What’s the big deal about Latin?

MassOver the summer, Pope Benedict XVI allowed priests to celebrate the Tridentine Mass without receiving permission from their local bishop. Reporters naturally have written follow-up stories about the revival of the ancient service. So far two storylines seem to have emerged: Why the interest in the Tridentine Mass? and Are Catholics (especially young Catholics) actually flocking to the service?

The two questions are the right ones to ask. But I don’t think they are the best ones, sociologically, religiously or politically.

Both The New York Times and The Washington Post agree as to why Catholics attend the Tridentine Mass. The service is viewed as more mysterious and solemn than the one celebrated in the vernacular. As Jacqueline Salmon of the Post quotes one Catholic,

“It’s the opposite of the cacophony that comes with the [modern] Mass,” said Ken Wolfe, 34, a federal government worker who goes to up to four Latin Masses a week in the Washington area. “There’s no guitars and handshaking and breaks in the Mass where people talk to each other. It’s a very serious liturgy.”

Both papers are right to focus on the mystical nature of the Tridentine Mass. For what it’s worth, every Catholic I have known who prefers the Latin service to the vernacular does so for this reason.

The two papers disagree about whether the Latin Mass has gained popularity. According to Neela Bannerjee of the Times, the service has not:

But the groundswell that many backers had predicted has not surfaced and seems unlikely, Catholic liturgists and church officials say. The traditional Latin, or Tridentine, Mass has emerged in just one or two parishes in most of the 25 largest dioceses in the country, according to a phone survey of the dioceses.

In some dioceses, there is so far almost no interest, diocesan officials said.

By contrast, Salmon of the Post reached the opposite conclusion:

“I knew there would be some interest, but I didn’t know how quickly it would spread and how really deep the interest was,” said the Rev. Scott Haynes, a priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago who started a Web site in August offering instructions in celebrating the Mass.

So far, the Web site, http://www.sanctamissa.org, has received 1 million hits, Haynes said, adding that he receives several hundred e-mails a day from fans of the service. “I was surprised by how many people have latched on to this,” he said.

ColleenCover 01Fair enough; the reporters viewed the data differently. The Times focused on dioceses in which the Latin service is being celebrated, while the Post examined local dioceses and Internet data.

What does the interest, whether real or marginal, in the Tridentine service mean? On this question the Times and Post agree: those interested in the Latin Mass seek to revive the Catholic world that prevailed before Vatican II (1962-65). As Banerjee quotes one parishioner,

“The Mass was like this for 1,500 years, and it was changed by committee in the 1960s,” Joseph Dagostino, 35, said after a Wednesday night service at St. Andrew’s. Joseph Strada, 62, said, “When you can change the liturgy, you can change anything.” Mr. Dagostino interjected, “Like the church’s teachings on abortion or the sanctity of life.”

It’s tempting to view the revival of the Latin Mass in terms of the culture wars, as Mr. Dagostino does. Maybe, but the reporters failed to make their case. For one thing, other than Mr. Strada’s quote, all the people linking the two are professors. For another thing, it’s not as if the Pope banned the vernacular service and replaced it with the Tridentine. The Pope acted in the spirit of pluralism, allowing individual priests to celebrate the Mass.

A more revealing question by my lights is this one: Why do those seek to revive the Latin Mass consider it such a vital cause? Shouldn’t these people worry more about the fact that few Catholics today are going to confession? After all, confessing your sins to a priest and reconciling with God is one of the Seven Sacraments; hearing, seeing, and praying at a really great Mass is not.

Perhaps as Colleen Carroll Campbell has reported, those who seek to revive the Latin Mass do partake in the Sacrament of Reconciliation frequently and see no need to encourage their coreligionists to do the same. But maybe these “new faithful” simply wish, Gatsby-like, to return to the past.

Either way, posing the question would better illumine their true motives.

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  • Roberto Rivera

    My parish has a Tridentine mass at least one Sunday a month. I can’t tell you how well-attended it is or isn’t because I’ve never gone.

    As my parochial vicar said, if the Novus Ordo mass was said properly and parishes sang the right hymns, their would be very little demand for the Tridentine mass. I agree. Nine o’clock mass at my parish maxes out the Latin (and Greek); it avoids music by the dreaded St. Louis Jesuits and, although we shake hands, it’s done in good order and with reverence. (Is shaking the hand of a fellow member of the Mystical Body really that big a deal?)

    I like — no make that need — the mysterious and the numinous as much, if not more, than most people. But I also have concerns about the ritually fussy and the religiously nostalgic. What made Catholicism pre-Vatican II different from today was a lot more than the Mass: it was also a matter of demographics, housing patterns (Catholic ethnics still lived in relatively homogenous neighborhoods) and the overall position of American Catholics vis-a-vis American culture as a whole.

    In his book, The Life You Save May Be Your Own, Paul Ellie writes that part of what attracted Catholicism to people like Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton was its otherness from the rest of American culture. There was a sense of being set apart, even though Catholicism was, by 1900, already the single largest “denomination” in the U.S.

    None of this is coming back, at least not in the way folks remember or imagine it to have been.

    End of rant

  • Neela Banerjee

    Hi, Mark,

    One small correction: the Dagostino and Strada quotes were from my story in the NY Times.

    Neela Banerjee

  • Nescio

    Why do those seek to revive the Latin Mass consider it such a vital cause. Shouldn’t these people worry more about the fact that few Catholics today are going to confession? After all, confessing your sins to a priest and reconciling with God is one of the Seven Sacraments; hearing, seeing, and praying at a really great Mass is not.

    Encouraging others to attend confession is a tricky business. One has to balance the need to correct others with the need to maintain humility, and not seem like one wants to be recognized for one’s piety. It’s a whole heck of a lot easier to complain about the way your parish priest says mass (since there is the argument that “he owes us a good mass”), than it is to tell your mother that she ought to attend confession before receiving communion (“I changed your diapers, don’t you tell me what to do!”).

    People like myself attend the TLM because it’s more reverent than the mass we get in 95% of the parishes in the US. For me at least, it’s not about any culture war, so much as doing what I ought to be doing every Sunday: rightly worshiping God.

  • Dan

    There are several reasons why the liturgy is a battleground in the culture war. Liturgy is part of culture, and in the past it has been the source of much culture (for example, much of medieval art and music derived from, or was part of, the liturgy). The traditional Latin Mass carries with it much of the history and culture of the Catholic Church. Those who find that history and culture embarassing are hostile to the traditional Latin Mass. Conversely, those who love the traditional Latin Mass do so at least in part because they also love the Church in part for her history and culture.

    Further, for traditional Catholics, the new Catholic Mass seems very Protestant in nature and, not coincidently, also seems to incorporate notions that depend more on secular Englightenment philosophies than on Catholic thought and tradition. For example, by including popular music and emphasizing interaction among those participating in the Mass (the sign of peace, the priest facing the congregation, etc.), the new Mass reflects the modern liberal trend for man to look to himself and other men for salvation rather than to seek it from God. Liberals cheer this and therefore like the new Mass. The opposite is the case with traditionalists.

  • Gabriel

    it avoids music by the dreaded St. Louis Jesuits

    What’s that about?

  • marcelo

    Reverence, humility, and deep serious meditation or prayer are handed down to us from the apostles. Are we to tell them that we can do better? There are parameters to observe or we will go astray. I want a whole catholic experience, so give us today our TLM.

  • Brian Walden

    I can’t speak for everyone, but here’s my opinion as an under-30 Catholic: There’s a shift going on and more and more Catholics want to return to standing out from the general culture. I hope this isn’t a full repeal of Vatican II, but rather a correct implementation of it where we engage and change the world around us without becoming part of it. I think this may be the real story; the liturgy is just the field where this battle is played out.

    I’m noticing more and more that I desire the Church to not only be a spiritual refuge for sinners through the sacraments but to also be a physical refuge. Where my friends and family tell me to ignore the hard teachings of the Church, I wish my fellow parishioners would push me to try to live them to their fullest. Where mass media and culture tries to force relativistic values on everyone, I wish there was a strong Catholic culture to help create a buffer and affirm absolute truth. Where art has turned into a medium of conveying an artist’s personal agenda rather than the truths of the human condition, I wish my church were filled with stained glass windows and statues and hymns to flood my senses with inspiration.

    This is how it should be, but all too often it’s not. And more than the examples above, the liturgy should be a refuge from the world around us. It should take us both to the foot of the cross and to the great wedding feast when Christ comes for his Bride. Because Mass is the most important thing in a Catholic’s life, I think the liturgy is where this difference between what the average parish should be and what it really is becomes the most evident.

    While I support the liberal use of the Traditional Latin Mass, I don’t think it’s the only option. What people, especially those too young to ever have attended a TLM before the new missal, want more than anything is reverence – a Mass that lifts them up to God. Because the Novus Ordo Mass is so frequently abused, or at the very least not celebrated as reverently as it easily could be, young people turn to the TLM. If they could find a reverent NO Mass near them with incense and altar bells and high quality hymns and meaty homilies and the priest facing East and Latin for common prayers if not the entire Mass, I think most orthodox Catholics would be happy. These things are the standard for the NO Mass, yet sadly they’re hard to find so people opt for the TLM if there’s one available.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    All the news stories seem to be on the two extremes–The Latin Mass vs. what we have now.
    But many Catholics are hoping that increased use of the Latin Mass will put pressure on most Catholic parishes to stop using those insipid, treacly, semi-folk, and very heretical (in some cases) hymns and start celebrating the Mass in the vernacular with music and chant that has some dignity, solemnity, and orthodoxy to it.
    In fact, one Vatican spokesman said that that is what the pope’s goal is–not a massive return to Latin, but to force some effort to be made to return a sense of the mystical and the sacred to the Mass even when in the vernacular.
    This aspect of the debate has received little coverage–the sheer massive disgust with the current church music scene by those who do not necessarily want a return to Latin.

  • Abe

    God gave Manna, but the Israelites wanted meat. So God gave quail. Both food comes from heaven. But I believe, Manna was God’s preference, while quail was a compromise. Either way, God is generous. So don’t malign me if I go for Latin Mass. Its my right, its from God.

  • Achilles Dockers

    If your parish priest is really serious about protecting the youth from vices, he will promote the Tridentine Mass. The old Mass has the power to awaken the soul to the love of God. It can elevate a person’s conciousness from the material to the spiritual.

    I’m not saying the the Novus Ordo can’t do that. Its just that the TLM has the advantage. It defines what a catholic worship is suppose to be. Well, we can experiment on other ways to improve liturgy, but please remember that the soul of a true worshipper will not just eat any food. It hungers for God. God is love, humility, patience, justice, order, holiness, sacrifice, peace… The liturgy should show these good things, and not the chaotic, rebellious, and “anything goes” type of worship.

  • MaryMargaret

    Deacon John has this exactly right. Pope Benedict would have us return to a real sense of the sacred, and I think that the more widespread use of the extraordinary form will exert a pull on the ordinary form to return to that sense.

    Personally, I have absolutely had it with the liturgical wars! The TLM should be offered at more parishes, so that those who prefer the extraordinary form can worship in that great tradition. I don’t want the ordinary form to vanish, nor to turn back the clock to pre-VII. Few of us do, but those who do seem to be very vocal about it! Both Masses are valid, as are those in the Eastern traditions.

    Oh, and Deacon John, I really hear you about the borderline (and not so borderline) heretical songs (I can’t really call them hymns). If I never hear “Sing a New Church” or “Ashes” again it will be one too many times.

  • EV

    It is the outreach to some very antisemitic quarters, without explicit assurance in Summorum Pontificum that milestones such as Nostra Aetate would not be compromised, that is the “big deal” to the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Scroll halfway down in Rod Dreher’s blog article to read of the Center’s apprehension , a story that the MSM largely bypassed. Moreover, the lack of an explicit assurance by Benedict to the numerous Jewish groups that had raised concerns is troubling in light of the fact there is currently a resurgence in Europe of neo-fascism combined with an embrace of traditional Catholicism.

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  • D. Burns

    Not being Catholic it seams everything I hear in regard to the TLM debate is framed within an American culture. Given that the Roman Catholic church is a global comunion I would be very interested in hearing about any debates regarding the re-intoduction of TLM in other parts of the world. Are there misuses of the NO in other cultures as have been reported happening here in America (i.e. clown and folk masses)? What is the reaction in Europe? South and Central America? Africa? Or is this simply an American problem/infatuation with the Latin Mass?

  • Greg

    D. Burns, in my country, much of the reverence is lost because of the charismatic group’s philosophy. Actually,the people don’t know if a certain practice is an abuse or not because the bishops didn’t speak out when the charismatics started injecting things into the liturgy. Right now they are losing members, and young people are not keen of joining them. But their liturgical abuses remain uncorrected in the Mass, such as the raising of hands during the Our Father.

  • http://thebyzantineanglocatholic.blogspot.com/ Joe Rawls

    I was a practicing Roman Catholic for my first 31 years (including serving as an altar boy for gazillions of Tridentine Masses when it was the only game in town)but jumped the Thames for Anglicanism in 1981. One factor was liturgy. The 1979 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, Rite II, resembles the RC Novus Ordo in many ways; it is just consistently done better in most Episcopal parishes. Not too many clown or cheesehead priests, not that many hymns with Hallmark card lyrics. I’ve probably heard more Palestrina in Episcopal churches than I ever did at RC masses from 1965 on. Oh, and Anglicans are not that uptight during the peace either.

  • Ardesa

    Break with tradition is rejection of Christ. Its like the tower of Babel story where the people tried to build a civilization that excluded God. Pretty much like the liberal reasoning of today. Tradition is our connection to the past, to the time of the apostles, to Christ. If TLM contains tradition, by all means welcome it. If your local N.O. do not show much tradition, by all means correct it.

  • http://metalutheran.blogspot.com Josh S

    It’s fascinating that the fellow quoted thinks believes that the Tridentine Mass was handed down unchanged since the 5th century. Even a cursory study of history would show that there were quite a few changes even between Gregory and the 16th century. Furthermore, the liturgy changed extensively in the first four centuries AD.

  • Alfred

    Since the Tridentine Latin Mass has a profound effect on me, its only logical that I recommend it to others. It really surprises me why a lot of clerics prefer to shun such beautiful thing.

  • Mark V.

    I’m surprised that none of the articles have discussed people’s opinion of worshipping in a foreign (and dead) language. Growing up in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, I was quite ignorant of what the Divine Liturgy meant. Despite being a fluent Greek speaker, I could not understand anything because of the exclusive use of ancient Koine Greek. I only learned the Lord’s Prayer in English in my late 20s when my friends were married in the Roman Catholic church. Since that time, I have been attending the Orthodox Church in America, where worship is conducted in English. I would like to know how the young RCs can relate to Latin and the potential impact on future generations. I think a better comprimise would be to crack down on the abuses of the Novus Ordo Mass and revert to the priest facing East and the use of Gregorian chant. I’ve attended many “high church” Anglican and Lutheran liturgies that seem more “catholic” than many RC Masses. Finally, have there been any stirrings for the use of alternate Latin Masses such as the Sarum Rite?

  • Chris

    As a Catholic, I wanted to comment regarding the sentence by Mr. Stricherz in the original post, “….confessing your sins to a priest and reconciling with God is one of the Seven Sacraments; hearing, seeing, and praying at a really great Mass is not.” Actually, the Mass encloses/contains one of the Seven Sacraments–the Eucharist. Of the sacraments, it is the one that is available to Catholics most frequently, uniting them with Christ and with one another. That is why Catholics care so passionately about it. I also think we should recognize that we all have different tastes–and what is supremely beautiful to one person may simply be unintelligible to another. Lastly, the first Eucharist was celebrated in the vernacular.

  • AmaniS

    I think Joseph Strada might have answered your question. Maybe the changing of the Mass was a step away that moved people to go to confession less.
    The questions that(maybe) should be asked are “Do people who go to the Latin Mass go to church more often?” “Do people who go to the Latin Mass go to confession more?” “Has the presentation of the Latin Mass have more people coming to church?”
    To indiviual dioceses “Are you getting more people in the pews in general?”

  • Dave Wells

    There are two things that have drawn me to the TLM, despite my initial “culture shock” after attending my first Mass:
    first, the absolute dignity of it compared with the rather pedestrian celebration of the Ordinary Form of the Mass. This is especially true with regard to the music, as others have noted. I find it increasingly hard to participate in the Novus Ordo Mass, due largely to my disgust over the music. But it isn’t just the music – it’s also the manner in which the Mass is celebrated. The focus is on Christ, and on what He has done for us; it’s not on the priest, or the “community”.

    Second, it is the knowledge that this is the Mass that was known and loved by all the saints throughout the history of the western Church. It is a mistake to call this the “Tridentine Mass” – it’s basic structure and many of the prayers pre-date the Council of Trent by nearly 1000 years. This Mass shaped the spirituality of countless saints – from St Gregory the Great (and before) down the centuries to St Maximilian Kolbe and St Padre Pio. As Pope Benedict has stated, that which was considered holy and good for them is also holy and good for us too.

  • redkim

    I attend the TLM because I like the prayers better and the priest is praying more WITH the people than in front of them. Now, to put this in perspective, I only go to a TLM once a week, whereas I go to the N.O. Mass several times a week.

    As to confession and the two different Masses: People who go to the TLM Mass tend to be quite conscious of their faith, and so would go to confession quite often. This is not to say that people who go stricty to the N.O. Mass do NOT frequent confession (I know plenty of folks who do), but there are plenty of people who go to the N.O. Mass every Sunday but have not gone to confession in years or even decades.

    The Novus Ordo Mass, when done correctly (I witness that several times a week) is a beautiful Mass, but often the prayers are what I like to call “dumbed down”…they don’t really challenge us to become more prayerful.

    I also find something very interesting with the Novus Ordo Mass: where the sacrament of Reconciliation is spoken of during homilies and where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed on a regular basis; confession attendance is up. I have observed this to be a direct correlation.

  • http://www.infrontofyournose.com Mark

    I appreciate readers’ comments about the Novus Ordo Mass; you taught me many things about this service.

    However, I was disappointed that more readers did not address my post’s central point: Why the great hullabaloo over the Latin Mass and not over the fact that few Catholics today go to Confession.

    Although readers made clear their disappointment and even disgust with the vernacular Mass, it’s worth noting that you can receive Holy Communion there. So does anyone really disagree that the decline in use of one Sacrament is worse than the decline in the quality of the Mass?

    Now, perhaps the two trends are related. But no readers referred to any data on this. If they can find empirical evidence, I would like to see it.

  • redkim

    Okay Mark: I will give my reason why I am not more vocal about confession:

    The truth is: The Tridentine Mass is something that is spiritually nourishing for me personally; others habits regarding confession do not nourish me. My own participation in the sacrament of Reconciliation nourishes me; others participation does not.

    And I also think that if we were to raise concerns about others not going to confession then we would also have to ask ourselves our motives: are we just being moralists? Is it our job to tell other people to go to confession? I will, on occasion, tell others of my own confession experience and the graces I receive from it; just as I tell others about my own experience in the TLM and the graces I receive. I do this not to convert them (although that would be a nice gift) but to share my joy. This approach is more effective than saying “How come nobody goes to confession anymore?” If I were to do that, I would be nothing more than a moralist. The only thing I can offer is the positive experiences I have with the sacrament.

  • Julia

    A few points:

    Vatican II did not get rid of Latin; it allowed vernacular when and where a bishop determined that it would be a good thing. We have Latin NO Mass at our parish from time to time, particularly during Advent and Lent. I still have my old missals, including the one with the 1962 Mass and my father’s from 1934, and I followed along in Latin and English as a elementary school child – it’s not difficult at all. Our grade school choir chanted the Mass all week long – so that’s not difficult, either. Our new pastor is sometimes singing the Mass on Sundays, like in the old days, and we are responding the same way in chant we did before Vatican II – only it is usually in English.

    Vatican II did not say to pull the altar away from the wall. A lot of these things were decreed by committees after Vatican II and people don’t realize that. Some of the translations into English were jazzed up giving the actual rules a new spin in the “spirit of Vatican II”.

    In fact, there was a huge historical work on Vatican II done by a Msgr Bugnini which used the notes of the theologian experts as the substance of what Vatican II dictated. In other words, this book presented “what the bishops meant to say” instead of what actually was contained in the official documents. There is a counter-history being prepared which will document how this happened.

    There is the same problem in the English translation of the Mass that we are now using. Unlike the poetry and Biblical references in the Old Mass, the new one is written at a grade school level and denuded the text of its richness.

    Example: “Lord I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof; say but the word and my soul [servant] shall be healed.” The reference is to the Roman centurian who had come to ask Jesus to heal his servant but who didn’t feel worthy that Jesus should come into his house. It indicates humility, sorrow for sin and faith in Jesus.

    This became: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you; say but the word and I shall be healed.” Unless you were otherwise made aware of its source, the Gospel reference has disappeared. It’s more colloquial, but somehow impoverished.

    The committee formed to put a new Mass together had about 7 Lutherans who were there to say what offended them – and those things were eliminated in the belief that the healing of division in the Christian world was imminent.

    That having been said, there were a lot of redundancies and illogical placement of some prayers in the old Mass that it was good to eliminate, but that process had been underway for some time before Vatican II. The addition of readings from Scripture was good, too, but the new Mass eliminated a lot of Propers of the particular day that were from or referenced Scripture.

    I’m in a secular singing group and we are learning Britten’s “Ceremony of Carols”. Everybody is so impressed with the song we sing as we process into the hall – “Hodie Christus natus est . . .” It’s Luke from the second vespers on Christmas day sung in ancient chant just like my grade school girls’ choir. We’ve pitched it !!!! Now it’s only sung in concert halls. http://www.cpdl.org/wiki/index.php/Hodie_Christus_natus_est
    And look what happened to the Requiem Mass that was sung by 6th grade girls when I was young is now only available by listening to Faure’s take on the old Gregorian chant.

    We’ve also lost the Calendar of Movable Feasts and things like Ember Days that are connected to the changes of seasons. It’s not enough that commercialism had de-natured the Advent season. The real Christmastide in the old calendar began with the Vigil of Christmas and ends on the Octave of the Epiphany – January 14th. Some extend it to the Purification on February 2nd. We don’t know what Octaves are any more. It’s like putting all the family albums in the attic.

    The issue is not just the new Mass; it’s the question – why pitch our history? our unbroken connection to the time of Jesus?

    Here’s a link to a good discussion of Vatican II and the Bologna School which is behind the “spirit of Vatican II” spin and all the changes we have seen since then.


    the dreaded St. Louis Jesuits

    Somebody said “If you marry the zeitgeist of the day, you will soon be a widow” How true. About the end of the 1960s, about 4 or 5 Jesuit scholastics (students not yet ordained) were sitting around their dorm at St Louis U (I’m a 1967 grad). College students in those days strummed easy stuff on guitars to pass the time – like “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore”, “Kumbaya” etc. [I played a baritone ukelele] The Singing Nun’s little ditties were also really popular. So – these Jesuit students started making up new things in English for the Mass just for the heck of it. They caught on at the College Church and we ended up with things like “Be Not Afraid” and “On Eagle’s Wings” which these guys didn’t even know how to notate.

    My 35 year old son who hated going to church in the 70s and 80s said he could hear better folk [and now soft rock] music on the radio. That’s the problem – it’s not even good folk music. I think 4 of the original Jesuits are still writing music and a few have now studied music after the fact. Their first album just said “The Jesuits” on the cover because they hadn’t thought of a name for themselves. People learned the music by listening to it and it’s really obvious that they were meant to be sung to a strummed guitar – the timing is atrocious and impossible for most regular choir members who don’t read music.

    I think honoring the old Mass and having it more available might improve the new Mass, much like publicizing and praising photos of how people used to dress might help to get rid of the Bratz Girlz and Brittany look. If nothing else, occasionally having the Mass in the ancient, unchanging universal language binds Catholic around the world together.

  • Dave Wells


    I don’t have any empirical evidence, but here’s what I think has happened:

    Years ago (before my time), reception of the sacrament of Reconciliation was more common for Catholics. I’ve often read about the long lines of penitents waiting for their turn in the confessional. But we know that those days are gone. Most Catholics rarely receive the sacrament anymore, for several reasons. First, in the aftermath of the post-Vatican II “reforms,” there is less emphasis on personal sin. I have rarely heard a homily on the nature of sin and how to avoid or overcome it. I once had a discussion with a priest on the nature of mortal sin. He told me that in seminary, he was told that most people never commit a mortal sin in their entire lifetime, and therefore confession was not really necessary. Second, the changes to the actual rite of confession may have played a part. In the past, confession was “anonymous” and took place in the confessional. With the reform of the rite, confession was expected to be a face-to-face encounter with a priest. Doubtless for many, this made the act of confession much more embarassing. (Granted, there is often the option to confess behind a screen in the “Reconciliation Room” but this seems awkward for both the priest and penitent). Third, confession has rarely been emphasized at the parish level, except during the seasonal “Reconciliation Services” in Advent and Lent. Usually there is only a brief mention in the Sunday bulletin of the scheduled time for confession (once a week for 30 minutes seems the norm), or “by appointment” which again removes the anonymity.

    All of these reasons (and doubtless many more) have contributed to the near-abandonment of the sacrament of Reconciliation by many practicing Catholics. How does this relate to the Traditional Latin Mass? Well, when I attend, there is usually a long line of people at the confessional before Mass, and Father makes time to hear confessions after Mass for those who couldn’t make theirs in time. Also, as there is a deeper sense of reverence in the Latin Mass, there is also a greater awareness of our unworthiness, through sin, to receive Christ in the Mass. Therefore, those who are attending the Latin Mass are much more focused on growing in holiness, for which confession is a necessary part of their spiritual discipline.

    It is no great mystery that the abandonment of the TLM contributed to a loss of the sacred and the holy in the celebration of the Mass. This fact, coupled with the aforementioned changes, has resulted in the decline in the use of the sacrament of Confession.

  • Julia

    If nothing else, please see this article from Rome about the battle going on concerning the proper interpretation of Vatican II. It’s really informative.


  • Ken Wolfe

    The numbers (congregation) depend on the time and location of the traditional Mass.

    The New York Times, sadly, refused to go to Sunday Masses or more established parishes in the city, so of course the new Wednesday night Mass in the modern-looking suburban church was not going to have the numbers that so many other reporters (including both the Washington Times — http://washingtontimes.com/article/20071028/NATION/110280043/1001 — and the Washington Post — http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2007/11/24/ST2007112400613.html — within the past month) have witnessed.

  • http://www.reenchantment.net Ken

    My comments are from a non-Catholic but close observer of the church for the past eight years.

    In Orange County, California there are Catholic parishes that due to demographics celebrate three distinct Masses: English, Spanish and Vietnamese. All have their hour and if there is room in the parish hall, all three groups have their locker or closet to keep their respective stuff for those times when they assemble together (but not together) for social activities where they speak their “native tongue” and act Catholic. But not catholic at all.

    The vernacular Mass is not a good idea. The fact that the diocese has an anglo, mexican-american and vietnamese bishop punctuates what I think is a silly situation. With Latin there would be some glue. And there would be a common denominator so to speak with the worship. I agree it is more solemn and tied to tradition.

    But this is just a hunch with me.

    To Joe Rawls #16 I must say that his move to The Episcopal Church in 1981 does not preclude his taking a look at the BCP 1929 which is a far more beautiful and sacred liturgy. So much so that New York’s “The Church of Our Savior” Rector, Fr. Rutler — a convert to Catholicism — when asked what he missed most from his former denomination remarked, “The English Language.”

    Joe might also note that ECUSA in any language is no longer Christianity.

  • Julia

    On the decrease in confession, here is a clip from the review of the Bologna school interpretation of Vatican II which I linked to in an earlier comment on this thread :

    In any case, on the topic of ecumenism, Alberigo returns to maintaining that the non-Catholic observers “were substantially members, although sui generis (informal), of the council,” during which there was a “communicatio in sacris,” albeit an imperfect one. The author continues: “In this manner there emerged – although in faint outline – in Vatican II a pastoral-sacramental conception of Christianity and the church that tends to replace an earlier doctrinal-disciplinary conception.”

    - – - -
    It’s the “I’m OK; you’re OK” mode of thinking that became the mantra of the “spirit of Vatican II” that my children were taught. Enneagrams and self-esteem replaced the sense of guilt required to prompt one to go to confession. Ask anybody who was in seminary in the ’80s. It was all about psychoanalyzing people and being “pastoral” – that is to say, non-judgmental. If your priest thinks all is excused by personality traits and your environment, what do you need to confess?

  • bob

    If Latin is of such great importance, why are Roman Catholic blogger using English? Why isn’t EWTN broadcast in Latin? I thought so.

  • Brian Walden

    Mark, I don’t have data but the two issues of liturgy and confession are related. The person who thinks that Mass should be more like any other Christian service than a uniquely Catholic liturgy tends to be the same person who thinks, “I’m just like everyone else, we’re all good people and don’t need to go to confession.” The person who can appreciate the importance of all the small nuances in the liturgy tends to be the person who appreciates the importance of examining his or her conscience and going to frequent confession.

    The liturgy is the most visible sign of our faith. Lex orandi, lex credendi – how we pray is how we believe. If you change the liturgy you change the way people live their faith; all the other issues like confession will fall in place behind the liturgy. That’s why the liturgy is where the biggest fight is.

  • Brian Walden

    Bob, if wedding dresses are so important to brides, why don’t they wear them all the time?

    A wedding dress is very important at a wedding, but would be improper and impractical in most other settings. A liturgical language of a religious group is very important in the liturgy, but would be improper and impractical in the situations you mention.

  • Alexandra Foley

    If your main concern is getting people to go back to confession, then the Extraordinary Form is your best bet. In the many LM parishes I have been to there is almost always confession before Mass and the lines are long (annoyingly so, sometimes :). When you feed people with a Mass that so clearly acknowledges our sinfulness and begs for God’s mercy AND that surrounds the Eucharist with such devotion and love, then you are sure to compel people to seek God’s forgiveness in that confessional. I have noticed that I am much more careful about having a “clean soul” when I am the Old Mass than when I am at the New. There is something about the New Mass that makes you feel as if you are just fine the way you are, whereas the Old compels you towards holiness, in my opinion. Thanks for the post.

  • liberty

    Why the great hullabaloo over the Latin Mass and not over the fact that few Catholics today go to Confession.

    I think because one (the Mass) is public and the other (confession) is relatively private.

    I will say that prior to going to TLM I had never seen a line for a confessional in my life. I couldn’t tell you where the confessionals were in my childhood church. Confession wasn’t much discussed or taught.

    When I started attending TLM was the first time I actually heard a homily about the importance of confession and saw that others practiced it with the long lines (which I rapidly joined).

  • bob

    Brian, the point I want to make is that no one understands Latin. Period. It isn’t useful for communicating something as important as the Eucharist. Another revelation may be that Russians understand zero Church Slavonic and Greeks understand zero liturgical Greek. I wish the Roman Catholics could avoid the ruts the Orthodox have found so hard to get out of. Wedding dresses are a great idea but not for every day! And if the wedding is performed in a language the bride doesn’t understand (I’ve met a few that happenned to) it loses something.

  • Sharon Cornet

    As what Roman Catholic exorcists said: The devil fears latin. For the two universal languages (Latin & English), I vote for English for our ordinary, mundane, and casual communication, and Latin for extraordinary, artistic, and dead serious uses.

  • SLink

    I think that the author of this post is exactly right in wondering why the use of Latin should be of greater concern than the low number of Catholics taking confession. According to the story linked in the post only 14% of Catholics make it confession even once per year and only 2% make it to confession on a regular basis. Unless I’m mistaken the Catholic Church teaches that it is a sin to partake of the Eucharist without having first gone to confession. Unless modern day Catholics are amazingly free of sin compared to their predecessors then they are in deep spiritual trouble according to their church if the statistics on confession are to be believed. Based on this it seems to me that the low number of people going to confession would be a much greater issue than the language being used in the liturgy.

  • Brian Walden

    Bob, Let me start by saying that I’ve never been to a TLM, but I occasionally go to a Latin Novus Ordo which is offered weekly at a nearby parish. I don’t believe that Latin is best for everyone but I do believe it should be available when reasonable for those who want it.

    Next, it’s not true that no one understand Latin, period. While most people don’t, some do and others understand enough to recognize what’s being said at Mass. Next, not understanding Latin doesn’t mean people don’t understand what’s happening at Mass. There’s always a missal with the English translation right next to the Latin and a Catholic who chooses to go to a Latin Mass probably knows the liturgy well enough to know exactly what’s being prayed even though they may not understand the language. This is why even on weekends when I’m traveling and the only Mass I’m able to make is the 7:30pm Vietnamese Mass at my parish (which doesn’t come with an English translation) I’m still able to participate fully.

    I also disagree that Latin isn’t useful for communicating something as important as the Eucharist. In fact most things that best communicate the importance of the Eucharist aren’t words. Genuflecting in front of the tabernacle, making an act of reverence before receiving communion, altar bells and incense, and holding frequent times of Eucharistic adoration all communicate the importance of the Eucharist more than words. When I was returning to the Church, the simple act of genuflecting gave me more faith in the real presence of Jesus than than any of the books I read.

    The words of the consecration are the priest’s prayer. Our participation at Mass is not directly tied to hearing or understanding them, our participation during the consecration means that we offer our entire selves in Jesus to the Father. I can do that at usual English Mass at my parish or at the Latin Mass down the road or at the Vietnamese Mass if that’s the only one I can make it to.

    I personally prefer English for myself. I go to the Latin Mass when I need to be fed. I know I’ll get good solid hymns, incense, altar bells, rubrics followed to the letter, and an orthodox sermon which humbles me and challenges me to change my life. If I could get that in English I would, but usually Latin is thrown in with the rest of the package. In the Latin Rite we have as much right to a Latin liturgy as a vernacular one, I think both should be easily available to the people. I also think both should be equally reverent no matter what the language. So I support the greater use of Latin because it’s my best chance for improving the vernacular Mass.

  • MaryMargaret


    Now you must know that your premise is incorrect “..no one understands Latin. Period.” There are many people who understand Latin, and can speak, read and write in Latin. I assume that what you mean is that “most” people do not understand Latin. This is true in the sense that most people cannot carry on a conversation in Latin, or read most documents in Latin. However, if you mean that an average person cannot learn the Mass in Latin, you are mistaken. Over time, most people can learn the parts of the Mass simply by following a transliterated Missal. Even better, they can learn the Latin of the common prayers and the Mass by study, particularly if they begin as children.

    A common Mass in a common language is also a very useful thing for a Church that spans the globe. Latin is, of course, not required for a valid Mass, but it sure makes life easier when you travel to a location where you have no clue about the vernacular. (Greece would spring to mind for me; also China. I could follow/pray the Mass much better in Latin than Chinese!!)

  • JJ

    Timeless intergrity and universality of liturgy. Thanks to latin. Brilliant Pope.

  • bob

    Mary Margaret, Brian, I am thrilled you can go to a Latin service. I still think you need to listen to yourselves: *most* people don’t know the Latin, I’d add *most* never will. I have spoken to enough people who can remember the old Mass (and are plenty educated, a Classics major, 2 seminarians who eventually became Orthodox priests) to claim that most people didn’t know Latin back then. True, people can and did pick up parts of it and follow along in a Missal. Everything said here is the exact script of what I was told when Orthodox parishes had little English when I began attending them. The congregations using mostly Greek and Slavonic have had generation after generation disappear.
    I hope with all my heart you don’t have that experience. It isn’t Latin (Arabic, Slavonic, Greek)that makes something “mystical”. If what happens in a Eucharist isn’t all by itself mystical enough, what will a language you can’t understand “add” to it? Still, I have known far too many Orthodox converts who speak nothing but English and yet have an insatiable desire to hear a language they can’t understand. Precisely *because* they can’t. I can’t explain it, it’s a parallel religion alongside the actual faith.

  • Eriq

    No need to worry about latin liturgy because the Novus Ordo is open for those who prefer the vernacular. For those who seek deeper form of worship, the Latin Mass is also open for them….. Oh, I’m sorry. There’s a problem! They’re not openning the Latin Mass in their diocese. So our efforts should be focussed on how to make the Latin Mass available, and not the needless defense of the vernacular liturgy.

  • Janetasia

    If you cannot appreciate beauty, don’t come.
    If you have bad taste, that’s your problem not ours.
    What God opened, do not close.
    What God closed, do not open.
    Just because you have a problem with the Magisterium does not mean that the magisterium is the problem.

  • MaryMargaret

    But, bob, you misunderstand me. I don’t go to a Latin Mass–neither TLM or Latin NO. I go to the ordinary Mass in the vernacular, and am thankful to receive my Lord in the Holy Eucharist. I simply wouldn’t mind going to a TLM, or any other Latin Mass, and I think that the greater generosity of Pope Benedict towards the older form is a tremendous good for all the Church. Although the OCA may celebrate the Divine Liturgy in English, I think the vast majority of Orthodox celebrate in Koine Greek or Slavonic, etc. It is the height of arrogance to say that they just want the liturgy to be in a language they don’t understand. The Mass is the Mass for me as a Latin Rite Catholic. Period. Our purpose is, or should be, to worship the Lord our God. I am not particularly traditionalist, but I have observed the Divine Liturgy in Greek, and it brought me to tears to observe how the people truly worshiped God. Surely, to experience God, to worship Him and adore Him is the point, is it not? If it’s about us, then, to paraphrase, what in the hell is the point? I can worship myself while sleeping in, or looking at the great children I have raised, or watching football. Why do you care how other people worship God? Why is their way less righteous or pleasing to God? None of us can understand God, regardless of language. He is beyond us in ways that cannot be imagined. Charity, please. Mystery is also a part of our faith. If, as I gather, you are Orthodox, I am surprised at your attitude. I would say that the Orthodox Christians have a greater sense of the Mystery of God than the average Catholic, and God bless them for it. There is much for us who are RC to learn from the Orthodox and our Eastern Catholic brethren.

  • El Kapitanity

    This world is too small for both liturgies. That’s what ultra liberals might be thinking. As for me, I’m drawn to Latin for reasons I can’t put into words. And many choir groups in our area switched to latin names such as Regina Coeli Choir, Corpus Christi Choir, Agnus Dei Choir, Vox Angeli Choir, etc… etc. The youth finds latin very attractive. I will try to learn latin to make my personal worship a great experience.

  • Brian Walden

    SLink, the fight over the liturgy is a fight over how often people should go to confession. They’re not two unrelated issues. I’ll also add that while Latin is the thing that gets most of the attention, it’s reverence and not a different language that most people seek to get from a Latin Mass. Right now it’s just easier to find a solemn Mass in Latin than in English, I hope that will change.

    Anyway, the way a Mass is celebrated affects the way everything else is celebrated at a parish. If you went to a Catholic Church where the tabernacle is hard to find, the crucifix has a resurrected Jesus on it, the priest wears cheap vestments, the hymns are focused on how great we are, and the rubrics are bent to accomodate the priest’s liking – I can pretty much guarantee you’re going to get a homily that’s all fluff and little substance. I can also pretty much guarantee that if the laity aren’t properly shepherded, not many of them are going to go to confession.

    On the other hand if you go to a parish where Mass is performed in a solemn, reverent manner (regardless of the language) – I bet you’re also going to find good, orthodox homilies. If the people are being led by their shepherd many more of them will go to confession. Latin gets the attention because it’s the most obvious difference, but the real fight is over orthodoxy in all its forms, both within an outside of Mass.

  • Chris

    Again, a clarification–since I’ve seen the statement several times that one must go to confession before receiving Eucharist. Frequent confession is an excellent thing, BUT, if one is not in a state of mortal/serious sin, one is not required to go to confession before receiving Eucharist. A misapprehension before Vatican II was that one could never be “good” enough to receive Eucharist–so some people rarely participated because they felt they had to confess immediately before. The error after Vatican II is that one is always “good” enough–and participation regardless of mortal sin–which is a willful and serious repudiation of God.
    For some, the use of Latin enhances their appreciation of the Mass and the Eucharist. For others, it is incomprehensible. One of my memories of the Latin mass is the impression that many devout persons were not following along at all–they were physically present, but saying the rosary or other personal prayers. Both the use of Latin and the vernacular, are to my mind, fine–but one is not better than the other. God understands all our languages–and, if we approach him reverently and with love, I doubt his major concern is “good taste”.

  • Brian Walden

    Good clarification Chris, one point which I think is just a result of language we use – we should all participate in the Eucharist by praying at Mass but as you said we should not receive Eucharist if we’re in a state of mortal sin.

  • Ken Berg

    My wife and I are looking forward to being able to take our family to Tridentine Mass. I barely recall the days when I was a child and our local priest used to say some parts of the Novus Ordo Mass in Latin during Lent, but I have not even heard that sort of thing in at least a decade.

    I do not know why some people get their feathers ruffled when they hear Latin. Gosh, I know some folks who even get all worked up just hearing about hearing Latin. I think the old form is beautiful, and with a Latin-English missal, the Mass and accompaning prayers are easy to understand. No matter whether anyone likes it or not, we are the ROMAN Catholic Church after all, and the Latin language is a large part of our cultural heritage.

    I look forward to being able to attend Latin Mass where people let the priest offer Mass, and where we fullfill our role as lay congregation, responding appropriately instead of parading up on the altar or otherwise roaming around the Church during Mass, and where we leave the guitars and tamborines in the cupboard for an hour and use the church organ instead. Of the various lay people we routinely have clattering around during Mass, we even have one person (several actually, but only one per Sunday; they rotate) whose job apparently, is to blabber on with an “explanation” of the first and second readings before each of the readings – as if we were not smart enough to actually understand the two readings and as if they do not think the priest could explain them properly in his homily. In reality this seems like a veiled attempt at denying the priest time for his homily message, and perhaps (hopefully not) to satisfy the premodonnas who deamed up the whole idea of this “expanatory” message before the readings. The other “role” of this person, apparently, is to bellow out not only the responses too loudly over the microphone, but also boom loudly over the microphone when people are to stand, sit and/or kneel, as if we were not Catholic and did not know when to stand, or when to kneel. Needless to say, for me, in our parish, Tridentine Mass will be a welcome relief from these sorts of distractions I like the Tridentine because of its classical, reverent form.

    Also, I have come across the Tridentine mass in Latin America, and it is nice when for an hour anyway, you speak the same language as Catholics from another part of the world. However while the global value of Latin is important, many of my own opinions are just that; a matter of stylistic preference. Finally of course, I know and appreciate the Novus Ordo is form preferred by the Vatican today and so is very valid. My main problem is how the Novus Ordo is offered. Specifically, I do not approciate the lack of formality, convention, and reverence. Also I do not like the newer, casual, but rather odd music we in our parish are using. For mass, I prefer more traditional music, either classical, folkoric, or some of the great Black spiritual music. The more recent music has what seems to be odd phrasing in the lyrics and tedious melodies that are difficult for the people to sing. Of course on special occassions, I enjoy listening to the choir. But on regular, routine Sundays, I prefer it when the people sing rather than having the choir perform and the public just sitting back and listening. Mass is a sacrament, not a concert. I heard where one saint said singing is like praying twice, and since most people like to sing, I think it important for people to participate in the music. I have heard some priests use Latin and Greek in the Novus Ordo, and it adds a great deal by way of encouraging people to think and act differently (i.e. more solumn and respectful) during mass than when they are for example, in the church yard or parking lot. I do not like the modern surprise variations in the Angus Dei (Lamb of God), or when we constantly change the melody for the Sanctus. Because I think it important to remember the Greek Catholics, I would like to say the Kyrie in Greek. Of course I know there are allowed variations, and that no two masses are exactly alike, but in general, I like it when the basic parts of mass have the same form from week to week and year to year. In our parish, the only thing you can count on is that the parts like Lamb of God, the Hosanna, and the Gloria will not be the same, and so you need to figure out which form or melody those in charge of music have decided to use – this week. This means you can usually count on the form of the mass grinding on your nerves, which of course is an unnecessary distraction. Many times I simply retreat into silence and just say the Rosary or Divine Praises during the hymns, which is not all bad of course. Also, I have gone to mass in other parishes, and some kneel more than others. Some kneel from the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer all the way to when they get up to go to communion, afterwhich they kneel again until the tabernacle is closed, whereupon they sit for a short while until standing for the final blessing, while others only kneel until the “Through Him, with Him …” part, afterwhich they stand until the tabernacle is closed up, and then they sit down until the final blessing. Maybe both ways are correct; I simply do not know. In my home town in South Dakota (we were just there visiting last summer), they still bow or genuflect immediately before recieving communion. There is nothing wrong with guitars, trumpets, drums or any other musical instrument; it is just that some styles work better for a mass, while others work better in the church hall at a meeting, dance, Christmas concert, wedding, picnic, or any number of other church functions. The Novus Ordo, reverently said, and with some Latin and Greek included is very nice. Likewise, the Tridentine is also a very lovely form of mass. I think regardless of the form (Novus Ordo or Tridentine) we should always include a fair amount of Latin and of course use Greek for the Kyrie because they bring something historic, cultural and artistic to bear that, while it is difficult to quantify, does have some real value.

    I think it is important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and I do not think it wise to simply toss Latin, Greek, and traditional music out the window as thoughtlessly as we seem to have done over the last twenty or thrity years.

    I think that while those who are now older (i.e., baby boomer and up) had Catholic catechism taught to them and Catholic heritage handed to them, for reasons only they understand, they did not put much value on it and they were too quick to let it all go by the wayside. As a younger Catholic however (well, not really that young; younger than 40 though) for many reasons, including but not limited to reasons of faith, artistic reasons, and even the value of our Catholic cultural heritage – I think it worthwhile to treasure these older forms and preserve them as best we can.

  • http://aconservativesiteforpeace.info The young fogey

    What a good post and comment thread!

    Hooray for Pope Benedict for liberating this Mass and office (it’s ‘kosher’ again for a Roman Catholic priest to use the old breviary to fulfil his obligation of praying the office).

    One of my points I keep repeating is IT’S NOT ABOUT LATIN.

    The language is incidental but because it’s such a marked difference in practice of course the mainstream media jump on it.

    Some pundits are right: there is a resurgence of Catholic orthodoxy among young churchgoing Roman Catholics which is why this has such a lively following.

    Another of my points is if it were only about nostalgic older people (as the liberal establishment used to tell itself) the Pope wouldn’t have bothered.

    That said…

    The Latin makes this self-limiting. The liberals are right here: most Roman Catholics don’t want services in it and as long as those wonderful 1962 books – with their unequivocal orthodoxy and the reverence built into the rubrics (the new books are too loosey-goosey with that as well as horribly translated but the Pope is trying to fix the latter) – have to be in it most people won’t give them a chance or go to or ask for those services.

    So my prediction for the forseeable future is… it will remain the usage of a lively minority of RCs.

    But perhaps a leaven reinforcing the ‘reform of the reform’ high churchmen using the Novus Ordo.

    Paul Ellie writes that part of what attracted people like Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton to Catholicism was its otherness from the rest of American culture. There was a sense of being set apart…

    Orthodoxy still has that. Hence the convert boomlet as Terry Mattingly can explain.

    The 1979 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, Rite II, resembles the RC Novus Ordo in many ways; it is just consistently done better in most Episcopal parishes. Not too many clown or cheesehead priests, not that many hymns with Hallmark card lyrics. I’ve probably heard more Palestrina in Episcopal churches than I ever did at RC masses from 1965 on.


    The old American Prayer Book is from 1928.

    Joe might also note that ECUSA in any language is no longer Christianity.

    I call a foul here. There’s a vocal minority mostly of older people in the leadership who are no longer Christian (Spong for example) but its 1979 Prayer Book still has the creeds. It is a Christian church.

    In this manner there emerged – although in faint outline – in Vatican II a pastoral-sacramental conception of Christianity and the church that tends to replace an earlier doctrinal-disciplinary conception.

    Part of the beauty of the Catholic faith (here I don’t only mean Roman) is these two things are not mutually exclusive!

    Another revelation may be that Russians understand zero Church Slavonic and Greeks understand zero liturgical Greek.

    As somebody who knows Russian and often goes to services in Slavonic I can tell you that’s not true! Slavonic is to Russian as Chaucer is to this. Different but intelligible. I don’t know Greek but a look at some service books for the laity with texts side by side (like Latin-English ones) shows a lot of similarities.

    Want to see and hear something like this service but done in King James English, a glimpse of something Rome can do if it wants? Visit an American Anglo-Catholic (Episcopal or Continuing Anglican) parish!

  • jacobus

    Now, I’m one of those ‘nobodies’ who can read, write, and speak Latin and so I prefer the Lati Mass, but I really wish Rome would allow a translation of the 1962 missal in beautiful and solemn English. That way, we could stop bickering about a dead language and be more concerned with the parts of the mass that matter to God: the lectionary, the calendar, and the prayers (all of which are far superior in the TLM).

  • Dahgai Dai

    Listen now, this is a true story: I experimented with latin hymns in our Parish where all Masses are highly influenced by modern music. When we started singing some latin during a Novus Ordo service, I thought people were disgusted since they looked very serious (our choir area is facing the people behind the altar). Its only after the Mass that we realized there was a great impact, when people congratulated us and said they are deeply touched, they want some more of it.

  • Julia

    When my father died – he who had been a state apologetics champion and a wonderful bass-baritone in the parish choir and a faithful Catholic – I asked the choir director if he could teach the singers the “Magnificat” from the old St Gregory hymnal. It’s on page 139 and is done in the 8th Psalm Tones with soprano, second and alto voices. I learned it in grade school so I thought it wouldn’t be difficult. The adult singers had a real hard time with it and the alto gave up. But it was sung in three parts at the Offertory (the tenor did the alto part).

    My mother and five siblings all turned and looked at me – gobsmacked. At Communion, the choir did “Panis Angelicus”, my father’s favorite hymn. For the Recessional, the director, a fine tenor, sang the “In Paradisum” from the the chant Requiem – I printed the translation in the program so people would understand that the angels were now escorting my father to heaven. I can’t begin to tell you how moved everybody was. People talked about it for days; and still bring it up now and then.

    It wasn’t the Latin; it was the reverence and the feeling of being in touch with the eternal and praying our loved one to heaven. It’s serious; it’s meaty. It was instrumental in getting two of my sons back to church – they’re in their 30s and had suffered with that idiotic feel-good teaching in their high school religion classes. One teacher had shown up close and personal films of his wife giving birth. Another teacher was a young priest who drove a motor cycle and brought his girlfriend to high school parties. My sons became convinced that religion was an insipid joke.

    The Catholic Mass is a ritual; it is not a prayer meeting. If it has no transcendence it loses any impact it might have had on the people participating. One Catholic blog said that if the priest actually sings the Mass, even if it is in English, the choir and the congregation will soon become ashamed of the trite songs everybody has gotten used to. That’s why having the 1962 Mass will help. Folks will see what they are missing and the New Mass will be much improved as a result. You take the Mass seriously, confession as needed will follow.

  • Matthew

    Empirical evidence: Kenneth Jones’ Index of Leading Catholic Indicators. It clearly shows the climb and decline of Catholism in the US over the past several decades. The author uses the number of religious as the tell-tale indicator as to the health of the Church. The graphs quickly tell the story especially given the years covered in the study.

    The philosphical basis of Vatican II and the New Mass of Paul VI with prophetic warning of what was to come.. can be read in the book, The Devastated Vineyard ,by Dietrich Von Hilderbrand.

  • Mark

    I honestly don’t understand the defense of the Novus Ordo given by so many neoconservative Catholics.

    Yes, it’s a valid mass. And IF you are going to use the Novus Ordo, of course it should be done reverently as possible.

    However, this indifferentism beyond that is scary. “What we should really focus on is doing the New Mass more reverently.”

    Doesn’t it bother you that the text was changed so substantially? But the magisterial positivism of the neocons is uncritical that way. There is no asking “why,” there is no context to it.

    There seems to be an attitude like, “Don’t question the hierarchy, we’re stuck with the new mass now, so let’s just do it the best we can.”

    If Latin is the issue (though it shouldn’t be) then I would honestly much rather have the Old Rite in English than the New Rite in Latin. The compromise proposed of “the New Mass but with Latin, chant, incense, and ad orientem” is just silly. No one wants that. The people who like the Novus Ordo don’t mainly like it because of the new text, they like it mainly because they prefer the vernacular (most of them are unfamiliar with the old text, they just have a vague idea that “it was in latin” and therefore “bad,” though most have never tried following along in a bilingual missal to see how easy it really is). And the people who like the Old Rite aren’t so thrilled by the Latin as we are by the content of the text itself. It’s just so much more…Catholic.

    Vatican II was a valid council, only nutjobs deny that. BUT that doesnt mean it had to be a monumental council. Trent and Vatican I were rather huge…that doesnt mean VII had to be. It was valid, but a flop. There were plenty of councils in the Middle Ages that sort of died quiet deaths.

    I want to know when we can move beyond Vatican II. Todays hierarchs still talk about implementing it correctly, or about how to interpret it properly. And I say…it’s time to just let it slip into obscurity. There is no need to let V-II set the agenda and tone of the Catholic Church for generations to come like Trent did. But many of the hierarchs were involved in it, had high expectations for it, and are unwilling to let their pet project come to nothing. They want it to do something, but so far it’s just been a disaster. We need to stop all this talk as if Vatican II was some sort of mandate or a mission that can’t be ignored…and let it slip into the quaint history of that era when the world spun out of control. It happened, it was valid, but also a flop, and there is no need to keep trying to rehabilitate it.

    What Vatican II did was legitimize a new, highly American influenced, attitude about the Church within herself. The Church used to be, sociologically speaking, a Church. That is to say, an all encompassing social and cultural reality in a civilization called Christendom. And even when that became less and less of a reality practically speaking, as long as the Church maintained the traditions of that time, there was a counter-culture in the world where people could escape the secular antichrist culture and go back to Christendom.

    But in the 1960′s, though it had been building for some time, the hierarchy decided to capitulate, it seems, and start treating the Church no longer like a sociological church, but like a “denomination”.

    And the results have been disastrous. Today the Church struggles to even have her voice heard in the public square. She used to not only be heard in the public square, she WAS the public square. Now the Church has taken on a very protestant, American attitude about her role in the world. By denouncing all temporal power and “apologizing” for her past, and renouncing the very scriptural language about the Church and who she was as compared to the Heretics and the Jews and the Pagans…they lost a lot of credibility.

    Today it seems the leaders of the Church care more about their image in the eyes of non-Catholics than they do about not scandalizing and confusing Catholics. Why should we care what democratic governments, protestants, or Jews think about us? But the Church seems to try to be very careful to please all of them. To what end? Their conversion? It doesn’t seem so…

    When the leaders decided to sell out and take a seat at the table as a “mature, productive member of mainstream society” instead of asserting her right to lead society…they sold her soul. The Church is a Church, an all encompassing social reality, not a denominational player in some sort of religious free market. They would do well to remember that.

  • Ken Berg

    You may be correct Mark, but I think most people – like myself – don’t think about it that deeply. We just want to able to go to a mass that is not like a circus, or a picnic, or a play with invented lay-characters trotting around the altar in various roles, or some tired old folksong-like rehash of 1960′s idealism.

    Whether the form is Tridentine or Novus Ordo, because I simply prefer Mass with due reverence and even some consistency, I am glad Pope Benedict issued his motu proprio on the Tridentine Mass.

    Now if he (Benedict) can just get the bishops to live up to their vow of obedience and actually do what he said….