A comment by Cardinal Hoyos in a recent interview has led to renewed speculation that the Vatican may do something decisive to make the Traditional Latin Mass more freely available. According to His Eminence:
“After more than fifteen years of the [papal indult requesting that the TLM be made “widely and generously” available]—and also taking into consideration the not few difficulties that have arisen between those faithful and various Bishops who remain perplexed or who are rather hesitant to grant the necessary permissions—the idea is constantly growing that it has become necessary to provide for the concession of the indult in a broader fashion that would correspond more with the reality of the situation. It is thought that the times are mature for a new and clearer form of juridical guarantee of that right, which has been already recognized by the Holy Father with the 1988 Indult.”
In other words, the top officials responsible are moving toward the view that if there’s demand for the TLM the local bishop should be required to permit it, at least if there’s no good reason to the contrary.
If something like that happened it would be very big news. It’s probably worth saying why that’s so for the benefit of readers who don’t happen to be trad Catholics (or intelligent pinko revisionists like Archbishop Weakland):
- The Mass is the center of Catholicism. It is understood as God’s act through which he makes himself, and his sacrifice of himself at Calvary, concretely and indeed physically present to believers. That understanding of the Mass is a necessary support for the understanding of Christianity as a religion of the Incarnation, of realities that transform reality, rather than a collection of texts, concepts, stories, and images the meaning of which is necessarily a matter of our own interpretation. If the Mass is just a ceremony or celebration it’s nothing.
- That understanding of the Mass and of Christianity doesn’t go easily with the way people usually think about things these days. It follows that if you want to get that understanding across it really, really helps if the form and manner of the Mass give the impression that’s there’s something unusual and special going on that’s different from what goes on at (for example) a birthday party.
- The post-Vatican II liturgy fails to do that. The number of options and the emphasis on creativity and community celebration make the ceremony—even if it’s done by the book, which it very often isn’t—look basically like something the people are doing rather than something God is doing. Also, it looks like something the people are doing with each other rather than with some third party like God. The priest and people face each other, grin, crack jokes, make happy talk, hold hands, hug, etc., etc., etc. That’s all very nice, if nice people are involved (often they’re not nice), but a lot of other things can be nice in exactly the same way.
- The TLM is the opposite of all that. The form and manner are basically given, they’re not something the particular people on the spot make up. The priest and the people face the same direction, toward the altar, which gives the impression that what matters is something other than interchanges among the people who happen to be there. And the fact it’s in a dead language, the most important parts are silent, and gestures are as important as words makes it clear that what’s important is not the things people are telling each other but what’s happening.
- All of which may sound like a lot of mumbo jumbo. Still, before Vatican II the Church was doing great (comparatively speaking, to all appearances, and with all necessary qualifications). It clearly went into free fall afterwards. Doesn’t it make sense that something as central to the faith as the Mass would play a part in that?
- A personal disclosure: the Old Mass as a construction seems to me to go beyond beauty and genius. The New Mass in contrast strikes me as something put together by a committee that thought they were expert in something no one can be expert in, and translated by people who were the same but less capable and even more misguided. I find it inconceivable that anyone could prefer the latter to the former. Those views may show I’m too biased to comment. They may show that the near-identity of the English translation of the New Mass and the communion service used in the Episcopal Church since 1979 blinds me to virtues that would be obvious to someone from a different background. Still, those views force themselves on me. For the present, at any rate, I’m stuck with them.