Summorum Pontificum, the motu proprio granting greater freedom to celebrate the old Latin or Tridentine Mass, puts me in mind of the mercy of God, and how he comes to the aid of his suffering people.
While not all of his people need or want the old Mass, there is a significant constituency for whom the lack of this familiar and time-honored form of worship has been a hardship, and Pope Benedict’s action is that of a genuine pastor.
I am 50 and can barely remember the liturgy that started to drastically change when I was 8, in late 1964.
I first discovered the old Mass by coming upon pictures of President Kennedy’s funeral Mass in an old issue of Life magazine.
Later, I found a pre-Vatican II missal and was fascinated by the color photos of a young priest at various stages of celebrating a Mass.
Despite growing up in the 1960s in an “updated” Church, I was eager to know more about the Latin Mass and longed for it despite never having really known it.
By the time I was in college, this was largely behind me as I concluded that the door had been closed on the traditional form of Mass.
This was reversed in a meaningful way some 20 years ago as Pope John Paul II allowed for limited use of the Tridentine Mass. I found that my original attraction had been warranted, and that my occasional assistance at the old Mass is a great aid to prayer and faith at every level.
I am not alone — and most of the people attracted to the Latin Mass that I know are younger than me.
A now-elderly former colleague called me just this week to tell me how Sunday Latin Mass and daily Rosary are now sustaining her and her husband as he faces cancer treatment. They had been away from the sacraments for decades.
It was not as easy for a childhood neighbor of mine, a gentle and charitable woman who spoke lovingly of the Mass of her youth but who no longer went to church. Over time, it became clear to me that she was put off by the changes. She was too estranged (and too frail of health) to ever come back.
Based on what I have read and seen for myself, many fallen-away Catholics were disaffected by the drastic change in our liturgy — some without fully grasping that this was such a significant factor. Others avoided naming the reason so as not to appear out of step.
The editor of a glossy trade publication, a man of 57 and a connoisseur of modern music, recently told me that, as a high school student, he simply lost his faith at the sight of Mass in English accompanied by folk guitar.
The late and legendary rocker Jerry Garcia was lost to the Catholicism of his childhood, drawn away by other things, no doubt, but he fondly remembered “the wonderful Latin Mass with its resonant sonorities and mysterious ritual movements.”
Many, like the poet Tito Casini, novelist Agatha Christie, and a host of other artists and intellectuals, were of an elevated sensibility, deeply appreciative of the beauty that all readily ascribe to the old Mass, and did not hesitate to identify the nature of their difficulties.
Through it all, God’s ways are not our ways. He tests us — and cares for us — in a variety of ways. I like to think that Pope Paul VI and his collaborators were doing the old Mass a great favor by insisting on a full switch to the new Mass.
It was in those years, the late 1960s, when the western world experienced profound tumult — a true cultural hurricane. When a hurricane is bearing down, you wrap your old treasures up and find a safe place for them, usually the attic, and you leave them hidden until the storms have certainly passed.
English Jesuit Father Hugh Thwaites is especially fond of this analogy because much of the blame for the collapse that Catholicism experienced in many places in those years would have fallen disproportionately on the Latin Mass — had it been around to take the hit.
Instead, the classic form of the Mass was out of sight and safe, and now those who remember it and those who are just discovering it, are reaping what the poet Casini foresaw in 1976 when he predicted the return of the Tridentine missal with the same confidence that he placed in tomorrow’s sunrise:
“It will rise again, ... the Mass will rise again … because it is the sun, and God thus established it for our life and comfort.” When it happens, he said, our eyes will be found “guilty of not having esteemed it worthily before the eclipse; our hearts guilty for not having loved it enough.”
Joe Cullen writes from
Floral Park, N.Y.