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Out of the Pot, Already: A Word on ‘Clickbait’

This is the senior editor of OnePeterFive.

Steve has mentioned me a couple of times, and I’m behind a number of the articles 1P5 has posted over the past several months – including today’s reprint of Whispers of Restoration’s post on the new rite of the Mass. The cascade of opposition in the comments spurred me to write this response in defense of WOR and my editorial decision.

The main body of complaints centers on “clickbait” – that the post is misleading, suggestive, and even mendacious. I’ve read multiple comments likening the post to something from The Onion, condemning it as unacknowledged satire.

Here is the front-page headline on today’s edition of The Onion: “Nation’s Fact-Checkers Confirm They’ll Probably Wrap Up Evaluating Trump’s Statements by 2050 at Latest.” Seeking a headline not obsessed with American liberal politics, I find “Uber Hires Marketing Firm to Help Decrease Brand Awareness.” Then “Trump Announces He’ll Pay Legal Fees of Any Rally Attendee Who Beats Up Ted Cruz.” (Oh, well. I tried.) You get the idea: none of the events described in these headlines actually happened. There’s no legitimate quotation from any so-called fact-checker. Uber didn’t hire such a firm. The U.S. president did not utter the words attributed to him.

But WOR’s post describes something that did happen, that is happening. The pope will celebrate a new rite of the Mass at the conclusion of the Youth Synod. WOR puts it plain: “This inherently malleable rite has no enduring essential form. … It has no yesterday in the devotion of centuries, but only a limitless variety of novel tomorrows.” The Mass the pope says later this month will be different from the one he says before and different from the one he says after, in the same way modern videogames meticulously program a kaleidoscope of possible endings based on the choices you make playing them.

Misled readers may get away with calling WOR’s post misleading; that depends on what they were expecting. But it is not satire. It’s not acknowledged as satire because it’s not intended to be satire.

What about the “new new rite” readers expected and didn’t get? Below is a sample of some of the comments I read this morning.

Is the a “new version” of the Novus Ordo? or just the usual novus ordo (protestant) Mass?

I do not doubt your source here, but this is a very grave accusation, implying Francis is playing around with the rubrics of the Mass.

Honestly, unless a priest takes great pains in the Novus Ordo to make it otherwise, it already doesn’t resemble Catholic liturgy in any but the most superficial ways[.]

The dough of WOR’s post and the leaven of the accompanying comments at 1P5 and on Facebook are combining to raise a logical progression. Here are the premises:

  • Readers learn that the pope will celebrate a Mass replete with illegal innovations, illegitimate changes, and offensive omissions, such that even its validity is at times questionable.
  • Those who read about two thirds of the post learn that the Mass detailed in the first premise is in fact the Novus Ordo.
  • Readers acknowledge as legitimate the criticism of the Novus Ordo in the first premise.

Given these, what is the conclusion?

  • Readers get exercised – not about the abuses and offenses of the Novus Ordo, but about the post. The post is condemned as “clickbait.”

No. Nope. Wrong.

If the evidence shows that the Novus Ordo is “protestant”; that Pope Francis, his predecessors, and his subordinates indeed are and have been “playing around with the rubrics of the Mass”; that the Novus Ordo “already doesn’t resemble Catholic liturgy,” the proper conclusion is not to be mad that someone is pointing it out. The proper conclusion, as WOR points out less than two thirds of the way through the post, is to abandon ship. Rappel starboard off the Titanic with its guitars and pianos and sashaying comedy-hour celebrants for the lifeboat of Trent, of many hundreds of years of good strong Catholic saints – the small, cramped, hard-on-your-car, family-alienating lifeboat that alone will guarantee your not being dead.

(And yes, even the port side of the Titanic, no matter how reverent and ad orientem and kinda-sorta Latin, is hurtling for the iceberg. It’s another side of the same ship! Jump!)

Here above all was the hardest comment to read: “This article is unnecessarily detrimental to those struggling under difficult circumstances.” Believe me: I know about struggling under difficult circumstances, when it comes to the liturgy and when it comes to the stark personal consequences of taking the liturgy seriously. I’ll leave the private wounds I and my newly growing family have suffered for our devotion to right worship in the One True Faith. Suffice it to say that I’m sure many of 1P5’s readers have lost friends, family, income, and security for that same devotion. We are Christians and should recognize that Christ demanded such of us: “sell what thou hast”; “hate his father, and mother“; “let the dead bury their dead.” He wasn’t joking around when He said those things. I and many others have suffered too much to indulge the fantasy that He was.

What helps keep the rot in the Church rotting away is complacency – not just from oblivious Catholics, but especially from those who know better. The addict needs to be separated from his drug even if he fears the withdrawal symptoms. Being murdered remains a mortal sin even if the victim argues that it’s more difficult not to be murdered. When WOR says, and 1P5 echoes, that it is incumbent on Catholics who recognize the inadequacy, the offensiveness, the irreparable shortcomings of the Novus Ordo to do something about it, it is not “unnecessary,” and it is not “detrimental.” It is doubly necessary. The “traddy” who blasts the destruction of the ’60s (and the ’50s!) yet continues to stand, sit, and kneel for a defective liturgy doubly scandalizes his brothers and sisters, those who most need the intervention of his example.

Here is one more comment that caught my eye – one that cuts to the heart of this issue. “I think that the warning of any different liturgy other than the NO or TLM is appropriate and imperative.”

Why? Why “other than the NO or the TLM”? Remember what WOR wrote: “inherently malleable.” From fifty years ago to forty to thirty and on, the Novus Ordo changes, over and over, from day to day, from celebrant to celebrant, from contemporary social fad to contemporary social fad. In another fifty years, will we see commentators on websites making exceptions for “the NNO or the NO or the TLM”? At what point is it finally unacceptable to fundamentally alter, disrupt, bastardize the Mass?

Catholics who want to stay comfortable will say, “The point just after this one.” Catholics who want to live in the truth, no matter how uncomfortable, no matter how debilitating to our earthly senses, will say the point is past.

I’ll close out with an anecdote: one of the seminal moments in my life as a Catholic, in the parking lot of my parish church, saluting a friend on the way to my car. I was new in town at that time and had been cementing my parish life – weekday Masses, lectoring, working up the courage to volunteer to teach catechism. I’d been exposed to the Latin Mass and liked it, then started researching the differences between the two, then agonized over them.

In the course of our conversation, here’s what my friend said to me: “Come on, Drew. You can’t go to both.”

You can’t go to both.

All my inching and tiptoeing and cogitating and agonizing revealed itself as a grain of sand beside the towering mountain of that simple statement. My friend was right: these two Masses are not the same thing. They don’t express the same reality, they don’t bear the same fruits, and they foster plain opposites in the intellectual and spiritual workings of the faithful. You can’t go to both.

It wasn’t until then, until I’d heard the plain truth spoken plainly, that I started making true sacrifices for my faith. I gave up lectoring. I piled on extra work to add a traditional track for my catechism students. I mournfully quit my parish church on Sundays for another, praying that she would institute the Mass our pious forefathers had celebrated for hundreds of years so I could return. (Thank God, she did, with a weekly schola now gathering steam.)

Recognizing the “difficult circumstances” I was in made me a better Catholic. So has choosing to suffer through them, and in more and worse ways than I’ve laid out here, rather than swat away the cognitive dissonance inherent in dabbling in “both forms” of the Mass. In WOR’s post, which 1P5 republished today, I see the same necessary bluntness of my friend, whose words changed my life for the better.

To all those upset about being misled, I say: stop it. Stop waiting for the Really Bad Thing to finally stoke you into action. The Really Bad Thing has happened already. If, knowing what there is to know about a bad council and a bad Mass, you’re not exercised now, you never will be. I hesitate to use the “frog in boiling water” myth-metaphor because the water is already boiling. There’s only one comprehensible reason not to get out.

“Clickbait” is the wrong word for the offending post. It’s a wake-up call, a proffered hand into the boiling pot, with the charity to suffer knowingly the blisters and burns that afflict him who reaches. Seize that hand, and be drawn out. To explode at the messenger is to misdirect your anger.

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