Sunday, January 20, 2013

"My Initial Doubts about the Latin Mass"

A reader called my attention this post, hands down one of the best introductions to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass I've seen, and called it "Sesame Street and the Apian Way" (you'll see why).

But Dr. Taylor Marshall, calls his post, "My Initial Doubts about the Latin Mass" (Canterbury Tales, January 8, 2013); and the following is his article:

Then Cardinal Ratzinger Celebrating the Latin Mass

By now it's no secret that I attend the Latin Mass and that I am the Chancellor of a College that offers the Latin Mass seven days a week - Fisher More College. However, I've not always been partial to the Latin Mass. For a few years after my conversion to the Catholic Faith, I was cautiously curious about the the "old Mass." I perceived it as exotic, antiquarian, and even as a dangerous. Although I had some esteem for the "old liturgies," I was not convinced of the merits of the Latin Mass and the culture, which for better or worse, surrounds it.

* * * * * * *

"The Latin Mass is like beer. You have to drink it in
a few times to like it."

* * * * * * *

My wife and I starting taking our family to the Latin Mass around Feast of the Ascension of 2010. Before we made this move, however, I had some serious misgivings about the Latin Mass, which we also call the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Our concerns were some of the common concerns that others still have and voice regularly. I cannot speak for everyone, but I'd like to go through my own personal misgivings about the Latin Mass and then explain how I overcame them, or, to be blunt, learned to live with them.

What caused our family to make the move?

A Personal Reflection

There were a lot of things that caused us to make the transition. Part of it was my attachment to aesthetically beautiful liturgy from my Anglican days. Most of it had to do with my alarm at the liturgical abuse that we witnessed. For example, the first time that my four year old daughter saw female "altar boys" serving at the altar, she tugged on my sleeve and said, "Daddy, look. I wanna be a girl priest, too." Not encouraging.

I truly believe that liturgical abuse is sinful, contrary to the will of God, and causes people to embrace poor theology. Lex credendi, lex orandi - the law of belief is the law of prayer. Yes, a Holy Mass is either valid or not. Don't hear me saying that the Novus Ordo is invalid. By all means it is. But the Mass is like a diamond engagement ring. It's not enough that it be a real diamond. It must also have a gold ring and a proper setting if you want it to really shine and be appreciated.

There were a number of dissatisfactions, but the breaking point happened some time in early 2010. It was the straw that broke the camel's back.

The "Grover" Moment

It was a Sunday. Novus Ordo parish. I won't identify the church. Our family went forward to receive Holy Communion. My family always tried to receive Communion from the priest, but sometimes it was impossible and you'd get re-routed to an Extraordinary Eucharistic Lay Minister. This re-routing must have happened this day. The EM to whom we were routed that day was wearing jeans and she had on an over-sized blue shirt with a giant image of Grover's face. I just did a Google search and found a picture of the exact shirt:

Here, I was entering into intimate Communion with the Divine Logos, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ Himself...but I was staring into the face of Grover from Sesame Street. Grover never bothered me before, but that day I was deeply bothered by Jim Henson's icon staring me in the face. Beautiful vestments had been instituted for a purpose. Up until now I did not appreciate how they prevented the faithful from coming into contact with Muppets during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

As I returned to my pew, I thought inwardly: "This is it! I just can't take it anymore. Things have to change Lord. I'm now desperate. I don't want my children to grow up with this perception of the one true Faith." I had seen worse things than this before, but for some reason the Grover moment broke me.

I was now ready to make full-hearted foray into the Latin Mass community served by the FSSP (Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter - in union with the Holy Father, of course). Yet, I had a few pre-conceived notions against the Latin Mass and its adherents.

My Pre-Conceived Ideas

First of all, I was turned off by the so-called "traddies" who haunted the pews during the Latin Mass. Here are the common stereotypes of those scary traditionalists that you hear about in conversations:
  1. "Modest clothing," which seems to be interpreted as "denim for the ladies" and "no denim for the men," paired with ubiquitous jumpers for moms and daughters, men with pants hemmed too short, 1950s haircuts, and "brown" as the most holy of all colors. Actually, make that "Carmelite brown."
  2. Judgmental so that all outside their version of Catholicism are in need of "fraternal correction."
  3. Bishop-bashers, which means that we must police the behavior of bishops and post their faults online.
  4. Dour facial expressions: Sad, depressed, and/or angry.
  5. Uneducated, yet obsessed with Latin.
  6. Amish Catholics or Bunker Catholics, which means that we must bunker down, circle the wagons, and wait patiently for the Three Days of Darkness.
  7. Jansenists in theology, which means that they are really Catholic Calvinists who believe that human nature is totally depraved. St Thomas Aquinas rightfully taught that grace perfects nature. Jansenists hold that grace gets rid of that nasty nature.
I think that sums up the traddy stereotype pretty well. So, are they true?

Well, like all stereotypes, the traddy sterotype is greatly exaggerated but based on reality. Let me interject that my wife and I were braced for the worst but were pleasantly surprised. Yes, people did come up afterward and compliment our family. They were kind. They invited us to coffee. The priests were welcoming friendly and genuinely concerned for our souls. This last feature, the outstanding priests, is the key to all of this. We met young Catholic friends immediately - friends to this day. People were nice and friendly.

In true Thomistic fashion, let's examine each objection in order:

ad 1. "Modest clothing" which seems to be interpreted as "denim for the ladies" and "no denim for the men" paired with ubiquitous jumpers for moms and daughters, men with pants hemmed too short, 1950s haircuts, and "brown" as the most holy of all colors. Actually, make that "Carmelite brown."

My wife and I have learned that "modest" does not mean homely. It takes time, style, and even money to dress modestly and attractively. Are some people dressed in burlap jumpers? Not burlap, but there are some jumpers here and there. But that's just a tiny minority. Most men and women (and children) look pretty dignified. And to be quite honest, I'd much prefer to see a whole team of burlap jumper ladies than 19-year-old girls with low cut tops, short-shorts, or "jeggings." If you're Catholic in the USA, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Which would you rather have?

ad 2. Judgmental so that all outside their version of Catholicism are in need of "fraternal correction"

Judgmentalism is a problem for any Catholic who is serious about his faith. Whenever we try hard to enter the narrow gate, we occasionally pause and pity all the souls taking the other path. Pity often gives way to resentment, especially when they're having so much fun on the other path. Is there an inordinate amount of judgmentalism or Pharisaism in Latin Mass circles? Yes, it's certainly there. However, I don't think that Latin Masses causes judgmentalism. I think it's because the Latin Mass attracts religious people and the devil tempts the religiously minded with pride. The devil knows he's not going to tempt Mrs. Latin Mass to strut around in a tight sweater and jeggings. No, he has different plans for the religious. Pride is his powerful temptation for the devout.

ad 3. Bishop-bashers, which means that we must police the behavior of bishops and post their faults online.

Honestly, people I know love and pray for their bishop regularly. You hear some bishop bashing here and there; however, I heard it all the time in the Novus Ordo parishes, as well. I really don't think that Latin Mass adherents are big bishop-bashers.

ad 4. Dour facial expressions: Sad, depressed, and/or angry

Now was everyone at the Latin Mass so friendly and cordial? No, of course not. There were a few ladies of advanced years that gave mean looks to my wife when our little ones interrupted - but that happened even at the Novus Ordo. Most people were happy and accepting. It's very common to see older women, teenage girls, or even other mothers take the infants of other mothers during Holy Mass to help them out. I haven't seen it anywhere else. There is true team work among Latin Mass ladies.

As for the men, they're just guys. Knights of Columbus. Sports. Dads. Just men. I have noticed that Latin Mass men universally own guns and are into hunting. Good features in my book.

ad 5. Uneducated, yet obsessed with Latin

The first part isn't true. What I have noticed is that the Latin Mass generally attracts two demographics: intellectuals and blue collar men. Perhaps the latter gives rise to the myth of "uneducated." Intellectuals are attracted because they see the importance of a continuity of tradition and they drama of sanctity in the old rites. But the same is true for your blue collar men. These men are real men and they are unimpressed with 1970s jingles, the overly-familiar "Father Bob," and other fluffy elements found in contemporary music and liturgy.

Also, it doesn't seem that people are obsessed with Latin or posit magical properties to it. As someone once said, Latin and silence are to the Roman liturgy what the iconostasis is to the Eastern liturgies. The human soul demands a separation between the profane and the sacred. There are other reasons for Latin (I cover a few reasons for Latin in my new book: The Eternal City - Rome & the Origins of Catholicism.)

ad 6. Amish Catholics or Bunker Catholics, which means that we must bunker down, circle the wagons, and wait patiently for the Three Days of Darkness.

When times are bleak, this is a dangerous temptation. We can feel that we must give up the positive call to evangelism because things are so bad. We can convince ourselves that our light must be placed under a bushel so as to not be snuffed out. While there are some who seek to revive an agrarian utopia of yesteryear, most are people studying, working, and living in the local community. Many of them are bringing people into the Catholic Church. Lots of converts.

ad 7. Jansenists in theology, which means that they are really Catholic Calvinists who believe that human nature is totally depraved. St Thomas Aquinas rightfully taught that grace perfects nature. Jansenists hold that grace gets rid of that nasty nature.

This is probably the most ridiculous, but I've been hearing it more and more frequently. The old heretics known as the Jansenists were down on devotion to the Saints, down on devotion to Mary, and down on devotion to the Sacred Heart. If anything, the priests and laity attached to the Latin Mass are the greatest enthusiasts for true devotion to the Rosary and the Sacred Heart. Also, Jansenism sought to have austere simplicity in the liturgy. A Solemn High Mass is anything but that!

People also need to know that Jansenism was a liturgical movement, but moving in the other direction of the Latin Mass. The Jansenists wanted vernacular Mass and Breviary, undecorated altars, candle sticks off the altar, whitewashed walls, removal of statues, and a decrease in private devotions.

What I've perceived is that if a priest preaches on hell, purgatory, contraception, divorce, or other difficult topics, he will be rumored as Jansenistic. Sermons on hell, especially, generally lead to allegations of Jansenism. My response is that we need to hear it.

To summarize, most of the stereotypes are not fully accurate but do in fact touch on elements, good or bad, in communities attached to the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Mass. To be honest I don't notice the stereotypes anymore. If I think about it, I can see it. However, they are more like surface features. They aren't of the essence. So let's turn to one final objection that does concern doubts over the essence of the Latin Mass: Lay Participation.

But What About the Latin and "Active Participation"?

Now we turn to an objection that is not simply about the people and culture, but about the old liturgy in particular. It is often asked, "How do you actively participate? It's in Latin. That's a huge barrier for me."

The Latin Mass is like beer. You have to drink it in a few times to like it. My challenge would be for you to attend the Latin Mass for four Sundays in a row before making a decision. Give it that long. Here's why:

You will slowly make a shift in the way that you assist at Holy Mass. Your concept of Active Participation will transform in your heart. There is a lot of quiet "space" in the Latin Mass. The first time or so, you'll be sitting there doing nothing and thinking, "What's going on? Why aren't we doing anything?"

When you've reached that point, you're getting close. It's like drinking beer for the first time. "This tastes terrible? What's the hype? I don't understand." But then you come to realize that beer is more than just the taste.

You realize something is different. Your soul begins to focus silently on Christ crucified. You find yourself kneeling next to the Blessed Virgin Mary in stunned silence as the priest lifts Jesus Christ over his head. You enter into the silence. It's difficult to understand. You simply have to experience it.

True Active Participation

This brings us to a new understanding of "Active Participation." Active participation is not moving your body around the sanctuary. Active participation is not serving as an altar boy, carrying cruets, reading a lesson, or being an EM. If that were the case, then every lay person in the nave would need a special job to fulfill to participate actively. This is not active participation, but it is false clericalism. It is the incorrect belief that a lay person must do something quasi-priestly for it to be meaningful and prayerful.

The Second Vatican Council did not promote active participation as clericalism. No, true active participation as promoted by the Council is modeled by the Blessed Virgin Mary. It means actively following the work of Christ on the cross with a humble and prayerful heart. Ask yourself, who was more "active" at the foot of the cross, the Roman soldiers or the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint John, and Saint Mary Magdalene? Active participation is fulfilled by an inward disposition. This conforms to our conviction that God wants the heart more than he wants outward signs of piety.


To sum up, the positives are reverence and active participation. The negatives are laid out in the seven objections. My opinion is that there are certain truths connected to the seven stereotypes. I'm not saying that the stereotypes are entirely false, but they are greatly over-exaggerated.

So my challenge is to try out the Four-Week Challenge. Attend the Latin Mass (only in communion with the Holy Father - avoid schismatic groups) for four weeks and give it a go. It's a different experience. I think you'll find it wonderful.
[Hat tip to J.M.]


Anonymous said...

I am Catholic convert. I have yet to give up the heavy metal habit in music - because the music is so powerful, (and due to many other priorities I have other bad habits to conquer first).

What can compete with this power? Only something that can bring us soaring up with proportionate and greater power -mysterious silence,language and "poem-prayers" that are only half-understood.


Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous. Would you explain what you mean by heavy metal being powerful? What power does it have. I ask this with complete sincerity.


Sheldon said...

My thoughts on the heavy metal question. I think that heavy metal may be powerful in the way that pornography, or crack cocaine, or, for that matter, cane sugar is powerful in pop tarts and miscellaneous junk food. All of these can be addictive, and that is a form of power. But that doesn't make it a good power.

Power that is good doesn't impose itself on us, or force or compel or bind us. It doesn't destroy our free will by addicting us. Rather, it invites us, provokes us, entices us, wins us over by getting us to make a choice.

This is the way that healthful food is powerful, or good literature, or good liturgy, or good music. At first it's not particularly appealing, because it's not laced with sugar, chemicals, or designs that appeal to our base, prurient desires. But when it wins us over, slowly and progressively, we realize we've come into something good and beautiful and true.

It takes time. One doesn't acquire a taste for high cuisine as easily as one gets addicted to Doritos or Pop Tarts. Heavy metal music slams into your soul through your body like a lightening bolt, but completely by-passes the intellect. Good music is not merely sensuous, in the sense of appealing to our senses (as does heavy metal, for those who like it), but also to our intellects, which can judge it for proportionality, measure, harmony, completeness, just as its effect on the soul is to elevate it beyond the confines of the sensuous world of flesh.

Anonymous said...

I meant powerful just as in thunderous music. My dad used to listen to big classical pieces, like the1812 Overture(sp?). It is the sound of thunder, freight trains, and jets. Metal bands have that feel plus they feign willingness to be real by looking into the hard things of life - not la dee da like pop music (or the hymns found at the typical guitar mass). So it is stirring but yes in some ways it is like sniffing an ashtray.

The old mass and music touch on the same "heavy" themes but you go through them and then soar above them. -Learning

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. Sniffing an ash tray. Interesting. But my thoughts are more in line with Sheldon. You say that this is something you have to conquer. I love reading your posts. You are on the right path.


Ralph Roister-Doister said...

Not sure how a blog on the traditional Latin Mass as an "acquired taste" (a bizarre notion in itself) got to be a running commentary on heavy metal music, but ok.

My biggest regrets musically are:

• that I did not involve myself with Bach, Haydn, and baroque/classical music sooner. Nothing surpasses it.

• that I did not climb out of the trough of flaccid, overblown beached whales of romantic-modern symphonic works sooner. And that includes Beethoven.

• that the great country blues performer Robert “Barbecue Bob” Hicks died of “consumption” in 1931 at age 30, having recorded only a few dozen sides, some of them brilliant. His “Motherless Child Blues” reveals by comparison the absolute lack of inspiration of the “tribute” version recorded by overrated, under-talented multi-millionaire guitar noodler Eric Clapton. Country blues is a genuine window into a bygone world, not a peep into a spoiled rock star’s barren imagination.

• that Peter Green, the great blues guitarist and singer of the original Fleetwood Mac, a favorite of BB King’s, literally lost his mind after ingesting acid while partying with the Grateful Dead during a tour in the late sixties, and spent the next twenty years gathering up the pieces and fitting them back together, alas imperfectly.

• that Robert Palmer, a wonderful rhythm & blues singer and all-round pop music genius from Malta, of all places, died of a heart attack (heart disease ran in his family) at age 54, much too soon. He could master any pop style. When he did a song made famous by someone else, he frequently, almost routinely, equalled or surpassed the original. The “Addicted to Love” music video, which is what he is unfortunately best known for, is a remarkable tongue-in-cheek achievement, as is the song itself, if you bother listening to it.

Ralph Roister-Doister said...

Unimaginative blue noses (one of my pet names for neo-Caths) have called blues the devil’s music. I prefer to think of it as the music of the post-Adamic man. As such, I can hardly disown it. Metal thrash music, most rap – now THAT is the devil’s music, expressing true joy in damnation. It is produced purely to make money, the same reason that illicit drugs are produced. The Devil is a growth market these days.

Jeff said...

It never occurred to me to approach the old Mass like beer.

Do I like the Book of Deuteronomy? Do admire the style of Mark? Are all those strange visions in the Apocrypha to my taste or NOT?

The old Mass is a central part of my patrimony, "a bit above my likes and dislikes", as Sam Gamgee would say.

Sometimes I love it. Sometimes it bores me. So what?

Pertinacious Papist said...

Peter Kreeft said something interesting during a presentation at Sacred Heart Major Seminary yesterday. He said, when speaking about the Good and True and Beautiful, that the first two can be resisted; but the third can't. I'm not sure that's true, but it's a provocative remark because of what follows (whether true or not) for the importance of beauty in the liturgy.

At the end of his talk, during the Q&A, he was asked what role he thought Tradition and the Latin Mass might play in the New Evangelization. He said that taste in music and liturgy is a very personal thing and that 'traditions' are not on the same level as 'Tradition' with a capital 'T'; which had me worried about what he's say.

Then he said that he personally couldn't help absolutely loving Gregorian Chant, Palestrina, and the Latin Mass; and he remarked that the "praise music" of the sort that was played and sung before his presentation was music he did not like, and that it sounded 'Baptist' to him.

Ralph Roister-Doister said...

Small 't' tradition is a neologism these days. You have 40 year "traditions" that spring from the modernist insurrections of the sixties and seventies -- and consist of little more than aping secular affectations -- Secularism Lite, with "sainthood" as a complimentary nosegay.

As with so many things, it might make more sense to pose pre-V2 traditions against post-V2 "traditions." Then one might be able to better distinguish what is being talked about -- well, assuming that one has a clue as to what "pre-V2 tradition" entails. So complete has been the burying of pre-V2 tradition, I doubt there are more than a handful of Catholics under the age of 60 who do. When it comes to burying tradition, the nouvelles are right up there with the communists.

When Kreeft made the obligatory nod to small 't' tradition, I would have liked to have asked him: what does he make of behavior that is called "traditional," but consists in eviscerating traditions and replacing them with impromptus.

Anonymous said...

Liturgically, I don't think is the instrumentation so much as the "feel" of the music. I have attended vespers with classical guitar -style hymns that were heavenly. I like to fantasize getting a Catholic otherwise sympathetic rocker or blues guy to do a Mass setting. I bet they could and make it work.


Anonymous said...

I was raised pre-Vatican II. A "traditionalist" friend of mine who is 50 years old was surprised to learn that I was not raised on Gregorian Chant. I have never acquired a taste for that music. I didn't know that the music I really like is called Palestrina. That music didn't abound in the pre-Vatican Church at least in my diocese but I do remember hearing it. My Bishop was the wonderful James Francis Cardinal McIntyre.


JFM said...

TLM is most definitely an "acquired taste" if one is used to the Norvus Ordu and American culture. I felt like I had fallen thru the strangest of Time Warps my first few visits. It was surreal, to say the least! If all you have been fed is Baskin Robbins Gumbee Bears Surprise, the classic flavors are going to be a dramatic shift, and one a sugar saturated palette may not take to immediately.

Ralph Roister-Doister said...

Gregorian chant used to be common in my diocese. However, it was not heard at low Masses, where silence was enough. Gregorian chant is always appropriate for the high Mass, but I "prefer" the silence of the low Mass. Silence is the absence of ego. The low Mass is liturgy without "performance," and that is what is needed today -- not Palestrinian or Bachian "Hail to the Chief" Mass music (the appropriate venue for which, IMO, is the concert hall), and certainly not kitschy and insipid "praise" music imported from protestant klatches.