre-Vatican II traditional liturgy has been known since 2007) so we could have it on campus. He did, and a few of us were trained on how to be altar servers for it. To what I imagine was the shock and dismay of many of his brother Jesuits, we were able to celebrate the traditional Latin Mass at the Jesuit residence. To this day, one of my most-treasured books is a St. Edmund Campion Missal & Hymnal for the Traditional Latin Mass that Father Araujo gifted me.
Keep in mind that America Magazine is a Jesuit magazine. This is no secret as it says it up the top but it should still be kept in mind. First, why would young students bring “shock and dismay” to Jesuit brothers by showing interest in the old form? Surely they would be happy to see the young taking a strong interest in their Faith?
This in my experience has always been a sign of something wrong. A normal Catholic shouldn’t even raise an eyebrow at someone who is interested in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. I know they wouldn’t if you mentioned you attend an Eastern Rite Mass. Even people outside of the church tend to display a positive curiosity about it when mentioned.
The traditional Latin Mass (I will refer to it after this as “the Latin Mass” for simplicity’s sake, though of course the current Mass promulgated after Vatican II can be and is also celebrated in Latin) ) never became the primary form of liturgy that I attended, and eventually I stopped going to it altogether sometime after college. But it nevertheless made a significant impact on my spiritual life at a critical, impressionable point in my formation.
With the news that Pope Francis has greatly restricted the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass, I have been reflecting on what the Latin Mass gave me and my spiritual life, good and bad.
So he had a brief interest in college and then stopped going after. I’d have to doubt it had a significant impact on him.
First, the good: What I saw in the Latin Mass was an unparalleled reverence for the sacred. It hammered home, for the first time, that I was part of a celebration of “these sacred mysteries.” Whereas previously I had attended a lot of parishes that couldn’t bother to get their sound systems working, or that were reliant upon the whimsical improvisations of a well-meaning priest, the Latin Mass was choreographed with the care and attention to detail of a Broadway performance. This care for detail, far from seeming stuffy, instead conveyed a deep and passionate love for what was holy. And even more importantly, it invited me to join in that love by taking similar care in my own prayer and participation in the Mass.
All fair enough but do note how prominent his “feelings” are in all he writes.
It gave me a hunger for “the beautiful,” despite my eurocentric understanding of beauty. There were no felt banners or tacky papier-mâché art in sight. To that point, when the Met Gala chose “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” as its theme, do you think they were looking to 1970s Catholic aesthetics for inspiration?
“Eurocentric” is a big red flag but at least we can agree on the tacky turn the church took after Vatican II.
But do you know what else the Latin Mass did for me?
Here we go…
It made me bitter and arrogant. It made me think I had the more ancient, therefore holier, therefore better way to practice my faith. I would make jokes about the “Novus Ordo” and speculate about the day the church might even do away with vernacular liturgy, considering it a failed experiment. In one example I find particularly galling and embarrassing, when I attended my regular, non-Latin Mass, instead of praying the liturgy I would actually sit there and count all the deviations from the rubrics that I could notice.
It did not “make” him anything. He made himself bitter and arrogant. Blaming anything or anyone other than yourself for your actions is a sign of emotional — and certainly spiritual — immaturity. It is also curious that he became this way from attending the Extraordinary form for a short time as a young adult. Quite a spiritual journey. Also again, his “feelings” are the focus.
I found a lot of security in the (very flawed) idea that “Catholicism is an ancient, unchanging faith. This is the most ancient, unchanging way to live it out.” It took me some time and prodding and prayer to realize that this security wasn’t in or from God, but rather about reassuring myself that I had an answer that I would never need to change (a very attractive prospect to someone whose world feels in constant flux!).
Catholicism is an ancient and unchanging Faith. Also more feelings.
We are called to faith that the truth revealed by God in Christ is eternal and unchanging, but as Pope Francis has pointed out repeatedly (like a good Jesuit spiritual director), rigidity and possessiveness about how to express that truth are not authentically free expressions of faith.
“Rigid” is the word they’ve been told to use in place of words like “Faithful”, “Orthodox” and “Traditional”. It just means that people who attend the Extraordinary Form also tend to live the Faith as we are commanded to by our Lord Jesus Christ. Who incidentally — was quite rigid.
One of the beautiful parts about the celebration of Mass is that it links us to the communion of the church, extending across both time and space. And the Tridentine Mass, representing more than 400 years of that celebration across history, conveys some aspects of that communion powerfully. But unfortunately, some uses of it in our time have become a point of rupture in that communion as well.
How have they become a point of rupture? You have to actively look to find parishes or even dioceses where the Extraordinary form is offered. Plenty of people drive for an hour or more to get there. I’ve even known people to move so they can be closer to where it is offered. If by rupture, he means they are growing beyond numbers they can support in the limited spaces they have available then he’s right. He doesn’t mean this though. I am guessing he won’t feel the need to offer explanation for how these communities are causing rupture as he sees it but we’ll see.
A more widespread celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass was an initiative that “intended to recover the unity of an ecclesial body with diverse liturgical sensibilities,” Pope Francis explained in his letter explaining his motivations for the motu proprio “Traditionis Custodes.” However, in effect it “was exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce the divergences, and encourage disagreements that injure the Church, block her path, and expose her to the peril of division.” When I read those words, I knew it was true in my own personal spiritual life. It is a great sadness that it was exploited. And if the pope and the bishops around the world who responded to his questionnaire on this topic saw this division throughout the church, Francis was right to respond.
“When I read these words I knew it was true in my own mind.”
But, you may object: I am not a smug pseudo-schismatic who hates the pope, and I love the Latin Mass! Here is the difficult thing being asked of you by the Holy Father: There are many good reasons to love the Latin Mass, but given that it has become a demonstrable cause of disunity and rancor within the church, we have to look for the gifts it gives elsewhere.
Where has this been demonstrated? Certainly not in anything he’s written. In the previous paragraph he simply claimed he knew the Pope’s words were true based on feelings. Also he reveals here that he see’s people who go to Latin Mass as “smug pseudo-schismatics that hate the pope”.
Pope Francis readily admits that he agrees with Pope Benedict XVI that “in many places the prescriptions of the new Missal are not observed in celebration, but indeed come to be interpreted as an authorization for or even a requirement of creativity, which leads to almost unbearable distortions.” So, one task at hand, and a possible place of common ground for divided Catholics, is to focus on making regular Masses a bit more reverent. After all, the good things that I received from my encounter with the Traditional Latin Mass should have been available to me in the Novus Ordo, too. All good liturgy, in whatever form or language, should engender desires for the good, the true and the beautiful.
Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis and Zac all agree about the problems with the new Missal apparently. More specifically, that the rubrics aren’t followed and many parishes are basically doing whatever they want. Yet, the tiny minority of Catholics who “rigidly” follow what the Church promulgated are the problem. And say all the people going to Latin Mass agreed to come to Novus Ordo instead. Would the priest get rid of the banners, guitars and stop adlibbing? Would their bishops start enforcing the rubrics?
But there is another, deeper and more difficult spiritual challenge here. The desires that the liturgy awakes and satisfies in us—and for some of us, the desires that the Latin Mass especially nurtured—are good, holy and necessary. But those desires also point beyond the liturgy itself. At the risk of sounding glib, what would it mean if we could find the spiritual goods that the Latin Mass taught so many in other places? What if we were able to discover a passion for beauty from our service to the poor? If we could develop a mature sense of wonder and awe from caring for creation, our common home?
Let’s ignore all this and go back to talking about immigration and environmentalism. What really spiritually awakens and satisfies Zac are the politics of the world. That’s his religion and you can establish that by browsing both his articles and Twitter feed.
If I am honest, those feel like daunting questions that I don’t really know how to respond to. I only know that I think I’m being called to ask them. Answering them, I imagine, will take patience, practice and a lot of prayers—in whatever language they’re said.
Hey dude, I still don’t know how you understand why Pope Francis restricted the Latin Mass. You didn’t really address that at all nor give even one concrete reason how it has been a source of division or rupture. I got a lot of feelings and little else. This was even worse than I expected as I honestly thought I’d have to walk-back my assumption this would be terrible based on the title. Not so.