I’m seeing a trend

I will ask for confirmation from you readers, but I am seeing a trend.

The Motu Proprio is out, and we are feeling the calming of the adrenline.  Official statements of dioceses have been passed, and posted and parsed.  After posting lots of them, and reading even more, I see a pattern.

Many bishops were warm in an unreserved way about Summorum Pontificum.  I must say many more were very guarded.  Over the last couple weeks the wagons have circled around a campfire smoking with their Party Line: "We don’t expect the Motu Proprio will make much difference… not many people want this… we have already done enough… there isn’t much interest."

The diocesan statements are slowing, but articles and op-eds in secular publications seem to be picking up.

In the secular media I see articles from lay people in favor of the "return of Latin" and an older style of Mass.  Some are imbued with a bit of nostalgia.  Others convey a sense of wonder at a gem discovered in a loney place. 

The really interesting articles are from those who are not sure what to think, but they are intrigued.

Take this item in Time.

In reading what follows remember what I have written in these pages.  Pope Benedict has a very large vision.  Derestriction of the older Mass is part of a larger project to reroot and rinvigorate a Catholic identity, for the sake of the Church within herself and then, consequently for the good God given work of shaping the world. 

The writer of this piece will say things sure to set some teeth on edge.  But consider if she is not precisely someone whose Catholic identity, through no fault of her own, is crippled and confused?  Consider if the older form of Mass, even approached in the way expressed in the article isn’t precisely what some people need, even if it only jumps starts something dormant or quickens that which never had the chance to live.

My emphases.


Friday, Jul. 20, 2007
I Confess, I Want Latin
By Lisa Takeuchi Cullen

Bless me, father, for I have sinned. It has been three months since I last attended Mass. I have instead spent Sunday mornings attending total-body workout classes at the gym, after which I have been attending brunch. In other words, no uncommon circumstances kept me from coming to church. I expect as penance a boatload of Hail Marys.

I come today having heard that Pope Benedict XVI has just removed restrictions on celebrating Mass in Latin. Many of those who favor a return to the Tridentine Mass were born before 1930 and long for it out of conservative nostalgia. Not me. I confess: I want to hear Mass sung in a language I don’t understand because too often I don’t like what I hear in English.

Father, I attend Mass for reasons familiar to any good Roman Catholic: habit and guilt. Never did a Sunday go by in my youth without an hour slouched on a wooden pew. You see, my father was once one of you. Like many Irish-American boys of his generation, he joined the seminary as a teen and wore the collar until his mid-30s. On his mission in Japan, he met a lovely young Buddhist whom he successfully converted. After he wrote to the Vatican and renounced his priesthood, she in turn successfully converted him into a husband. I am one of four offspring of a former priest and a convert who overcame great odds–even scandal–to marry in the faith. Mass for us was not a scheduling option.

Though I was born after Vatican II, I did not grow up comprehending the liturgy. In Japan, Mass was said in a traditional form of Japanese too obscure for me to grasp. Twelve years of Sunday school–held inexplicably and inconveniently on Saturdays–did not help clarify all the mysteries of the missal. My father instructed us to spend the time in prayer. I inspected Jesus on the Cross and wondered what he thought of my life. I inspected the boy across the aisle and wondered what he thought of my hair. There were times I thought I would pass out from boredom. There were times I probably did. Not understanding all the words spoken during the endless sermons, I had little choice but to spend the time in thought about myself, my family, my God.

There’s something to be said for that, isn’t there? Mass became for me an hour-long meditation in the community of the faithful, reaffirming ancient beliefs in familiar if inscrutable chant. I’m not so sure that isn’t what the Apostles intended.

This changed when I came to America. At first I was too busy jamming to the guitar band at my parish to notice; I even joined the tambourine section. Eventually, though, the newly comprehensible sermons began to sink in. I clearly remember one involving a newborn baby left in a Dumpster that somehow in the end advocated against laws allowing abortion. There was that time you beseeched us, Father, to write letters of protest to a Senator who supported stem-cell research. Not long ago, your homily excoriated divorce. You used as your rhetorical cornerstone the 1998 Lindsay Lohan vehicle The Parent Trap. As if that were not galling enough, you failed to note that, as previously divorced people, the characters played by Dennis Quaid and Natasha Richardson would be denied communion in the Catholic Church.

It almost goes without saying that as a young, progressive-minded American Catholic, I’m at odds with many of the church’s rules and with much of its politics. You might thus infer that my generation instinctively rejects the age-old traditions of the church. That would be wrong. In a world unmoored by violence and uncertainty, there is something deeply soothing about participating in ancient rituals practiced by so many. Whatever our issues with the tenets of Catholicism the religion, we still cling to what unites us in Catholicism the faith: our devotion to the celebration of the Eucharist. I confess I adore the rich minutiae of the Mass: the frankincense, the Kyrie, the droning of creeds in a sacred space. It comforts me to know that my family around the globe takes part in the same weekly rites. The common purpose of shared ceremony helps me reflect on the Holy Spirit. With apologies, Father, homilies based on your Netflix queue do not.

Once I thought I had all the time in the world to mull over my quarrels with the church. The thing is, Father, I don’t. My mother has fought cancer for years now, and it is spreading fast. This is not a good time for me to deny myself the support of spiritual community and inspiriting ritual. In my desire to return to church, I see the Latin Mass as an acceptable solution: With your back to the congregation and speaking in a dead language, you would find it difficult to tell me how to vote. Allow me to experience the joy of communion without the anguish of our modern-day differences. Bring back the Latin, and bring back an embattled believer.

So, the writer is trying to be clever.  There are signs all through that she doesn’t understand how a teaching of the Church on faith or morals is any different from a "rule".   She is somewhat trapped in the idea that what she experiences at Mass must be in harmony with the positions she brings with her. Somewhat snide is the crack about a dead language at the end, and the issue of voting. 

Nevertheless,  if she is sincere in her desire for the Eucharist, and I think we must take her at her word, then we must also accept that what she has experienced lately hasn’t been helping her very much.  And yet she doesn’t not separate the Eucharist from her daily experience.

She is ready for a new older thing.

Read it again and notice the moments when her language is elevated, when she says something beautiful.

If the older form of Mass could move 1 in 100 of these younger Catholics who feel like her, the folks inside the wagon circle will find they have a serious situation.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. David says:

    Father, this is beautiful. Even though, as you say, she doesn’t quite “get it” about many of the Church’s teachings, there is something drawing her toward the mystery of the Faith. Let’s welcome her home, help her to find her place in the universal Church, and let the grace of the Holy Spirit, clearly already at work in her, bring this good work to fulfillment. None of us ever really “gets it” completely, 100%. That’s why we speak about “Sacred Mysteries.” But when we, as this woman is doing, open ourselves to receive the Sacraments and rest on the Lord’s Day in the mystery of the Holy Mass, the infinite grace of God cannot but touch our hearts, move our souls to contemplation, and bring us to understand more fully the great mysteries of the Faith, revealed to us through the Holy Church.

    Let’s face it, wagon train bishops. Banality makes it so, so easy to walk away from the Church. True, timeless beauty draws the soul home to God.

  2. Kim says:


    I see this young woman as a “diamond in the rough”. She is calling out for the authority and the the reality that is Holy Mother Church, even though she may not be fully aware of it. I’m not worried about her: the Holy Spirit is at work in her and she will come along fine. How do I know? I was her a few years ago.

  3. Jordan Potter says:

    I dunno. I’m not sure this piece is anything more than something satirical or sardonic: a way to mock and attack the Catholic Church as good for nothing more than precious rites and personal emotion, but hopelessly backward and out-of-touch on moral and political issues. Latin in the Mass will help to make the Church more and more irrelevant to real life, she seems to be saying, and thus, she hopes, there will be fewer people who will listen to what She says about abortion, divorce, and sexual immorality. Yeah, she seems to sense the value of Latin liturgy, and of the Church’s liturgy in general . . . unless she’s just pulling our leg.

  4. Tom Weber says:

    I could see where she might be pulling our leg, but I don’t think so. She is speakin about the Church and about the Liturgy the way a child speaks of a mother who doesn’t try too hard to be the child’s friend. She doesn’t want to think like Mom, but sheesh, she really like’s how Mom handles everything. In a few years, she will realize that Mom was right. On the other hand, the modern Mass is like the parents who try too hard to be their kids’ friends. They end up getting in trouble with their kids and doing no one any good. With age comes wisdom; with hipness comes…well, you know.

  5. Gloria Balaskas says:

    Dear Father Z, thank you so much for this beautiful piece. Like Kim I felt Our Lord calling me so loudly about 5 years ago, that I knew in my heart I could never put anyone or anything in front of Him. It came at a time of trial, and testing. Taking care of loving elderly parents in my home was something I HAD TO DO, for the love of them. I prayed daily for physical and emotional strength, to put my hand in theirs and hand them over to our loving Father in Heaven. Our Lord gave me this grace. It is amazing how this wonderful Father touches us in different ways and different circumstances. Now the Mass is everything to me. I longed for the time we had reverence and silence at Mass. I truly feel that this is a turning point in Our Church. Bless and protect our Pope that he may have the strength and perserverence to hold back those who want our Church to loose its identity. Thank you again. From a new reader, Gloria

  6. Vincentius says:

    Kim is right on this one. Whenever one changes a life philosophy, he /she always feels a need for disclaimers at the beginning of the conversion. Those of us who attend indult Masses see this same situation. Pray for her. I think a big piece in the promotion of the extraordinary rite will be the new bishop of Birmingham, AL. If he does not hinder EWTN from braodcasting the rite, it will allow the curious to view it privately and then request it in their parishes. The Holy Spirit will do the rest.

  7. Steve Skojec says:

    I think she’s making a rather effective argument for the transcendence of the old Mass. While she balks at “rules”, she clearly sees that the structure and form of the classical liturgy force us into a contemplative state that is truly Catholic, in the original sense of the word, uniting us with our fellow Catholics worldwide in the worship of Our Lord.

    Since coming to know the older Missal (I was born in 1977) I’ve begun realizing that it is a sort of catechism. The gestures and prayers and vestments and structure; the architecture of the churches designed for it; the chant; the rubrics for the reception of communion – all of these things point to a God both imminent and transcendent. You simply wouldn’t go to all this effort, do all of these things just so, if it weren’t for the reality of the Eucharist. It would be an unfathomable absurdity.

    And yet it’s obvious by this young woman’s comments that she doesn’t find it at all absurd. She finds the teachings that force her to take a hard look at her life absurd, but all this ceremony, pomp and circumstance for a piece of bread, that’s comforting and normal to her.

    There’s something very profound in that. The Mass has the ability to lead these people home. If that was the only reason to bring it back, it would be enough.

    Of course, that’s just the beginning.

  8. Tom Weber says:

    “speaking” … sorry

  9. Steve Skojec says:

    I should have said, “…all this ceremony, pomp and circumstance for what appears to be nothing more than a piece of bread…”

  10. Sid Cundiff says:

    I speak only for the Federal US:

    Folks know what prayer is.

    Folks know what education is (be it instruction, formation, sermonic).

    Folks know what morality is (what good morality is might be another question).

    Folks know what religious dogma is (whether they know it in detail or correctly is another question).

    Folks know what an emotional surge is.

    Folks know what a sensation in the central nervous system induced by a chemical is.

    Folks sure know what entertainment is.

    Folks DON’T know what worship is.

    They may not even know what love is.

  11. Yesterday I was straightening my study and I came across Peggy Noonan’s moemoir of John Paul II and I opened it to the final paragraph in which she speaks of the importance of the Papacy for the world – like it or hate it, we all seek a spiritual father (someone, who stands for truth, i believe is the way she puts it.) The same can be said of the church and that seems to be what she is expressing – hmm – even rebellious children still love to return to familiar family rituals – hmm…

  12. Dr. Lee Fratantuono says:

    I have met dozens of young people with views similar to this author, and in some ways, they are, I think, the best hope for the resurgence of a wider use of the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite.

  13. Tim Ferguson says:

    This is interesting to read in conjunction with a June 23 posting on Mark Shea’s blog. Mark notes the different views of the Church taken by converts and cradle Catholics. Whereas converts tend to view the Church primarily as a body of doctrine to which they assent, cradle Catholics tend to have a view of the Church primarily as a family, or even a tribal sort of situation. That sets up a conflict – for Shea, the typical cradle Catholics see the sacraments and Church membership as necessarily inclusive – even if they do not live up to the moral demands or agree to all the theological teachings, they still describe themselves as Catholic and balk at any thought of being excluded from what they see as their birthright. The convert-view, on the other hand, cannot grasp why one would want to retain the trappings of membership in a Body with which one has such fundamental disagreement. As with most things, the truth is somewhere in between – in media virtus stat.

    Our author, Ms. Cullen, seems to have the former view. While she seems to express a desire to avoid the challenge given by the moral teachings of the Church and only wants the comforting rituals, I think there’s something deeper at work. Frankly, I don’t think anyone can expose themselves, if they are truly honest, to the rituals of the Church on a regular basis without being transformed by the grace operative in them. While Ms. Cullen may not want the Church to tell her how to vote, or what stance to take on particular social issues, if she immerses herself regularly in the “blessed mutter of the Mass”, I am confident that the Holy Spirit’s whisperings will reach her heart in a transformative way.

    How could one continue to support abortion when one sees in one’s missal the translation for “ex utero, ante luciferum, genui te” and hear the mellismatic drone of the chant entering one’s being to truly become a part of the self?

  14. JA says:

    In our “trends” after SP, we cannot forget the infamous, “People are happy with the Mass the way it is.” This article is a fly in the ointment of the rose-coloured viewpoint about the Mass. Do bishops and priests really believe this? Even if there is not a huge movement toward the extraordinary use, that hardly means people are satisfied. There is a sense of denial that people are leaving the Church for evangelical communities and sects, primiarily because the way in which the ordinary use is celebrated in many places is semi-Pelagian, liberal do-gooderism and totally devoid of the language of sin, grace, and redemption. That is a real problem. The extraordinary use, in some respects, is a cure. And this article points to that.

  15. Daniel Latinus says:

    What I find unconvinving about this article are these things about “telling people how to vote”, “writing letters against stem cell research”, etc. Parishes where priests preach like this are very few and far between. And the author doesn’t seem smart enough to realize that even at a Latin Mass, the priest will preach his sermon, typically from a pulpit, in the local language.

  16. Boko Fittleworth says:

    I think the greatest effect of the MP will be on the priests who say the old form. The old use will change them and they will change everything else. Availability of the old form may not be that much more for us laity, but there are a lot of priests who will say it privately.

    And how comes the progressives always get the homilies againt\st abortion? I hardly ever hear that. The way the progressives talk, Father is always poor mouting abortion, contraception, and euthanasia. Where is this church the progressives all go to?

  17. Cathy Dawson says:

    JA – Maybe the reason bishops think that “people are happy with the Mass the way it is” is that the majority
    of the people left in our churches are those who are happy with it. Most of the people who didn’t like it
    left a long time ago. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens when a lot of these folks come back.

    I’m shocked at the diversity of people I meet and read about who are interested in the traditional Mass.
    Converts who like rock ‘n’ roll Masses, young people who reject many of the Church’s teachings,
    older people who left the church because the new Mass “ain’t holy”. I even met a gentleman who was a
    homosexual man who loathed the Holy Father, but loved the traditional Mass. I think we’re entering a new era
    that will be a challenge to us to find ways to help these folks come into the fullness of the faith. It isn’t going to be just modernists vs traditionalists anymore.

  18. Matt Robinson says:

    It is an indictment against the modern “didactic” liturgy and its excruciatingly dry
    Calvinist underpinnings, while also being an endorsement of genuine Catholic piety as expressed in the traditional Mass.

    I believe that if the liturgy is the “source and summit” of the faith, it is
    no wonder why most “children of Vatican II” have so little faith being raised
    in the “preachy”, humanistic Novus Ordo?

  19. Xavier says:

    “Frankly, I don’t think anyone can expose themselves, if they are truly honest, to the rituals of the Church on a regular basis without being transformed by the grace operative in them.”

    Yes, if said person is not in a state of mortal sin.


    I don’t think anything will foil the Traditional Rite more than those who love it for all the wrong reasons; escapism topping the list. I expect this to be the devil’s next strategy in derailing its revival.

  20. Tim Ferguson says:

    Even if said person is in a state of mortal sin, the grace operative in the Mass can push him towards repentance and the restoration of sanctifying grace through sacramental confession.

  21. Jeremy says:

    Check out other articles by the same journalist and decide whether she’s sincere:


  22. JA says:

    Dear Ms. Dawson,

    Thanks for your comment. I do disagree that most people that still attend the Novus Ordo are happy with it, or else would have left. Most Catholics, respond, with St. Peter, “to whom else would we go, you have the words of eternal life.” In many places, the Trid Mass is unavailable. In other places, it is a “low” mass at an inconvenient time. Other folks fin having to follow along in a prayerbook cumbersome and annoying. We live in a polarized liturgical culture where there is not much between the thin-gruel of a Haugen-Haas/St. Louis Jesuits Mass, and the Trid Mass celbrated without music in a far-off church at an inconvenient time. Because people don’t choose the latter, it does not mean they are content with the former. Many have no exposure to the liturgical treasures of the church, and don’t know where to go. But you can’t impugn folks for staying. I think a novus ordo liturgy celebrated ad-orientem, with the ordinary done in Latin, some gregorian chant, and classic processional and recessional hymns (in a traditional-looking church) would be a huge hit, and people would vote with their feet. But this combination exists practically nowhere. Perhaps this is the reform of the reform we are waiting for. But once again, the Mass is still the Mass and people are faithful. You can’t impugn people who believe the lesser of two liturgical “evils” (bad word, I know) is the normal Novus Ordo.

  23. Cathy Dawson says:


    Sorry if I wasn’t very clear in my comment. I have five kids and things seem to fall apart whenever I try to
    type something on a computer. It’s not very conducive to expressing oneself intelligently!

    I didn’t mean to impugn the people who have stayed in the parishes. I know there are lots of people who
    don’t like what’s been going on liturgically in the Novus Ordo. I didn’t mean that people who left should
    have left. I was trying to convey that people leaving have skewed the numbers to make it look like a majority
    are happy with things.

  24. Jordan Potter says:

    What I find unconvinving about this article are these things about “telling people how to vote”, “writing letters against stem cell research”, etc. Parishes where priests preach like this are very few and far between. And the author doesn’t seem smart enough to realize that even at a Latin Mass, the priest will preach his sermon, typically from a pulpit, in the local language.

    Yeah, that’s why I wonder how serious she is about what she is saying. Maybe she really would like more Latin Masses, but with Time magazine and their animosity to the Catholic faith, I’m a little suspicious about whether she means us to take her literally . . . .

  25. Patris Katholos says:

    I can’t help but wonder how our Eastern Catholic brethren feel about this. They’ve celebrated Divine Liturgy without much change at all for centuries, and, for the most part, it has not been a source of sensationalism for anyone, Catholic or not.
    Though I appreciate what is being done here to preserve and enrich our Catholic identity by way of liberalizing the Tridentine Mass, I think it vastly more important that it is made abundantly clear that NOTHING has changed: We still gather to celebrate Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist and we are still not worthy of reception if in a state of mortal sin!!! Those such as Kim seem to conflate “mystery” with “allowance of ignorance”. If there is division between faith and morality, one’s conscience is in sore need of repair.
    My sincere hope is that in “revitalizing” the Tridentine Mass, we aren’t trading the warm fuzzy of personable vernacular celebrations for that of misunderstood mystery.
    IN HABITUS SANCTUS! Christ is present, whether Kim understands it or not, and he calls ALL of us to integrity.

  26. Patris Katholos says:

    My apologies – I meant Ms. Cullen, not Kim (oops!)

  27. Maureen says:

    A lot of the most rebellious, lunatic fringe people turn out to have been looking for something stable all along that would give them the meaning they’d been seeking for years.

    One of my friends who had done all kinds of crazy stuff and joined every weird religion you could name has finally found her way to… Conservative Judaism! She covers her head and worries about modesty and kosher and reads the Bible in Hebrew! And I still have hopes that she’ll find her way home to Catholicism, despite all that her sad life and horrid family did to drive her away.

    So yes, I’m sure Kim is quite serious, and is probably more serious than she knows.

  28. Richard says:

    I might be able to better discern her perspective if I weren’t still overcoming the shock that she actually heard a homily against abortion.

  29. Miriam says:

    While the reference to a “dead language” may have
    been snide (or perhaps satirical), the remark about
    a priest finding it difficult to tell us how to vote
    (at a Tridentine Mass) rang true with me — but that
    is precisely because the substitute priest at our
    parish, on the Sunday before July 4 this year, gave
    us a parting shot after the recessional hymn. It was
    completely out of line . . . and closely resembled

    “and donate to the political party of your choice,
    because that’s the only way to keep our freedom.”

    Needless to say, he offended my entire family (5
    adults and 2 almost-adult-age teens). Aargh!

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