When Catholics Play Tug-of-War, the Church Loses

I’m glad I had to step away from the blog for a few days. It’s allowed me some time to watch things unfold, through Facebook and Twitter, without jumping in.

The first night Pope Francis was our Pope, I clicked over to Rorate Caeli and read the combox with horror, shock, nausea, anger, etc. I wasn’t happy. I was so pissed at those rad-trads I couldn’t see straight. I’ve learned my lesson about blogging when angry, though. I didn’t want to repeat the hasty, juvenile tirade that left me so unsure of my own motivations that I considered giving up blogging altogether.

I was pleased to see Larry D’s response. In the days that have followed, though, I’ve become less and less pleased to see this game of tug-of-war drag on. I found that I had started keeping mental tabs on who’s on which side (Fr. Z and Taylor Marshall, yay, they’re on the Francis side even if they’re big fans of the TLM; Pat Archbold, though, he’s going rad-trad, that actually surprises me...). Tonight I read the Crescat’s post and found myself trying to figure out where even I stand, anymore. I’m no fan of Latin, that’s for sure. My inner Protestant screams, “Give me the vernacular or give me death!” anytime I step an unwary foot inside a Tridentine Mass. But I adore stone walls and stained glass, shudder a little at copious gold, love Gregorian chant, and cringe when I hear sappy songs from my Protestant youth murdered inside a Catholic church, (because let’s be honest, y’all…Protestants do Protestant so.much.better.). I also confess to having bounced from parish to parish in Vegas because the Ogre and I didn’t like the cry-rooms and the unruly effect other children were having on our children. Looking back, I want to kick myself for that kind of pious Puritanism, but at the time having children who showed proper reverence was more important to us than having a regular place to go see God. Then again, on the flip side, the only time I’ve ever seen Catholics be truly, outright cruel to their fellow humans was at a Tridentine Mass.

It was right then that my internal debate stopped. How stupid is this? I thought. Catholicism isn’t a religion where you have to make a choice between the NO and the TLM. It isn’t about who loves which Mass or who thinks helping poor people is more important than incense and Latin, or vice versa. What’s beautiful about Catholicism is that we don’t have to choose. We get it all.

As I understand it, the liturgy after Vatican II blundered into chaos and irreverence. Having attended a few horrific Masses myself, I really understand the frustration with irreverence and Protestant-style “rock band” Masses. But after the lesson my 5-year-old taught me two years ago, I always, always try to remember that Jesus is there too, because he loves us in spite of our awful taste in music and liturgical irreverence, and he’s the reason I’m there. When faced with a Tridentine Mass, I inevitably find myself so nervous and distracted by the glances and glares I get from fellow parishioners when Liam drops a hymnal or Lincoln tries to dive down the neck of my shirt that I can hardly focus on why I’m there. But Jesus is there, and so I stay, and try to receive him with humility instead of just humiliation.

I’m more comfortable at Novus Ordo Masses, and I probably always will be. I’d prefer if incense and Gregorian Chant were mandated church-wide, but I understand there are other Catholics who actually like those campfire-guitar songs that make me want to hurl, so in deference to them, I’m glad resigned to the fact that there hasn’t been a ban on all guitars ever. See, that’s the great thing about the Catholic Church. It means universal, because it’s for all of us.

Benedict gave us Summorum Pontificum, which was really important. The changes he’s made in the liturgy have reminded a Church that had forgotten just what this is that we’re doing. Who it is that we’re consuming. What it really  means to be Catholic. Eat my flesh, drink my blood. There’s no overstating the importance of the Mass. It is why we’re Catholic, why we believe what we believe, why we do what we do. It’s all for Christ, present to us in the Eucharist. The people who support the TLM and battle to protect it are some of the strongest Catholics I know. Whenever I’m really in need of some prayers, I always try to ask one of my TLM friends to pray for me, because they pull out their rosary beads and pray right then. And I know they’ll keep praying later, too.

Then there’s people like my sister-in-law. Not so big on the Latin, not hung-up on the rubrics of the mass, but she has that unsettling compassion that’s so unique to Catholics who truly have a heart for social justice issues. I can get so haughty sometimes, and she never fails to call me out right then and there, in the kindest, most non-judgmental way. Just a few quiet words, and she drops the subject and goes smilingly on with her day while I spent weeks agonizing about just how prideful I really am, to have thoughtlessly said what I did and meant it.  God gave us Francis, I think, to do that to us on a Church-wide scale. To unsettle us with his compassion and example. To make us less comfortable in our ways, to make us question whether we’re really living Christ’s commandments or just talking about them.

We had Benedict because we needed him. We have Francis now, I think, because we also need him. We need beauty in the liturgy. We also need to help the poor. These two forces seem so ludicrously opposed to each other in American Catholicism. Either you’re a conservative, rad-trad, pro-Liturgy Catholic or you’re a liberal, social-justice, pro-guitars-and-holding-hands-during-the-Our-Father-Catholic. And anyone who takes the blogosphere as an example probably thinks we Catholics spend all our time hunkered down in our trenches, lobbing carefully-worded-blog-post-bombs at each other, waiting for the other side to go over the top so we can mow them down and cleanse the Church of that crap for once and for all.

We’re waging a pointless and counterproductive war on each other. Both sides are defending deposits of the faith. Good, beautiful, true things that we have learned through our mutual faith, things which our faith needs equally in order to flourish. Can you imagine what might happen if we stopped haunting each other’s comboxes, accusing each other of heresy, and instead spent that energy working together to make the Church better? Maybe we could even *deep breath* try and see what’s true, good, and beautiful about the other. Like, maybe I could go to a Tridentine Mass and viciously repress my inner Jan Hus and really, really try to see the beauty in that ancient liturgy that bequeathed to me the faith I hold so dear today. And maybe whoever runs Rorate Caeli could go to a Novus Ordo Mass in Spanish in Immokalee, the town down the street from me, and instead of being horrified at the abuses in the liturgy really, really try to see the beauty in these migrant workers shuffling into the pews after a day of back-breaking work in the Florida sun, sweaty and dirty and wearing jeans, but resisting the urge to go home and collapse until they’ve seen Jesus.

Our faith is so multi-faceted. That’s why we have a gazillion saints. They’re all doing something different, giving us different examples to follow. Not everyone can be Francis of Assisi, living in blissful poverty, fasting and praying. Someone had to be St. Thomas Aquinas, puzzling out the finest points of theology while remaining very very well-fed. And our Church would be infinitely poorer if Francis and Thomas Aquinas had spent all their time arguing over whose way was better instead of just doing the work God had set before them. We all have different work to do in the Church, and God wants all of us to help make his Church complete. But we can’t very well do that if we’re busy tearing each other to shreds.


  • http://a-star-of-hope.blogspot.com JoAnna

    I saw Pat as more anti-Mahoney than anti-Francis.

  • http://www.creativeminorityreport.com Patrick Archbold

    I am going rad-trad? If so, I am a really terrible one. Whatever gave you that notion, I assure you that it is mistaken.

    • calahalexander

      Sorry, Pat, that was just an errant reaction I had that I realized was knee-jerk and totally missing the boat. I meant to clarify it later in the post but got distracted. The whole point was that reactions like that, classifying people like that, is totally not what I should be doing, and is antithetical to the health of the Church.

  • Elaine

    That makes sense, Calah. I know what the logistics troubles are like. I just can’t believe that they were treated like that and nobody did anything, not even the priest.

  • bill bannon

    Always stay with us Calah.

  • http://www.indiatoappleton.blogspot.com Nancy

    As a non-Catholic Christian, I don’t understand some the abbreviations and acronyms you’re using here. But the underlying truth is true for all of Christendom — I’ve heard people say that we “eat our own young.” That tends to be depressingly true . . . except for the shining examples of when it’s not. The Bible talks often about unity, and I wish we were all better at living the Gospel without tearing others down.

    • calahalexander

      Sorry, Nancy, I should have clarified. NO and TLM are two different forms of the Mass. Before Vatican II, the mass was always and only offered in the original Latin form (Tridentine Latin Mass, TLM, also known now as the Extraordinary Form, unless I’m really confusing things and mucking them up, which is always possible). After Vatican II the Mass was reformed to the vernacular, the Ordinary Form, the Novus Ordo (NO). There have been no end of debates about this, with plenty of good reasons. Pope Benedict instituted Summorum Pontificum, which allowed for parishes to re-instill the practice of the Tridentine Mass. It was unequivocally a good move. Some of the angst over Pope Francis is people being concerned that he will not be friendly towards the Tridentine Mass. Hopefully that will clarify things a bit!

      • PeterK

        Tridentine Mass is no longer used, please play catch up it is now known as the Extraordinary Form of the Mass aka EF and the Novus Ordo is known as the Ordinary Form of the Mass aka OF

        “fter Vatican II the Mass was reformed to the vernacular, the Ordinary Form, the Novus Ordo” the sad part is that there was no need to abandon the TLM as the reformers did, nor was there any reason for the many bishops, archbishops and cardinals to forbid the saying of that Mass. also look at what the “reformers” did to many of the pre-V2 churches basically turning them into cheap Protestant knockoffs

        • Anonymous

          I believe both the TLM and the Novus Ordo are still used to identify the different forms of liturgy and we know what Calah is talking about at any rate so lets not turn this into a debate over the proper wording of the mass. Sheesh.

  • Cordelia

    The idea of “One Church” – in contrast to the splitting and spitting I saw so much of growing up Protestant – was one of the most appealing things about Catholic theology to me, even before I became convinced it was true. I love your comparison of St. Francis and St. Thomas; that’s the kind of thinking that was calling to me when I was still outside. Nowadays I know that we Catholics don’t live up to that part of our belief any better than we live up to the rest of our glorious patrimony, but it’s always so good to happen upon somebody holding on to it faithfully. Thanks for blogging, Calah.

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  • http://aftertheecstasythelaundry.wordpress.com Cynthia

    The is something that I got a lot of flack over when I played piano at Protestant churches. Most people don’t understand that if you want a different kind of liturgy, you don’t have to be a Protestant. I can get Latin Mass, I can get guitars (acoustic or electric), I can get a mix, I can get Spanish, I can get Native American, and it might just be a few blocks away (at least in large metro areas where Catholics are numerous, like Milwaukee, where I am now).

    I understand that in small towns where the Catholics are few and far between, and you might have to drive many miles to get to a different parish, there’s an idea that every Catholic church is like the one in your home town. For some people, that’s great, for others, less so.

    Plus, it seems important to remember that “haters gonna hate.” I could not believe some of the nonsense I was reading after the election of the Pope, until I remembered that. There are some people that are just not “happy” unless they are pointing out the defects of another person (if you call that happy…).

    Keep up the good work.

  • TomH

    as a lifelong catholic, with a detour here and there, i like the way you give a sweeping picture of the church as universal, re liturgy. your passion is awesome. – “i’ve learned my lesson…”/”… hasty juvenile tirade…” ok, i get that calah! you are the best judge of that. however, there is another side to it. you are incredibly funny, and even when you described your sincere repentence for your tirade against michael voris i still broke up. so please do not be too hard on yourself. frankly, i don’t think you have a mean bone in your body. maybe i’m biased because i,ve found a kindred soul who loves vulgar language as much as i do. ha ha. soooooooo funny!!! lastly, calah i’m soooooooo happy you and yours found our glorious catholic church. god bless!!

  • Ted Seeber

    “Either you’re a conservative, rad-trad, pro-Liturgy Catholic or you’re a liberal, social-justice, pro-guitars-and-holding-hands-during-the-Our-Father-Catholic.”

    I am both. I love a good guitar Mass. I love the 1962 Latin Rite. I go to the Ordinary Form most of the time for my wife, in a mass that has a LOT of liturgical abuse- but she’s a convert and doesn’t notice and the people are nice and we were married there.

    The new priest is trying to clean things up, and losing people in the process. He added in the rite of purification of the vessels, which had previously been skipped for about 20 years, but failed to reduce the number of extraordinary ministers, which means it takes him several minutes after Eucharist has finished to clean 8 chalices.