New deal for the Old Mass?

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.

2 thoughts on “New deal for the Old Mass?”

  1. Every effort should also be made to include good music at masses
    A couple of points:

    “And the fact it’s in a dead language …(etc.)… makes it clear that what’s important is not the things people are telling each other but what’s happening.” —from the log entry

    Latin is not just any dead language of course, and not just the mother tongue of the Western-World-wide spread of Christianity, but the language—together with Greek (and, some would say, Hebrew)—that is at the foundation of about ninety percent of Western Civilization. Furthermore, apart from those epic distinctions held by Latin, the Latin language all by itself as a *language* is a stupendous phenomenon, a towering achievement and glorious monumental creation nearly unequaled in history anywhere. It’s a great thing people are hearing when they hear spoken Latin even if it’s just some banal inscription being read off some ancient stone ruin on the History Channel, let alone the words of the Catholic Mass, the selfsame words mouthed by St. Jerome and St. Augustine, the exact words spoken by the Popes who communicated with the England of the Venerable Bede, and with the imperial court of Charlemagne. The Latin language is one of the greatest things ever created and its power as a liturgical “vehicle” cannot begin to be approached by any modern language.

    Second, it would seem to be a positive thing were music not neglected as part of the Catholic mass (and other Christian worship services). Catholic, Protestant, and of course Russian/Eastern Orthodox hymns, musical masses, and other liturgical music include some of the West’s most astonishing cultural/artistic achievements both as regards music and words/lyrics (which are often the highest-quality English poetry). I’m not a regular church-goer but have said to my Catholic wife that if they played a selection of good religious organ/choir music at Sunday mass on a regular basis I’d not miss a single service (I don’t mean some of the extremely nice and well-intentioned but unbelievably infantile guitar-strumming improvisation and off-key singing of original compositions by delightful local teenagers and their wonderful moms, stuff which from most points of view can be sheer agony to listen to). Simply put, IMHO every effort should be made to put more of the good and great Christian music into every mass (there’s a place for original compositions by local amateurs, but it’s not at mass, which is a more formal occasion). If they did that I can’t imagine attendance not going through the roof.

  2. Also, the use of Latin furthers traditions of direct continuity.
    A further reason for Latin’s superiority as the language of the Catholic mass is indirectly implied in another Turnabout log entry ( ), in which Mr. Kalb writes,

    “There are a couple of interesting entries … about the importance of scientific ‘descent’ — who is descended from whom by apprenticeship or similarly intimate professional connection. It turns out to be very important indeed. It appears, for example, that all significant chemists are professionally descended from a small number of 18th and 19th century Germans. … The situation verifies in the strongest possible manner the importance of specific concrete tradition: the particular organization of beliefs, understandings, attitudes, practices and memories handed down by personal contact. If personal connection and concrete tradition are so important in science, … how much more important must such things be in other fields of activity?”

    Latin was the language in which Catholicism lived, breathed, took form and was handed down from the time of ancient Rome. It powerfully connects us today with all that went before, back to the ancients, in this other log entry’s sense of “personal connection” and “specific concrete tradition … practices and memories handed down by personal contact.” It’s a concrete link, forged over millennia. No modern language can replace it in that role.

    I once saw Rabbi Zola Levitt on TV describe The Last Supper. What astounded me was he supplied details that Christians, as far as I knew, weren’t aware of. He said, for example, exactly some of the words Jesus had spoken on that occasion two thousand years ago, introducing them something like this: “And at this point in the meal Jesus would have broken the bread thus, and said certain words over it. The words he said aren’t in the Bible. We know nevertheless exactly what the words were, which Jesus spoke”—and he proceeded to say them, Jesus’ exact words. I listened transfixed. How could that be? Well, of course, it didn’t require some new archæological finding that recorded Jesus’ exact words—some newly-discovered scrolls or papyri or something. It needed only one thing—the Hebrew language and traditions faithfully handed down from generation to generation, ceremonial Hebrew words and traditions that were as old and venerable in Jesus’ time as Jesus’ time is to us. May they continue to be so handed down until the end of time, and may Latin also continue to faithfully impart and transmit its sacred Christian Catholic content, unto our remotest posterity.


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