Matthew Arnold (www.matthewarnold.org) is a Catholic speaker, author and producer. He converted to the Catholic faith in 1996. He has been both host and guest on many Catholic radio programs, including Scripture Matters LIVE with Dr. Scott Hahn for EWTN Global Catholic Radio.
He is a regular attendee of the Traditional Latin Mass at St. John the Baptist Church in Costa Mesa in Southern California, and recently released a book about his experiences with the Latin Mass, Confessions of a Traditional Catholic. He is married to wife Betty, and has six children. He recently discussed the popularity of the Latin Mass among the young, and the release of his book.
The number of Catholics who remember the Latin Mass in their local parishes in the 1960s and before is dwindling. Do you see an attraction to the Latin mass among the young?
Definitely. People too young to remember the pre-conciliar Church are the majority of those assisting at the Traditional Mass at my parish. I believe young Catholics find the Traditional rite attractive precisely because it requires something of them. If I may be permitted a generalization, young people today are powerfully attracted to authenticity and they can smell condescension a mile away. That’s why efforts to make the new liturgy “relevant” to the young, while no doubt well-intentioned, tend to fall flat. Because the fact is, the world can do entertainment better than your youth minister ever can. But the Holy Mass provides the opportunity to join with all the angels and saints in the heavenly worship of God. The Holy Mass alone is “heaven on earth” and I believe many Catholics, young and old, are attracted by the fact that this “vertical” aspect is more substantially represented by the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.
According to the statistics, the Catholic Church has been in decline in the West for 50 years or more. Do you see the Latin Mass as part of the solution to turn things around?
There is no doubt in my mind that the Extraordinary Form of the Mass is a tangible sign of an on-going restoration of the Church. Traveling around North America, as well as internationally, I have found that parishes where both forms of the Mass are celebrated tend to have a number of things in common: lots of lay involvement, Eucharistic Adoration (often perpetual), long lines for Confession, a refreshingly reverent celebration of the New Mass and a genuine sense of community.
What impact has the Latin Mass had on you and your family?
I brought my cradle-Catholic wife Betty to assist at our first Traditional Latin Mass in 2001. When it was over, she tearfully said, “I feel like I’ve just been to Mass for the first time in my life.” We both felt we had discovered a “pearl of great price” (cf. Matthew 13.45-46). Because the “smell and bells,” beautifully-worded prayers, splendid vestments and Gregorian chant of the Traditional Mass are not merely cosmetic. They are an explicit reminder that Christ came as a sign of contradiction (cf. Luke 2.34), and that we who are His followers are called to be in the world but not of the world (cf. John 17.16-18). The Traditional liturgy has provided our children an antidote to peer pressure and the enticements of the world because it teaches by example that we must have the courage to live in a way that often runs counter to the prevailing culture.
What prompted you to write your book Confessions of a Traditional Catholic, and what response has the book received?
In my experience, most Traditional Catholics are well-meaning people who simply desire to be Catholic in the same sense that their parents, grandparents and patron saints were Catholic. Having been on “both sides” of the liturgical divide myself, I determined to write Confessions of a Traditional Catholic to provide “ordinary” Catholics with a brief history of the liturgical reform and offer some personal insight into the legitimate desires of those attached to traditional forms of Catholic belief and practice. On the other hand, I also wanted to sound a note of caution regarding more extreme forms of “Traditionalism” that would seek to satisfy these desires outside the diocesan structure. After all, when was it ever “traditional” to adopt a fixed position of opposition to the local Ordinary?
Response to my book has been uniformly positive, even among those who express no desire to assist at the Traditional Mass. I suspect this is because a fuller understanding of how we got where we are helps us to see where we are going. I consider the mutual enrichment of the two forms of the Roman Rite at the parish level a visible sign of the on-going restoration of the Church in the West. Further, I believe things will continue to improve in direct proportion to our fidelity to the Church’s official liturgy in whatever form or rite.