Losing our religion II: A Mass to our liking

Some time ago, I complained about an especially bad experience with sacred music at Mass. It involved a tambourine with little LED lights that lit up when struck. I tried to be in good humor about it but, really, I was appalled; afterward I wanted to weep and do penance.

A few of the commenters at the time had remarked that I should seek out a traditional Latin Mass, which of course I already had — my diocese is still recovering from the disastrous 15-year-long reign of an extremely liberal bishop and it is frankly impressive that we have the three TLMs we currently do given that none of the celebrating priests had even the option of taking Latin as an elective during their seminary formation, but all three are 90 minutes or more away from me and gasoline doesn’t rain from the sky (Deo gratias) so it’s not a regular option. At a TLM, they said, I might be able to find music less objectionable, homilies more bearable, etc. A Mass more to my liking.

It’s good prudential advice as far as it goes but it makes clear what the major problem now is in the Church — that its whole theological and devotional and liturgical heritage, which found its most perfect expression in the Mass that was for so long the one visible mark of communion among millions of Catholics the world over and which was so intimately bound up with their daily life and their entire self-understanding — that the practical faith of our fathers as it emerged from the catacombs and was forged in the crucible of the intervening centuries — has now been reduced to a matter of liking, of mere taste. And in the minds of most, to prefer having your priest ascend to the altar amidst a haze of incense while the plaintive, longing notes of Sicut Cervus echo through the nave over Fr. Flake prancing about in rainbow vestments to the brutal and invasive blast of a 16-year-old mariachi “music minister”‘s sackbut is just an irrational and arbitrary value judgment with nothing more to recommend it than might recommend your equally-interesting preference for crunchy over smooth peanut butter. A far crueler blow to the memory of those generations martyred for that faith than was dealt them on the day of their martyrdom, to say that the Mass they loved and died for was merely a diverting novelty. At best, you might get a concession that the former type of Mass is ideal but we have to meet people where they are, have to be “pastoral,” have to be realistic, and the unspoken reality is that many pigs would rather eat slop.

Such is another hard fact of life in the postconciliar Church: not only would most historical Catholics (including a few thousand saints) not be at home in it but they would be told, with all the cruel “pastoralism” that coddles the unrepentant and berates the devoted, that the visible home they loved was never more than the epiphenomena of neurons firing pointlessly in the void. This is why there is no easy way back, not in our lifetimes, because the damage is done, the attitudes and the narratives that accompany them are formed, and even if tomorrow a hypothetical Pope Pius the Fifth the Second came along and suppressed all the flimflam with fire and sword, half of the Church would grouse that they liked things better before and many of them would (with their bishops) schism on the spot and souls would perish by the millions, dying alone and far from the Sacraments. There’s no getting the worms back into the can.

14 thoughts on “Losing our religion II: A Mass to our liking

  1. ” This is why there is no easy way back, not in our lifetimes, because the damage is done, the attitudes and the narratives that accompany them are formed, and even if tomorrow a hypothetical Pope Pius the Fifth the Second came along and suppressed all the flimflam with fire and sword, half of the Church would grouse that they liked things better before and many of them would (with their bishops) schism on the spot and souls would perish by the millions, dying alone and far from the Sacraments. There’s no getting the worms back into the can.”

    The working of the Sacraments is probably not in my purview to understand, but isn’t it the case that, if taken in the wrong spirit, they do more spiritual harm than good? (Hence why confession of sins necessarily precedes the Eucharist?)

    If so, isn’t the overall effect of continued rock-and-roll Mass merely going to be ensuring that a large number of people approaches the Body and Blood of Christ with an attitude that’s spiritually unproductive at best, actively dangerous at worst?

    (That said, it’s not necessarily the case that boiling the Church down to its devout core would improve the lot of the people left outside. What holds for the godless but virtuous pagan (that, judging from his actions, he knows what he’s missing and may well decide correctly if he were offered the choice in the afterlife), does not hold for the person submerged in modernity.)

    • I’m not entirely sure the rationale for this works and my shallow understanding of sacramentology doesn’t enable any better of an understanding than yours. My guess is that the view is that, so long as they’re still in the Church, however tentatively, there is still a lifeline, some hope of repentance and conversion; whereas, having severed that lifeline, the likelihood of salvation plummets to very nearly zero.

  2. In a way I agree with the general tenor of Pope Francis’s recent remarks in the sense that attending the Old Mass is not a fix it all. Now Catholic traditionalists certainly have legitimate complaints and criticisms. But the Church needs to engage modernity head on, She cannot simply trust in reciting scholastic manuals or encyclicals of St. Pius X. That tactic is simply no longer viable if it ever was.

    One thing that concerns me with the Catholic traditionalist subculture especially in the US is the subculture’s tendency to view itself as a kind of niche on the American “free market” of religious cults. As you hint to in your piece this mentality actually betrays a very Enlightenment based ideology one that places primacy on individual rational choice. Those attracted to this culture often times are self-selected as individuals and the reasons they attend the TLM are sometimes almost faddish. This is the great danger- that many of these trads are – it seems quite unwittingly – supporting the liberal worldview of “to each his own” ect.

    • There’s an ancillary problem in that one almost *must* embrace that worldview in order to be a “respectable” TLM-goer in the contemporary Church. You are simply not allowed to believe that the TLM presents the essential truths of the Catholic faith in a superior way to the manner in which the Novus Ordo is commonly celebrated. Voicing such a sentiment on, for instance, Catholic Answers Forum will get you banned.

  3. The Anglo Catholic tradition (now almost gone) offers a lot of short (‘Low’) Masses – entirely spoken and lasting about 25 minutes (without rushing) – entirely taken from the prayer book, except for a few ‘topical’ prayers. Such have, indeed, been my bread and butter church-going for stretches of many months – and I have only been to a handful of High Masses with music etc. I had the impression that Roman Catholics had even shorter Masses on a frequent basis. As a practical measure, it may be better for a traditionalist to avoid long-High Mass and stick to the the short-Low?

      • In fact the Tridentine Low Mass is probably celebrated more widely than the high Mass because the rubrics are simpler, there is no need for a schola or extensive training in Gregorian chant on the priest’s part, it is more easily coordinated, etc. At the TLM I normally attend, maybe one in six Sunday Masses are sung high Masses, the rest are spoken low Masses. Incidentally it was attachment to the low Mass that provoked so much resentment of the Novus Ordo; the high Mass is beautiful and a great introduction to it all, but the low Mass is where the devotion of the faithful seemed to reside.

  4. It involved a tambourine with little LED lights that lit up when struck. I tried to be in good humor about it but, really, I was appalled; afterward I wanted to weep

    My wife did weep when, at the Gospel reading, the chorus featuring electric guitar, one of those infernal djembe that cropped up everywhere in the 90’s, and a rainstick, did the children’s vacation Bible-school song “Hallelujah, praise ye the Lord” (the one where kids jump and sit down as fast as possible).

    So that’s me vs. modern liturgy: you made my wife cry. Now it’s personal.

  5. In promulgating the Tridentine Missal, Pope St Pius V promulgated a definitive liturgical revision which he ordered to be observed for all time. On 14 July 1570, he declared in Quo primum: “[I]t shall be unlawful henceforth and forever throughout the Christian world to sing or to read Masses according to any formula other than that of this Missal published by Us. . . . Nor shall bishops, administrators, canons, chaplains and other secular priests, or religious of whatsoever Order or by whatsoever title designated, be obliged to celebrate Mass otherwise than enjoined by Us. . . . [T]his present Constitution can never be revoked or modified, but shall forever remain valid and have the force of law.” The question runs deeper than a personal preference for incense over blinking tambourines. The present pope, by hindering certain priests from celebrating the Vetus Ordo, violated an unambiguous directive of a legitimate successor of St Peter. What sort of pope would dare invalidate what a previous pope declared to be valid forever?

    • Well, any Pope can. Quo Primum is a bull, a matter of discipline, and a Pope cannot bind any future Pope on matters of discipline; they are bound only by the deposit of faith. What it forbids is not any future Pope from changing the order of Mass but any non-Pope from changing the order of Mass.

      Paul VI may have sinned grievously or erred prudentially by treating the Church and its disciplines as his own personal fiefdom, abolishing and imposing whatever he saw fit, but he did not violate Church law.

  6. Proph, you point out the crucial difference between “can” and “should.” Following the good advice of St Paul to the Corinthians, I am wary of those who claim to follow the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit of the law. God bless!

  7. “This is why there is no easy way back, not in our lifetimes, because the damage is done, the attitudes and the narratives that accompany them are formed, and even if tomorrow a hypothetical Pope Pius the Fifth the Second came along and suppressed all the flimflam with fire and sword,”

    Just so. I would get down on my knees in public and thank God with tears of joy and thanksgiving if some future pope announced that he was bringing back all of the stuff. But for two generations of Catholics going on a third, the TLM would be as alien an experience as a Lakota rain dance. Ditto the attendant Catholic culture that went with the TLM: “Penance? What for? Aren’t we all going to heaven anyway, except maybe the Nazis?” The impression I got from John Paul II was that he only permitted the return of the TLM in order to soothe the hurt feelings of old timers who stubbornly refused to get with the program. And I think all the Catholics here know that in practice this generally meant the bishops only allowed a once a month celebration of the TLM on a Thursday afternoon in the basement of the downtown mental ward. Even Pope Benedict XVI never said that the TLM was a superior expression of the faith, only that it could not be considered bad or harmful. No wonder he was so deeply despised by left-liberal Catholics.

    This may not be what he meant, but I think Pope Francis was right when he suggested that if Trads are waiting for a top-down solution from the top, for a Pope St. Pius V part II, we will wait in vain. Imagine a water tower with a big hole in it. Plugging the hole won’t bring back the water that poured out. It must be filled anew. And that’s going to be the work of generations. So pray, fast, do penance, and tend to whatever garden you have.

  8. Pingback: Lightning Round – 2013/08/02 | Free Northerner

Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s