Musings on Daily Life and Theology of a Catholic Twenty-Something
Sunday, November 20, 2016
The Tridentine Latin Mass From a Young Person's View
There seems to be a lot of sparks flying around the Church in recent days, and it's sad to see so many divisions coming out between the Pope, bishops, cardinals, priests, and lay people. There is so much on my mind regarding these things, but the first I'd like to address are some comments made by the Holy Father about a week ago regarding the Extraordinary Form (EF) of the Latin Rite. A book was recently published featuring a collection of homilies and speeches given by Pope Francis when he was still archbishop of Buenos Aries. The Pope made a few remarks regarding those that have somewhat of an affinity for the Latin mass, but I'll focus on just one of those comments that was publicized. I give our Holy Father the benefit of the doubt always, and I feel that in his other comments he was talking about a specific group of people in mind, while nebulous, I assume refers to groups such as the SSPX as well as sedevacantists. The point I'd like to address is as follows:
"Other than those who are sincere and ask for this possibility out of habit or devotion, can this desire express something else? Are there dangers?"
[Pope:] "I ask myself about this. For example, I always try to understand what is behind those individuals who are too young to have lived the pre-Conciliar liturgy, and who want it nonetheless.
I do wonder if the Holy Father ever got an answer to his question. Groups like Juventutem give a pretty good answer as to why young people have been drawn to the EF. I would like to answer his question in my own words though, especially so that people can see that many who "want" the EF of the Latin Rite in their spiritual lives, do not do so out of a misguided rigidity. Obviously, I am one of those young people that lived long after the Second Vatican Council. I'm in my late-20's now, and I only experienced my first EF Mass in my mid-20's when I was still dating my wife. I remember that first Mass. It was at St. John Cantius in Chicago. We both wanted to check it out, so we could learn a bit more about the traditions of our faith. I came in without a missal, didn't know where to grab one, and was lost for much of the Mass. I remember thinking to myself, despite liking the Gregorian chant, "Well, I'll probably never do this again. How can I possibly learn what's going on?"
But then, several months later, we went back again. I think it was shortly after I had rediscovered my St. Joseph's Daily Missal that my parents had given to me after I had attained the rank of Eagle Scout. I guess I had always just assumed it was a big prayer book, and being a stupid teenager, never really looked at it again until that moment. The book must have belonged to one of my grandparents since I could see it was from before Vatican II, printed in 1961. As I thumbed through it, I finally realized what it was I was holding: the readings for every day of the liturgical year, and a guide to how to understand the Latin Mass! When we went back the second time, everything made so much more sense, and I was able to see that pretty much everything in the EF was mirrored from the Ordinary Form (OF) I had always attended. What was more, this was taking place right after the revisions had come into play in the OF of the Mass. Now I could clearly see why we had gone back to saying "and with your spirit"; I could see why so many priests I had seen throughout the years had chanted the Preface the same way I was seeing at this EF Mass; I could understand why "all of a sudden" we began bowing our heads at the mention of the Incarnation in the Nicene Creed. It finally clicked.
Perhaps it was Providence, but shortly after my wife and I got married we moved to a city where Mass was said in three languages each Sunday; English, Spanish, and Latin. The EF Mass was said every Sunday morning at 9:30, the time we most liked going to Mass. It became a perfect fit, and for two straight years we attended the EF Mass at our archdiocesan Church almost every Sunday and Holy Day. During that time, I was able to see my pastor and the other visiting priest celebrate this form of the Mass, and as I followed along in my missal (which I had never done before when I went to the OF), I was able to get a better grasp on what the priest was doing, and why he was doing it. I began to appreciate our traditions of the Latin Rite more than I had previously. Fortunately, I had lucked out a lot growing up to always be at orthodox parishes that often said reverent Masses, so I don't have too many horror stories (although there are some) as many other EF aficionados seem to talk about regarding the OF Mass. So I simply feel that as I got older, I wanted to know more about why we Catholics do certain things, that is, in our practices, and our doctrines, and of course, in our liturgy. I loved hearing the beautiful chant from our schola, as well as our refurbished pipe organ. It was also wonderful growing a greater appreciation for the traditions my parents and grandparents had passed on to me throughout the years, as they had grown up with the Tridentine Mass. Our pastor was a great teacher and catechist, and has now baptized both of my children in the EF baptismal rite as well. It was like a door had been opened to the richness of the Latin Rite that I had never fully seen before.
It should be noted, that as one of those young people that prefers the EF of the Mass, I have no animosity whatsoever towards the OF. How could I? It's the same Holy Sacrifice that's presented on all the altars of the various particular Catholic Churches! The various liturgies may be different in certain ways throughout the universal Church, but it's still the same sacrifice made at Calvary. What matters in any liturgy is reverence... reverence for what's occurring on the altar as we worship our Lord. That's why today at our family's new residence in a new diocese, I have no problem attending my territorial parish which celebrates exclusively in the OF. Our pastor is an excellent homilist and a great example to us all, I serve as a catechist and am also on the pastoral council, and my wife is starting up a mom and tots group as well. We like our current parish, even though I have a preference for the EF. We still attend the EF at least once every month or two, either at the nearby FSSP parish, or back at our former parish for special occasions. To throw another spin on all this, I also have an affinity to the Byzantine Rite. My maternal grandmother's side of the family is Ukrainian-Greek Catholic, and two of my cousins are priests. I certainly grew up with the best of both worlds, being at least a bit familiar with the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom growing up. Around the same time I started being drawn to the EF, I also found myself drawn to the various other liturgical traditions of the Catholic Church. With 24 different particular Catholic Churches in communion with each other and the Pope, there is a lot of tradition to unearth, and I truly love learning more about the universality of the Catholic faith. There is a nearby Ruthenian (Byzantine) Catholic parish that my family attends at least once a month, and I attend Divine Liturgy during the evening there semi-frequently throughout the week as well. There is also a Ukrainian-Greek Catholic parish a little farther away we frequent once in a while, and my family has also been known to drop by the Syro-Malabar Catholic Cathedral for the Holy Qurbono (what the Holy Sacrifice is called in the Chaldean Rite). So as can be seen, I have availed myself of many different options despite preferring one above the other. And that's what I love about the Church; there are so many ways to live out our Catholic faith!
St. John Paul II
I'm reminded by something my cousin had said. Shortly after he was ordained in Ukraine, he had a brief audience with Pope St. John Paul II. Despite that, St. John Paul told my cousin one important thing: "Keep your traditions". That's always stuck in my mind. This certainly applies to Byzantine Catholics who are recovering from various Latinizations, but I believe St. John Paul's words apply to all Catholics, even Latin Catholics. We must keep our traditions lest our children and their children forget about them and forget what they signify and point towards. Our sacred rites and practices should not be reduced to the lowest common denominator as we see in various Latin parishes in the Western world. We shouldn't forget about Gregorian chant, kneeling for Communion, using Latin in the liturgy, bells and incense during the Mass and so on. We shouldn't forget about devotions such as Adoration or tenebrae, or Eucharistic processions and novenas, all of which were more common when the EF was the sole form of the Mass in the Latin Rite. The EF preserves these traditions, and that's not to say they aren't preserved in the OF at all. However it can't be denied that the aforementioned have become more rare at strictly OF parishes in the last several decades. But by embracing the EF, we may come to a deeper understanding of those traditions, and be more apt to heed the words of St. John Paul II. Rev. James Luke Meagher once wrote, "We must have sensible signs and figures, for we are partly spiritual and partly corporal... And the truths or religion are spiritual, and the rites and ceremonies are corporal; yet as the soul is contained in the body, so the truths of religion are contained in the rites and ceremonies of the Church... show me a religion without rites and ceremonies, and I will show you a people drifting rapidly toward infidelity and the denial of all religion." We're only human after all. This why the ancient saying “Lex orandi, lex credendi” rings true. This translates to “The law of prayer is the law of faith”: the Church believes as she prays. Liturgy is a constitutive element of the holy and living Tradition. Some people are drawn to the Tridentine Mass for that reason; because the Mass is the greatest prayer we can offer to God. And the EF of the Mass is certainly a beautiful and venerable way to offer that prayer up to our Lord and God, no matter what your age is.