There's nothing Catholics won't fight about -UPDATED

Today, it’s the announcement that the very beautiful Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception (largest church in the Western Hemisphere, that is) will celebrate Mass in the “extraordinary form” (or Traditional Latin) at the High Altar, for the first time in over 40 years.

Pope Benedict noted that the Latin liturgy of the Church in each century of the Christian era “has been a spur to the spiritual life of many saints and reinforced many peoples in the virtue of religion and [facilitated] their piety,” adding, “What earlier generations held as sacred remains sacred for us too.”

Some call it “a step backward.”

Some call it “a needed reclamation.”

Some call it “beautiful.”

Some call it “a show.”

And through it all, the battle rages between those who would scrap all beauty in service to the poor, and those who say “you will always have the poor with you.”

It is, as St. Benedict always cautioned in his Holy Rule, a question of balance. We must balance our worship with our service. To strip all color, all raiment, from the liturgies is not the answer. Those horrific felt banners we have had to endure these forty years have left the heart hungering after beauty. On the other hand, anything can be taken to excess.

Mark Shea has a thoughtful piece on the place of beauty, and even gilding, in worship.

UPDATE: Err, that would be Msgr Charles Pope, who writes:

The Social Gospel is essential. It cannot be merely set aside. But the Social Gospel cannot eclipse the Full Gospel. A part, even if essential, cannot demand full resources and full obedience, not at the expense of the whole or the more important!

Money and resources to serve the poor are essential, but they are still money and it remains stunningly true that we cannot serve both God and money. In the end, even serving the poor can become a kind of idol to which God has to yield. It is the strangest idol of all for it comes in very soft sheep’s clothing, the finest wool! But if God and his reveled truth have to yield to it, it is an idol, the strangest idol of all.

And the Roman Fisticuffs are taking place at Deacon Greg’s establishment, from which I harvested pretty much all of these links, but not the picture, which I stole from Cardinal Sean’s Blog.

You’d think it would be easy to find a picture of that high altar, wouldn’t you?

You’d be wrong.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Dino

    Loved that “Easter Turkey” description.
    Back to the basilica. Haven’t been to that part of the North American contenent for so long that the only Mass I ever heard there was in Latin.
    The Mass in whatever language, and I attend in English, Spanish and Latin, can be done with great reverence, or with distracting carelessness.

  • Bender

    Narcissistic to have Mass in Latin?

    Aside from the fact that we are One Church, and having one official language of the Church, the language that stretches back to the earliest days of the Church, there are other good practical and non-narcissistic reasons for retaining Latin in the Mass.

    That is, if you look around today, you will see that the move toward the vernacular had this undeniable effect — it resulted in a segregation of the Church.

    Now, in this country, you have the English-speaking Catholics who go to their Mass in English. Then you have the Spanish-speaking, who go to a Mass in Spanish. Closest to me is a Vietnamese parish, where the Mass is in Vietnamese. There is also a Korean parish in the area. And none of these groups interact with each other. We are segregated.

    Because the Mass is in all these different languages, as good as it is to be able to understand what is going on and truly have active participation, we now have greater disunity than ever before.

    Reincorporating some Latin into the Masses (some of the major prayers) would reduce this to some extent. And it really would not be all that foreign if we realize that we already say parts of the Mass in Hebrew and Greek (or certain words anyway) in addition to our native language.

    [I would love to see SOME Latin incorporated into the mass; universal identification, in touch w/ our roots, etc. -admin]

  • Andrea

    I am pondering what it might mean, as someone said above, to “give the back of one’s hand” to the OF of the Mass. I am one who prefers the EF. I have come to this preference by reading more brilliant minds than my own, and have found: While both are the ineffable worship of Almighty God and have the approval of the Church, each has a distinct lineage. The EF grew organically and un-interruptedly from the Mass offered by St. Peter. The OF is a liturgy formed a few decades ago by a committee. If I say that, am I giving the back of my hand to the OF– and if so, should I stop voicing the reason for my preference?

  • Another Old Catholic

    I don’t know of any Latin mass lovers who want to do to other Catholics what was done to us. The Latin mass was removed from Catholic churches after VII, without our consent and in spite of our protests. We find the substitute wanting, but have no wish to deny it to anyone. All I would like is to have a Latin option in every parish for those of us who miss it, and for the generations who have been denied the experience. Latin is not that difficult if you give a try. It would certainly help to bring those of us who speak different languages together, just as it did for the Polish, German, Lithuanian, Italian and other immigrants of my youth. The Latin mass is the same in every country in the world, a great comfort, a great way to unite all Catholics. I don’t understand why we threw it away. I don’t understand why we can’t have both.

  • Sally Thomas

    Re the Latin Mass and evangelism:

    Actually — and I am not an EF partisan, just one who likes good liturgy and reverent worship where she finds it — a Latin Mass was one of the first Catholic Masses I ever stumbled into, with a selection of my children. What I mostly remember is that my two youngest children were the loudest people there and kept wanting to throw themselves into the baptismal font, which looked like a koi pond and had the continually trickling water going on. We had never encountered an ecclesial water feature in Anglicanism. I also remember that after I’d retreated to the vestibule with the toddlers, a woman I’d never seen before came out after me to say that she would stay with them so that I could go and receive. Of course I had to thank her and say that I wasn’t receiving, but that’s stayed in my mind ever since. THAT was the evangelism. Otherwise, the silence was mightily restful — what I experienced of it in the company I was keeping, anyway.

  • Jeanie

    Another Old Catholic says it best. Those are great reasons to want the option of a Latin Mass.

    For some people who didn’t grow up with the Latin Mass or who haven’t studied Latin, attending Latin Mass is a lot like attending Mass at the Vietnamese Mass near Bender.

    As for the segregation Bender sees, why not go to those other parishes for Mass once in awhile? Why not invite those parishes to a dinner at your church? You could change things.

  • Sal

    May I weigh in as someone with experience in both forms? I’m a convert of 25 years, from an Anglo-catholic version of the PECUSA, who attended our local Indult EF for almost a decade. Caveat: I had four years of Latin in high school and one of my ever-changing majors in college was Classics, so I had a working knowlege of classical Latin. Ecclesial Latin took a little getting used to. But I admit to being ahead of the game in understanding ‘what was being said’.
    And, as a convert, I was less interested in how Mass was celebrated than that it was a really valid sacrament. Though in my earliest days, I missed the beautifully executed liturgies of the Anglicans dreadfully. It’s a sad thing when you get through a Mass by repeating “This is VALID.” to yourself.

    I found the EF to be beautiful and reverent, spiritually challenging and -dare I say it?-fun. Our Indult was served by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, so our clergy were for the most part, very sound. Our chapel was on the grounds of an enclosed Carmelite community, so we could have processions, etc., to our heart’s content and never had to worry about the reactions of other parishioners common to congregations that had to share an altar with the OF.

    But, as Bender points out – many of us were our own worst enemies re: private interpretation of council documents, assessment of fellow Catholics, propogation of fantastic conspiracy theories, and a type of ‘spiritual gluttony’, not to mention a pride in going to “the Mass God likes best”. This is not just my own opinion- these tendencies were addressed in homilies on a regular basis. (And obviously, all the above are shared by the adamant opposers of the EF, just in the opposite direction.) I liked the EF a lot, just didn’t fit in very well with the community- though many of the folk there were lovely people.
    So returning to the OF was a matter of changing circumstances and personal inclination.
    I realized that there were points about the OF that I now appreciated more- I’m a plain type of person myself, and I began to see that there was a simple dignity to a reverently celebrated OF. One thing that only a few will argue about is the expanded order of readings.
    I now divide my time between my home parish and the Cistercian monastery in a nearby town.
    Their’s is an example of just how well the OF can be done- although there is no choral music, just chant.
    Both sides have justification for their apologetics. Both celebrations are licit. Hard-liners on either side will not be dissuaded by argument. Pope Benedict’s efforts are deeply pastoral, and should be considered as such- not ‘regressive’. Another Old Catholic has it right- most EF attendees only want to worship in peace at that liturgy.

  • Joseph

    Can anyone please tell me the language of Mass in heaven?

  • Manny L.

    What a great thread of comments! Very enjoyable. After reading it through, I would like to clarify my orignal comment. I have no problem with an option for a latin mass. If people swarm to it over the common language mass, then let the free market decide. I do think it is most benficial for people to receive the Word and understand the Word and that in most cases means the common language. That option should never disappear. I think having a latin prayer within the common language is not a bad idea.

    Well, I was actually thinking of this thread while attending Ash Wednesday mass this morning…lol.

  • Manny L.

    “Can anyone please tell me the language of Mass in heaven?” -Joseph

    Aramaic. They will provide RosettaStone CDs for us at the Pearly Gates. – :-P

  • Bender

    As for the segregation Bender sees, why not go to those other parishes for Mass once in awhile?

    Bender does. So long as I have my missal with me to read the readings and to keep track to where we are in the Mass, I have no problem with everyone around me speaking Vietnamese. I have a little bit of a problem saying calling Jesus “Mister” when I’m at a Spanish-speaking Mass (“Senor” – Lord), but that’s me.

    But one Bender going to non-English speaking Masses does not constitute desegregation.

  • Nicholas Frankovich

    Mass in the OF feels more like an allusion to the Last Supper.

    Mass in the EF feels more like an allusion to the sacrifice on Calvary and, behind that, the Temple sacrifice that, for the earliest Christians in and around Jerusalem, might well have informed their ideas of what constitutes worship.

  • Fr Smith

    I have to say I do not get all of the old timers who constantly drone on about how they didn’t know what was going on when the Mass in Latin. I came across the EF for the first time in 1994 as a teenager entirely by accident. I got a Missal and saw the English on one side and Latin on the other. They didn’t understand it because they did not want to put any effort into it, and these are the same people now who want to be entertained at Mass. Not knowing what is going on is a cop-out. I taught myself, and now I celebrate both the EF and the OF. I also try to teach at both Masses about what the liturgy really is, an encounter with Christ. And to have that encounter, you have to be engaged in what is going on; that depends on you, not the language. I have plenty of people in pews who don’t understand the Mass, and it’s in English.

  • Bryan T


    I can see the Basilica from my house in D.C. It’s an easy walk. I’m actually somewhat interested in attending this Mass.

    Here’s the thing: I’m not a baptized Catholic. My father’s side of the family is Catholic, though lapsed, and the only Catholic services I have been to have been for either weddings or funerals.

    The thing is that, I have no idea if it would be bad form for a non-Catholic to show up for a Mass such as this. The announcement on the Paulus site makes it clear they’re inviting Catholics, I wouldn’t know when to sit or stand, etc (of course, I would not take sacrament). Also, I’d feel more than a little guilty taking a seat that a practicing Catholic could have had.

    But I’d really like to witness this.


    [Go. You're welcome there. No one is going to ask you if you're a Catholic.-admin]

  • Manny L.

    “Here’s the thing: I’m not a baptized Catholic. My father’s side of the family is Catholic, though lapsed, and the only Catholic services I have been to have been for either weddings or funerals.

    The thing is that, I have no idea if it would be bad form for a non-Catholic to show up for a Mass such as this. The announcement on the Paulus site makes it clear they’re inviting Catholics, I wouldn’t know when to sit or stand, etc (of course, I would not take sacrament). Also, I’d feel more than a little guilty taking a seat that a practicing Catholic could have had.” -Bryan T.

    Mass as far as i know is open to everyone. The only thing that non-Catholics are requested not to do is receive communion. As for standing and sitting, all you have to do is follow what others are doing. You can’t go wrong. I don’t think you’re even required to kneel for the kneeling parts. You can just sit. Please attend. I think you would not feel unwelcomed. Peace.

  • Bender

    Bryan –

    You are ONE THOUSAND PERCENT welcome at ANY Mass. We’re not an exclusive club, we don’t sell seats (in fact, I’m pretty sure that would be a gross violation of canon law to require payment).

    As for the postures, etc., just respectfully follow everyone else, consistent with your own conscience.

  • Sally Thomas

    Bryan — I was a non-Catholic going to Masses, both EF and OF, for years before I was a Catholic. It felt weird until I realized that, honestly, nobody was looking at me. Lots of people don’t go forward to receive Communion for all kinds of reasons, but until I realized that I did feel as though *everyone* noticed that I was still sitting there while they queued. When I finally did come into the church, a lady I’d been sitting next to in choir for a year remarked that she hadn’t realized I wasn’t Catholic; she just figured I had a good reason for not receiving, which she was never going to ask about.

    You can sit in the back and inconspicuously watch what other people do until you feel comfortable, then it’s worth it to take the plunge and move up front to watch what happens at the altar. At least, this was a strategy I employed with my children, but I got a lot out of it, too.

    Anyway, I’d underscore what Bender and The Anchoress have said: You are welcome. You won’t be carded at the door. If it came to that, a practicing Catholic would be delighted to stand so that you could have a seat, and would count it a happy sacrifice to offer up.