Saturday, July 05, 2008

A Response to Mary Curtis From Charlotte Observer on the Tridentine Mass

Mary C. Curtis at the Charlotte Observer has recently attended a Tridentine mass and posted some fairly negative comments on it here. My response is in red:
The Latin Mass retains a sense of mystery at a time when little in life offers that particular quality. And it restores a sense of community with Catholics of every race and region.

Yes. That's a good thing.

The Mass has become more convivial of late, with lay readers and ushers and Eucharistic ministers. Someone or other is always marching up and down the aisle. Lay people – and altar girls – get to play a part.

I missed that.

"Convivial" should never be a word used to describe a liturgy, especially a sacrificial liturgy such as the mass. Sacrifices aren't "convivial" and when the mass becomes such, the sacrifice is lost. But still, I wonder what it is about ushers walking up and down the aisles and altar girls that you missed. Why would you miss those things? I can understand missing the English or missing the familiarity of the liturgy, but altar girls and ushers? Lay readers? By the way, there is no such thing as a Lay "Eucharistic minister", there is an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. "Extraordinary" is the key there, they are only supposed to be used when absolutely necessary. They're not "ordinary" even in the Novus Ordo. I am sure, like most of us here in Charlotte, that if you attend mass at a Novus Ordo parish you are accustom to abuse and novelties in the mass to the point where you don't know certain things aren't supposed to be done: holding hands during the Our Father, removing water from fonts during Lent, washing women's feet on Holy Thursday etc... This is the precise reason why the Pope liberalized the Tridentine mass: because the average Catholic no longer understands what the mass is because the Novus Ordo has been so widely abused.

I've also gotten used to the priest facing the congregation, drawing us in.

Drawing us in to what? The Eucharist - the Real Bodily Presence of Jesus Christ should be what "draws you in" not the priest facing you while he re-presents the non bloody sacrifice.

When he turns toward the altar, the feeling is just the opposite.

In the Tridentine Mass, the priest faces the congregation when he's speaking to them. In the Novus Ordo, the priest always does so "drawing people in" to the illusion that he's always talking to them. The priest facing liturgical East along with the congregation is an objectively and immeasurably superior way of communicating to the laity that together with the priest, the people of God are offering up themselves and re-presenting the non bloody sacrifice of Jesus Christ during the mass. I suggest reading Pope Benedict's book "Spirit of the Liturgy" for more on that.

It seems less inviting and more like a secret society, one I'm not sure I'm good enough to join.

I'm not sure what makes it seem like that to you. It might be that it's at an awkward time, 8 AM Saturday morning and there is less attendance than would be on a normal Sunday mass. You should also understand that we "traditionalists" are somewhat marginalized within pop-Catholicism and the McMass and that may come across as "secret society"-ish but that's not our doing. Furthermore, we don't like alerting God to our wonderful presence by singing "Here I Am Lord" (to the tune of "Brady Bunch" mind you) - see we're not sure if we're good enough to sing that.

The Catholic Church was once more exclusive, the one true faith, we were taught.

It still is. Have you read Vatican II documents or have you just heard about them? The first thing we must understand about Vatican II is that it negated absolutely no doctrines which came before it. The Catholic Church can never change any of her dogmas. If she changes even one, she disproves herself. From Vatican 2, Lumen Gentium:

The Catholic Church professes that it is the one, holy catholic and apostolic Church of Christ; this it does not and could not deny. But in its Constitution the Church now solemnly acknowledges that the Holy Ghost is truly active in the churches and communities separated from itself. To these other Christian Churches the Catholic Church is bound in many ways: through reverence for God's word in the Scriptures; through the fact of baptism; through other sacraments which they recognize.

And from the Declaration "Dominus Iesus":

it is clear that it would be contrary to the faith to consider the Church as one way of salvation alongside those constituted by the other religions, seen as complementary to the Church or substantially equivalent to her, even if these are said to be converging with the Church toward the eschatological kingdom of God"

It would be helpful for you (especially as a journalist) to read these things firsthand instead of relying on hearsay (even from the mouths of priests unfortunately). The Church has only clarified herself on this issue in Vatican II, she never denied that she was the true Church or that Christianity was the one true faith.

The one thing it wasn't about was dialogue.

True ecumenism doesn't just seek for "dialogue" as if it were an end, it seeks institutional unity under the Catholic Church. Anything short of that is false ecumenism. Jesus prayed that we would be "one" not that we would talk to each other.

The sermon – about being vigilant in your faith – is fine, but a little muscular, a little Mel Gibson.

I didn't hear the sermon so I'd have a tough time commenting on this directly. But your choice of words betrays you a bit I think. Mel Gibson is a sedeprivationist and so dropping his name here just because you associate him with traditional Catholics is not only unfair, it's uncalled for.

I'm curious though, what is so "muscular" about being vigilant in your faith? And I'm not even sure what's wrong with "muscular" in the first place... See when men complain or make a remark about something being too "feminine", we're accused of not being "secure" with our masculinity. I wonder if that makes you insecure about your "femininity" that you are upset with the testosterone in his homily. Now, I don't mean this to be an attack on your character so please don't take it as such. I'm just asking an honest question. I don't have the full context of his homily or what you mean by these words. I hope I'm misunderstanding what you're saying. But for the record, we could use some "muscle" in our homilies here and there.

And I missed that dialogue at the Latin service.

Also remember that this is a daily mass not a weekly one. It is a shortened version. There is a "dialogue" Tridentine mass that is celebrated sometimes. The irony of this whole tension is that the mass I've seen the most dialogue and participation in ever was a Tridentine mass in Greensboro in January. The "active participation" of the congregation absolutely dwarfed the pale, forced and lifeless "participation" of the unenthusiastic, denim wearing laity we typically see at a Novus Ordo.

We've grown up a lot since the days when the watchword was silence and the priest had the last word.

Have we? What exactly is "growing up" in your opinion? Do we know the faith better? As I think we've already seen here in this article, the average Catholic isn't even aware that Catholicism IS the faith much less do they understand it.

The clergy still have the authority and always will. Vatican II was not intended to turn the Catholic Church into a Protestant ecclesial community. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church always has been and always will be "top down" because Jesus Christ founded it. It can never be "bottom up" as say, the United States of America or the Lutheran ecclesial community because they were founded by ordinary men.

Secrecy can be suffocating and mystery just an excuse not to ask questions.

What questions do you want to ask? The answers are all there and readily available to anyone who wants to learn and they have been for the entire existence of the Church. Laziness has more often been the culprit than "secrecy" for the ignorance of the laity. I mean, here we are with the most secularly educated laity in history, the highest level of literacy and the most transparency the Church has ever known. We have Google for crying out loud! And yet the laity knows next to nothing about Catholicism. We know less now and are less biblically literate than 100 years ago when everything was supposedly so secretive. So I think what most people really want when they say "I want to ask questions" is that they want to "question things" or more bluntly, they want to dissent. I don't accuse you of that, I assume that you have only good intentions. It has just been my experience that those who use those words have typically meant something other than what they really said.

Openness is not heresy. As the lay organization Voice of the Faithful says: “provide a prayerful voice, attentive to the Spirit, through which the faithful can actively participate in the governance and guidance of the Catholic Church.”

Laity do have a role in the Church but governance (at least in the immediate sense of the word) is not part of that. For the record, there is very little "faithfulness" in the dissenting group "Voice of the Faithful". While I can and do support their desire for the Church to respond and act appropriately to the sex-abuse scandal, I cannot condone this group at all. From their heretical rejection of the Catholic Church's stance on women's ordination to their abominable choices in speakers for their convention, this group represents precisely why those who make the choices in the Catholic Church are not the uninformed laity but the ordained clergy in succession from the apostles.

If the Latin Mass provides a clearer path to faith for anyone, it is worth having the choice.

That's really all we're asking. Just toss us a bone. There are probably more than 3 dozen weekend Novus Ordo masses in Charlotte; we just want one Tridentine. (Sat 8AM is a start but we need one that fulfills our Sunday obligation).

But I see the world differently now. You can't go back. I don't want to.

Well, that's fine. There's nothing innately wrong about the Novus Ordo for sure. My sincere hope is that the liberalization of the Tridentine mass will help correct some of the abuses in the Novus Ordo that are widespread at this point. There is no better catechesis on the Eucharist than a properly celebrated liturgy. Hope my reply has been received in the spirit it was intended.


~Joseph the Worker said...

I've been to a Latin mass since I was Catholic (only a few months now). While I totally recommend it, and would do it again, there are several downsides to it as well which make me prefer the N.O. I don't think she did a very good job articulating the real downsides, her's mostly sound like misunderstandings with some of the symbolism and meaning of the Latin mass.

Gretchen said...

She sounds like she wants to be a protestant. Really. All that talk about dialogue and people running up and down the aisles, being drawn in, etc. Wish I could attend a Latin mass.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Joseph, out of curiosity, what are the downsides of the Tridentine mass in your opinion? (I don't necessarily disagree with you, I suppose that the Novus Ordo does have some benefits).

Gretchen - I was thinking the same thing. I just don't get it why these Catholics who keep wanting an organization run by the laity from the bottom up instead of the top down hierarchy of the Catholic Church... I'm like, why don't you just become a Protestant! (But I don't mean that literally, the Church is hospital for sinners and her goal is to save as many as possible...Even if they are belligerently wrong in their doctrines.)

~Joseph the Worker said...

Mine are not the typical reasons, I don't think. The back turned doesn't bother me at all (maybe I prefer it), the Latin language doesn't bother me (missals and experience with it would help me learn that). My biggest complaint is that the Eucharistic prayer is not vocalized. I understand some like the silence here, I find that hearing the prayer and meditating on the words keeps me focused. I also prefer to take the blood of Christ during communion along with the bread. That's from my religious tradition. (although I would prefer that we take the body kneeling like in the Tridentine mass). Those are the two things that stick out to me the most.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Joseph - good reasons. The Novus Ordo has had some positive influence I definitely concur.

Carolina Cannonball said...

I sent her a letter and got some canned auto-reply back. shocker.

JP said...


Good replies to her concerns. I prefer the Novus Ordo. Why? It is all I know. I have a question that is going off track a bit but ties into what you said concerning those who abuse the Novus Ordo and the Order of the Mass.

The simple question is, why are the priests in the parish not correcting the abuses you mentioned, like holding hands and raising them during the "Our Father". If this is against the order of the Mass, why is this widespread annoyance not fixed. A simple address to the congregation at the end of the Mass could surely set things right.....for most.

Tim A. Troutman said...

JP, that's a good question. I know the answer can vary wildly from one priest to another. Some fail to correct the abuses out of cowardice, some fail for sinful reasons (the abuses lead to more attention on the priest for example) but I think most probably fail out of ignorance.

Even when you go up the chain, Catholic hierarchy is something that's hard to understand for most people - including me. When we hear "hierarchy" we think of a king ordering a slave to go fetch his shoes or else he'll be hanged immediately. Well, that's not the sort of "hierarchy" that the Catholic Church has. We should think more of a family when we hear that word (the pope drew this parallel recently). A father or mother tells their child "do this" and the child often doesn't respond immediately or stops most of it but still does it a little. And well the parent doesn't send his child off to the gallows because he loves the child. That's sort of what is going on in the Church I believe.

There have to be some pretty serious abuses for bishops to step in. The priests are humans just like you and I and they are not protected from selfishness, ignorance or irreverence any more than you or me.

I'm not making excuses for anyone who doesn't deal with these issues. It is their responsibility both to know what/when to do, and to have the courage to actually do it. Ignorance is not an excuse for the priest any more than ignorance of how to fly a plane could be an excuse for a pilot who crashed. You're a priest it's your job to know this stuff!

Anyway, there's a lot of complicated issues and most of it has to do some way or another with the fact that the Church is always under attack from the enemy. I suspect one of the most powerful things we can do is pray.

I pray for my bishop and for the pope daily.