Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Latin Mass and Me: Two Years Later

This month marks an anniversary of sorts for me. Approximately two years ago this month, I attended my first Mass in the Extraordinary Form (a.k.a. the Latin Mass, The Traditional Latin Mass). You can find my first reactions to that event in this blog post. As you can probably tell from that post, I was curious and a bit skeptical about whether or not the Traditional Latin Mass was all that much better than the Mass in English (the Ordinary Form) that I had been attending. My, how times and attitudes have changed! I would say that I have gone from being something of a skeptic about the Latin Mass to a wholehearted supporter of it.

What brought about this transformation? Above all, I would say it was an openness to it. Yes, I was somewhat skeptical of the Traditionalist movement, but as I've said before, I loved the sound of Latin, Gregorian chant, and sacred polyphony. The music of the Traditional Mass keeps drawing me back to it, and when I hear Gregorian chant and polyphony sung live, at their most beautiful, and for the glory of God, I cannot imagine why so many in the Church decided to abandon this beautiful music for cheesy and superficial "folk hymns" in the name of "relevance" or "the spirit of Vatican II"--a decision the Vatican II Council Fathers explicitly rejected. The Vatican II documents on the sacred liturgy expressly state that the use of Latin and Gregorian chant should be maintained (Sacrosanctum Concilium 36.1) and that Gregorian chant should have "pride of place" when choosing liturgical music (SC, 116). The idea of reconnecting with an ancient form of worship that Catholics had used for centuries and even millennia before me appeals to me deeply. In attending this Mass, I am recovering my heritage as a Catholic.

Unlike some Catholics who say they were attracted to the Traditional Mass from the very first time they attended, it took me quite a while to become familiar with the parts of the Mass and its structures and rhythms. At first I found it baffling, quite frankly. However, something about this Mass kept drawing me back to it. Like Rubik's Cube, it was a puzzle that needed to be solved, at once frustrating yet intriguing. I kept attending. I talked to people. I read things, both online and in print, that helped me understand the Traditional Mass. Among the most helpful of these resources was Msgr. George Moorman's book The Latin Mass Explained, a concise yet thorough explanation of the actions and prayers of the Mass and their significance.

Another helpful resource was my own missal. After some deliberation I chose the Roman Catholic Daily Missal, published by Angelus Press and available from the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius in Chicago. Although I still consider the St. Edmund Campion Missal and Hymnal from Corpus Christi Watershed to be an excellent resource, after using it for only a few Sundays I found it too big and too heavy to use conveniently as a hand missal. The Roman Catholic Daily Missal is much more portable and compact. Someday, if my funds permit, I'd like to purchase a copy of the 1962 Daily Missal published by Baronius Press for comparison.

After using all of these resources and regularly attending the Mass for a while I became familiar enough with its actions and prayers and structures and rhythms that I could relax a bit, stop worrying about trying to follow every single word in the missal, and simply prayerfully watch the actions on the altar. I began to recognize the similarities and the differences between the Extraordinary Form and the Ordinary Form, and eventually the Extraordinary Form didn't seem as alien and bizarre as it first appeared. I would like to continue attending this form of the Mass as long as it is available in my parish, and I would like to see it made more widely available throughout the Catholic Church as a whole. Indeed, I've actually come to prefer it to the Ordinary Form of the Mass in English.

I've come to believe that if more Catholics were regularly exposed to this form of the Mass, they would ask for it from their priests and bishops. However, sadly and somewhat inexplicably to me, there seems to be a great resistance to this form of the Mass among many priests, bishops, and laypeople. I think in some cases it stems from ignorance or from outright hostility to the older traditions of the Church out of the same misguided sense of "relevance"that I mentioned earlier. The Ordinary Form is somehow seen as more "contemporary" while the Extraordinary Form is somehow seen as antiquated or old-fashioned. Truth is not and can never be old-fashioned. The beautiful and more elaborate ceremonies of the Extraordinary Form are often dismissed as ostentatious displays; the simpler, more stripped-down ceremonies of the Ordinary Form are said to be preferable. However, what exactly is wrong with as much beauty, dignity, and reverence as possible in the worship of Almighty God?

On a few occasions I've gone to the Ordinary Form Masses in my parish, and even though they are celebrated by the same priest who celebrates our Masses in the Extraordinary Form, and even though they are celebrated correctly according to the rubrics with as much dignity and reverence as possible, the Masses themselves just don't seem the same. Somehow they are oddly flat and truncated, as if some important parts are missing, and the parts that remain don't fit together very well. I would like to see the traditional Latin form of the Mass preserved, perpetuated, and made available for future generations. Please God, may it be so!