Suscipiat Dominus sacrificium de manibus tuis,
ad laudem et gloriam nominis sui,
ad utilitatem quoque nostram,
totiusque Ecclesiae suae sanctae.
[May the Lord accept the Sacrifice from thy hands,
to the praise and glory of His Name,
for our benefit and for that of all His holy Church.]

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Catholic youths on pilgrimage in 2010 from the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris to Notre-Dame de Chartres. A three-day, 70 mile trek. Image found here.

It is a fact that what’s driving the return of (and to) the Traditional Latin Mass is, in part, Catholic youth. Search online for that topic and one finds innumerable articles about the growing love of, and demand for, the old Mass on the part of young Catholics. (I encourage you to go search. I don’t have space to list them all here.)

In short, it comes down to three things:

  1. Genuine faith seeking a proper form.
  2. Finding a lack of proper form in much of the modern Church, and especially in the Novus Ordo Mass and its ancillaries.
  3. Finding the proper form in the pre-conciliar traditions of the Church, and in particular the Traditional Latin Mass and its ancillaries.
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The Youthful Choir at Saint Agnes Cathedral Latin Mass (found here) Photo Credit: J.B. Kelly

These three reasons are supported by the realization that the Novus Ordo Mass is linked, directly and indirectly, to so many problems in the Church today, such as loss of vocations, closing of parishes and Catholic schools due to lack of interest, loss of a corporate Catholic identity, and increasingly lax morals, especially in the area of sexuality (the very area the world sees traditional Catholics as being laughably foolish). The causal versus the correlative links between the new Mass and modern perils will be debated for ages, but the reality of the links seem real enough to warrant action.

I have seen some older Catholics show complete confusion about this. Why in the world, they wonder, would anyone want that old, rigid, dusty religion? But they do. It has been reported that even Pope Francis himself said about those who show a love for the Traditional Latin Mass: “And I ask myself: Why so much rigidity? Dig, dig, this rigidity always hides something, insecurity or even something else. Rigidity is defensive. True love is not rigid.” I sense that the Holy Father, whom I love, has a fear that the old Mass will come back. My sense is that, while he has much wisdom, he is also of a generation that was formed by the spirit of the 1960’s. Alas. It has also been argued that what youth want is more of a desire for true reverence than the Latin rite, but there is certainly a connection. And there is more than enough evidence to say it’s also the usus antiquior, the ancient usage, that calls to them.

Ironically, the 1960’s was all about youth too, and listening to the youth, and letting the youth show us the way, etc, etc. And then, at the behest of the spirit of the 1960’s, it was all about casting off anything and everything that was traditional, including morals, conventions, and just about anything that smacked of liturgy. Now Pope Francis is saying something very similar about looking to the youth for answers. I say it’s ironic because those who were the youth of yesteryear, and who led the way from the 1960’s into the 1970’s Novus Ordo Church with it’s guitars and bongo drums, its liturgical dancers and the attempted eradication of Latin, are now saying that again the youth must show the way, and the youth are saying it’s time to move beyond the modernist hippy church — and many of the older Catholics are getting mad. Funny how that happens. For some reason many are still drinking the kool aid about how only in utter freedom (it’s a “freedom from” way of thinking, a kind of bra burning Catholicism) can one have a true relationship with Jesus, or have authentic faith, etc. Cast everything off. Even cast off the Church it seems sometimes.

But some older Catholics get it. And they can bring their wisdom to help guide the passion of the youth.

And some younger Catholics who have fallen in love with the old Mass are taking it to the streets. The caption for the following video reads as follows:

So over brunch after the Traditional Latin Mass one Sunday, we, a group of young Miami Catholics, thought it would be fun to visit the Florida Renaissance Festival… and even more fun to form a little procession, chant the Litany of the Saints, and hand out flyers inviting everyone to come worship like it’s 1399!

So we did exactly that.

I find this wonderful. It’s kinda hilarious and precious just how real it is. You want to know how to do real street evangelism? Well, there you go. (Take it from someone who has done some old-fashioned Protestant street evangelism. This is way way better.) I think the same is true with a good old-style Corpus Christi procession. We need more of those.

But it’s not easy. One has to put oneself “out there” as a witness and be willing to accept what may come.

There is also a “meme” of sorts going around where someone posts two pictures with the following text:

Left: What young Catholics want
Right: What old Catholics want young Catholics to want.

The pictures go like this: One the left will be a picture of something very traditional, like nuns in full habits, beautiful churches with stunning altars and tabernacles, priests in cassocks, etc. On the right will be pictures of “nuns on the bus,” bare and ugly modernist churches, liturgical dancers and priests playing folk guitars, etc.

Some examples:

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I doubt this needs any explanation, but on the left is traditional, beautiful, historical, deep, Christ-centered Catholicism, and on the right is an aging, 1960’s, baby-boomer, me-generation, shallower version of an essentially smallish “c” catholicism (if it’s really Catholicism at all). Whether these images are entirely fair I can’t say, but the phenomenon of the meme’s popularity speaks to growing feelings and desires of younger Catholics for the substance of an older, historical Catholicism.

In other words, they want a liturgy given by God and not created by man. They want a faith of the ages not of the latest fashions (of course, and sometimes humorously so, for the Church “fashionable” means 20 years out of date, but oh well.) They want beauty not sentimentality.

Sentimentality is one of the worst features modern Catholicism.

Another example: Imagine well over 15,000 people marching for three days from the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris to the Cathedral in Chartres. They come as individuals and as groups. They carry banners and come from all over the world. They sing and chant along the way. Then consider that 80% of these pilgrims are under the age of 30 and you now have a picture of one of the Church’s most remarkable annual events. Here is a “video album” of the 2015 pilgrimage:

I love video documents like that. Simple, unadorned, merely presenting what happened. It’s long, but worth the time to watch.

Some older Catholics often seem to always seek ways to make it “easier” for young Catholics to be Catholic, and non-Catholics to be interested in the Church. This is true for Protestants too, who have been much better at applying modern marketing techniques to “evangelism” than Catholics. Make it effortless and you will win against the competition. But, in fact, young Catholics seem to thrive on what is hard to do. It is the challenge of holiness, not the low-commitment of a happy-clappy church, that intrigues them. Interestingly, in this sense many youth have the more Catholic view of the faith than far too many of their elders. And many young Catholics appear to have a clearer understanding and a greater love of what it takes to become a saint than even some Bishops. Talk about “active participation” in liturgy and in life, there you have it. Thank God for those older Catholics who get it, live it, and are examples to the youth.

In another story of how some Catholics just do not “get” the Catholic youth of today, there’s the example of some Catholic administrator or other sort of staff (I’m assuming a sweet, old-fashioned, 1960’s, well-meaning modernist — or someone directed by such a person) altering an image for a poster created to appeal to youth as part of a campaign to raise donations (and apparently to appeal to Catholic youth) in three dioceses France. A video was made and an image was taken from the video to make a poster.

Here’s the video:

Not great. They don’t look like they know each other, and the whole setup looks awkward and weird. Oh well.

But alas, and here’s the issue, Catholic youth would never think a priest in a cassock would be cool enough, right?? Obviously someone thought so, …so some graphic designer was asked to modify the image and make it look as if the priest was wearing blue jeans, because priests in blue jeans are what youth want right? Or is it what old Catholics want young Catholics to want? You decide.

And now here’s the blue jean wearing priest:

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A total different priest — hip, with it, connected, relatable, relevant. Rather, he was all those things before, and now post edit, much less. Perhaps what Catholic youth want is not a priest who is really just one of the gang, just another youth like them, just another soccer playing priest or unicycle riding nun. Maybe they want to be called to something more than the quotidian. And maybe they don’t like to be manipulated and lied to. More profoundly, perhaps they don’t want to stay who they are and end up in Hell, but strive for holiness and Heaven. I bet they know holiness is hard and not easy.

The fuller story is here, and the comments are devastating. ouf! If a picture is worth a thousand words, this rather insignificant image probably says as many words as those published by the Second Vatican Council. Oh well. Catholics are human too, and often foolish. The Church goes on. No one was hurt. Right? Right???

Regardless, maybe we ought to listen to the Catholic youth of today. Or at least some of them. And then join them. Generally I am not for letting the youth lead, in fact I’m mostly against it, but this time that’s probably not a bad idea.

What are your thoughts?

Finally, a couple more videos for the curious:

Recently I saw a tweet (that’s a posting on the Twitter social application if you did not know) posted by American Magazine that said:

It is easy to see why #SisterJean has captured the hearts of millions. Her joy and holiness radiate through TV’s, radios and Twitter feeds. But there is another reason: We miss nuns.

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Sister Jean: chaplain, mentor, superfan

This tweet is about the Catholic sister who is involved with Loyola University Chicago and its basketball team. Sister Jean has become a media sensation in relation to the 2018 NCAA men’s basketball tournament and Loyola Chicago’s unlikely run to become one of the final four teams in the tournament.

Anywho, several people responded to the the “We miss nuns” part of the tweet  by saying that there are still many nuns and sisters and they are very much with us. Here is one response:

Nuns (Sisters) might not be in “habit”, but they are very much alive and well, in every corner of society, working among us.

Another said:

We still have nuns. Just that you don’t know who might be one because not too many dress in habits these days.

I am no expert on this topic (take everything I say here with a grain of salt), but it seems to me there are two things here worth considering:

  1. Just how many sisters/nuns are there in the United States and is it, therefore, fair to say we miss our nuns??
  2. Since we don’t always know there are sisters/nuns among us because they are not “in habit,” does that matter??

First, here are some statistics (found here) — and I know you know what they will say:

Year Religious sisters Registered Catholics Percentage Ratio
1965 179,954 46,300,000 0.39%
1970 160,931 47,900,000 0.34%
1975 135,225 48,700,000 0.28%
1980 126,517 50,500,000 0.25%
1985 115,386 52,300,000 0.22%
1990 102,504 55,700,000 0.18%
1995 90,809 57,400,000 0.16%
2000 79,814 59,900,000 0.13%
2005 68,634 64,800,000 0.11%
2010 57,544 65,600,000 0.09%
2017 45,605 68,500,000 0.07%

As you expect, the numbers don’t look good. Keep in mind that when the percentage ratio says 0.39% for 1965, that means the total number of sisters were less than one half of one percent of the total Catholic population for the United States at that time. That’s not a lot, but it’s quite a bit more than being less than one tenth of one percent in 2017.

If you need a visual, here it is:

chart

Simply, we just do not have a lot of Catholic sisters/nuns anymore. If fact, one should rightly say that the population of sisters and nuns since 1965 has been decimated. If you want a comparison: 75% of the sisters/nuns population has disappeared in the US since 1965, wherase only 30% to 50% of Europe’s population was lost to the Black Death. (“only” — of course total numbers and the realities of the plague are more meaningful I know, but the ratios are still utterly staggering for the loss of Catholic women vocations.)

Another way to calculate this is to think of what might have been. The growth of total U.S. Catholics from 1965 to 2017 in the U.S. was just over 22 million, or about 48% growth (compared to a U.S. population growth of over 67% for the same period). If the same rate of growth applied to religious sisters the total number would be just over 266,000 instead of an unbelievable low of 45,000. Think of that. A growth rate for religious sisters that merely matched the rather bland growth rate for total Catholics would give us nearly six times as many sisters in the U.S. over that period instead of only one fourth as many.

While the Catholic Church grew slowly but substantially in total numbers, the number of sisters and nuns went down dramatically.

This is really sad. I believe the Catholic Church benefits greatly from having lots of sisters and nuns. In fact, the tremendous growth of Catholicism over the centuries was due, in a major part, to the tireless service of nuns and sisters. They fulfill a vital role in the life of the Church. And we have so few of them anymore. So… it is absolutely fair to say “we miss our nuns.”

The second question is, in some ways, a bigger question. What about habits? Religious sisters not in clearly religious dress makes them invisible to most people — consider the tweets above. I have been told by at least one Catholic that they can always “spot” a sister from the crowd. I can’t. Perhaps it’s merely my limitations, but I think that’s only part of it. Regardless, the question really is whether or not nuns wearing habits is better than not.

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Sister Jean back in 1963 when she wore the habit of her order and Loyola won the championship.

A habit, among other things, is a sign, that is it stands for something, points to something. This is not a post about signs and their functions in human society, but pause a moment and one realizes human beings are sign-producing, sign-oriented creatures. This is very true in the way we dress. Business people dress like business people, bankers like bankers, etc. In a sense we all dress in costume and do so for an audience. But this is not fakery, or merely shallow behavior. We are communicating who and what we are to others through our choices of clothing, hair styles, etc. This plays out in the most subtle ways, and to such a degree, that we take it for granted and do not see it.

A nun’s habit is a substantial sign, a clear message of the nature of the person wearing it. To not wear a habit and instead to dress like everyone else is to proclaim that being a nun is not something fundamentally different than other life choices — the “costume” of ordinariness speaks of being just another ordinary person. It is, in a sense, to hide in the crowd. To wear the habit is to proclaim that one is set apart. Statistics say that there are few nuns in my immediate world, but their chosen visual invisibility further reduces their potential impact on the world (or on me) for Christ.

None of this is to say that nuns are not wonderful people who love Christ and seek to serve him. I’m sure they do, and I’m sure Sister Jean is wonderful. Certainly because of the media attention she has an unusual platform to share the message of salvation. But, of course, that’s probably not why the media loves her. (And let’s be honest, basketball is not very important.) Regardless, I think the world needs habited nuns and sisters. The power of the sign of the habit, just like the clerical collar or cassock of the priest, is great.

People search for meaning. They are at least curious about others who exhibit a commitment to something greater than themselves. People are looking for transcendence. The habit is a this-world sign of a that-world connection and service. It says, in a powerful, visual way, “I have given myself to someone greater than I.” It is a form of evangelization to the lost and encouragement to the Church.

So… to answer the second question, I would emphatically say yes. The habit does matter. But I also said this question is perhaps the bigger question. Why? I think it is fair to say that the free falling numbers of nuns is directly related to the abandonment of wearing habits. I won’t say there is a direct causal relationship, but clearly there must be a strong correlation. Human nature tells us this must be true. Bring back the habit and it’s arguable the number of women religious vocations will significantly rise. In fact, a quick search reveals that while many women’s religious orders populations continue to fall, traditional (in part meaning wearing the habit) orders are on the rise.

Thus, in summary, we need more nuns, and more nuns in habits. Boom!

Christian Zionism is ugly.

I find it interesting and rather amazing at just how much I was indoctrinated into the Christian Zionism heresy. It is a fundamental belief in the church in which I was raised, and later in a group of Christians with whom I fellowshipped. Christian Zionism is one of those easy heresies to latch on to. It just sounds right if one believes other heresies, like sola scriptura or dispensationalism. Brother André Marie gives two excellent talks on the subject of Christian Zionism, and shows clearly why it is a heresy condemned by the Church, and popular with many Protestants (and some Catholics), and what its implications are.

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Daily Mass at Fribourg, Switzerland

At this link you can get both Sunday Mass and daily Mass in the Extraordinary Form from several locations around the world: Warrington, England; Sarasota, Florida; Fribourg, Switzerland; and Guadalajara, Mexico.

http://www.livemass.org/

Of course it’s not the same as actually being at Mass, but it’s something.

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I love Pope Francis.

I am not talking about the warm fuzzies or the swooning that seems to follow him everywhere. There has been an awful lot of swooning. I’m not sure swooning over any pope is entirely healthy anyway. And I hope I am not inclined to illusions or delusions. I see him as a man with limitations and passions. I cannot say I agree with him on every little thing. And he and I certainly we will not share many opinions on any number of topics. But he is my Pope. And I love him.

Why do I write this? As someone who is gradually learning and appreciating the Traditional Latin Mass, I come across a lot of negative attitudes about Pope Francis. I find many of these attitudes on “traditional” Catholic websites and social media. Some would say the Holy Father is merely good at making a show of good works, but that there is no substance behind the show. Some would say he is unorthodox in his beliefs, which is to say not fully Catholic. Others condemn him for decisions he has made and signals he has sent. And even some say he is actually mean and manipulative, one daring to call him a dictator. Then, of course, there are the sedevacantists who don’t call him pope at all.

The thing is I get that. I see what others are seeing. I understand their arguments. I too am not always happy, and sometimes I am very troubled. I worry about the Pope’s agenda, and about some of those with whom he surrounds himself. I am convinced the Vatican is a hotbed of political maneuvering entirely unbecoming of churchmen. And I definitely have issues with what seems to be clear and strong (strong-armed some would say) movements in unhealthy directions regarding the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality, movements that seem encouraged by the Pope. Could the Pope be undermining the Church in some way? For how crazy this may sound, he just might be.

I am not uncritical.

But I also know or am convinced of several things:

  1. Pope Francis loves God. This does not mean he is all wise, nor that he always acts correctly or makes the right decisions. And I do not mean he is not prone to vices. But loving God is huge. This is where it all begins. I believe I love God too, and I ask for prayers that my love is and remains true.
  2. He is a sinner. He even says so, and he goes to confession, and asks for our prayers. Do you pray for him every day? I try too, and often fail, but I know I should.
  3. Is he of another generation and culture with different views than I have? Certainly. His experiences are fundamentally different than mine. I have come to believe that human beings are immensely complicated. We not only have a hard time truly knowing others, but also knowing ourselves. He sees the love of the TLM as being a love of rigidity. He was schooled in the spirit of Vatican II. I disagree with him, but I cannot fault him for that. The Pope is just going to see many things differently than I will. And Perhaps rarely I will be right and he will, in fact, be wrong. What else can I do but pray and serve as best I can.
  4. But could he actually be caught up in believing false doctrine? Of course. He is a man and a sinner. Being Pope doesn’t make him perfect. Other popes have believed and promoted false doctrine. What am I to do with this? That’s fairly easy: pray for him and the Church, also pray for my own faith, continually learn and hold fast to orthodox teaching and practice, encourage others to do the same, seek unity, be humble, offer charity, and love as Christ has love us.

If you are still reading, then I will say that I do worry somewhat about this pontificate. I love Pope Francis, but I think he may be doing a poor job at running the Church and the Holy See. I also worry he is under the sway of powerful theologians and thinkers and politicians who are pushing to further the modernist agenda begun before Vatican II, flowered in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and continues today. He himself may be a through and through modernist. And he might actually be a dictator — from what I’ve read this is likely. So I have concerns.

BUT… I cannot know his heart. I do not know how the Vatican works, or most everything that goes on behind the scenes. I recognize that almost no reporting about the Pope, pro or con or apparently neutral, is without some kind of agenda and is therefore skewed regardless of which “side” it comes from. I find myself, in my “mature age” becoming skeptical of absolutes, except when it comes to dogma. I want to trust in God, and I do. I refuse to get caught up in the speculations, at least not too much. And I certainly do not know what God is up to. So I pray for the Pope, the Church, my Archbishops and priests, my family, and the world.

Simply, I am pro-Pope. I am pro-Church. I don’t think it’s a good thing for Catholics to publicly criticize the Pope. If they want to in private, with the right people open to discussion, and with thoughtful Catholics who can and might challenge their complaints, then that’s fine. But they shouldn’t be too public about it, and they shouldn’t be in an echo chamber either. Satan is the real enemy. Don’t open cracks for him. And the world, because it loves Satan, is already the enemy of the Church too. No need to give it any more ammo.

YET… I am not terribly worried. In fact, I’m not really worried at all. I have come to believe at the core of my being that God is love, that He does work all things together for good for those who love Him, and that His providence is real. I also believe that suffering is good, and that deeply knowing this is one of the reasons I came into the Church — not so that I would suffer more, but that I would be in the Church that actually embraces suffering and understands it, incorporates it. It’s just too important to go anywhere else.

Finally: I know something about what it’s like to be a Christian without a Pope. I lived many decades as a Protestant. I cling to the Pope, at least to the office itself. I sense many Catholics don’t understand this — at least they don’t see with the kind of clarity I do. My desire is first to help the Pope, not to denigrate him, to lift him up, not to bring him down. Catholics need to see how truly important it is to have a pope. Today Francis is our Pope.

He is my Pope.

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The following is a panel from the Saint Edmund Campion Children’s Missal, published in 1954.

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Let’s consider some of the following items. If you are a modern, post-Vatican II Catholic:

  • Do you have a crucifix above your bed? Probably not.
  • Were you or your family actually planning on going to Mass? Fairly low chance.
  • Did your mom actually think you were up? No. Of course not.
  • Did your mom say “you’ll be late for Mass?” No. She said “hurry, we’re already late for Mass.”
  • Do you say “huh?” to your mom? No. You whine “whaaaat?! I’m trying to sleep!”
  • Does your mom dress this nice? No. And your dad dresses even worse. We live in a slob culture, so jeans and a team jersey will do just fine for Mass. In fact, why doesn’t she assume you can just go in your pajamas? Right?
  • Does your mom suggest you go to a later Mass. No. You’ve got a soccer game later, so you couldn’t even if she thought you should which, in fact, she does not.
  • Do you say “okay” to your mom’s command to go to a later Mass? No. In fact you throw a fit and argue.

Well, it looks like Bobby did make it to Mass after all.

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Oops, stand up Bobby, put your tongue back in your mouth, and hold out your hand.

IMG_3683March is still dark at 8am, but there is a faint glow in the East. The sun will be here soon. I am kneeling like a medieval monk before the blessed sacrament.

Accipite,et manducate ex hoc omnes

This month there are more altar servers than before. All are boys, led by a local high school teacher. He subtly directs the boys with gestures and slight head nods. They are learning. A friend of mine remembers the Latin Mass from his youth. He says it’s not quite the same as this one, or maybe his memory fails him. But everyone is giving it there best, including those of us in the pews who still don’t know when to stand, sit, or kneel. Each month we are getting a little better.

In his book The Everlasting Man, G. K. Chesterton writes: “There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk ’round the whole world till we come back to the same place.” I feel these words were prophetic. For centuries the Catholic Church “stayed there,” that is she remained at home in and with the Mass of ages, with few changes down through the centuries. That was her dwelling, and it would have remained so until the coming age, except that in the 1960’s she gave it up. She decided to leave home and go “’round the whole world.” I believe, perhaps, she is coming back home again, perhaps finally returning home.

Sometimes we have to leave home in order to truly appreciate it.

I come from a different place. I lived in a different house altogether, one of protest. By the grace of God I left that house for the better home. But I too feel as though I’ve returned. So here I am chanting Latin with these few souls on a quiet Saturday morning, with the day dawning outside.

Dominus vobiscum.
Et cum spiritu tuo.

During the communion rite we kneel. The priest goes through a series of complicated motions and prayers, all of which have profound meaning. For much of it the Church remains quiet. Unlike the Novus Ordo Mass, silence is accepted and seems natural not awkward. Some of us watch the priest, some are praying with heads bowed. The mood is solemn. In our tiny corner of the world the cosmos aligns, the stars bow down, and God is with us.

During the communion of the faithful we file up towards sanctuary. We kneel. Our hands are folded in prayer. I look at the crucifix. When the priest and server come to me I open my mouth to receive Christ.

Corpus Domini nostri Jesu Christi custodiat animam tuam in vitam aeternam.

When Mass is over we leave. Each person goes their own way. The weekend is ahead of us. Some may be going to work. Others to family, or yard work, or recreation. And yet, this traditional Latin Mass has also been a form of recreation, of re-creation.

As I drive home I am filled with feelings of quiet joy. I am grateful for the blessings of God.

photo (1)It is the first Saturday in February. I sit with the others who have come to this old Mass, this usus antiquior. This is my second time at a traditional Latin Mass, my second time at this church on a first Saturday. Outside, in the half-light of a Pacific Northwest winter morning a light rain falls, but inside there is a feeling of warmth. Candles glow near the altar. The priest and altar servers (there are now several servers this week rather than only one) have entered to the sounds of beautiful chant.

While we stand I can tell that we, meaning the servers, cantors (there are now two) and organist are doing a better job than last month. Slowly we are all learning how to celebrate in a manner once common to all Catholics. In a sense, this is an act of recovery.

We have come from all walks of life. We are a mixed lot, and most of us do not know each other. A few have given knowing nods to others, but the rest are alone or with their small groups. The priest walks to the foot of the altar and Mass has fully begun.

What is it that draws us to a Latin Mass on a cold saturday morning at 8am? Most of the city is still in bed. Some are just getting up and making coffee. But we are here standing, kneeling, genuflecting, crossing ourselves, reciting and singing Latin prayers, and all of us are focused on the solemn actions of the priest and servers. Why are we here? Many would say we are foolish. Why not sleep in? Why waste this precious hour? But they do not know what we know.

I try to follow the Mass with my brand new Roman Missal. I am both excited and a little self conscious to have with me this thick, bible-like book with its colored ribbons. The missal is based on the 1962 Latin Mass. I feel like I am holding a precious jewel in my hands. What is does this represent? What does it mean? I almost feel silly. But I know that here, in this church, I kneel before the Real Presence, my Lord, my King, my Savior. This old Mass seems a truer form of worship than in the new. This newly printed but old missal represents a desire for true worship, true reverence, for a connection with the saints, with the church on earth, in purgatory, and in heaven — and throughout history.

We are all worshiping Christ together. I sense am connected more fully to the Church throughout all time. I am worshiping in the manner given to us by God, not created by man.

Reality sinks in. I have trouble following the Mass exactly in the missal. It’s complicated. I don’t really yet know what I’m doing, so I set down the missal on the pew next to me. I focus instead on the Mass. I have decide that, at this moment, reverence from my heart is more important than perfect knowledge of the Mass. I will learn this Mass of the ages gradually, in time, as a laborer learns his trade or an artist her craft.

Introíbo ad altáre Dei.
Ad Deum qui lœtíficat juventútem meam.

I will go in to the altar of God.
To God, who giveth joy to my youth.

morning lightThe morning is gray and dark. A low overcast sky hangs above the damp roads. I have driven to the next town, to another parish, to another Mass for what I hope will be a meaningful experience. A friend has invited me to come and worship in the ancient form of the Church. This is a local experiment, and my first time. A young priest has been given permission to celebrate the traditional Latin Mass in the morning on the first Saturday of each month in this church. I am curious.

Strangely, as I drive, and then as I enter the church, I feel like I’m sneaking surreptitiously to a secret destination for some underground meeting. But I am also excited and hopeful. January is dark but the church looks warm inside. I come early. There is a long line for confessions, so I get in line. The line moves slowly and I realize there will be no time for the priest to hear my confession, so I grab a missal and find a place in a pew. In the few moments before Mass begins I look at the missal. It is a small single-fold, staple-binding paperback, yet the simple woodblock prints and Latin words seem to contain the weight of centuries.

I look around the nave. There are a few souls, not many, sitting quietly and praying or just staring ahead in thought. The cantor and the organist finish their brief rehearsal. The priest has no more time for confessions and walks to the sacristy to prepare for Mass. A few more people show up and take their places in the pews.

After a few minutes the priest comes out to the ambo and welcome us, and says a few words to prepare us for the Mass. We are to not worry too much about when to sit, kneel, or stand he says. Just pay attention and we will figure it out. We can use the missals if we want to follow along, or not. We are encouraged to just experience it as best we can. He then goes back to the sacristy.

A couple minutes later the priest and altar server make their way along the side wall of the nave to the back of the church. This is a minimal crew: priest, server, cantor, organist. But it is enough.

The music begins, signaling the procession is beginning. We all stand.

Many art critics have religious leanings. Many artists have religious leanings. Many works of art deal with religious themes. However, there would seem to be an unspoken pact among art critics (and art teachers) that religion and theological concerns will not be seriously considered as a topic or approach to thinking and writing about art. This is not a great situation for either artists or anyone who would appreciate art.

Jonathan Anderson is an artist, critic, and professor, and author of the book: Modern Art and the Life of a Culture: The Religious Impulses of Modernism (Studies in Theology and the Arts). In this lecture below he surveys and addresses this lack of theology in art criticism, and why it matters — not merely because he’s a Christian, but because theology can help all of us better understand works of art.

Anderson mention James Elkins and his book On the Strange Place of Religion in Contemporary Art. Here is a lecture Elkins gave on that topic a decade ago:

Catholic News Service recently did a series of video reports on Gregorian Chant, what it is, and how it’s making a comeback in the Church. This is a great introduction to the music of the Church, in essence an ancient form of prayer that seemed at times to have been lost, but has been with us all along.

This last video is somewhat interesting in that the music in it is mostly not chant at all. Still, beautiful music.

I love this video. Fr. Mike Schmitz does such a great job of cutting through a tendency so many of us have. That is, he takes to task the idea that the Mass is about us and what each of us can “get out of it.” Rather, he says, the Mass is about worship, and that worship requires sacrifice. Watch the video to get a better understanding of what I am poorly representing.

I am convinced that if more Catholics focused on worship at Mass, many of the disputes about what form is best, or what music is best, or should we hold hands or not, etc, etc, would just go away.

“How could I have been so stupid.” – President John F. Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

 

Some might argue that I have gone off half cocked here. I can’t say I disagree, but my question is a serious one. But please keep in mind, I am no disrespecter of Pope Saint Paul VI.

bay of pigs
Captured Bay of Pigs invasion forces walking towards their fate.

After the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, with all its subsequent political fallout and public humiliation, various reports were issued as to why such a fiasco happened. One common view is that the Kennedy administration and CIA succumbed to the psychological condition known as “group think.” This idea of an influential and highly informed group of individuals moving forward on a known-to-be doomed plan, with no one seriously raising concerns to the commander-in-chief, and giving the go-ahead which resulted in lives lost, reputations forever sullied, and a country’s population reeling from humiliation on the world stage, made me wonder if there is a similarity to the post-Vatican II decisions regarding the Novus Ordo Mass.

I realize this sounds extremely harsh, especially to those who don’t have a problem with the new Mass. However, with the level of anger and vehemence raised by not a few towards Pope Paul VI (now Pope Saint Paul VI) and the Novus Ordo, and the claims by rather smart people that it has only caused catastrophic damage to the Church, I think it’s a fair question to ask.

So, did good intentions (however understood) snowball into far greater changes than most ever imagined? It is generally agreed that J.F.K. essentially inherited a plan that he felt somewhat obliged to execute. Did Pope Paul VI feel the same way when he “inherited” the Second Vatican Council and its “inevitable” outcomes, in particular the new Mass? Did too few bishops and cardinals raise concerns because they assumed everyone else was on board and they didn’t want to be the only one making a fuss? Was the feeling that the trajectory was already set and could no longer be changed? Was it group think?

I would not even consider such a comparison if there had not been the profoundly negative impacts in terms of Catholics leaving the Church, vocations going unheard and unheeded, monasteries closing, church buildings being razed, a significant loss of beauty and reverence in the Mass, and numerous other ramifications since the council, and especially since the promulgation of the new Mass. I do recognize this is more a correlative argument and not so much a causal one, but just as J.F.K. inherited the CIA plan and trusted his advisors, I have been wondering if a similar comparison can be made regarding Pope Paul VI. Did he inherit a plan, or perhaps a movement, that surged forward with a kind on inevitability? Was he “carried along” by that energy and excitement for change? Did Pope Paul VI go along as though he was unable to put the brakes on? Was he merely weak or perhaps unskilled at leadership?

antique-church-furnishings-london-church-salvage-church-salvage-warehouse1
No longer needed. Traditional church furnishings.

One might think this was the case. Consider some of the things Pope Paul VI said at his General Audience, November 26, 1969, only a couple of days before the Novus Ordo Mass was promulgated.

He speaks of innovation: “We ask you to turn your minds once more to the liturgical innovation of the new rite of the Mass.” History tells us there has traditionally been great reticence in the Church towards innovation in such matters.

The pope continued by indicating that such changes affect the Church’s traditions: “A new rite of the Mass: a change in a venerable tradition that has gone on for centuries. This is something that affects our hereditary religious patrimony, which seemed to enjoy the privilege of being untouchable and settled.” He almost seems worried at the change, and even feels the need to call out that the Mass is actually unchangeable.

He points out tradition is valuable, and maybe now we will understand its value: “It is at such a moment as this that we get a better understanding of the value of historical tradition and the communion of the saints.” He seems to call out the need to retain what is valuable rather than move away from it.

He says some will be annoyed: “We shall become aware, perhaps with some feeling of annoyance, that the ceremonies at the altar are no longer being carried out with the same words and gestures to which we were accustomed—perhaps so much accustomed that we no longer took any notice of them.” Here it almost seems like he is offering a kind of apology. He also seems to say that now we will take notice of what we have accustomed to, which assumes that we then will not be losing those things, just appreciating them more, which assumes that they shouldn’t go away.

And he says many other things about the Novus Ordo being novel, inconvenient, and affecting, in particular, the pious and the faithful. He also says these changes will help wake us up, that it will “draw them out of their customary personal devotions or their usual torpor.” Which begs the question, once drawn out of one’s torpor do we go back with fresh eyes and eager hearts to our heritage? It also seems he is saying the purpose is to help us re-appreciate the traditional Latin Mass–as though we need to take a rough detour to help us love the smooth highway once again, or fast for several days so that we appreciate the nature of food again. Well… this is food for thought, especially if we take the long view.

One can almost get the sense that Pope Paul VI was trying to put a good face on something that he felt was not great at best, and maybe a big mistake at worst. Certainly there is a hint of trepidation. But…

church demo
Catholic church in Germany being demolished because of too few parishioners to keep it open.

I have come to the conclusion that Pope Paul VI was the movement, that these words from his general audience are, in fact, representative of his genuine excitement for the coming changes. Perhaps he later regretted how some of it played out, but I doubt he ever really wavered in his decisions.

I want to be careful with this next comparison. I have no intention to draw too close an analogy. Still, it is widely known that Martin Luther, the rebellious monk who became a catalyst and firebrand for the Protestant Reformation, and one who sought great changes for the sake of getting back to something more pure (so the argument goes), later regretted much of what was done in the name of his disputation. Though Luther did not regret his doctrinal positions, he somewhat regretted how politically explosive it all became, and how quickly fellow Christians embraced divisive and polarizing positions to the point of a continuing and pervasive disunity within the Body of Christ. Luther was troubled that many took his revolution much further than he thought appropriate. Of course, without political backing his “project” would likely have died or been relegated to a kind of heterodox strand within the history of the Church as so many other breakaway Protestant and heretical groups were. This has been basically true for all the main strands of the Reformation. Still, Luther was absolutely convinced of his path and what he felt was his clear calling.

It also seems clear such is the case regarding Pope Paul VI. It is clear he believed he was doing the right thing. He also was willing to have the Church suffer a bit as it went through this necessary change.

pope paul vi at desk
Pope Saint Paul VI

How then should we think of Pope Paul VI? I believe the answer to the question at the beginning of this post is no. The promulgation of the Novus Ordo Mass was not Pope Paul VI’s Bay of Pigs. It was what he wanted, and he knew it would create a lot of turmoil.  He was not “carried along” like a ship without a rudder, or a simpleton in a mob crowd. The Novus Ordo Mass was as much his idea and it was any of the other crafters of the Mass.

First, this quote from Giovanni Battista Montini, then Bishop of Milan and future Pope Paul VI, conveys his thinking in 1958, years before the council, about the need to radically change the Mass:

The Latin is not the only obstacle [to modern man’s participation]. The difficulty arises principally from the way in which the liturgy expresses the prayer of the Church and the divine mysteries. The variety of its forms, the dramatic progression of its rites, the hieratic style of its language, the continual use of sign and symbol, the theological depth of the words and the mysteries fulfilled—all seem to conspire to impede the understanding of the liturgy, especially for the modern man, accustomed to reducing everything to an extreme intelligibility…. [The faithful] will find themselves excluded from its inner spiritual precincts, whereas the progress of culture has accustomed them to understanding and knowing all about everything in their environment and field of interest. We must transform the difficulty posed by the liturgical rite into a help for the penetration of the hidden meaning contained in Catholic worship.¹

This shows that the “spirit of Vatican II” was strong in this bishop long before the council, not only regarding what we read in the texts from the council, but also regarding the radical changes that later occurred.

Perhaps most telling is the last line that speaks to the modernist desire to deny the actual reality of the mystery of faith. Mystery is presented as a problem to be solved, as though it can be solved. The faithful should now have worship of God be entirely understandable, that they would finally know the hidden meaning — as though the meaning was hidden in and by the old rite (because of the rite itself) rather than because of the very nature of God and of faith. Pope Paul VI was a true believer in the changes wrought by the new Mass. He thought it really would bring about an enormous rebirth and rejuvenation of faith within the Church precisely because the Mass would now be without any “hidden meaning” getting in the way. I know very little about this pope, and even less about his core ideas, but in this particular sense he strikes me as a modernist, a child of the Enlightenment: a Catholic Pope but, in some significant sense, having a non-biblical anthropology (in terms of the Mass, yet strongly biblical in terms of marriage and contraception — go figure).

vaticano
Did the Pope see the future?

This now leads me to why I believe the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Mass was Pope Paul VI’s Bay of Pigs. The failed Cuba invasion failed precisely because it did not do what its planners claimed it would do based on assumptions that, on later reflection were poor and very naive, and was executed because too few wanted to stand in the way of its momentum. The promulgation of the Novus Ordo Mass, it is arguable (and has repeatedly been argued), has been directly responsible for great numbers of Catholics leaving the Church, many churches and monasteries closing their doors, parishes having to combine and downsize, Catholic schools closing or becoming in practice non-Catholic, very low numbers of new vocations, etc, etc, etc. Perhaps the only difference is that Pope Paul VI was not around long enough to see the full effect of the results and exclaim: “How could I have been so stupid.” (I mean no disrespect to the Holy Father.)

President John F Kennedy on his tour of Europe
“Don’t worry, everything will be alright,” said one of these men to the other… perhaps.

And yet, and yet… in a sense he had profound insight. Perhaps the old Mass, and pre-council Catholicism in the west was, in some way, dead or dying. Not because numbers were low, but because so many Catholics took the old rite for granted. He says just as much in his general audience address. Today we are seeing a resurgence of interest in the TLM, but this time with great passion and actual participation by the laity. Piety now seems to be combined with hearts on fire on the one hand and knowledge on the other. The laity are studying the old Mass, learning what it means, comparing it to the new. Perhaps the pendulum is swinging back, driven by a renewed interest founded on a renewed understanding and thus aiming towards an authentic realization of the value and purpose of worship itself.

So… in conclusion, I have come to see Pope Paul VI in a new light. I think the results of the 1960’s and 1970’s, and let’s face it, a lot of crazy garbage happened in those years, will be a new flourishing of the Church. I can’t say Pope Paul VI saw all this, but it seems God used him to accomplish some important changes that only now may be coming to light. Of course this does not get him, or anyone else, off the hook for the damage caused, but it does help us see how God can and will work all things for good… eventually. What I pray and hope is that Pope Paul VI saw this too.

Like I said at the beginning, half cocked.


  1. Giovanni Battista Montini, “Liturgical Formation: Pastoral Letter to the Archdiocese of Milan for Lent 1958,” English translation in Worship 33 (1958–59), 136–64; at 153–54. Found in: Kwasniewski, Peter A., and Martin Mosebach. Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness: Why the Modern Age Needs the Mass of Ages. 2017. Page 19-20.

This is one of the most interesting and intense conversations I have ever witnessed. Jordan Peterson has received a significant amount of attention of late for his views, and in particular for an interview he did on television. Camille Paglia has been well known for years and is frequently outspoken on a number of topics. Both are absolutely brilliant and provocative. This video is easily worth its nearly two hours running time.

Fr. Weinandy has been gaining some attention for his rigorous stance against the machinations of modernism and their corrosive nature within the Church. He has been critical of Pope Francis, which you may or may not find a good thing. He has also called out the evil intentions of some of the Church’s leadership which, if he is right, then that’s a good thing. My take is that he is both good and wise, and that he seeks truth and righteousness. Of course, this does not make he automatically right, but I am certainly less inclined to say he is wrong, but I do not know enough to critique his critiques. He also seems to me to be on the right path, and brings with him a gentle spirit combined with a love of truth.

Here is speaks about the relationship of the priesthood to the Eucharist:

An EWTN show called Extraordinary Faith did a couple of episodes on new church designs and old church restorations that reflect the traditional patrimony of the Catholic Church.

The information here is great, and shows something of the rebirth and growth in recognizing the timeless and appropriate architectural and artistic designs of those buildings we instantly recognize as churches. Consequently many parishes and religious groups are wanting such buildings again.

I love the level of exposure to these beautiful churches and those who build & restore them this shows brings. There is a great deal of skill and work involved in any traditional Catholic church building. I also love the passion exhibited here for the traditions of the Church.

[An aside: Of course, and as expected, in the “spirit of EWTN” the production quality is serious, thoughtful, and sometimes (unintentionally) humorously amateurish. I would love to see EWTN level up two or three notches with its productions. Perhaps something like Bishop Barron’s Catholicism series, which would be at least a place to start. I’m not just complaining. I used to be a professional television producer and director, so I know a few things about what it takes to make good television, and it’s mostly not a question of money. EWTN too often is caught somewhere between 1980’s professional television and community access television.]

I only recently personally discovered the composer Johannes Ockeghem. I’ve heard him referred to as the Bach of the fifteenth century. I’ve also heard that Ockeghem is every bit as brilliant as Bach. I can’t say one way or the other, not being an expert on either, but listen to this music and you will hear just how beautiful sacred music can be.