Loopy liturgy: symptom, not disease

St. Jimbob asks: “If the Tridentine Rite is so devotion inspiring, then why is it that the generation that was born and raised with it the same ones to bring in the guitars, dancers, and EEMs?”

What a great question, one that I’ve been pondering off and on since my last trip to a Tridentine Mass. Something was going on in the 50’s, early 60’s, and even before, that led hordes of Catholics everywhere to delightedly chuck the old Latin Mass and embrace legions of imitators of Peter, Paul, and Mary (and not Sts. Peter, Paul, and Mary). Something prompted the switch from Gregorian to 70’s-sitcom-jingle. Contrary to the rose-colored dreams of traditionalists everywhere, the Golden Age was gilded at best, or we would never have ended up where we are. A healthy ecclesial culture just does not throw itself to the garbage heap.

So, from the myopic point of view of a newish convert who is mightily drawn toward the traditional, here are some hypotheses about why there wasn’t massive revolt against the liturgical nightmare that happened after the second Vatican Council (and as Pope Benedict states in his new book on Jesus, these aren’t magisterial so feel free to contradict me):

Catechesis. This is self-explanatory. If Catholics really knew their Faith, and why things were done as they were for centuries, then they would not have rejected everything surrounding the Tridentine Rite. That does not mean that reforms weren’t needed or possible; the Pauline Rite can be celebrated with dignity and reverence. The problem is that in most places, it isn’t. And very few people seem to care.

Latin. It pains me to even propose this, but as a corollary to the first hypothesis, the continued use of Latin in the liturgy in a time when few people understand a word of it is not a recipe for success. Yes, I know, it enhances the feeling of ethereality in the liturgy; it preserves the text of the Mass from liturgical innovators (mainly because most of them don’t know Latin either); it is an indubitable link with our past. But, if the people don’t understand it, it just won’t work. As I have argued before, and still maintain, the problem is not with English per se, it is with banal English and bad theology, compounded by liturgical minimalism. And, as the Holy Father argues in Sacramentum Caritatis:

Similarly, the better-known prayers of the Church’s tradition should be recited in Latin and, if possible, selections of Gregorian chant should be sung. Speaking more generally, I ask that future priests, from their time in the seminary, receive the preparation needed to understand and to celebrate Mass in Latin, and also to use Latin texts and execute Gregorian chant; nor should we forget that the faithful can be taught to recite the more common prayers in Latin, and also to sing parts of the liturgy to Gregorian chant.

There is no reason why the faithful cannot be taught a little bit of Latin, as well as the English text corresponding, but a reverently-celebrated English liturgy, admixed with bits of Latin to cement our patrimony, is the best answer for today.

Culture. The Church of the 1950’s, because of poor catechesis, was ripe for being swept away by the massive cultural changes of the 60’s. There is no way to argue around that verdict of history. We had few links with the vast resources available to counter the seductive lies of the Sexual Revolution and the general atmosphere of radical individualism of the 60’s and 70’s. It is no wonder that Catholics ignored Humanae Vitae; and, it’s no surprise that we embraced liturgical madness. It goes right along with the prevailing society. (And might I also suggest that our current vocations crisis is directly related to Catholic acceptance of contraception and “family planning”? Fewer children equals fewer priests and religious, but it’s even worse than that because Mom and Dad are not going to want Johnny becoming a priest, or Susie becoming a nun, when he and she are the only hopes of carrying on the family name.)

There are many signs of hope that my generation and younger are coming out of the collective insanity of the Baby Boomers and realizing that reverence and transcendence do matter. But, using the Tridentine Rite as a bandage is not going to heal the wound. Recovering a knowledge of the Faith–and more than that, recovering a sense of the numinous–is what we need. The Motu Proprio will be nice, but we’re kidding ourselves if we think it’s a panacea…or will be much help at all.


19 Responses to “Loopy liturgy: symptom, not disease”

  1. 1 The Other Chad May 21, 2007 at 5:23 pm

    It’s a great question and one that keeps me from identifying myself as a traditionalist, though many points draw me.

    It also makes me instantly suspicious of all cause&effect arguments used to deride a holy, ecumenical council (e.g. “look at all the obvious satanic results!!”)

    I think the biggest causeof the whole fallout was two things happening at once: a loosening of rules by the Church (often as well-intentioned options for encouraging diversity and resourcement) mixed with a societal upheaval.

  2. 2 The Other Chad May 21, 2007 at 5:23 pm

    Oh, and I blame hippies.

  3. 3 Edmund C. May 21, 2007 at 5:31 pm

    I think the biggest cause of the whole fallout was two things happening at once: a loosening of rules by the Church (often as well-intentioned options for encouraging diversity and resourcement) mixed with a societal upheaval.

    I hadn’t thought about loosening of rules as being a cause of this mess. I think there’s a lot of truth in that, but I wonder if loosening rules in a context of good catechesis would have caused as big a problem. With the hippies around, I don’t know…

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