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Making Mass “Relevant” is Irrelevant to Evangelization

Which of these things is not like the others?

Many Catholics have witnessed or read about Masses gone wild: polka Masses, life-size scary puppet Masses, and probably worst of all, Los Angeles Religious Education Congress closing Masses. In these extreme cases, it is clear that there is something fundamentally wrong with how the organizers understand the Mass. Yet even some sincere, faithful Catholics wish to change the Mass in order to make it more “relevant.” We see this in many youth-oriented Masses, as well as the typical suburban parish’s regular attempts to alter the liturgy to accommodate the perceived tastes of the congregation. The intention behind these changes may be noble: the hope is that if the Mass is more relatable then more people will come and “get more out of it.” So it would seem these folks wish to evangelize. But two questions must be asked: Is the purpose of the Mass evangelization? And, are these attempts to be “relevant” an effective evangelization tool?

To answer these questions, we need to look back to the days of the first Christians who lived in the Roman Empire as a small, often-persecuted sect. What we find might startle many modern Catholics: attendance at Mass was strictly controlled, and only those who’d been baptized were even allowed to participate in the Eucharistic celebration. Granted, the dangerous nature of being Catholic certainly had something to do with this rule. At any time a persecution might flare up, and if it did, you didn’t want your enemies witnessing your participation in an outlawed religious ceremony. But this was not the only reason for this prohibition; the sacraments of the Church were called “the mysteries,” and the celebration of them was considered the most sacred act in which a person could engage. To allow the entrance of outsiders – the non-baptized – would be to desecrate in some way the liturgical act. Even after Christianity became legal, the non-baptized were still required to leave the Church after the Mass of the Catechumens (comparable to what the Missal of Paul VI refers to as the “Liturgy of the Word”) out of respect for the mystery and sacredness of the Eucharist. We see remnants of that practice in the Eastern Liturgy’s cry, “The doors! The doors” that precedes the Eucharistic prayer: it is a call to the guardians of the doors to ensure that the unbaptized do not witness the Eucharistic sacrifice.

We can learn two lessons from the early Church practice: (1) the celebration of Mass itself was not considered a tool for attracting people to the Christian Faith – since non-Christians weren’t even allowed to attend Mass, it could not be used to evangelize them; and (2) this apparent restriction did not negatively impact the early Church’s evangelization efforts, which were wildly successful. Christians were able to attract others to the faith, not by bringing them to a liturgy that they could identify with, but by living and preaching the power of the Gospel. It is true that over the centuries the Church added much pageantry to her liturgies; however, the focus of those additions was not attracting converts but giving greater glory to God.

Also, practically speaking, trying to make the Mass “relevant” is clearly a project doomed to failure. These attempts aim to make the Mass more like the surrounding culture, but the fact remains that we simply cannot beat the culture at its own game. The most creative minds in the world spend billions of dollars each year producing entertainment for the masses. Catholic parishes believe they can imitate the culture and thereby attract the disaffected, but they are sadly mistaken. Witness the cringe-worthy efforts by aging baby boomers to copy the latest cultural fad in their desire to “reach out” to estranged Catholics: sad stabs at “hip” music, priests turning Mass into comedy central, and even light shows more appropriate to Chuck E. Cheese’s than St. Charles Catholic Church. If the choice is between Hollywood’s polished product and the poor imitation found at the local Catholic parish, most will choose the real thing.

Does that mean the Church is doomed to be unattractive to the surrounding culture? Not at all. The secret to true relevance isn’t trying to beat the culture at its own game. Rather, let’s play our game – one at which we already excel. For 2,000 years the Catholic Church has celebrated magnificent liturgies that reverently glorify God. These liturgies have produced some of the most sublime – and attractive – celebrations known to man. The paradox is that by putting the focus on God, not man, many men and women will be attracted to the transcendent grandeur of a life of faith. Meanwhile, a banal focus on pleasing people quickly leaves them unsatisfied and looking to quench their thirst for the transcendent elsewhere.

Traditionally, the ends of the Mass are described as four-fold: adoration, atonement, thanksgiving, and petition. “Evangelization” is not included in these ends. This does not mean that the Mass does not have a role in evangelization efforts; after all, the Mass is the source and summit of the Christian Faith, so it has a role in everything a Christian does. So if evangelization is not an end of the Mass, what is the relationship between the two? Though not the Mass’s purpose, evangelization is a fruit of the Mass. Participating in the Mass, sacramentally uniting ourselves to the Sacrifice of Calvary, each Catholic receives the strength to go out and make disciples of all nations.

By confusing fruit with purpose, many Catholics denigrate, unwittingly or no, the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Efforts to make the Mass “relevant” to our times in the end make it irrelevant to true evangelization. By focusing on the horizontal – being directed towards man – rather than the vertical – being directed towards God – our priorities become inverted and the result neither gives glory to God nor attracts those who are lost. If we aspire first to give glory to the Almighty, however, we also receive what is needed to bring people to Him. Or, as our Lord said, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Matthew 6:33).

Originally Published on Nov 20, 2014.

52 thoughts on “Making Mass “Relevant” is Irrelevant to Evangelization”

  1. My response to this article is “So what”?

    I’ve experienced my share of attempts to make the liturgy more “relate-able”. Use of Disney music (Colors of the Wind — Pocohantas) as part of one Mass after the pastor got back from a trip to Disneyland. Another time during the Easter Vigil, having the parish “liturgist” take a large pitcher to the baptismal font and make “waterfall” noises during Is reading. “Woosh Weeej!!!” And, a gaggle of the “youth group” parade up and down the aisles with large red flags for the crossing of the red sea. When I asked the liturgist why the novelties, he told me “‘cuz Father wants it…” When I asked “Fr” he told me “…cuz the parishoners want it…” You see how it is?

    And the local bishop? Well, these issues are not of concern. It didn’t affect the coming golf tourney and other more relevant social justice items related to welcoming illegal immigrants…

    So, in closing…. Without pastors, the NO liturgy will continue to be abused.


  2. I simply think that a true liturgical renewal will be found in the Traditional Latin Mass. The Latin, the unique prayers, the reverence and mystery that the Extraordinary Form gives is unmatched. Even if the growth of this form of the Mass is slow, it will, with assistance of the Holy Ghost, provide the true “New Pentecost” that the Church needs.

    • I’m going to say that the traditional latin mass is too new. We need to go back to the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Then we will make more in-roads with our Orthodox brothers.

      • “Essentially the Missal of Pius V is the Gregorian Sacramentary; that again is formed from the Gelasian book, which depends on the Leonine collection. We find the prayers of our Canon in the treatisede Sacramentis and allusions to it in the 4th century. So our Mass goes back, without essential change, to the age when it first developed out of the oldest liturgy of all. It is still redolent of that liturgy, of the days when Caesar ruled the world and thought he could stamp out the faith of Christ, when our fathers met together before dawn and sang a hymn to Christ as to a God. The final result of our inquiry is that, in spite of unsolved problems, in spite of later changes, there is not in Christendom another rite so venerable as ours.”

        In a footnote: “The prejudice that imagines that everything Eastern must be old is a mistake. Eastern rites have been modified later too; some of them quite late. No Eastern Rite now used is as archaic as the Roman Mass.”

        – Fr. Adrian Fortescue, The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy, s.l., 1912, p. 213

        • Well said Steve! I guess I should retract the ‘new’ part and just say that we would have more in common with our Eastern brethren.

          • I would also like to add that, even though the Divine Liturgy is incredibly beautiful, as a Roman Catholic, I want the Roman Rite to be Roman and not Eastern. The opposite is true too. The Eastern Catholic Church should have Liturgies that show their rich Eastern Patrimony. The West and the East both have wonderful Liturgical Traditions and it would be best if the Divine Liturgy and the Traditional Latin Mass were the two centerpieces for the two lungs of the Church!

        • “Essentially the Missal of Pius V is the Gregorian Sacramentary; that again is formed from the Gelasian book, which depends on the Leonine collection. We find the prayers of our Canon in the treatisede Sacramentis and allusions to it in the 4th century.”
          Yep. Just the type of language which will bring the young back in their droves. Not.

  3. My response to this article is “Exactly.” Because even without the extremes, we have all had to endure the dumbed-down substitute for reverent liturgy that is about making it welcoming and accessible and contemporary. And where has that gotten us? Parishes full of lukewarm Catholics just trying to blend in with the culture. When the Mass is so close to the rest of the world, it makes it very easy to walk away.

  4. I just find the whole discussion highly neurotic and toxic on both sides.

    Once a TLM person lets down their guard if you’re not confrontational, they expose their rationalisations, and most of them then just talk about it in terms of taste and preference, which makes them simply hypocrites.

    • I’m not sure which TLM people you are around, but the people I’ve met (I attend a OF) can give the reasons and rubrics why an EF is better than an OF.

      • Yes. You are right. They can do exactly that. Every rubric, every jot, every tittle, and come across just like the late Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, when it comes to the Liturgy.

        They know all the ‘verses’ that support their view, as a Fundamentalist knows all the verses which support their view as to why it is is true Christianity and Catholicism, the Whore of Babylon. So what?

        What I hear are opinions of people who claim some sort of pseudo-magisterial authority, not the Church herself. I hear the voice of a legalistic sect, not the Church. If the Magisterium had ruled definitively on the matter, I’d follow the Magisterium, not some coterie acting under it’s own authority (ultra vires) as if it should be listened to.

        Like Protestants, they simply paint the target round their arrow.

        But, your reply does not answer my criticism which is that, when they get animated and talk about it off-guard, they talk about how much they ‘love it’, but in the sense that people ‘love Mozart’. All the articulate, pretentiously high-falutin’, verbal contortions are merely a smoke screen behind which lies a preference, not a definitive truth.

        It’s all rather like Brian Sewell, one of our prissy Art Critics here in England, full of his own opinions:

        • LOL!!!! Well that was am exceptional rant. Bravo!
          You’ve painted the perfect caricature that every person who has never actually met an EF attendee spew about them. Great job!
          Now, being an OF attendee myself, in the times I have run into the EF people coming to the mass after mine, I find them to be fellow Catholics who worship in a style that is not my own. I don’t make up who they are, like some people, but bless them for their piety and pray for their continued well being.
          But hey, if you want to live in your own realm of reality, ranting about your disdain of those who worship differently from you, have at it. In the meantime, there’s a ton of joy out here you’re missing.
          Bless your heart.

          • Hi Netmilsmom.
            I don’t normally criticise what I haven’t experienced for myself.

            I learnt Latin and Gregorian Chant at school, here in England, from the age of nine in the seventies. It also had High Mass on Sunday, and Low Mass at 6.15am every morning after the Angelus, and at which I served. Also, Benediction Sunday evening, Angelus three times a day, and Compline before we went to bed. Most of it in Latin. The Chapel as it was when I was there:

            The reason I experienced it (when Catholics weren’t!), was because it was an Anglican School started by an Anglican priest who refused to stop celebrating Mass in the 19th century when it became illegal, and so he was prosecuted under the Public Worship Regulation Act 1874 for using proscribed liturgical practices, and imprisoned for it, so it kept the tradition. So it’s in my bloodstream.

            You might be pleasant, as TLMers are absolutely lovely to each other by-and-large as they’re normally more monied and educated and broadly from the social elite here.

            I occasionally attend TLM Masses, but outside that environment, if they’re not being patronising, they can make Michael Voris seem like a member of the Church of Nice, and if the commboxes in blogsphere’s anything to go by, America is not much different, making my ‘rant’ seem rather tame.

          • Wow, you must have missed (twice) that I attend an OF so the “You might be pleasant, as TLMers are absolutely lovely to each other by-and-large” doesn’t work in this combox.
            Oooops, kind of looks like a cut and paste job, meant to be thrown up for every EF attendee in a combox. Seminar responders and hobby disruptors always make me laugh.
            Have a nice day!

          • I didn’t miss anything, including your sarcastic tone and patronising attitude. 🙂

            The paradox of the article, as I mentioned before, is to convince its readers that the EF is relevant, because most people see it as irrelevant and completely out of touch. But also, as I said, I agree with it.

            The argument is a good one, except almost nobody ‘outside’ – whom the article is trying to persuade – is listening. It’s singing to the choir, and so just feeding the pet peeves of like minds. (I have some of Eric Sammons books. They are excellent, and so I respect him and judge him as worth listening to.)

            Now, so many Masses are merely designed to attract punters – TLM included. However, I’d argue the TLM is not a product, like Washing Powder. It does not need promotion. We do not need to ‘evangelise’ with it.

            I’m in the IT industry and I mend people’s computers. Before fixing a computer I normally back up the data if I can. I also do it for nothing for friends at Church – the kinds of people you’d sneer at, like you do me – and I see their Internet bookmarks as I back them up. But, what is noticeable, is that they normally have no bookmarks to any Catholic sites whatsoever, but games, TV sites, shopping, clothing, and Sport.

            What’s more, I actually talk to them, and so know they wouldn’t have a clue about – or any interest in – any of this.

            What takes place in the blogsphere are active Catholics talking amongst themselves, but the only Catholics who are active and talking – or even interested – are ‘Traditionalists’ and Modernists and the subsequent mud-slinging.

            So, the whole thing misses the very people whom the Church suggests we should be reaching in the New Evangelisation.

            In other words, the Modernists are trying to make the Mass relevant, whilst the Traditionalists are trying to replace Modernist expressions of the Mass and, if they are providing any apology then, necessarily, they are arguing for its relevance, too. That is, they want to educate ‘cradle’ (i.e., ‘lukewarm’) Catholics about the relevance of the Mass, except without trying to adapt it ‘to taste’.

            The trouble is that, like Evangelicalism, they start 10 miles ahead of where the subjects of their machinations are at, but then they wonder why the people they’re trying to reach either resist, give up, or don’t even bother trying, when in reality, the objects of all their blathering simply don’t understand what they’re going on about, and why they’re so obsessed and fanatic.

            In short, most blogs are intellectually top-heavy – like Reformed Protestantism – whilst seeming to completely lack understanding effective communication skills and interpersonal dynamics.

          • You have commented extensively in a tone that paints those who attend the EF in a caricature convenient to dismissing them, and therefore, the EF. Isn’t that what you are really attacking?

            If you believe the Modernists are trying to make the Mass relevant, you must surely also admit they have failed miserably. Since the New Order Mass has been instituted, the faithful have left in droves, not replaced by the Protestants the New Order Mass was supposed to attract. A double failure.

            Interestingly, the EF of the Mass is attracting Catholic families, older people who remember the EF Mass, and curious newcomers. Perhaps it was never about “making” the Mass relevant. Perhaps it has always been about having a relevant Mass…and communicating that to the people.

            How sad you did not experience that with your extensive background with the EF, but seemed to concentrate on the shortcomings of those who attend it.

          • Hi St Benedict’s Thistle.
            Thanks for your reply.

            Firstly, I think the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Usus Antiquior, is truly beautiful, but I am a ‘supporter’ of both the UA and the Novus Ordo. I do not like to make a distinction. They both have their place in the right context. For me they are not an either/or. But, many people who ‘love’ the Latin Mass can’t even read Latin, which makes their attraction curious to me. It seems more like people who dress in the latest fashions, or take up a new pursuit, but don’t seem to know why, when asked, yet one has a hunch it’s probably because the people they admire, or look up to, do it.

            Is the Mass a pastime, or something else entirely? It’s the latter, of course. Yet, both forms are spoken of in terms of appeal (relevance) by adherent’s of both forms.

            What’s happening in the article – although I agree completely with its argument, as I’ve said – is simply an ad hominem attack, which ignores all the ‘rigourist/superstitious/scrupulous’ nonsense which can surround the UA and thereby distort it, too. If the candles are the wrong type/colour at a Requiem Mass, should one throw a wobbly? I know a priest who would. Broadly, it’s the opposite extreme, let’s say.

            From my experience, it appears the Mass itself is often secondary when they’re speaking, as I said, off-the-cuff. Then their language is predominantly that they are ‘moved’ by it and ‘love’ it. They have a ‘religious experience’ or experience a ‘frisson’. It is the language of the passions, just as their language about the NO is often that of ‘Disgust’.

            In other words, the way they talk about the Mass is more ‘Missocentric’ rather than Christocentric. More like a concert, than meeting Christ (I’ve never seen so many camera flashes at Mass as at UA Masses, for example).

            This, to me, is the hub of the issue: relevance of the Mass as being a central factor to both, but one side’s claiming some sort of self-righteous superiority or special-pleading.

            That is, there seems to be more emphasis on the form than the substance, which I believe is part of what’s termed Integrism. That is, the opposite of Modernism isn’t Traditionalism, but Integrism*, the ‘Jansenistic’ equivalent of the Clown Mass-goer, who makes the accidents of form, substantial in their quest to conserve, which ends up ossifying what should be living.

            Secondly, I am simply not convinced the NO is the root of the problem. In fact, I think that view has a more superstitious, if not ‘urban legend’ feel about it than any doctrinal/theological basis, yet it’s always quoted as unquestionably the reason. To me, there are too many other philosophical, ideological, and sociological factors which arose in the 1960s which could explain the decline much better. The link between the introduction of the NO and falling Mass attendance is merely coincidental if not a non sequitur altogether.

            My issue is with the commodification of the Mass – whatever form – so its essential nature becomes secondary, or accidental to, other ends. So, language such as ‘the EF of the Mass is attracting Catholic families’, falls into the realm of what could be termed ‘Liturgical Consumerism’, which I find strange. Christ should be doing the attracting, so they should be talking in terms of him, yet the language is always ‘Mass-focussed’. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not a commodity, and Evangelisation is not marketing. But, what’s more, how do you know it’s not just a fad like all the rest?

            Clown Masses are now simply cringe-making and passé – but they were started at the time of Godspel, and the ‘young people’ who liked them in the seventies, are now old and drawing their pension, yet still claim ‘it’s what the young like’, whilst the TLM is just the sort of thing Hipster culture would devour.

            Could there be a link between the growth of interest in the TLM and Hipster culture, which is exactly the same cultural phenomenon as ‘Godspel culture’ and the Clown phenomenon, just 40 years on?

            Polka, Puppets, or Clowns/Frilly lace cottas, Latin, or Palestrina – if they’re central to why one goes to such-and-such Mass – is problematic, I feel.

            My issue is with everything which seems to surround the Liturgical debates themselves. The interesting language, the objectification, and personality types which tend to fall into the camps, and how they express themselves which, to me, makes both sides of the liturgical debate seem unwilling to look at the skeletons in their respective cupboards, embracing self-deception and denial in the process.


            * ‘Integrism, according to Danielou, is the “conservative attachment to inadequate categories and conceptions wrongly identified with imperishable truth. This archaizing tendency takes various forms, according to the particular stage of history chosen to represent the ideal of Christianity—it may be a nostalgic hankering after the Primitive Church of the first centuries or a more or less romantic medievalism, or a desperate attachment to the vanishing outline of bourgeois Christendom.” Here one can detect echoes of Bouillards ideas of doctrinal invariants and contingent systems. Modernism, on the other hand, is the attitude “whereby the necessary process of adaptation is allowed to endanger the essential structure of the depositum fidei discarding the substance along with its ephemeral accidents.” ‘

            [Marc C Nicholas, Jean Danielou’s Doxological Humanism: Trinitarian Contemplation and Humanity’s True Vocation, p. 24-25]

          • Hey OTG, I appreciate your reply. I would ask you one thing, though, which you did not address. Why has the Modernist New Order Mass not been successful in keeping Catholics in the pews or attracting Protestants? Where did the Modernists go wrong?

          • Hi Thistle,

            “Why has the Modernist New Order Mass not been successful in keeping Catholics in the pews or attracting Protestants?”

            The silly answer is that it doesn’t include lapdancers. But seriously, it makes a valid point. I believe seeing the Mass as a commodity, or in your terms, assuming the NO is the problem because it’s a bad product whilst the EF is a good one, because Christians are just consumers. Sell a bad product, and the shoppers go elsewhere.

            I don’t think it’s got anything to do with Modernism, but Modernity. In other words, trying to address the problems of the overwhelming power post-Enlightenment thinking has over us, but then trying to fight the problem of the Post-Enlightenment with post-Enlightenment methods: fighting fire with fire.

            I think reading people like Bernard Lonergan, Brad Gregory, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Charles Taylor, for example, are more useful than hunting around for anti-modernist proof-texts or conspiracy theories to construct a target around one’s arrow, or allowing ‘Chicken Lickens’, like Michael Voris, to dominate one’s thinking rather than grace and Providence (although I have a lot of sympathy with a lot of points Michael Voris makes, and he’s often right on the money, except when he get’s in ‘placard mode’).

            I would say the problem is predominantly one of self-interest and spiritual hedonism, and Modernism doesn’t have a monopoly on that. Your question itself tacitly assumes the Mass should meet the needs of spiritual hedonism and so, in a sense, provides evidence for one of the central points I am making in this discussion: on ‘either side’, it’s just the pot calling the kettle black and people just want their own way.

            It’s got nothing to do with doctrine but personal vested interests dressed up as such.

            In short, I think the difference is not between any liturgical or doctrinal factions, but between those who treat the Mass as an end in it’s own right, and those who see it as a means to some other end, and that’s where the error is in either Form, and there are as many as guilty on either side as a secular mindset drives both, except one side is in denial of it, or assumes it’s above such things by the nature of its expression, when it’s not.

          • I would never refer to or conceive of the Mass as a ‘product’. You suggested in an earlier comment that Modernists were trying to make the Mass relevant, which would infer that you are the one who thinks of the Mass as a product.

            There are profound differences between the New Order Mass and Traditional Latin Mass (well documented and explicated in various articles and books). I think we need to go back to Mr. Sammons’ article in which he writes the Mass was not used as an evangelizing tool nor did that fact inhibit converts. So, we need to examine why the rupture of continuity of the New Order Mass had such a devastating effect on the faithful.

            I would say that the mass exodus of Catholics since the implementation of the New Order Mass has had a great deal to do with the poor evangelizing that is so lamentable to the present hierarchy. Why would Protestants or anyone seek the Church when Catholics have been leaving in droves? The exodus only serves to reinforce the Protestant view that Catholics have it all wrong, and makes their own evangelization efforts easier.

            I have to smile at the idea that spiritual hedonism is the reason why Catholics prefer one or the other Masses. Mass-going Catholics, even those who are thoroughly steeped in modernism, usually have some idea of the Last Four Things, and consciously attempt to follow the Church’s doctrine on those things that help us to eternal life: Mass, Confession, and so on).

            The Catholic Church herself is something so far from being attractive to spiritual hedonists (as defined by you) that perhaps one could even theorize that the poor record of gaining new converts today is because of her deeply theological understanding of what it means to worship God in the Mass. Quite ironic, since so much of what sets the Catholic Church apart from the Protestant world has been abandoned lately.

            The mass rejection of the Church’s teaching on birth control has made the need to attract newcomers (and therefore financial support) a vital concern, especially to dying parishes, where the priest must now ‘compete’ with praise and worship bands, hip pastors, ‘relevant’ ministries and so on. The New Order Mass, largely designed for Protestants, apparently contains enough Catholic elements to keep them from biting, but not enough to ensure Catholics stay Catholic.

            In fact, I think the preference for the Traditional Latin Mass is very much about the doctrine of the Church (saving souls, truly) and very little to do with vested interests dressed up as doctrine, as you say.

          • “But, many people who ‘love’ the Latin Mass can’t even read Latin, which makes their attraction curious to me.”

            The Old Mass wasn’t for the cerebral. Here, from a novel, is what an outsider saw: “Judith had always imagined that Roman Catholics had a special grace or charism—whatever the word was—enabling them to understand Latin. Perhaps they had, but it was quite certain they were not using it. Nobody was paying the slightest attention to the priest, just as the priest was paying not the slightest attention to the congregation.” Just for context, the novel begins, “Beyond doubt, Judith Milden was an exceptionally gifted girl. She had won an open scholarship to Oxford….” and the chapter ends, “Father, I want to become a Catholic.”

          • First, a clarification: this article makes no mention of the form of the liturgy (EF vs. OF) and only talks about keeping Mass sacred vs. introducing pop culture elements to make it “relevant.”

            Secondly, you’re absolutely correct that only a small portion of Catholics will be reached by discussions like these, but this is to be expected. Fewer than 10% of self-identified Catholics actually follow the core teachings of the Church on major issues like contraception and general sexual morality. Fewer than half of younger Catholics believe that the Eucharist is truly Christ, and only about half of Catholics overall say that they believe this. Of the small percentage of Catholics who actually live and practice the faith, the portion we reach is far more significant. And it has always been in the interest of those in the business of trafficking in ideas to persuade influencers, not everyone. We receive hundreds of thousands of pageviews a month here, and we’re far from being the largest or most influential Catholic website. Surely, this has some value in the larger discussion.

            But I think that possibly the more important takeaway from your observation is that intellectual discourse, unless it crystallizes into something more practical and “of the people,” is going to have limited efficacy. Which is why I believe Catholics who care must attempt to plant a flag in the culture. We can’t be content to stop here. We need to do more work in entertainment and media, books and film, we need to go to the places where the people who don’t care might listen. We do that by showing people what is beautiful about the faith. What is true and good. We have an obligation to do this, and it needn’t be preachy.

            Additionally, something that I hope to focus on here is the power of symbolism and aesthetics as an instrument of evangelization. We’ve touched on this already, but I want to go deeper. I hear from protestants who quite literally have conversion experiences upon seeing sacred, traditional liturgy. They recognize this deeply numinous encounter for what it is. My wife is a convert, and the first time she saw a TLM, she told me, “This is what Mass is supposed to be like.” As a lifelong Catholic and student of theology, I failed to see it. (I was programmed not to recognize it as Catholic, but that’s another post.)

            I’ve done real evangelization. I’ve done the hard work of knocking on doors and talking to people about Christ and His Church. I’ve taught, I’ve written, I’ve worked in various capacities. All have their value. What we do here is necessary, but not sufficient. Fortunately, the faith is a many-splendored thing, and we’re all called to different facets of the Great Commission.

          • Hi Steve.
            Just seen your comment.

            Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply and helpful comments. Much appreciated. Your points are very thought-provoking, challenging yet encouraging, and unpack a lot.

            I came into full communion with the Church from my experience of the Mass, but also a deep sense of stepping into a river: something timeless yet constantly moving in continuity with ‘The Church’ since the beginning.

            Unfortunately, I have not been on the receiving end of such rosy experiences as my interlocutors here. 🙂 In fact, when I was received into full communion, I naively joined a group which claimed to teach the Faith honestly (which, as an ex-Evangelical, was music to my ears): only to find myself berated as ‘a Modernist’ really nastily from day one when all I was saying was only what I’d been ‘taught’ in RCIA. Hmmm. They were incapable of distinguishing between deliberate dissent and what I now know is called invincible ignorance. I was like a dry sponge craving a drink, but they wanted to burn me rather than fill me. Paradoxically, Jesus protected me from leaving Christianity altogether as I became more immersed in the Church and Mass, as Protestantism simply wasn’t an option any more.

            So, I can understand how Protestants can be moved or transfixed by the TLM, but also the NO, when celebrated properly with a priest that’s ‘in the zone’.

            The difference, it seems to me, is that the Liturgical postures/gestures speak beautifully and reverently for themselves of the transcendent in the TLM, whereas the NO can become ‘homocentric’ without careful adherence to the rubrics, and therefore (sadly) relies on the integrity of the priest (ex opere operato notwithstanding). But then, it seems to me there’s more of a sense of ‘participation’, and ‘magical thinking’ about the Mass and/or the priest, is less likely.

            In other words, I think forms both fall into error at their extremes, but the NO problems are far more obvious as they are novums in a real sense, whereas the more ‘clericalist/Jansenist/superstitious’ extremes are harder to spot as they were more ‘part of the liturgical furniture’ before the NO, and I know plenty of highly scrupulous (predominantly Irish) octogenarians, who feel guilty for breathing!

            My problem with the article was that I felt it glossed over the issues ‘on the other side’, and therefore was unwittingly partisan.

            In short, it seemed to me the article highlighted the problems of over-emphasising ‘bottom-up’ or ‘horizontal’ modes of thinking and understanding the Mass excellently, but elided, or ignored, when there’s an over-emphasis on the ‘top-down’ or ‘vertical’, and that both can be errors which cause problems in the human expressions of the form, especially clericalism, ‘magical thinking’, and scrupulosity – which are also less obvious – unless a person crawls on all fours to receive communion, as the members of a family I know do (although some are Bipolar).

            So, I would go further than the article’s emphasis on ‘relevance’, to say that things go awry as soon as the Mass ceases to be an End in, and of, itself, and becomes a means to any other end whatsoever, however well-intentioned.

            That said, although there is no mention of form, if one looks at the collage above the article, especially the central picture, and then the caption underneath, maybe on can be forgiven for thinking a preference was being suggested…? 🙂

          • The suggestion in the image was mine, not the authors, since I produce all the images for the site. And I chose that image intentionally – because I believe that the TLM is the Roman Rite par excellence. There are many reasons for this, but we rehash them here all the time. A glance at Elliot Bougis’s post on Orwellian Liturgical Reform points to some of the larger questions, particularly as pertains to the semiotics of liturgy:

            Of course, there have been many books written on the topic. One of the better books from the perspective of aesthetics is Martin Mosebach’s The Heresy of Formlessness, which looks at the anthropology of worship and the way aesthetics and outward signs impact subjective belief.

            Liturgy should primarily be focused on honoring God in a way that is pleasing to Him. After all, there is a reason why Cain’s sacrifice was not pleasing to God, despite the fact that it came from his divinely assigned labors. It was not a question of the intrinsic nature of the sacrifice, but the extrinsic – which was indicative of Cain’s own intrinsic disposition towards God. This is one of the greatest arguments against, as Ratzinger called the NO, “banal…fabricated liturgy” vs. a liturgy developed through the insight of and long development by the saints. It’s far older than the council of Trent, and some liturgical scholars have argued cogently that the Roman canon is the oldest of all, including the venerable Eastern rites.

            Antiquity alone, of course, does not guarantee that a thing is better, but immemorial custom (as opposed to mere age) helps affirm that this is so, because it has stood the test of time and the judgment (and nourishment) of the pious. In his encyclical Mediator Dei, Pope Pius XII warned against “senseless antiquarianism” and further admonished:

            “[I]t is neither wise nor laudable to reduce everything to antiquity by every possible device. Thus, to cite some instances, one would be straying from the straight path were he to wish the altar restored to its primitive tableform; were he to want black excluded as a color for the liturgical vestments; were he to forbid the use of sacred images and statues in Churches; were he to order the crucifix so designed that the divine Redeemer’s body shows no trace of His cruel sufferings; and lastly were he to disdain and reject polyphonic music or singing in parts, even where it conforms to regulations issued by the Holy See.”

            Mass is only secondarily concerned with the preferences and taste of the faithful, but if it is true that our liturgy is made to offer the spotless victim TO God, the oblation happens (and the Mass itself is designed) on our behalf. Insofar as we are called to assist at Mass and offer the participation of heart and mind, it behooves us to have liturgy that draws us into the sacred mystery, rather than keeping us confronted with the presence and personality of our fellow men – including the priest.

            The Novus Ordo was designed as an ecumenical gesture; it diminishes or eliminates the sacred truths and the rich symbolism that were once dripping from its every prayer and gesture. It strips away repetition in the name of eliminating what is “useless” and forgets the pedagogical value of reinforcement and the numerical significance of certain repeated prayers. It weakens rubrics such that improvisation is par for the course; that abuses are easily made the norm; that reverent liturgy becomes simply one option among many.

            But there’s far more to the updated ecclesiology than just a re-oriented liturgy that horizontalizes what should be made vertical and makes anthropocentric what should be Christocentric. There are the updated rites of blessings, which remove the power of many sacramentals; there are the updated sacraments, including a baptism which no longer features exorcisms as a ward against the power of the devil through original sin; there is the updated rite of exorcism, which few exorcists in the field feel comfortable using insofar as it handicaps their ability to invoke the Church’s authority against common causes of possession; there is the change in ecumenism, which assumes a quasi-syncretistic attitude, a religious indifferentism that dampens missionary spirit and zeal for the conversion of souls to the true faith; there is a shift in political philosophy and eschatology, such that Christ’s Kingship has been made a Kingship over hearts and over heaven and not a temporal Kingship which governs just nations who pay it homage, and the taint of the Balthasarian fantasy that Hell is empty leads us to canonize every departed soul before the body is even cold.

            We have lost the sensus Catholicus. We have given up on our belief in the devil and his minions and their relentless attacks to destroy souls. We have given up on liturgy that inspires us to fall down and worship before the majesty of God. We have given up on sacred art, architecture, music, and the Catholic intellectual life. We have given up on faith as a higher calling, one that challenges and forces us to go out like the disciples and preach the Gospel to all nations, instead feeling as though everyone is more or less on the same journey and fine where they are.

            It cannot stand. It will not work. Once we have lost what makes us Catholic, we have lost everything.

            The Traditional Latin Mass alone is not a silver bullet, but it is one of the most potent safeguards of the faith. The Novus Ordo, I’m afraid, has been tried and found wanting. Catholics have abandoned the faith en masse since its inception, and the entire post-conciliar experiment. Going back to liturgy that worked, that was reverent, that was universal – it’s merely a first and important step towards a restoration of the faith. A faith that appeals to the world, that attracts it, that indicts it not with anger and condemnation but with fearsome love and a call to repentance.

            The Church has never been perfect, nor will she be until the end of days. But She had power once that was squandered. She had truth that the world desperately needed and still needs. She had the cross, the sacrifice of calvary, the angels and the saints, and the fear of the Lord. She had the exclusive claim that outside her gates, there is no salvation.

            This matters more today than perhaps it ever has. Because the world has fallen so far from where it should be. We must first honor God in all that we do. Then, we must conform our minds and hearts to Him. Everything else follows.

          • Hi there, Steve.

            Thanks again.

            I’ll keep it brief this time, as it’s gone 1.30am here! You write so well – and so quickly!

            I sympathise so much with what you’re saying, especially the ‘concrete’ reality of the supernatural – the sensus Catholicus as you call it – that flows through your reply.

            I just battle with just how we communicate it effectively. The ‘Church of Nice’ has, in my opinion, taken its eye off the ball completely, however, the alternative, in my experience, is broadly a ‘Church of Nasty’, and at times seems to have a blind-spot for its own weaknesses, too.

            I find too much of it confusing and polarised despite making an effort to educate myself as much as possible as nobody else will, and so I just wonder constantly what those with no proper doctrinal or spiritual formation who lack some of the most basic terminology, make of it all.

            Thanks so much for your replies, Steve. I will be reflecting on them: in a positive sense. 🙂

          • OTG,

            Thank you for your interest in the subject, but I do think you are missing the fundamental point of this article. When determining how to celebrate the liturgy, I am arguing that “relevance” to the people should not be a consideration. As Steve mentioned, I don’t argue for or against the EF or the OF; instead, universal principles, not specific implementations, are the focus of this article.

            Also, I think you mistake the audience of this article. You say I am trying to persuade those on the “outside”, but that is not the case. I wrote this article to the “insiders” – those who make decisions on how the liturgy is celebrated in our parishes. There are two ways to influence people: directly and by influencing the influencers. My hope is that this specific article in some small way influences those who influence liturgical celebrations.

          • Hi Eric.

            Thanks for your reply. Your books, ‘Holiness for Everyone’, and ‘Who is Jesus Christ’, are great, BTW.

            As I mentioned to Steve and Thistle, it seems to me you are not explicitly arguing for form, but the article seems to focus only on the errors to be found on only one side of the Liturgical divide, but I also said that I do not see it in the least bit intentional. It’s just that, as Netmilsmom said I was simply spouting a narrative, as if there was no truth in it, it is easy to do that with anything. We simply accept the narrative, because it’s commonly accepted, therefore ‘short-hand’, but doesn’t always cover all bases, and so, like analogies, has its weaknesses, I think.

            To me, Rigourism is much a problem as laxity, and that’s what I’ve been trying to balance the article with.

            Also the picture at the header could be implying that, too. 🙂

            The thrust of my other comment was that the very people, priest or lay, whom you’re wanting to reach are, paradoxically, likely to be the people least likely to read the article as it’s not in the purview of their interests or tastes.

            It wasn’t meant to be a criticism so much as a sense of sadness, because I agree with the ‘thesis’ of the article and it’s a tragedy that so many people don’t take their ‘opponents’ views seriously and interact with them, in order to make a judgement.

            For example, I’ve just recently finished reading, Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World, by the Reformed Theologian, Michael Horton, and I’ve gained a lot of insights into some potential problems we might be heading into in the New Evangelisation, as Evangelicalism has ‘been there, done that’, and has got its fingers burnt, and so for me, they are good insights or ideas to just keep in the back of my mind in relation to my own strategic thinking in regard to the New Evangelisation and mistakes to avoid.

            Despite my criticism, I think the article is spot-on but it applies to us all, not only liturgical abusers, and really I pray that its much-needed message does penetrate to ‘out there’, and people see the central message and don’t get defensive because they think you’re picking on them for what they might be doing because they might not know any better.

          • I have the opportunity to assist at a TLM once or twice a month. I actually would ‘prefer’ it all the time if it were available. Why? Because I can more easily pray the Mass and the prayers are so beautiful. I love the quietness, the reverence, the modesty and the focus on the Sacrifice. It is at the TLM that, for me where I live, true teachings of the Church are mentioned in the homilies. Also I do not have to suffer with hugging and glad-handing during Mass or suffering through banal, often heretical, songs all through it. I like to receive Our Lord while on my knees and on the tongue as well. Our Lord seems of primary focus and worship more at the TLM. This does not mean I go about bashing others. I attend the OF the other 28 days a month….but I pray it with my TLM missal!

  5. Often these so called more ‘relevant’ Masses that attempt to please the people are generally devoid of true or hard teachings that would make anyone uncomfortable (in their sins). So it panders to and creates lukewarm uncatechized people with disastrous results as we have seen these past decades.

  6. One thing to keep in mind is the ritualistic sensibility of the cultures that existed in and around the Roman Empire (and even beyond). We often hear reformers speak of the simplicity of the worship in the primitive Church, as if liturgical worship were a very informal thing. But this is incongruous with the ritualistic mentality of ancient peoples. We already know that the specific details of ancient Jewish worship were prescribed in the OT, and the priests of the Mosaic law would have strictly adhered to those practices. We also know that the Romans and Greeks had ornate rites and priestly classes associated with the worship of their gods. So even between the Jews and the pagans, we see a clear association made between heavily regulated rituals and religious worship. If a foreign religion were to come in and prescribe unregulated, informal worship, it would not have been taken seriously. The ancients understood the importance of ritual in appealing to man’s innate religious sensibilities, i.e. his desire to acknowledge the greatness of the divine in contrast to his own littleness.

  7. Technically, the answer is that the photo in the lower right-hand corner is not like the others, as it is a photo of a Protestant church service. The others are all Catholic, ostensibly, although only one would be of any interest to me.

  8. This nonsense are all the poisoned fruits of the false priest Bugnini, whose cunning loopholes that he hid In the later parts of Vatican 2 made these liturgical abuses possible for those “progressives” who understood the loops for what they are, where most orthodox bishops did not. We may be another 50 years removing the rest of them.

  9. Thank you for your fine essay on what Mass is for and not for. Even today, the catechumens in our parish leave the church after the Liturgy of the Word. If I may add: the Mass is not—primarily—even for the people who remain in the pews, but for God (as you say) and pro multus.

    I thought of this the other day, when my wife and I visited the Visitation Monastery in Tyringham, MA. The nuns there pray in a separate area of the chapel than the laity do. There’s a screen between the two areas. Often there are no laity present. It seems doubtful that the nuns are praying—primarily—either for themselves or for laity whom they don’t see and who may not be present.

    On the other hand, many more are at Mass than are in the pews. We in the pews seem insufficiently aware of this. The priest says:

    And so we join the angels
    and the saints
    in proclaiming your glory
    as we sing:

    What we sing in our church is a limp rendition of “Holy, Holy, Holy” that it is hard to imagine any member of the heavenly host singing (a saint would sing, but it is a saint’s job is to suffer). We join the angels and the saints; they don’t join us. Shouldn’t we be singing their song? I’m pretty sure we don’t.


    Just as every priest, not matter how bad, is in the person of Christ while saying Mass, so every Mass, no matter what form, and no matter how badly performed, is the True Sacrifice of the Mass. Sometimes I have to say with Charles Rich, “I’m Catholic; I can’t complain.”

  10. Evangelisation is related to doctrine. We can offer the Novus Ordo or Traditional Latin Mass with the correct doctrine.Theology and doctrine do not depend on the liturgy.In this sense neither does evangelisation depend on the liturgy.
    Sydney Archdiocese CREDO evangelises without the belief in the necessity of the Catholic Church for salvation

    Marchetti’s false premise has been accepted by the Magisterium

    The Council of Trent, Mystici Corporis no where says that these cases are exceptions to the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus : Rome made a mistake in 1949


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