The Latin Ceiling

A Latin Mass loving priest wonders if the movement has hit a ceiling. Offer it and they will come: that meme has largely been discredited. There is no magic about Mass in Latin with a 1962 Missal, in the sense of a victory formula.

I know that charismatic clergy can attract significant new numbers to a faith community. I saw it in grad school for a progressive inner-city revitalized parish. If the Church were full of social justice parishes led by likable priests, would we say that Vatican II was in full flower? I wouldn’t argue in favor of it.

In the NCRep commentariat, there are some who report their particular TLM community is thriving and growing. And I have no reason to doubt it. I suspect that in many, if not all of those cases, there is a priest behind it who not only turns his back to people while wearing fine vestments and has hired a competent music director, but someone who cares about his people.

Msgr Pope harps on numbers and evangelization, and he is taken to task by some of his readers. Some don’t like this:

The honest truth is that an ancient liturgy, spoken in an ancient language and largely whispered, is not something that most moderns immediately appreciate.

Or maybe human beings of any era. Early Christians abandoned temple and synagogues for house churches. Greek was abandoned for the vernacular–Latin. Latin was abandoned by Christians over a period of centuries, 1517 to 1970.

We’ve also abandoned feudalism, and a good chunk of our aristocracy. In the US, a certain egalitarianism pervades, and the days are gone when the Latin Mass helped Catholic parishes stand up for their faith in a multi-religious culture. The culture that supported Mass in Latin is nearly vanished.

Some complain that TLM communities are too snooty. I’m not a member of any, so I can’t say. But an illustration comes to mind.

If a parishioner approach me to say, “Todd, I know you do your best with Vatican II liturgy. But I just can’t worship here anymore. As soon as my family and I find a TLM, we are going to Mass there.” I would be inclined to make a recommendation, especially if asked. The important matter is a person’s discernment. I think the 1962 Missal is deficient, and the theology behind anti-Vatican II movements is questionable. But the greater need is the search for God and the pilgrimage.

Would a TLM priest make a likewise recommendation? Something for the best liturgy or pastoral care parish that celebrates the reformed Mass?

I suspect that for many churchfolk, priests, ministers, and lay people, it’s perhaps less about serving others and more about winning, or the ideology, or self-importance in framing one’s own arguments and beliefs. This is true all too often online. Things like this come through in homilies. Within a few homilies, seekers can certainly discern if the priest is self-absorbed or a servant. The hospitality factor tells you about the parishioners.

In a way, the rite or form does not matter. Homilies must be meaningful and connect people’s faith to the everyday world. Hospitality tells you the parishioners’ priorities. Music inspires. As long as those things are operating, the parish will grow.

The traditional Latin Mass used to be the mortar in the brick wall of Catholicism. Thing is, the building materials are now wood.

What do you readers think?



About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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10 Responses to The Latin Ceiling

  1. Liam says:

    There are people who seek to attend the preconciliar liturgy for affirmative reasons and aspirations; there are those that have negative reasons and aspirations; and there are those with a mix. (The EF is relatively thin on the ground in my neck of the woods; not counting an Anglican Ordinariate community that worships in the lower church of the parish in a neighboring town, the nearest parish with a TLM regularly offered is about 11 miles and 20 minutes away from where I live, and I have some familiarity with some key players not to be drawn to it. EF communities are about as popular as strongly progressive-inclined Catholic communities in these parts. Very different from Washington DC/Northern VA, where it appears that about 20% of parishes offer the TLM.)

    Right now, the EF often has the benefits and burdens of being the focus of an intentionally gathered community. Those vary from the benefits and burdens of being the default form for observance of preceptual obligation.

    I will note something I have observed directly: when the energy for the TLM is largely ruddered by students, it will rise on the strength of an energetic cohort for a few years, but likely not be as energetically sustained as the cohort ages out and moves to diaspora.

  2. Todd says:

    The Midwest, where I spent almost all of the last 30 years, seems a different place for the TLM to get a foothold. The liturgical sensibility there, perhaps thanks to centers of scholarship and practice in Collegeville, St Louis, South Bend, Chicago, has been able to inspire a more fruitful post-conciliar liturgy. You have also spoken of the Irish pragmatism in New England, too. How much do these regional and ethnic aspects factor in? I don’t know.

    I think the benefits of being an intentionally gathered community outweigh the burdens. I miss the verve of it. I also think that if there’s a “true” expression of the Church, it’s not in liturgical “form” but with some kind of intentionality on the part of most of the members.

    • Liam says:

      I currently worship mostly in a parish that is territorial but has a strong intentional element because of the charisma of the long-time pastor. While I much prefer to be in a community where the pastor loves his flock rather than has open and active contempt for it (my immediately previous experience), it takes effort to tune-out the white noise coming from somewhat self-indulgent preaching and regular itchiness with ritual. I tell people that what will be telling is how the community deals with a change in pastor. Many people don’t want to think about it, some are aware. I seem to specialize in communities that eventually blow up and I am typically one of the folks whose part of the mop and bucket brigade, as it were. I am keenly following what will happen with the pastorate transition kicking off this weekend in my immediately former parish, which has been preceded by a breathtaking contemptuous Parthian shot over the holidays by the outgoing force.

      When two or three are gathered in His Name…there will be trouble.

      • Melody says:

        We are looking at a transition later this year, too. Everyone is feeling a little edgy until they find out who the new pastor will be. We have had our present well loved pastor for over a decade, and the archbishop has decided it’s time for a change. Which it probably is. But that doesn’t make it fun. The pastor preceding this one was unfortunately not happy in his vocation (nor witb his parishioners). After a long slow motion downhill slide, he ended up leaving town and the priesthood. It’s not any more pleasant to witness the implosion of a vocation than tbe breakup of a marriage.

  3. Melody says:

    Re: the Latin Liturgy, I could actually be fine with the EF. If it weren’t for the baggage that goes with it. I still remember the Latin responses from grade school days; we did a “dialogue Mass” for the school Mass, which I liked. I don’t think the present day EF parishes probably do dialogue Masses, too much of a modern innovation. Which brings me back to the baggage; it seems like the EF communities want liturgy to be a dragonfly in amber, and tend to reject most of what has happened since Trent.

  4. In my view it’s mostly about pastor and congregation – always has been. Our little parish just had a most beloved pastor transferred to a big city church. He had only been here six years but he was a perfect fit. A lot of tears were shed on both sides when he moved.
    His replacement is an African Spiritan priest who is finishing up his PhD in Ottawa. We’ll have him only a short time but he is a beautiful pastoral guy and what’s better he invites other Spiritan friends to come visit and celebrate with us. We could not have received a better gift than this man.
    As far as Latin goes, I have no desire to go back to 1962 thank you. Evangelization and hospitality were zero back then as well. It was all about punching your keep out of Hell ticket every week.
    Of course true Latin in the reformed rite might be better than the LatEnglish we hear every Sunday these days.

  5. Devin says:

    I know a few people who love the EF, and I have been told it is not the latin that attracts them but rather the texts, gestures and rubrics. They would have been happy if after VII, the 1962 missal was just translated into English.
    But Vatican II requested more than just the introduction of vernacular into the liturgy, but that is another topic….

  6. Tony Phillips says:

    ‘ I would be inclined to make a recommendation, especially if asked. The important matter is a person’s discernment.’
    That’s actually quite a relief and good to hear. One of the greatest of the many failures of the post-V2 changes was the imposition of the new missal on the people instead of offering alternatives, in whole or in part, to the various parts of the old mass.
    ‘Would a TLM priest make a likewise recommendation? Something for the best liturgy or pastoral care parish that celebrates the reformed Mass?’
    Where I live, in east Kent, there’s a couple EF masses within driving distance (though not as close as I’d like). In those parishes, if you don’t want the EF you can go to an OF instead.
    (The one exception is the nearby SSPX—I doubt they’d recommend the OF! But they have, in my view, valid concerns not only about the OF but V2, concerns that any Catholic is entitled to hold.)
    Devin is right that it’s not about the language—indeed, the vernacular was the Trojan horse by which the whole programme of unwanted changes was imposed on Catholics (many of whom simply stopped coming). I won’t say the OF is without value, and I think it’s especially useful for children and some teenagers. But it’s primary value came from its ability to startle, simply by being different, and that’s diminished markedly because papal and episcopal authoritarianism has made it so commonplace.
    I won’t go into the many defects I see with the OF, nor the few good points I’d acknowledge. But I’d point out an equally important matter: that Paul VI had absolutely no right or authority to make massive changes to the liturgy. This ultramontane that the pope can do whatever he wants, an attitude we see ascendant again with the current pope, is incredibly harmful to both the spiritual life of the church and the cause of Christian unity. There would be no ‘Spirit of Vatican II’, the wholesale destruction of tradition and collapse of catechesis that we’ve witnessed in our lifetimes would never have happened, if it hadn’t been for the ‘Spirit of Vatican I’.

  7. Todd says:

    Tony, here in the States, mid-70’s sociologists found that Humanae Vitae was the single biggest factor in the post-conciliar hemorrhage of membership. Liturgical reform lessened that somewhat. If Catholics who practice contraception are tagged as sinners, then the response to them in some corners may be “Good riddance.”

    Latin came to be identified with schismatics and grumpy conservatives in many parts of the US. I have an easier time these days with Latin repertoire these days. But I remember resistance and the questioning of my own integrity as a progressive because of it.

    Offering alternatives may be a road traditionalists tout for “me, but not for thee.”

    I would mostly disagree with your other diagnoses on “rights,” catechesis, liturgy, and popes. But it would take a very long discussion to exchange on that. In small bites, I’m always willing to chat it up with a brother or sister.

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