You do not need to know the whole modern history of the traditional Latin Mass to understand what lies behind Pope Francis’ latest apostolic letter, delivery guardiansand argues that the old ritual threatens unity in the Catholic Church and imposes strict new limits on its use.
All you have to do to understand what is happening now is attend a Latin Mass. There you will see full pews teeming with young families and couples, mosquito infants and troubled toddlers, single twenty-one and teens. The air will be filled with incense and in some parishes the joking beauty of Gregorian chant.
Most of the women and girls will be in veils, most parishioners will follow along with a Roman missal from 1962 and respond to the pastor in Latin, kneel or re-reflect as needed. In short, you will see a religious ritual that looks strange and shocking out of place in modern society.
You will also no doubt see the future of the Catholic Church.
How can it be? After all, only a small number of Catholics, perhaps only about 150,000 in the United States, regularly attend a Latin (Tridentine) Mass. Fewer than 700 Catholic congregations in the United States out of more than 17,000 even offer Latin Mass. Latin Mass is the future of the Catholic Church, it shows a church that is greatly diminished in size and prestige.
But it also shows a more faithful church, one more committed to the doctrines and teachings of Catholicism and the obligations they impose. In fact, the vast majority of Catholics in America today reject the core principles of the faith. ONE 2019 Pew survey found that nearly 70 percent of American Catholics reject the doctrine of transubstantiation, which states that the bread and wine used in the sacrament remained during the Mass of Christ Jesus the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
In contrast, opinion polls in recent years have shown that those who regularly attend the Latin Mass are much closer to Catholic teaching, including matters such as abortion, gay marriage, and contraception, compared to Catholics who attend A new order ritual established in vernacular in 1970 after liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
A national examination of Latin fair participants, led by Fr. Donald Kloster in 2018 found that only 2 percent approved contraception compared to 89 percent of A new order participants. After approval of abortion, the split was 1 percent compared to 51 percent. On gay marriages, 2 percent to 67 percent. The same study showed that parishioners at the Latin Mass on average have almost 60 percent larger family sizes, donate on average five times more and attend weekly Mass with 4.5 times the number of Catholics attending A new order rite.
Another examination of Monastery and others conducted online last year found that among adults ages 18 to 39 who attend the Latin Fair, 98 percent report going every Sunday. This is in sharp contrast to the results of a 2018 Gallup poll, which showed dramatic declines in weekly Mass attendance among all Catholics, with the sharpest decline in the 21- to 29-year-old demographic, from 73 percent in 1955 to 25 percent in 2017, the lowest of all age groups.
Even more striking, the study from Kloster found that 90 percent of these young Catholics were not raised in the Latin ritual, and that the vast majority were attracted to forces from their own generation rather than by their parents. A majority, 35 percent, cited “reverence” as what prompted them to seek the Latin ritual.
The seriousness of Catholics attending the Latin Mass confirms something that was then Fr. Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, said in an interview in 1969, the year before the Latin Mass was effectively replaced by A new order:
From today’s crisis, tomorrow’s church will emerge – a church that has lost much. She gets small and has to start all over again more or less from the start. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the buildings she built in prosperity. As the number of her followers decreases, it will lose many of her social privileges. Unlike an earlier age, it will be considered much more as a voluntary society concluded only by free decision. As a small community, it will place much greater demands on the initiative of its individual members.
Benedict understood that the church would shrink, but that as it fell, the rest would be more zealous, more closely associated with Catholic doctrine and doctrine than it had been before. He must also have understood that beauty and reverence in worship had an important role to play in this smaller but more faithful church.
When Benedict in 2007 gave broad permission to hold Mass according to the old Latin ritual, confirming that it had never been banned and that it could never be, and urging bishops to allow their priests to offer it where it was desired, he started a movement within the church – not a schism, but a revival that now shows the way forward for a church that is still in crisis and still shrinking. In the 14 years since, the adoption of the Latin Mass has grown among Catholic believers around the world, attracting both converts and cradle Catholics.
Why then would Francis punish those who worship according to the Latin ritual? Why would he give an incorrect reproduction in brutal and authoritarian language, the motives of these Catholics? In the letter to the bishops accompanying his motu proprioFrancis writes:
I am nevertheless saddened that the instrumental use of the Missal Romanum from 1962 is often marked by a rejection not only of the liturgical reform but also of the Vatican Council II and argues with unfounded and untenable claims that it betrayed the tradition and ‘genuine church. ‘
Now, we come to the part where we talk about the middle ground. Francis fears that Catholics who are attracted to the ancient ritual will somehow reject the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. In another passage, he writes that the efforts to expand the Latin ritual of both John Paul II and Benedict, “intended to regain unity in a church body of varying liturgical sensitivity, were exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce differences, and encourage disagreements. , which harms the church, blocks her path and exposes her to the danger of division. ”
Nothing could be further from the truth. Catholics attending Latin Mass are, by all accounts least likely to encourage disagreements, widen the gaps or strengthen deviations in the church. They are far more likely to adhere to Catholic doctrine and accept the obligations that the church imposes on believers than Catholics who do not attend Latin Mass. In fact, they are in stark contrast to the nearly 70 percent of American Catholics who deny transgenderism and the vast majority who support abortion and gay marriage and do not feel compelled to fulfill their religious obligations.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t some very online traditional Catholics bragging about the Latin Mass, making inflammatory claims about its superiority, and criticizing Francis. But they are not representative of the Latin masses as a whole, and the divisions they may provoke are nothing compared to the divisions and, in fact, outright schism that bishops of Germanyhas, for example, pushed the entire Francis pontificate and tried to bless same-sex unions and ordain women to the priesthood. The alleged divisions caused by traditionalists are also nothing compared to the very real divisions that millions of ordinary Catholics routinely encourage when they deny Catholic doctrine, bear false testimony against the church, and avoid their religious obligations.
In view of all this we have to conclude that there is another motive which is not expressed in the Pope motu proprioto target a relatively small group of faithful Catholics who are attracted to the Latin Mass. It is difficult to come to this motive, but it is perhaps best understood as a generational conflict.
Priests from Francis’ generation who came up in the reforms of Vatican II imagined a very different future for the church than the one that is now emerging. They imagined a church that would not offend the Protestants in its worship or in its teachings. They imagined a church that would be flexible, able to change over time and accommodate new and different banknotes. The so-called “spirit of Vatican II” was to lead the church into the modern era, making it relevant and attractive to modern people, more accommodating and less serious.
What happened instead, they did not come. It seems that modern people do not want the kind of church that Francis and the German bishops will give them. Many apostate Catholics want nothing to do with the church, even a more progressive one, and have simply left it for good. Others prefer to remain Catholic, at least nominally, but free to ignore or even belittle anything with which they may disagree or which might offend their modern sensitivity.
But a strong and steadfast remnant earnestly desires a church that adheres to and upholds timeless and unchanging doctrines, given physical form in ancient rituals and worship. They want a church that takes the sacraments seriously, that demands something of them, and in return gives them beauty and truth.
Among these Catholics, a growing number want to worship according to the Latin ritual. No matter what inchoate and vengeful policies emanating from Rome, their numbers are likely to continue to grow.
One gets the feeling that this, above all, is what the Pope wants, was not it. When Francis looks back over his shoulder to pass on the baton to the next generation, he may see what Benedict saw in 1969: a smaller but more faithful church, young and vibrant, but greatly diminished in power and prestige.
Perhaps he thought, unlike Benedict, that it would not be so. But it has.
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