"Some liberal Catholic clergy are completely skeptical about the scope and meaning of the traditionalist turn. 'It's more hype than reality,' says the Rev. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and political scientist at Georgetown's Woodstock Theological Center. Reese thinks the Church should focus less on the Latin mass than on the three things that draw most churchgoers: 'good preaching, good music, and a welcoming community.' He is equally dubious about all the attention being devoted to the habit-wearing Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia and a few other traditional religious orders that have enjoyed an uptick in younger members. 'I have no problem with their habits,' says Reese. 'On the other hand, if the church ordained women, we'd have thousands more coming forward.'"Yada yada yada. You've heard that nonsense before. But then, under new management, America comes out with Fr. Michael Kerper's article (Dec. 3, 2007) titled "My Second First Mass: On Presiding at a Latin Liturgy." [pdf]. Here's a synopsis:
Fr. Kerper says that when Pope Benedict XVI issued his motu proprio liberating the Tridentine Latin Mass (July 7, 2007), his "reaction oscillated between mild irritation...and vague interest." This was probably the typical reaction of priests whose "pastoral self-understanding," as Fr. Kerper says of his own, "had been largely shaped by the Second Vatican Council."[Acknowledgement: the foregoing synopsis of Fr. Kerper's America article is taken from the New Oxford Note, "First Impressions Are Often Correct," published in New Oxford Review (March 2008). The excerpt is part of a substantially longer discussion of the Society of Jesus.]
"Within a week" of the release of the motu proprio, says Fr. Kerper, "letters trickled in.... In August, I met with a dozen parishioners who wanted the [Tridentine] Mass.... As a promoter of the widest range of pluralism within the church, how could I refuse to deal with an approved liturgical form? As a pastor who has tried to respond to people alienated by the perceived rigid conservatism of the church, how could I walk away from people alienated by priests like myself -- progressive, 'low church' pastors who have no ear for traditional piety?"
Fr. Kerper then "decided to offer the Tridentine Mass" -- for the very first time. So, what was it like for this self-proclaimed "progressive" priest to celebrate his first-ever Old Latin Mass? Was it onerous? Was it tedious?
Says Fr. Kerper, "The old Missal's rubrical micromanagement made me feel like a mere machine, devoid of personality; but, I wondered, is that really so bad? I actually felt liberated from a persistent need to perform, to engage, to be forever a friendly celebrant.... I suddenly recognized the [Tridentine] rite's ingenious ability to shrink the priest.... I was...dwarfed by the high altar.... I felt intense loneliness. As I moved along, however, I also heard the absolute silence behind me, 450 people of all ages praying, all bound mysteriously to the words I uttered.... I gazed at the Sacrament and [experienced] an inexplicable feeling of solidarity with the multitude behind me." Beautiful.
The Tridentine Mass is a majestic and sacred experience -- for priest and parishioner alike. Its impact is often profound. It can shake even hardened progressives out of our post-Vatican II liturgical torpor.