Wonder Leads to Knowing
And so we left in droves. A great number of us have never found our way back into the pews; those who have often squirm a bit, wondering: Is the so-so liturgy, the casual-Fridays atmosphere, and the truly deplorable three-chord campfire music really as good as it can get? Is this really the best and most reverent worship we can offer to the Almighty?
For those of us whose religious formation was transitional, the implementations of Council recommendations were successive earthquakes and aftershocks, inflicting huge cracks upon our foundations. We, who had only begun to absorb and appreciate our Catholic identities and traditions before everything changed, have been straddling a spiritual chasm ever since. One foot catches on the pre-Vatican II soil of tradition, vertical worship, mystical awe, and order. Maybe, we concede, it was a bit sterile and distant; perhaps there was a little too much order. Our other foot is planted post-conciliar, amid informality and determined outreach. It's warmer, more accessible, and less exalted, but -- well, it's less exalted. We stare into the breech and wonder if the attractive bits we see lingering on both ragged edges can somehow be brought together.
A few years ago a "cuspy" Catholic neighbor and I, exchanging memories of the Tridentine liturgy and bemoaning the sort of knockabout, sloppy Masses we had been suffering through, decided to attend an "Old Rite" Mass in the area. We came away from it feeling surprisingly less satisfied than we had hoped. The Mass was beautiful, indeed, reverent and purposeful, but "I didn't like his back being to us," my friend complained. "I couldn't understand a word he was saying, and I felt like he didn't care whether we were there or not!"
"I didn't like the head covering," I admitted, "it distracted me and I wanted to pull it off."
"But still, I liked kneeling to receive the Eucharist," she said.
"Yes, and the silence after Communion. You never hear Holy Silence at Mass anymore."
"Yeah, but I hated not making the responses. I forgot that the altar boys did that . . . "
Perhaps our memory nags us into craving more than we actually want.
We drove home imagining the "perfect" Mass. It would be the Novus Ordo, after all, but with a more inspired, less horizontal translation. There would be more "The Church's One Foundation" and less hand-clapping. The Eucharistic responses would be in Latin -- "and," said my friend, "if after all these years, someone can't compose a singable Gloria that doesn't plod, let's just go back to chanting it, can we, please?
The Novus Ordo isn't going anywhere, but many Catholics who appreciate its music, relaxed standards, and the dicey creativity of parish liturgists are wary of Pope Benedict XVI's 2007 motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum. They worry that the "traditionalists" who have longed for greater availability of the Tridentine Rite and more traditional worship will try to inflict what they perceive to be dead forms onto the newer Mass.
In truth, their worries, while probably excessive, are not baseless. Many Catholics perceive over-corrections within post-conciliar liturgies and devotions, and the pendulum is, predictably, swinging back. The weaknesses of the vernacular translations of the Mass, particularly from Latin to English, have been recognized and are being addressed. Bishops are gently discouraging the liturgical excesses that a decade ago affected a great deal of Catholic worship and often led to eye-rolling in the pews and angry letters to the Vatican. Most notably, there is an increasing trend among Catholics -- particularly young Catholics, who got a taste of a fuller, more solemn liturgy with the funeral mass of Pope John Paul II -- to seek out the so-called Old Latin Rite. Summorum Pontificum is Pope Benedict's happy recommendation that their bishops oblige them in their desires, but whether the promotion of the 1962 Missal and a greater availability of that Mass has any discernable effect on the primacy of the Novus Ordo remains to be seen. For those of us raised in a religious environment that was half-Tridentine and half free-for-all, I suspect we will continue to straddle the chasm.