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Wednesday, November 6, 2019

NCR's Rebuttle on the Latin Mass

Well, I'm finally back to writing on the blog again. A lot has happened since my last post. I just didn't think this would be the topic to finally coerce me to.

Anyway, this morning I noticed a certain piece from the National Catholic(?) Reporter on the topic of the extraordinary form (a.k.a. traditional Latin Mass) of the Roman rite. This piece has been getting quit a bit of buzz both on facebook and twitter. After reading it, I realized it needs a rebuttle. Well, I guess I will take it piece by piece then.

The Latin Mass fosters clericalist structures in the church. The liturgy — spoken in an ancient language no longer in modern vernacular usage — places all power in the hands of the priest. The priest keeps his back turned to the people for most of the ceremony. Aside from making occasional responses, the congregation plays no active part in worship. All people inside the church are expected to kneel on cue at various points. The priest is at the center of the spectacle. He is separated from the people he is supposed to serve by an altar rail — a barrier that gives him privileges. To receive the Eucharist, people must kneel at his feet.

The Mass is liturgy, the work of the people. The Mass fosters order. As part of this, each person has his or her role within the Mass to play (it's a shame that the minor orders have declined in the Roman church so much that you don't really see them in the Mass on the parish level very much if ever). As for this lack of participation here, I blame too much Low Mass (much to the detriment of the Solemn Hight Mass, the normal form of the Mass for the Roman rite). In the Solemn High Mass, the people are actively engaged in the Mass. The Low Mass encourages a kind of liturgical free-for-all that promotes the idea that the laity can do whatever they want during the Mass (rosary during Mass anyone??) as long as the priest is doing his thing instead of paying attention to all the prayers of the Mass and uniting your own prayers and intentions for the Mass with the priest's. It might surprise readers that there have been instances throughout history where the extraordinary form of the Mass was NOT done in Latin. One example here is the various native americans had a translation of the Mass in the language of their tribe. Another example is in parts of eastern Europe, permission was given to offer the Mass in Slavonic instead of Latin and this permission has never been rescinded. At any time, the church could give the blessing to offering the extraordinary form in the vernacular, but for various reasons the church has not (unless for English you count the edition of the Mass that the Anglican ordinariate uses). The kneeling is part of the rite. (disregarding any arguments from the east) I see no reason to find offense at kneeling at various parts in the Mass (it's just part of the program). How could the altar rail give the priest give the priest any "special privilege"? Any that you can think of probably come from the Church from ordination and the expectations that the Church has of the priest. I will not get into the kneeling part there are arguments for both kneeling and standing, just respect tradition of that rite.

Meanwhile, the Latin tradition oppresses women. Women are expected — indeed, in some cases commanded — to wear skirts instead of trousers, cover themselves with long clothing and wear veils over their heads. No such rules exist for the men. It is discrimination, and therefore the Latin Mass actively endorses sexism. Instead of a unifying form of worship, the Latin Mass has become an instrument of oppression and a gathering point for Catholic fundamentalists.

What is expected is that both men and women dress modestly for the Mass. Yes, the women-wearing-pants haters do exist, but by no means is their case a rule. The Christian tradition of veiling comes from Saint Paul's first letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 11:4-16). There is an even older tradition of the church of men and women sitting on opposite sides of the church during the divine services, and it is even practiced in some parts of the church today (particularly in the eastern parts of the church). What would the author say to this tradition?

In most cases, it is useless to politely disagree with people in the Latin Mass sect. Their attitude creates blindness — not only to true faith, but to their own behavior. They treat others with pride and animosity, but their conscience fails to kick in because they are convinced their way is holy and other ways are not. Anyone who may accuse me of not knowing what I'm talking about — a favorite indictment of the Latin Mass ideologues — would be wrong. My opinion is based on facts and personal experiences.

This right here is a blanket statement and does not apply to everyone. Yes, you will have those triumphalists that think the extraordinary form of the roman rite is the only legit Catholic rite, but don't let them get you down. Concentrating on this and having this kind of pride does no good for anyone spiritually.

Needless to say, anything in the church looking remotely female was completely veiled. The people had the humor of a gallows crowd and the pastor, arrayed in lavish vestments, was more like a Renaissance baron. After over an hour spent every Sunday drowning in incense smoke and getting sneered at, we did not feel any closer to God.
And lavish vestments are a bad thing? God deserves the best and if the lavish vestments are the best we have, we should use them. I've seen the phenomena of people being too serious and cold at celebrations of the extraordinary form and I don't like it. The Mass is a time to be joyful. After all, we are receiving God in it, first in his word and then in himself under the auspices of bread and wine. If we are disposed to receive it, why would we ever look cold and not happy.

Rules, also, were a strange issue. For example, the color red was forbidden to be worn in the church. A confessor there hit one of my family members with a "permanent daily penance"— a rosary every day, forever, to atone for an alleged life of iniquity. After some while of this torture, my mother spoke with a different priest about the unbearable situation. He advised her that genuine Catholic faith did not forbid wearing certain colors or allow priests to inflict a "lifetime penance" for sins. Immediately we stopped going to Mass at that parish.

I don't know where she gets this point from. Red has never been a color forbidden to be worn in church (for anyone). After all, it is used for feasts of martyrs and the Holy Spirit. That second priest she consulted is generally right about the first confessor. As for the penance, that one isn't too hard to accomplish (you just have to remember it).

After almost leaving the church as a teenager, I chose to stay Catholic by practicing my faith as a free agent — belonging to no parish, attending different churches for Sunday Mass. On one instance, a priest noticed I was showing up semi-regularly and approached me with a persuasive speech to convert me to the Latin Mass faction — disguising discrimination as encouragement. "You should come to the Latin Mass instead and wear a veil. Women look the most beautiful in church when they are veiled," he tried to persuade. "The long veils are the best kind — the really long ones, past the shoulders. I recommend that for you — you have such pretty red hair, but it would even look nicer if you wore a veil over it. I think the long kind would be best for you." Most disturbing about this conversation was his effort to make repression sound positive. Of course it made no sense that my hair would somehow look better if people couldn't see it. Indignant, I asked him to explain why he thought I should consider covering my head.
I am glad she committed to being a practicing Catholic in her teenage years. Too many children make the horrible choice not to. The priest said more than what he needed to in order to make his point, but I can't see how what the priest says amounts to repression.

When asked why it was disrespectful to show the hair that God gave me — and why men in church did not have to cover their hair — he was not able to answer. He reacted badly because I challenged his authority. Anyway, I had no intention of listening. I knew I was free to take my belief in God elsewhere. I never returned to that church afterwards. The priest's attitude towards veiling women is typical of Latin Mass cultists. They seem to believe that women look better in church when people can't see them. They try to sell the veil to girls as a symbol of feminine piety. They hold that covering up and hiding yourself is beautiful although such a practice is the very opposite of natural beauty. Ultimately, it doesn't matter how pretty, lacy or colorful the veils may seem to potential wearers — the veils are meant to conceal female beauty and prevent people from noticing women. By promoting the veil, Latin Mass fundamentalists rob women of freedom, while trying to make it seem like a liberating choice. Their attitude is not much different from religious extremists in the Middle East and Asia. Given such practices, it should come as no surprise that a contingent of men active within the sectarian Latin Mass environment have sexist worldviews. These types believe they are superior to women simply because they are male.

I don't know why the priest when asked why did not cite Saint Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. Perhaps he forgot, we don't know. But as to why women veil, it is because we veil what is sacred (and precious), only to be revealed to those who it is appropriate for. The veil on the tabernacle hides the dwelling place of the body of Christ under the appearance of bread and is brought out for the communion of the faithful. We veil the sacred vessels because they hold the body and blood of Christ. Among other arguments (and women out there reading this please correct me if I am off the rails here), women veil because they are precious, being able to bear and nurture life in their own bodies, only being (fully) revealed to the husband she is married to. On a practical level, she mentions how women may veil to "conceal female beauty and prevent people from noticing women". Considering that the purpose of the Mass is to worship Almighty God, the less distractions the better. It is not a bad thing that women are endowed with beauty by God, but men are visual creatures. It is also for our benefit so we can concentrate on the prayers of the Mass instead of a woman's beauty (there is a time and place for everything, but the Mass is not it).

I cite two examples to support my view. One occasion that remains burned into my memory was when I attended Mass at a Catholic university. It was a busy Sunday and my schedule demanded I attend Mass at a particular time. I did not know it was a Latin Mass until I stumbled over the doorstep. The atmosphere was typically medieval. I was surprised to recognize some people there. One of them was a professor who was known to be a chauvinistic person. When I saw his wife, I was shocked — and suddenly realized the ugly extent of his prejudices. His wife was a mere ghost of a woman. She was covered from head to foot. Her dress was so long that it dragged on the floor. Even her entire neck and her hands were covered. She kept her head bowed and always walked behind her husband. She carried a rosary and looked physically weak — almost ill. The professor, by contrast, looked swaggering and hearty. He strutted around and chatted with others in church as she followed him like a pale shadow. Seeing this, I believed I had witnessed a very dark side to the professor's spirituality. His religion was a mechanism of abusive control.

I don't see how the actions of a few account for the whole group. Just because this professor had issues does not mean everyone there has the same issues too. Some people are there because the traditions and practices and the particular Catholic rite of the liturgy is most conducive for his or her spiritual life. I can't comment on the professor or his wife themselves because I don't have the whole picture here from all the needed angles, but I will say something that sticks out here is perhaps an overkill on modesty.

My second example concerns a younger Catholic age group — many of whom are apparently falling victim to the ultra-traditional Latin Mass ideology promoted in Catholic activity groups and on college campuses. A female acquaintance of mine, about my age, decided to brave the Catholic dating scene — a recipe for disaster, in my personal opinion. Among the stories I heard from her were of traditional Catholic males shopping for wives, asking her and other girls, "Are you willing to be veiled?" before agreeing to date them. These men did not want to associate with women whom they couldn't religiously dominate. Men she met in this traditional Catholic peer group would interview girls about theology before deciding to spend time with them — they were arrogant and believed they were somehow morally superior to the women. Instead of standing up for her own dignity, she decided to cave into the pressure — go to traditional services and start wearing veils. I still don't understand why she wanted to associate with that group, or why she decided to give in to oppression.

There are a couple of reasons young people choose the older form of the Mass. For the dating part, it is good that if a couple is going for marriage, they ought to be in agreement on different matters. These young men do not ask these questions in order to religiously dominate. They just want to make sure both are on the same page. It just makes life smoother if they get to the point of marriage preparation and eventually the sacrament of matrimony. No matter what you do these kinds of topics will come up at some point in time. Personally, not willing to veil is not a dealbreaker for dating, for me, as such matters can be changed later, but this is just one man's opinion. I still don't get the whole oppression thing: the guy leads the family, but the guy also has to do what he can to support the woman (and the rest of the family).

It is very unfortunate that younger generations of Catholics seeking to deepen their faith are getting sucked into this vortex of toxic, traditional radicalism. I saw many young families at a Latin Mass recently when I was invited to attend a speaking engagement at a traditional church. I happened to arrive before Mass was quite over — having nowhere else to go before the event, and wishing to receive Communion, I decided to sit in on the Mass. Unsurprisingly I found myself surrounded by veiled women who entertained themselves in between kneeling bouts by casting disapproving glances at my leggings and earrings. Looking around, I was astonished to see many college-aged men and women among the crowd. The priests seemed to be in their 30s. Clearly these people were too young to remember times before Vatican II. Yet something had drawn them here. Parental influence? Doubtful. It seemed to be a shared spirit of ultra-conservatism. I found it frightening to reflect on how the closed, Latin Mass mindset had managed to replicate itself over time and spread like a virus. Unsurprisingly, while there I had another memorably bad experience. I asked to receive Communion in the hands. Most traditional-type priests I'd encountered in my lifetime would give me the Eucharist in the hands. Not this pastor. He literally made a scene at the altar and jerked the Eucharist away from me when I reached out to receive it — as if my hands would contaminate the very Jesus who, according to the Catholic faith, seeks Communion with my soul. I seriously considered walking out of the church at that point, but decided to receive the Eucharist instead since I wanted to pray. After Mass I gave the priests a piece of my mind.

Who cares if we don't remember the times before Vatican II? We can connect the dots here that the previous generation didn't do the best job at catechesis and deprived us of the riches of the older form of the Mass. Can't we young folk decide for ourselves if the older form of the Mass is a good thing instead of listening to older Catholics bicker about how bad things were in the church before Vatican II? We should be careful about commenting on another's dress unless it is downright immodest (and no one would disagree with that conclusion). I once heard a story from a priest in his own experience how he finally got one woman to come back to the church after decades away and the people there gave her a hard time because she didn't exactly fit in and dressed exactly as they did, so she never came back. The pastor could have definitely handled this situation a lot better than he did. While serving the extraordinary form myself, if a person put their hand out while trying to receive the eucharist, I would just position the paten under the chin and the priest would give communion on the tongue as normal and then we would both carry on. The Mass is not the time to make a scene.

Clericalism defined the response I received. When I informed an assisting priest that the pastor had been very rude to me at the altar and asked that my views be relayed, he replied: "I won't throw our pastor under the bus. He's the pastor. I refuse to tell him to correct his behavior," the priest said. I reminded him that, as a priest, he was supposed to be of service and value my feedback as a believer. The priest took a step back and looked at me in astonishment, as if the notion of service had never occurred to him. "Very well. I'll tell the pastor what you said," he said condescendingly. "But I don't think he did anything wrong." His attitude was a trademark example of the culture within the Catholic Church that encourages abuse. His first reaction was to default to absolute loyalty to his pastor, then dismiss my views. When pressed further, he flat-out denied all wrongdoing. To clericalists, complainers are always the problem — not those who belong to the herd, and certainly not clergy.

As a priest, when a parishioner comes to you with a problem, you better listen. There is a thing called fraternal correction and priests are not exempt from it. The better thing for the priest here would have been to talk to the pastor later about this and not throw it out the window under the guise of "I won't throw the pastor under the bus. I refuse to correct his behavior". If you don't do your part, you're part of the problem.

With feudalistic rigidity, the priest argued in defense of his pastor against the traditions of the "novus ordo"—a derogatory term used by Latin Mass cultists to denote regular English-language Masses. He said the Masses I regularly attended were invented "only 40 years ago" — as if that devalued them somehow —and insisted they were only "allowed to exist, but not standardly recommended." He claimed the church only allowed Communion in the hands "in extreme cases." Of course, I know this is not true. He capped his radical fundamentalist arguments by saying the Latin Mass is a solemn rite equal to Byzantine and Coptic rites and that rules cannot be changed for anyone. He accused me of being "rude" by expecting them "to change their rites."

Honestly, I tire of these Tridentine vs Novus Ordo arguments. If the extraordinary form does the most for your spiritual life, stick with the extraordinary form. If the ordinary form does the most for your spiritual life, stick with the ordinary form. If the Byzantine Divine Liturgy (and other parts of the Byzantine tradition) does the most for your spiritual life, stick with that. The church gives us choice because everyone is different.

From what I see, the author has had a bad experience with the extraordinary form. This is unfortunate, but it is nothing that can't be cured with a bit of catechesis on why it is done the way it is (whether the person is willing to listen and do the homework is another issue entirely). Anyone that reads her article should be willing to listen, but do your homework on the misconceptions present here and experience the rite yourself. I hope I have done a good job at pointing out some of the misconceptions the author writes and giving some oversight on how it could better.

Comments are certainly welcome and encouraged. Just post them below and comment away.

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