About a year ago, a series of articles were published in my local newspaper about Pope Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio. One of the articles focused on the Latin Mass as it was said at the local CMRI parish, while another looked at the view of the local diocese. On the one hand, I read about the solemnity of the Mass that I had grown to love and cherish since my conversion. On the other hand, however, I saw a great deal of reluctance on the part of the diocese to allow that same Mass to be said at a local parish. Thanks be to God, however, that Pope Benedict has granted that the Latin Mass be said at any parish where a sizeable and stable number of people ask for it.
Still, there is a prevalent view among many Catholics that the Latin Mass became outmoded and disappeared like the dodo bird during the 1960s. I remember talking to a priest about this and he told me point blank that he preferred bringing God to the people in the vernacular Mass than God to God in the Latin Mass. Of course, I didn’t say anything at the time, but it was something that I had to think about because it reflects the attitude I mentioned above. For some people, indeed, the Latin Mass is little more than something that is outmoded and outdated.
On the other hand, there are those for whom the Latin Mass was the Mass that they attended for most of their childhoods. I’ve heard lots and lots of stories about how beautiful the Latin Mass was at some local parish in the middle of a large city or in some God-forsaken town in the Mid-West. For these people, the Latin Mass was and is a living reality. While for some it may evoke feelings of deep nostalgia and love, it forces others to act on their feelings and do something about it. It is these people that have asked for the Latin Mass to be said in their dioceses and it is these people that seek out traditionalist groups such as the CMRI and the SSPX.
How is it then that the Latin Mass can be so divisive? Why is it seen by some as something extinct, while for others it is a living and breathing reality? The fact of the matter is that the Second Vatican Council overhauled the Latin Mass. Albeit, the Tridentine Latin Mass was instituted by St. Pius V and the Council of Trent due to the fact that various countries used their own missals. Yet the reform of the liturgy was so sweeping and so sudden that many people were caught unaware. Indeed, many people kept going to the Novus Ordo Missae because it was the only thing that was there. Too many people, even after the Motu Proprio, do not know what the Latin Mass truly is and what it means.
To many people, the Latin Mass is the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross at Golgotha for us. When the priest or bishop holds up the Sacred Host in his hands, he is offering the Lord to His Father as the Lord offered Himself on Golgotha. When the priest pronounces those most sacred words, “This is My Body… This is My Blood,” the bread and wine are transformed into Christ’s Body and Blood. Indeed, all Masses lead up to this moment, but not every Mass is the same and not every Mass is done the same way.
Yes, the consecration at a vernacular Mass can be beautiful and extremely moving. Sometimes, however, we get so caught up in other things that we forget what we are there for. At the Latin Mass, it is easy for us to know what we are there for. The silence and reverence in the parish church, large or small, should tell us that we are here to witness something that has been done since Christ instituted the Eucharist two thousand years ago.
Of course, there parishes in the diocese here that offer wonderful vernacular Masses. I’ve been to several where I have been just as moved as by those Latin Masses that I attended previously. Yet I have been to many vernacular Masses, where I didn’t feel moved at all. Rather, I felt disgusted. I once even walked out of a Mass during the Offertory because I couldn’t stand to be there. Not one of my brightest moments, I know, but I did what I did and I don’t regret my decision.
The Motu Proprio is truly an important event for those of us that love and cherish the Latin Mass. Pope Benedict wrote in the document that he hoped the Church would be able to breathe with both lungs and that the vernacular Mass would be affected by the Latin Mass. It is my hope and prayer that this will come to be, but there is a lot of work to be done by all of us.
Therefore, let us continue to pray for increased Mass attendance, for our priests, and for our bishops that the Latin Mass may be seen more and more throughout the Catholic world and that it may help solemnize the vernacular Mass.
Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!
St. Tarcisius, pray for us!