Silencing the Traditional Latin Mass — Cui Bono? Who Benefits?

In a Church so full of divisiveness and clamor for “diversity,” it’s difficult to see how suddenly silencing the Traditional Latin Mass will ever bring greater diversity or unity.

Jindřich Tomec (1863–1928), “Mass at St. Stephen’s Cathedral”
Jindřich Tomec (1863–1928), “Mass at St. Stephen’s Cathedral” (photo: dorofotograf2 / Public Domain)

Twenty years ago I edited my first Catholic book — a booklet on Pope St. John Paul II’s new Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary.

But one of my fellow workers, a liberal Church historian friend with whom I disagree loudly and often, carped, “Just what we need — in the midst of the worst sex scandal the Church has ever known, the Pope is busy rearranging the Rosary!”

With Friday’s announcement of Pope Francis’ curtailing of the Traditional Latin Mass, one could easily apply my friend’s argument from two decades ago. In the continuing and seemingly endless and disgraceful saga of a scandal that ranges from poorly-formed seminarians, to ill-informed bishops, to a Curia that can’t seem to cure anything (let alone get a handle on the scourge of sexual abuse and assault), the Pope has decided to tackle the “problem” of the popularity of the Traditional Latin Mass.

Is this really the kind of hard-nosed, put-your-reputation-on-the-line “problem-solving” we need in the Vatican at the moment?

Even if the intention here is for some greater good, the effect is all wrong. Pope Francis comes off not only as tone deaf to the times, but as a reformer who has become a reactionary.

The optics are even worse. Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, lives a short walk away and is in frail health. In liberating the Traditional Latin Mass, he opened the doors not only of the liturgy, but of ecclesiology to people like me who suddenly found themselves learning Latin, listening to Palestrina and praying the traditional Divine Office with renewed vigor. Benedict has to watch as all his well-intentioned work at reproachment is dismantled. Is this really something that could not have waiting until the Pope Emeritus goes to his eternal reward?

My liberal Catholic friends usually like to take extreme examples to their illogical conclusions, especially when it comes to the liturgy, and I see no reason why using their own pretzel logic can’t be used in this case: If the Latin Rite Mass must be always and only in the post-Vatican II model, why should we countenance the Maronite Rite? Or the Ambrosian? Or the Coptic?

If these Churches are part of the Catholic Church, but why do they need their own rite, since even within the Church of Rome there now can be only one expression of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? If Catholics must forgo their beloved pre-Vatican II Mass, why should any of the Churches that maintain communion with the Holy See be allowed a separate rite?

Of course, this is a question of rhetoric and I’m sure the Chaldean liturgical tradition is safe for the foreseeable future. But it does raise the question of why hegemony is so high on Pope Francis’ agenda when the bishops who are supposedly advising him on this matter can’t even agree on what day Ascension Thursday should be celebrated. (Hint: It should be on a Thursday.)

The priest who concelebrated my nuptial Mass sagely told me, “You can’t make people pray.” And he’s right. But I’d add to that: “You can’t make people pray in a way they don’t want to.”

If the faithful have the choice of the Traditional Latin Mass or the post-Vatican II Mass, what soul-damaging harm is done by letting them choose the former — especially since it has the weight of centuries behind it?

Before 2007 I had been to exactly two Traditional Latin Masses — once at Notre Dame where my roommate was studying Latin, and once at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City in 1997. Afterward, I became much more aware of the Latin Mass — and the traditional Breviary, and other devotions — and I became more aware that the Church I was raised in had a lot more going for it than what I had experienced.

In a Church so full of clamor for more “diversity” it seems difficult to see how suddenly silencing a sincere and growing aspect of the faith through the Tridentine Mass will ever bring greater diversity — or unity.

Bruce Clark and Mary Kay Clark

My Dad and the Communion of Saints

‘Every human being is destined to die. But death is not the last word. Death, the mystery of the Virgin’s Assumption assures us … is the passage to the eternal happiness in store for those who toil for truth and justice and do their utmost to follow Christ.’ —Pope St. John Paul II