There is a revelatoryop-ed piece about the older form of Mass in Hell’s Bible, today. It concerns my good friend Fr. Philips at St. John Cantius Church in Chicago.
My emphases and comments.
The Pope Reopens a Portal to Eternity, via the 1950s
By LAWRENCE DOWNES
Published: July 29, 2007
To a child in a Roman Catholic family, the rhythm of the Mass is absorbed into the body well before understanding reaches the brain. It becomes as lullingly familiar as a weekly drive to a relative’s house: opening prayers like quick turns though local streets, long freeway stretches of readings, homily and Eucharistic prayers, the quietude of communion and then — thanks be to God — the final blessing, a song and home to pancakes and the Sunday comics.
Last Sunday, I drove through a strange liturgical neighborhood. I attended a Tridentine Low Mass, the Latin rite that took hold in the 16th century, [mistale] was abandoned in the 1960s for Mass in the local language [mistake] and is poised for a revival now that Pope Benedict XVI has swept away the last bureaucratic obstacles to its use.
If you don’t remember L.B.J., you don’t remember the Latin Mass. At 42, [He’s 42.] I had never seen, heard or smelled one. Then a family trip took me to Chicago last weekend, and curiosity took me early Sunday morning to St. John Cantius, an old Polish parish on the Near West Side. [I think it is the Near North Side, no?]
I went up the steps of the Renaissance-baroque church, through a stone doorway and back into my dimmest memories. Amid the grandeur of beeswax candles and golden statuary, the congregation was saying the rosary. I sat behind an older couple wearing scapulars as big as credit cards. I saw women with lace mantillas and a clutch of seminarians in the front rows, in black cassocks and crisp white surplices.
The sanctuary, behind a long communion rail, looked oddly barren because it lacked the modern altar on which a priest, facing the people, prepares the Eucharistic meal. [GAG!] The priest entered, led by altar boys. He wore a green and gold chasuble and a biretta, a black tufted hat, that he placed on a side table. His shaved head and stately movements gave the Mass a military bearing.
I couldn’t hear a thing.
I strained to listen, waited and, finally, in my dimness, realized that there was nothing to hear.
At a Low Mass, the priest prays unamplified or silently. [Well… no, that is a matter of style, though undoubtedly some of the prayers must be quiet.] The people do not speak or sing. [That is also a matter of style.] They watch and read. All around me, people’s heads were buried in thick black missals. I flipped through my little red Latin-English paperback, trying to keep up. Had it been 50 years ago, I would have had every step memorized. But I didn’t know any of it. [Okay, so go more often and you will have it memorized too. This is Mass, not astrophysics.]
I felt sheepish, particularly because I was surrounded by far more competent flock. [Okay, so his own ignorance seems to be the problem. Granted it is not his fault that he doesn’t know this stuff.]
I also felt shaken and, irrationally, angry. [Here we go!] Catholics are told that the church is the people of God, but from my silent pew, the people seemed irrelevant. [clichÃ©] This Mass belonged to Father and his altar boys, [clichÃ©] and it seemed that I could submit to that arrangement or leave. [That is the way it is ANYWHERE!] For the first time, I understood viscerally how some Catholics felt in the ’60s, when the Mass they loved went away. [? I am not sure what this means. I think he is saying that people were glad it went away, but he is saying also that they loved it. I don’t get it. Unless… I wonder if his anger came from his sense of having been cheated out of this for so long?? Just kidding.]
I called Eugene Kennedy, professor, author and former priest, an old Chicagoan and eloquent critic of church matters. He is a scourge of the Catholic hierarchy, which he considers grasping and autocratic. But he spoke fondly of the old Mass, of the majesty to be unearthed by learning and praying it, like reading Proust in French. It contains a profound sense of mystery, he said, which is what religion is all about. [And these are bad?]
But he said he wouldn’t want it back. [Bizzare] Priests aren’t ready; [maybe true] it takes years to learn. [Ridiculous.] And forget about the laity, he said, which is accustomed to a half-century of liturgical participation and rudimentary parish democracy. [This from a guy who doesn’t like the hierarchy.] He seemed certain that most Catholics would never go for it. [Again, The Party Line: "The MP won’t make a difference! No one wants this! We are already doing enough for these people!]
But St. John Cantius, once given up for dead, is thriving with an influx of new parishioners. [Okay, this guy was angry, admittedly without reason, and everything even the über-liberal Kennedy said was positive. What is really going on?] In his homily, the pastor, the Rev. C. Frank Phillips, spoke proudly about the Latin Mass, which his parish was the first in Chicago to revive. He announced that it would soon be training priests in the old rite, which he vowed would restore the Catholic church to its place leading the world back to Christ.
Father Frank does not disparage the contemporary Mass, nor could he, lest he cast doubt on the legitimacy of the last 40 years of Catholic worship. But other traditionalists do not always share his tact. Their delight at the Latin revival can seem inseparable from their scorn for the Mass that eclipsed it, which they ridicule for its singing, handshaking and mushy modernity.
They’re right that Mass can be listless, with little solemnity and multiple sources of irritation: parents sedating children with Cheerios; priests preaching refrigerator-magnet truisms; amateur guitar strumming that was lame in 1973; teenagers slumping back after communion, hands in pockets, as if wishing they had been given gum instead.
Pope Benedict insists he is not taking the church on a nostalgia trip. He wants to re-energize it, and hopes that the Latin Mass, like an immense celestial object, will exert gravitational pull on the faithful. [That is actually another good image to file away with "cross-pollination".]
Unless the church, which once had a problem with the law of gravity, [I think this is a slam at Church which "hates science"] can repeal inertia, too, then silent, submissive worship won’t go over well. ["submissive"… okay… I think this fellow’s problem is with who has the power. The older form of Mass was just a catalyst.] Laypeople, women especially, have kept this battered institution going in a secular, distracted age. Reasserting the unchallenged authority of ordained men may fit the papal scheme for a purer church. But to hand its highest form of public worship entirely back to Father makes Latin illiterates like me irate. [Yes, it is looking more and more like it is a question of who has Power. This is the position of feminists. Also, note that he says he was irrationaly angry. During that Mass he was incompetent. Now he says he is an illiterate, viz Latin. The objective elements are left aside for the visceral. The spiritual dimension matters not? This is about how you line up with power structures. This is all politics to him.]
It’s easy enough to see where this is going: same God, same church, but separate camps, each with an affinity for vernacular or Latin, John XXIII or Benedict XVI. Smart, devout, ambitious Catholics — ecclesial young Republicans, [I told you so.] home-schoolers, seminarians and other shock troops of the faith [Nazi skin heads] — will have their Mass. The rest of us — a lumpy assortment of cafeteria Catholics, guilty parents, peace-’n’-justice lefties, [Commies – aging hippies] stubborn Vatican II die-hards — will have ours. We’ll have to prod our snoozing pewmates when to sit and stand; they’ll have to rein in their zealots.
And we probably won’t see one another on Sunday mornings, if ever. [That’s a choice. We are all about choice.]