Saturday 6 December 2014

Why is the Traditional Latin Mass so hated?

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.


philipjohnson said...

Ben.You make very incisive thought on why some -so called-Catholics dont like-nay fear -the latin mass !As one who has lived through the horrors of the implementation of Vatican11,the people have become protestanised.The sacred mystery of the mass was stripped away and a more inclusive relevant commemoration was installed.Most-so called Catholics -dont believe in the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christs present in Holy Communion.The Tridentine Mass frightens them because it is Catholic full stop.Any way thank God i now can attend the Tridentine mass ,and also the Society of St Pious x--History turning of the tide!!Keep writing ,i enjoy your stuff.God Bless .Philip Johnson.

Ttony said...

I agree with everything you say but noted in particular this:

"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."

Would anybody, any lay person, pre-1960, say, have even begun to think that they should have an opinion about praxis if somebody hadn't asked them to taste an apple?

Whatever the Popes did to the Liturgy in the first half of the twentieth century, nobody, whether they were on any side of the argument or were part of the Catholic-in-the-pew population at whom change was done thought that the lumpenpraktikariat could have anything worthwhile to contribute, and, while possibly wanting to hedge it round with caveats, I must say that it would probably be (at least, would have been) my view too.

philipjohnson said...

Ben.The altar servers of the villages around where i live-in shropshire -knew the mass in latin and so did every body that went to mass!Our bosses then ,were,of course,the local abbeys and catholic to the core!I was referring to the High Middle Ages and full 1500 yrs of latin rite mass in all the villages around England ,and the converted world.Now it is modernism and ,sadly,the conversion to the pagan and secular protestant mindset which bedevils our church from the top down!Look at the Bishop of Rome for Gods sake Patti Smith performing for the Bishop of Rome soon!God Bless .Philip Johnson.

David O'Neill said...

The fear element is for me that which drives the dislike (hatred is perhaps too harsh a word). When going to the EF Mass they realise what has been lost in the OF. The sense of the mystic, the sense of the holy the sense of the Real Presence. The argument of the priest with 'his back to the people' has been scotched on many occasions & a priest friend described the OF Mass as being in the midst of a rugby scrum where everything outside of that enclosed space (including God) was irrelevant to the sense that the people felt they must always be 'doing' something rather than just letting themselves be silently in front of God.
The Real Presence seems to have gone in many places too. The tabernacle moved to some corner &, even when still central, being ignored or recognised by a slight bow instead of a genuflection. The saddest thing is that it is not just laity who barely acknowledge the Blesses Sacrament but even some priests & religious.

Niall said...

Hi Ben,

Very thought-provoking post, thanks for writing it. I regard myself as a small-t trad: I like (if that is the right word) traditional devotions and music. I prefer the Mass to be said ad orientem with reverence and dignity. I cringe when I see altar girls, and I like to attend the NO in Latin when I can. I can't bear the chatter and noise that fills so many churches immediately before and immediately after Mass.

But I wonder whether what looks like hostility to the TLM is sometimes wariness of its more outspoken advocates (as you allude to in later additions to this post). For myself, it sometimes feels like preoccupation with the "Liturgy Wars" can distract from other highly important issues - catechesis and evangelisation spring to mind, although obviously neither can really be separated from the proper celebration of Mass - and give the appearance of insularity and irrelevance. There is even a whiff of snobbery and the wrong kind of elitism in some Trad arguments (not from you, I hasten to add), and some Trads' strong focus on criticising things like the Sign of Peace just comes across as curmudgeonly.

Just some thoughts, anyway. Pax tecum.

Bernie said...

well said Niall! Since encountering some of those capital T Trads I've not seen much evidence of compassion, nor a will to 'explain', as mentioned in the last sentence of this article. Some responses to articles elsewhere that I've seen have horrified me tbh.

When I've asked for a Parish meeting with our new Trad priest to discuss the changes made very quickly, it was met with a blank refusal. How does that help anybody to learn anything when we have not been brought up with it or been used to it for the past decades in our Parish?!

It's not enough for those who love it to carry on and just ignore or trample over the feelings of those who were not brought up with it or who need help to appreciate it...communication is always the key in all walks of life and this is no different IMO. Communication is a 2-way street though, not one party instructing all others to do as he says because his way is best!

To look down on the OF that people have celebrated for decades and voice opinions that re less than complimentary is just plain rude and will not aid communication and understanding of different ways!

If all else fails and the Trads really don't want to be bothered with the 'lefty liberals' as I've now heard people who are not fans described online in various places; if they can't or won't explain their ways because they believe others should just obey without question, then can't they just simply remember their manners, taught to them as a child, before they became a priest, and care enough about other humans to take the time and trouble to explain and explain as much is necessary for people to understand?! Ultimately everyone has a choice though and we can all only work with what we have before us. x

Ben Trovato said...

Thanks for all the comments. A few observations:

Ttony, I think you are right, though I think the change to the laity having a view on praxis may have dated from the time of the changes to the Easter ceremonies in the 1950s. I would like to look into that further, but am not sure how to do so.

Niall, I can be as curmudgeonly as the rest - not least with regards to the Sign of Peace! But thanks for the kind intent behind your courtesy.

Bernie, I agree about the need for communication; but I am not sure that demanding a Parish Meeting is necessarily the best approach. If I were a PP, that might not be my preferred approach; I would be more likely to explain from the pulpit, or through other established channels. If there are any particular issues you want to know more about, I would suggest you ask your PP directly - I would be most surprised if he did not respond to that. But I can fully appreciate why he might not feel that any parishioner can institute extraordinary meetings about any issue that she or he feels strongly about.

Bernie said...

I think our Church has enough on it's plate deaing with the results of control and humiliation and other tactics that were involved in the education of Catholic children in the past and of those who sought personal self glorification rather than gentle spirituality being harvested for the good of mankind. No we do not need to go backwards at this moment in time. There is other work to be done and other issues of more importance. Get the house in order first before trying to decorate it with new tapestry.

Bernie said...

of course easier to speak from the pulpit I will not do this and I will not be doing that. That is not how a family works whether at home or in our
Faith family Unless living in the dark ages. . How extraordinary that to have a discussion involves an extraordinary meeting. One cannot think of any more normal behaviour than meeting parishioners in a church they and their ancestors have struggled to maintain and develop and preserve for coming together to Praise and serve God. Any new Priest should respect the past before he plans for a future.

Ben Trovato said...


One could as well argue that a PP has enough on his plate without people taking to the internet to campaign against him in every possible forum...

And that reinstating the traditions of the Church, of worthy worship and reverent behaviour in Church is the most normal behaviour one would expect of a new priest; and indeed are an indispensable part of the education of future generations so that they grow up realising that the Catholic Faith consists of rather more than 'gentle spirituality.'

Sylvester Edwin Lambert said...

As someone who has attended a Latin Mass and spent time with those devoted to the Latin Mass, let me give the reasons why I am wary of the Latin Mass and some of those who attend it.

Firstly though, let me state that I fully recognise the validity of the EF Mass, and that although it is not to my taste, I know it to be equally as valid as the OF Mass.

Things I am wary of though:

1. Latin pronunciation. Boy, have I tried with this! I've tried to pronounce it for years in Benediction but struggled. I've asked the advice of those who attend the EF Mass and I've even tried using phonetic guides on line - and I still can't even correctly make it through an O Salutaris Hostia.

2. My faith is deepened by comprehending the words of the Mass - which I can do with the new Mass, but not the old - where more effort is required to follow what is going on - even for those well versed in Latin.

3. I am about to make myself very unpopular here, but I will phrase this as charitably as I can! There is a sizeable element within Latin Mass circles (and I don't include you here Ben Trovato!) who look down on the OF Mass as inferior and implicitly or explicitly express disapproval of OF Masses. There are also a significant number of EF attendees who, whilst criticising the OF, think nothing of attending the services of SSPX - which are not of course in communion with Rome. Meanwhile, no one in Latin Mass circles - be it clergy or laity- seems to point out to these people that SSPX services are not valid Masses and that the SSPX is very anti Roman Catholic. I can only assume that this is for fear of losing attendees at genuine EF Masses.

4. There are those within Latin Mass circles who seem to seek to abolish the OF altogether, thereby threatening a way of worship that brings great spiritual growth and solace to very many people.

5. It is very hard to integrate with those who attend the EF Mass, as so many of them will not attend OF Masses but will drive very great distances to exclusively attend the EF, passing very many churches offering OF Masses on the way! This might show people how wonderful the EF is and how devoted people are to it. Unfortunately, it also goes a long way to remove EF attendees from contact with most of their fellow Catholics. In OF circles however, there seems to be much more integration between parishes - the Catholic Church in England is a small world indeed - but those exclusively attending the EF seem to have removed themselves from that world - whether consciously or unconsciously I do not know.

I hope that you will accept my posts in the spirit which they are meant, which is not to be argumentative, but to explain a little to you about why people may be wary of the Latin Mass and its supporters.

Whilst we may have different viewpoints, I believe your blog to be one of the best on the subject - and one of the most reasonable and conciliatory too.

Let us all remember that whichever form we attend we are all Catholics!