Some while back, my old friend Stuart James asked, on Twitter, why the Extraordinary Form of the Mass - the Traditional Latin Mass - aroused such passionate opposition in some quarters. His point was that even where there was a plentiful supply of Masses in English, the mere suggestion of making a traditional Mass available seemed outrageous to some.
It is a good question, and I think there are many aspects to this phenomenon. In this post, I will think out loud about some of them. Doubtless I will miss some, and will welcome others' perspectives on this.
So here are the reasons I think that some are so strongly opposed to the traditional Mass. These reasons are not mutually exclusive, of course, so some may be subject to many of them.
First I will consider those born in the 1950s or earlier, who were raised on the traditional Mass. Some of these did not like it then, for a variety of reasons (poor catechesis, or poor liturgical practice are the two I hear of most frequently). They welcomed the changes as an improvement in their view, and cannot see why people who don't remember the bad old days would hanker after a return to them.
Others loved the Mass. When the changes were introduced, some were keen, as they thought that the Mass they loved would be more accessible; others were less keen, but out of a spirit of filial piety towards Mother Church, they obeyed, and eventually forced themselves to believe that the new Mass was an improvement.
It is important to remember, when thinking of those who lived through the changes, how powerful and relentless the re-education was. Phrases that had no currency previously (such as 'the priest had his back to the people') seemed to carry the force of dogma. Over and over again, we were told that 'nobody understood the Latin' and that 'the people were excluded from participating' in the traditional Mass. Many of our older priests and bishops lived through this re-education, and I think it unrealistic to expect many of them to do a second volte-face and re-discover the beauty of the form of Mass they had been taught to leave behind. Some may even have vestigial fondness for the Latin, but feel vaguely guilty about that. But in most cases, they have succumbed to their re-education and sincerely believe that the new rite is a vast improvement on the old, and that, therefore, those of us who hanker after the old are mad, or bad, or both.
As well as those who were subject to the great re-education of the 60s and 70s, there are the ideologues. These are the people who actively dislike the traditional Mass because it opposes the modernist project. Its emphasis on sin, sacrifice, salvation and grace is quite alien to their desired version of the Faith. Such people will clearly always reject any attempt to make the traditional Mass more widely available.
But all of that does not account for the widespread hostility in the pews. Some of that may be stoked by the factors already considered, but I think that there are a few more things going on.
The complaints one hears are about exclusion, incomprehensibility, irrelevance, boredom, and so on. A lot of these may be the result of things said by those in the categories mentioned above, but I also think that in many cases they are the direct result of a comparison with the new form of the Mass, and the habits of thought and behaviour which that has inculcated.
The notion of exclusion, for example, results from a particular understanding of how we are to be included in the liturgy. If one has grown up with the new liturgy, then the old really may feel excluding, on first encounter. But given its power, witnessed over generations, of forming saints, we have to realise that it must include in a different way. So the question arises, which approach to inclusion is better.
The same applies to comprehensibility. I have argued before about what I call the Heresy of Understanding: the notion that we should be able to walk into the Mass as a stranger and understand what is going on at first hearing. That is, of course, completely at odds with our tradition: indeed, in the early years of Church, only the initiates could remain for the Mass of the Faithful; others were allowed to attend the Mass of Catechumens (what we now call the Liturgy of the Word) and then required to leave.
The notion of relevance is interesting. From a truly Catholic perspective, nothing could be more relevant than the Mass. But we have trained people to think that unless it refers to the ephemera of daily life, it is not relevant. That fault lies in our understanding of relevance, not in the traditional Mass. But people do think that: and the traditional Mass is not relevant in that rather superficial way, so that is another reason to react against it - unless we are prepared to do the hard work of catechesis, to help people see that the truly relevant things are the Four Last Things...
The same considerations apply to boring. If one appreciates what is really happening at the Mass - the re-presentation of the redeeming Sacrifice of Christ to the Father, and the feeding of the Faithful with His true Body and Blood - then boredom strikes me as an odd response. But again, we have trained people to be entertained at Mass, to sing catchy tunes, and shake hands with each other, and, Lord forgive us, to expect the priest to include jokes in the sermon... Naturally, when raised with such expectations, the solemn silence of the Roman Canon leaves people bereft of entertainment, and they feel bored. But again the fault does not lie with the form of Mass, but with the formation of the faithful.
I have blogged previously about music, comparing the superficial attraction of junk food and junk music, so will say no more about that here.
But, wrong-headed though they may be, those factors are not insignificant in fostering a visceral dislike of the traditional form of the Mass in many quarters; and of course sitting behind that is Satan, who longs to cut us off from our patrimony. So those of us who do love the traditional Mass need to have the patience and charity to help people over these potential roadblocks: to explain why the traditional Mass is the way it is, in a way that will be heard by those who, through no fault of their own, have been raised with quite different expectations about the Mass.
I had a few more thoughts on this: see my next post.
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