1940 Latin Mass explained with Fulton Sheen narrating

This video is like a work of archaeology, presenting to us a lost era. The people in this film, including the priests and filmmakers, likely had no idea what was awaiting the Church and the world in the 1960’s and beyond. Regardless, we don’t see this kind of Mass these days very often — really nothing like it in my home town; perhaps at the cathedral up north, but probably not.

A personal digression from a relatively new Catholic:

There is a tremendous beauty in this Mass. In fact, I love it; though I could do without so much music that sounds like a Disney soundtrack from the 1930’s (all those high, young boy’s voices). I am sure there are many Catholics (and some non-Catholics) today who would look at this and begin complaining about what we have lost, about the grave problems with Vatican II, about the greatness of the traditional Latin Mass and the poverty of the Novus Ordo, etc., etc. I am inclined to that sentiment as well, but I must take a step back and think a little deeper.

I am only speculating, and I know so very little about all this, but I find myself asking some basic questions:

Is the real issue with Latin and a particular form of liturgy from a specific time? I’m pro Latin. I’m also pro candlelit interiors of ancient stone churches with angelic choirs singing Gregorian chant and the scent of incense filling the sanctuary, but I have learned it’s important to maintain a cautious (even if enthusiastic) attitude towards form. I believe some forms of liturgy are more in line with worship than others. However, even the finest forms of worship begin to stink like dead corpses if they are not first, and foremost, living testaments of the Holy Spirit active at the heart of the worshiping community. I wonder if the generation that so quickly embraced the so-called (and falsely attributed) spirit of Vatican II did so because they smelled a corpse. Think of the many secular protestors of that same era (anti-war, feminist, socialist, anti-government, etc.), they did not often have the right answers and certainly created some problems of their own, but their protests were often animated from a genuine reaction to real and perceived problems, problems that pointed (true or not) to a lostness deep in the souls of the previous generation and expressed in failed cultures. Perhaps the video above, for all its beauty and truth, was masking a similar growing hollowness in the Church. That is why I am wary of pushing one form over another (though I am not without my preferences).

Think about it, if the traditional Latin Mass was such a perfect and powerful source of truth and goodness, then why did the spirit of the 1960’s and 1970’s find such quick success in dismantling much of the glory of that tradition and more? It was like the damn broke it was so fast and total. Why was that stolid and powerful tradition apparently so frail? Could it have been that the previous generations (those of the earlier decades of the twentieth century, and perhaps even the latter half of the nineteenth) already lost the “battle” even if they had no clue they had? I am inclined to think the only answer is yes, but I can’t really say.

Or, could the issue be with reverence, and lack thereof? Perhaps it first begins with theology. Perhaps first even with belief. If Catholics do not truly (deeply, viscerally) believe in their need for salvation (which is what happens when one lives in a culture where everyone is “Christian” — Kierkegaard had something to say about this), nor in the saving Grace of God (because they don’t need it — though they certainly know of others who do), nor the saving work of Christ on the cross (because the cross is a symbol of our “club”, our ethnicity, our heritage, not of salvation), then the truth and the theology of the Real Presence will not fascinate them. Perhaps this was happening within the Catholic culture of the pre-Vatican II era. If so, then only something radical and wrenching could possibly have changed it. The video above, when compared to what happens in most Catholic churches today (from what I understand, but I can’t really say), is evidence of extreme reverence — but did it lack belief? Or, if not actually a lack of basic belief, perhaps passionate belief? Were there good reasons for many to assume a height of form and a lack of belief? One could argue the changes in the past fifty years sprang from a desire to get back to real, genuine, passionate, even earthy reverence — however misguided were many of the choices and methods. I wonder.

However, from what I can tell what we got has not been a great success (some even say tragedy) though I am disinclined to complain too much; I come from Protestantland, and I love the Real Presence, I love being Catholic, I’m happy to be here. I’m happy to go to Mass whatever the form, even if I cringe at some of the songs, even if I would prefer a different form sometimes, as long as its valid. From what I can tell, I would say the so-called “spirit of Vatican II” version of Christianity has been deeply problematic — but not all bad. But maybe it is a blessing too (I am inclined to take most everything as a blessing — combining my knowledge of God’s goodness with belief in His sovereignty such “all things work together…”). I would guess the past fifty years have provided some of the best self-reflection across the Church since the Reformation. I believe we will get back to more reverence and more reverent forms of worship. I believe it will include a heavy dose of what was best from the past, but it will also include some new things, but well-thought out things rather than knee-jerk. I also believe we are living in a time of greater intentionality (taking less for granted) and, perhaps, an authentic revival in contrast to the euphoric headiness of the 60’s and 70’s. I have great hope.

We’ll see.

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