I’m going to do my best to defend the Extraordinary Form after the onslaught by John Zmirak, but he’s made it hard. I think introducing the world to two of my Extraordinary Form friends will help.

Yes, that’s right, for those who have followed this (for those who haven’t, you might want to check out some of the other fine posts on this site instead). I’m not going to defend the Novus Ordo against him. I’m going to defend the Extraordinary Form to my aghast Novus Ordo friends who have read John Zmirak’s two columns and wonder at the vitriol of it all.

My friend John Zmirak wrote an interesting column Feb. 17 that compared the form of a Mass to a flag and defended his attachment to the old Mass. His conclusion:

“And by changing back the flag, by taking back our Mass, we are saying: Go back to Hell. Our Church belongs to Christ.”

I responded in an article and I e-mailed him the link saying:

“I feel like the scrawny guy kicking sand in the face of the muscle man, but here:

“Now he has replied, and yikes.

John starts: “Tom Hoopes has done me a courtesy rarely afforded tradition-minded Catholics: He has stooped to address my arguments, instead of airily dismissing them as the sad obsessions of half-wits, bag ladies, and yellow-eyed anti-Semites with dirty fingernails.”

… and then continues by airily dismissing my arguments as the sad obsession of a half-witted hopelessly lost Novus Ordo flunky he calls “Bridey” (he literally calls me only that throughout his post). Then he contradicts the fundamental points of his first column.

This set his com-box supporters shivering with delight at his incredible debating prowess.

Well, as the old saying goes: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. It would be truly foolish to expect at this point to pretend to engage John Zmirak in a discussion.

As another blog wrote: “He’s defending against arguments Hoopes nor made nor intended, but it’s a wonderful, artful polemic and persuades me never to make an argument against John Zmirak in public.”

Exactly so. It’s fun stuff. It’s just self-contradictory, unfair and insulting. So I will do my duty and answer, but then I’m done.

One germane item does emerge from Zmirak’s column: He discloses that he once waxed poetic about the very analogy I’m making, so I have cut and pasted that into my original post to shore it up.

Otherwise, John’s second article is a classic bait and switch.

What he promised to do in the original column was explain to the orthodox, Church-loving faithful “the apparent fixation traditionalists have on restoring former elements of the liturgy and other Catholic practices that are not essential, and resisting innovations that are not inherently evil.”

He elaborated:  “Why insist on external things, like kneeling for communion on the tongue, male altar servers, and the priest facing the altar? None of these, I’ll admit for the 5,000th time, is essential for sacramental validity or credal orthodoxy; isn’t being a stickler on such issues a wee bit pharisaical, even prissy?”

Then he elaborated even more, by taking specific issues off the table.

I took him at his word; all that was off the table, and we were looking with purity at the question:  “Why do you people care so much about externals?”

I responded to the argument he left on the table by saying: “Um, not to put too fine a point on it, but the form of the Mass is not at all a flag.”

I proposed a different analogy, comparing our communion at Mass with the spousal union of husband and wife:

“As important as [the conjugal act] is as the ‘source and summit’ of their marital relationship, their behavior and relationship will start to look warped if they make sex the ‘center and preoccupation’ of their relationship. Their marital relationship will start to be tense and unhappy and the very unity the act is supposed to affirm will become tenuous and fragile.

“It’s the same with the Mass. . . .”

My point was clear: “Obsession with inessentials distorts.” I hastened to say that most Extraordinary Form folks I know don’t obsess about externals, but that John’s column “comes perilously close.”

I faced the great John Zmirak himself, on the ground he laid out.

Then he cheated. He shifted the ground in several important ways. Let’s count them:

1) The importance of the Eucharis

In Column No. 1, John says he understands how communion in the Novus Ordo is itself valuable:

“Having come from churches that didn’t have the Eucharist, and remaining through God’s grace flush with gratitude for the sacraments, many converts really don’t understand what the rest of us are nattering on about. … We owe these good people an explanation.”

I agree with that John. The Eucharist is a blessing, even in the Novus Ordo. So there was nothing to argue.

Well, in Column 2 John crushes me … by reversing himself and now decrying the “destructive options” in the Novus Ordo Mass such as: “ambiguous Eucharistic prayers” and “handing out Communion like a movie ticket.”

He promised to respect Novus Ordo Communion in Column 1, and sneered at it in Column 2.

2)      The validity of Vatican II and the Norvus Ordo.

In Column 1, John concedes: “Adopting Lutheran or Anglican language in the Mass probably didn’t cause the current crisis of belief in the Real Presence, and cutting such language by eliminating all but the First Eucharistic Prayer might not do much to resolve it.”

Yep. Do a search. He really did say that. And I agree.

But Column-2 John doesn’t agree. 

He waxes poetic about the martyrs who opposed the sacrilegious Anglicans: “It’s not for nothing that Catholics during the Counter-Reformation marched (heavily armed, to prevent sacrilegious attacks) in Corpus Christi processions through hostile Calvinist towns. The Eucharist itself was those brave Catholics’ banner, and I for one am not ashamed of them. Is Bridey?”

This is bait and switch and sucker punch all wrapped up in one.

His first column calls the form of the Mass a flag, and is careful not to malign the Novus Ordo Mass or communion. Now he asserts that the flag is the Eucharist itself. And he impugns my Eucharistic devotion, with no evidence.

I thought I was arguing about inessentials with Column-1 John. The John from Opposite World showed up in Column 2, swapping essentials for inessentials.

3)      Aesthetics

In Column 1, John promised aesthetics isn’t the reason he cares about inessentials: “One visit to a Sunday Latin Low Mass without music, recited soundlessly into a marble altar, should put that idea to flight.”

So I took him at his word. We weren’t arguing aesthetics. That was off the table.

But in column 2, aesthetics and female altar servers (which Column-1 John called a non-essential) is the first place he goes: “At least we Trads aren’t scarfing down lame Catholic knock-offs of already-pitiful Christian ‘rock,’ or training our daughters to be altar servers for the next World Urban Youth Day . . . bless their hearts.”

Yes, I was foolish … for believing Column-1 John was really taking that off the table.

4)      Latin

In column one, John claims he’s keeping Latin off the table: “While the universal language of the Church is still to be revered for all the reasons that Vatican II prescribed in Sacrosanctum Concilium, it isn’t Why We Fight.”

In column 2, the Latin — the right Latin — is one of the essentials:

“As Michael Davies noted long-ago, the Anglican and Lutheran-inspired changes in the Novus Ordo Missae in the original Latin were intended by the committee that crafted them to fudge the differences among the churches — in the hope that an ecumenical liturgy would promote Christian unity.”

Boy, I walked right into that one. By believing John.

5)      Even the Ordinary Form itself.

Column-1 John says the Ordinary Form or Extraordinary Form isn’t the point: “The liturgy is miraculous, but it doesn’t work like magic: Rev. Teilhard de Chardin had said the Tridentine Mass for decades even as he invented Catholic Scientology; conversely, his sometime housemate at New York’s St. Ignatius Loyola, the holy Rev. John Hardon, obediently switched missals with every tinkering that came to him from the bishops.”

But Column-2 John helpfully clarifies what he’s talking about when he says “And by changing back the flag, by taking back our Mass, we are saying: Go back to Hell. Our Church belongs to Christ.” The Hell Mass here is: “the Ordinary Form as ordinarily celebrated, in some 99.9 percent of parishes outside Vatican City.”

Yikes. Column-2 John sends “back to Hell” probably every Mass you’ve ever been to.

The silly way John branded me “Bridey” then swept back onto the table everything (except nostalgia) that he had taken off of it has caused friends to tell me it was stupid to start the discussion at all.

Yes, yes, yes! It was stupid. I was stupid. I wish I never had.

But worse, it has caused one to tell me: “Now you know to avoid that nasty little tribe.”

That I can’t abide. Because I know too many Extraordinary Form guys who are, well, extraordinary.

I meant what I said in my column:

—The Extraordinary Form Mass is a giant blessing for the Church after the Council.

—I believe my traditional Mass friend who wants to write an article about her experience called “Surprised by Beauty.”

—I believe that “Most of us — in both the Ordinary and the Extraordinary camps — know the externals should be right, but don’t obsess too too much about them”.

But I didn’t mention two of the most impressive Extraordinary Form guys I know.

I’m sure they don’t want to be named here, given the reaction I’m getting from the com-boxers in their community. I’ll make them as anonymous as possible. I’ll just say one is a guy who through an apostolate has given my family and many others a gift that will bear fruit in 1,000 ways throughout our lives. He has one of the finest families I’m personally aware of.

He is a man fed by the Extraordinary Form — deeply, truly appreciative of it — but, like most, not obsessed by it. So is the other man I’m thinking of who is making an incredible, large scale contribution promoting character formation.

These aren’t weirdoes hanging out at the “muttered Mass” at the “insane asylum” John Zmirak describes; they are robust Catholic men putting the faith to work in the world.

Which, to my mind, means they are Catholic men of our times — and men of the Church of all times.

They know what I know: The Church is our mother. She can be trusted. She understands the problem with the liturgy, and she has made it a major priority.

The Church is heading in the right direction. My extraordinary friends know this; I suspect John Zmirak knows it too.

Together, as a Church, we have much to be proud of.

Catholics have founded seven new universities in the past decade faithful to the magisterium, and have renewed many more along canon-law-mandatum lines. We are the Church of World Youth Day, which is changing the trajectory of countless lives. And not just that; we are the Church of the National Catholic Youth Conference, whose 20,000 teens marched in Eucharistic procession through Kansas City in November.

Because of those colleges, and because of our youth movement, the most recent generation of young men formed by the post-Council Church are increasingly choosing the seminary. The Major Superiors of Women Religious, an organization formed by Pope John Paul II, is rapidly growing, and is populated by habited orders of nuns (ordinary and extraordinary formers) whose members’ average age is 35. Their vocation crisis, as they remind us on their fundraising letters, is that they don’t have enough space.

Our Church’s ordinary and extraordinary formers are at the heart of the pro-life movement that has dramatically turned around the numbers such that a majority of Americans now call themselves pro-life. We are a Church of a revitalized body of bishops who are coming up with practical ways to promote life ... and the sacraments and Catholic truth. Even Time magazine noticed “Confession’s Comback” in our Church.  Extraordinary formers and ordinary formers keep the perpetual adoration chapel going in my parish and in more than 800 others, a number that continues to grow.

We’re one Church together. And we’re not “going back to hell” – we’re headed, we pray, to the Heavenly Form liturgy where Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa and Cardinal John O’Connor await us, in the Father’s house.