In good faith: by bringing back the Latin Mass, Pope Benedict has revived a great Western tradition.
It must have all seemed rather technical to outside observers, but what has happened here is earth-shattering. The face of the Catholic Church has been permanently changed, and a priceless jewel of Western civilization--the pre-conciliar Latin Mass--has been restored.
In Right from the Beginning, Pat Buchanan summed up what happened in the wake of the new liturgy's introduction in 1970: "The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as prescribed by the Council of Trent has been replaced by a communal meal celebrated in the vernacular. The Latin is gone; the sacred liturgy has been transformed; a banal English is the lingua franca of the new American Church; many of the new churches look on the inside like assembly halls, college classrooms, or off-Broadway theaters."
As for the Biblical translations used, Buchanan spoke of "tin-eared clerics who never learned that language is the music of thought, that tone-deaf people ought not to rewrite Mozart."
The new was better, the faithful were told, since it provided for their "active participation" more fully than the old had--a highly debatable claim. It was better because it was more in tune with modern sensibilities. (Probably true, but is this necessarily a virtue?) Braver advocates even argued that the new liturgy was more ecumenical, since it suppressed many of the prayers that had caused theological difficulty for Protestants.
If you are interested in a definition of fanaticism, consider this. Over the past four decades, countless elderly men and women have had a simple deathbed wish: to have their requiem Mass said in the old ritual. And there are bishops who so despise the traditional liturgy--the ancient liturgy of the Church to which they themselves belong--that they have denied this simple request from tearful widows-to-be.
If that strikes you as deranged, welcome to the human race.
In the letter to bishops that accompanied Summorum Pontificum, his document restoring the old liturgy for those who wanted it, Pope Benedict made clear that those who had longed for the old liturgy had not been disloyal, stupid, or reactionary. "What earlier generations held as sacred," he said, "remains sacred and great for us, too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church's faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place." Common sense, really--but so beautifully put and so long overdue.
No prizes for guessing how the media handled the announcement. Normally in support of "freedom of choice" for everything under the sun, reporters portrayed Benedict's allowance of the old liturgy for those who want it (and without imposing it on those who do not) as an appalling step backward and proof positive of this pontiff's sinister and reactionary intentions.
Very different had been the response of European intellectuals nearly four decades ago when the new liturgy was introduced and the old suppressed de facto. At that time, a petition was signed by European celebrities of all sorts--Catholic and non-Catholic alike--including Agatha Christie, Graham Greene, and Malcolm Muggeridge, urging that the old liturgy be retained. Among other things, that petition catalogued the extraordinary cultural significance of the Church's traditional liturgy and the countless and varied examples of artistic expression to which it had given rise.
"The signatories of this appeal," that petition concluded, "which is entirely ecumenical and nonpolitical, have been drawn from every branch of modern culture in Europe and elsewhere. They wish to call to the attention of the Holy See the appalling responsibility it would incur in the history of the human spirit were it to refuse to allow the traditional Mass to survive."
Not a stitch of this kind of sympathy, which once characterized so much of the elite of the civilized world, was to be found in 2007 in the various journalistic renditions of what Benedict had done. All that our modern reporters--as ignorant of such matters as it is possible to be--could do was to fall back on the modern prejudice that tradition is something to be despised because it's backward and novelty embraced because it's more enlightened.
The response from American bishops, for their part, has been mixed, though perhaps more positive than the beleaguered faithful had a right to expect. Some have announced that in addition to complying with the Pope's wishes, they will offer the old liturgy on or around Sept. 14, when the Pope's new policy of liberality takes effect. Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis, who seems certain to become a cardinal, announced that seminary formation in his archdiocese would henceforth include training in the language and rubrics of the old liturgy.
Bishop Donald Trautman, on the other hand, who heads the Committee on the Liturgy of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, was obviously displeased--to put the matter with exceeding mildness--with the Pope's document. There isn't going to be any such training in the Diocese of Erie, Pennsylvania, which he governs. But there will be a comprehensive Latin and rubrical examination administered to any priest who shows interest in offering the old liturgy--a threat obviously intended to discourage priests from pursuing it.
Bishop Trautman has not merely cheered, but has himself been responsible for dumbing down the new liturgy, urging lay participation in what were once recognized as priestly roles and offering aesthetically dreadful modern substitutes for the Church's traditional musical patrimony. It is he who resists Rome's demands for accurate and noble English translations of the new liturgy. The renderings he favors, in addition to being notoriously bland and uninspiring, consistently suppress the words "soul" and "spirit"--the kinds of things you'd sort of expect to encounter in Catholic liturgy. Thus "et cum spiritu tuo" becomes "and also with you" and "sanabitur anima mea"--"my soul shall be healed"--becomes "and I shall be healed." This is the very model of the opponent of the old liturgy, the kind of person who made Mass-going "a bitter trial," in the words of Evelyn Waugh.
In the history of the Church's liturgy since 1970, the analogues to the secular world are everywhere.
First, political correctness. Just as in society at large, in the Catholic Church we endured a decades-long period in which novelty was celebrated and tradition disparaged. Our ancestors were assumed to be wrong and the present generation assumed to be right. Anything and everything was permitted to go on--for example, polka Masses, clown Masses, and various lesser profanations --but the one thing forbidden was the old liturgy.
Second, those who continued to be attached to the old ways were ridiculed and denigrated. They're nostalgic, they're blockheaded, they refuse to get with the times. The possibility that they might have arguments, and that those arguments might even have merit, was not considered. Obstacles in the path of Progress are to be treated with contempt and disgust.
Third, we had those who believed it was their task to put the best possible spin on what The Leader had done, analogous perhaps to the political party faithful today who are always ready with excuses for the various outrages perpetrated by the officeholder. Plenty of these lectured the Catholic world on the need to obey. They argued that the de facto suppression of the old liturgy was a perfectly normal and acceptable use of papal authority and beyond reproach. So exaggerated was their view of papal authority that they were incapable of reaching any other conclusion.
It has been interesting to see how these people in particular have responded to the Pope's initiative. Most of them are pretending that they had supported the return of the old liturgy all along. We who actually did support the return of the old liturgy all along have thus far been magnanimous enough in victory not to set the record straight, happy to let bygones be bygones and allow these folks their comforting delusions.
With this bold papal move, are discipline and good order returning to the Catholic Church? John Paul II had a reputation as a conservative and a disciplinarian, though by historical standards, he was neither. His early writings as pope indicate an intention to get the Church's house in order, but he soon lost the stomach for it.
Benedict XVI is a different sort, as he has shown once and for all in his determination to bring back the Church's traditional liturgical treasures in the face of episcopal hostility or indifference. While the early part of his pontificate consisted of an unremarkable continuation of John Paul's priorities, his liturgical initiative, coupled with some of his recent appointments to sensitive posts, is a dramatic shift from the policies and governing style of his predecessor.
I am overjoyed, indeed delighted beyond words, that I have lived to see the return of the Church's traditional liturgy. But I am even more overjoyed that Bishop Trautman lived to see it.
Thomas E. Woods Jr., an editor of The Latin Mass magazine for 11 years, is the author, most recently, of 33 Questions About American History You're Not Supposed to Ask.
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|Author:||Woods, Thomas E., Jr.|
|Publication:||The American Conservative|
|Date:||Sep 10, 2007|
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