A Good Source tells me that everyone at the Vatican is in a tizzy over the rumored document liberalizing availability of the Tridentine (traditional Latin) mass. Everyone think’s it’s a big deal, but no one (except I suppose the Pope) has any idea what’s going to happen or when.
So much for inside gossip. In the rest of the world hardly anyone has any idea why any of this should matter. Here are some points that may help guide the perplexed:
- The Mass is central to Catholicism. It’s the most important single thing the hierarchical Church does, because it’s the center of unity—spiritual, social, historical and physical—between Heaven and earth and among Catholics. Raphael’s Disputa might give you some idea of the place it holds. It’s a bit like the position sex holds in marriage, only more so.
- The Mass is symbolism that works concretely. That’s what “sacrament” means. That being so, how you present it matters a great deal. To my mind that’s a conclusive argument against woman priests. Since men and women don’t work the same way symbolically, you couldn’t have a woman doing the Mass without changing its meaning and therefore the religion quite radically.
- It’s not just a question of Latin and the vernacular. As it’s presented the New Mass is basically about the people who are there and their relations to each other. The priest faces the people, the altar is visibly a table, the laity are given lots to do, everything is spoken aloud and in everyday language, there’s a big emphasis on education (the readings and the sermon), and the music is popular in style and most often comes out of a hymnal called “Gather” or something of the sort. So the center of the faith becomes pragmatic everyday human relations. The idea seems to be that if the average member of the congregation can’t see and understand everything immediately, and doesn’t get physically involved, then it’s not really happening. Take this-worldliness a few more steps and you get Katherine Jefferts Schori.
- The Tridentine Mass is the opposite in all respects. The priest faces the altar along with the people, the most important parts of the service are said silently, the language and music are liturgical and of the highest possible quality, and the people mostly participate by assuming attitudes (like kneeling) that suggest rapt contemplation of something beyond themselves. It’s visibly God-centered rather than man-centered.
- Many priests and bishops, notably in France, react to the Tridentine Mass the way a vampire reacts to a cross. They say it stands for a “a conception of the world and of mankind” that the Church has rejected. Such arguments are obviously at odds with the “hermeneutic of continuity” that Benedict says is the key to interpreting the Second Vatican Council. My best guess is that they won’t affect the outcome except by making the need to affirm the continuing value of the Tridentine Mass more evident to the Pope.