Joseph Shaw

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Attacks on the Traditional Mass point to a rupture in understanding of the faith, and of the Mass itself

If there is a 'rupture' between what some theologian thinks the Catholic faith is about, and what the Traditional Mass is about, that theologian has put himself on the wrong side of the dividing line.
Mon Jul 5, 2021 - 9:00 am EST
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July 5, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – On Sunday, July 4, the FIUV — the International Una Voce Federation — took out an advert in the Rome edition of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, to make a statement about the Traditional Latin Mass. It points out:

“The growth of interest in the traditional liturgy is not due to nostalgia for a time we do not remember, or a desire for rigidity: it is rather a matter of opening ourselves to the value of something that for most of us is new, and inspires hope.”

That it is controversial to be attached to the liturgy used by the Church for more than a dozen centuries is the sign of a deep malaise in the Church. Two prominent prelates in the Roman Curia have recently been reported making remarks about the Extraordinary Form (EF) of extraordinary hostility, and these have come after weeks of speculation about a new official document which will in some way roll back the freedom which Pope Benedict XVI gave to the more ancient liturgy in 2007.

Possibly all these stories and rumors are false or taken out of context — the Vatican can seem like a hall of mirrors sometimes — but the mere fact that these stories are circulating is a reminder that the Old Mass has determined enemies in Rome.

Whom does it threaten? Who needs to be worried by an eccentric group of people — still numerically small in relation to the Church as a whole — who for some reason want to attend Mass in Latin, perhaps with Gregorian Chant? Here are a few of the things detractors say.

“Having Mass in Latin will put people off.” But no-one is going to be put off by finding that, say, a fraction of 1% of the Masses in an area are in Latin.

“Having more than one kind of liturgy in a diocese is divisive.” But many dioceses have Masses in multiple languages, plus the liturgy of one or more variety of Eastern Catholics. Then again, there is a huge range of ways in which the Ordinary Form can be celebrated even in one language. In terms of creating groups of Catholics who don’t often go to each other’s Masses, this variety is much more significant than little groups of Latin Mass-goers.

“The Latin Mass gives the priest an unhealthy, exalted status.” Actually, it obliges him to make repeated references to his unworthiness. Facing away from the congregation for most of the Mass, and unable to impose his personality on the liturgy with options or liturgical abuses, the priest is less a celebrity than an anonymous functionary who allows Christ to act in the liturgy through him.

“The Latin Mass has an unhealthy effect on young people, particularly men.” In a 2016 report by the respected, secular, British Social Attitudes Survey, it was apparent that women outnumber men at Mass in the U.K., as they do in the U.S.A. and elsewhere, by about two to one. The number of men aged 18-24 who attend Mass “at least weekly,” however, was zero: there were none in the sample. We need to think long and hard about condemning a form of the liturgy for bringing in young men in a way we don’t like. We should be grateful that there are any coming to Mass at all.

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These objections only really make sense in the context of a more fundamental one, which is this: “The old Latin Mass is theologically problematic.” It doesn’t matter very much exactly what theological issues might be in mind here, because this claim in itself is explosive, and is in danger of blowing up in the faces of the people making it.

Because what they are saying is that their own understanding of Catholic theology is incompatible with that expressed in the Traditional Mass. Whatever kind of divide this is about, the Extraordinary Form shares its side of the canyon with the Fathers, Doctors, Popes, and Saints who composed its prayers, developed its ceremonies, celebrated it, attended it, and recommended it to others. This was the Mass, indeed, which was celebrated during the Second Vatican Council, as well as all the previous General Councils of the Church in the West, with minor variations. If there is a “rupture” between what some theologian thinks the Catholic faith is about, and what the Traditional Mass is about, that theologian has put himself on the wrong side of the dividing line.

The idea that the EF is theologically wrong in some way is never made in the official documents of the Church. These always present the aim of the liturgical reform not as correcting theological errors, but as trying to produce something which would bear more abundant pastoral fruit. It is because of the importance of the Church’s pastoral work, the proclamation of the Gospel and the sanctification of souls, that today the Latin Mass is being celebrated more widely. In the conditions of today, it has been found, at least for some people, that the EF works.

On the logic of the reform, as long as it continues to work, it must be allowed to keep on working.


  catholic, latin mass, pope francis, summorum pontificum, traditional mass

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