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Why Harrison Butker Attends the Latin Mass and You Should Too

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Of all the Catholic truth bombs Harrison Butker dropped on the graduating class of Benedictine College in a commencement address that has generated almost two weeks of vilification and vitriol, one of the most powerful was his endorsement of the Traditional Latin Mass. As Butker explained, “I do not attend the TLM because I think I’m better than others, or for the smells and bells, or even for the love of Latin. I attend the TLM because I believe just as the God of the Old Testament was pretty particular about how he wanted to be worshiped, the same holds true for us today.”

Often those like me who make the switch from the New Mass to the Tridentine Liturgy, discuss the effect the ancient Roman rite has on their experience of the Mass: more opportunity for prayer, greater solemnity, increased reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. Yet Butker’s words remind us that the true beauty of the TLM derives not from the subjective impact it has on the congregant and communicant, but from its objective worth in God’s eyes. This is nothing less than the standard given by Dr. Alice von Hildebrand in her commentary on Liturgy and Personality:

[A]ll liturgies share one central feature: they must aim at glorifying God. The value of a particular liturgy can even be gauged according to the degree of glorification of God it achieves.[1]

That the Living God distinguishes a right way to worship from a wrong way is a Biblical truth that dates back to our oldest ancestors. After all, it was Abel’s sacrifice that was pleasing to God, not Cain’s (Genesis 4:4-5). Sacrifice was central to the Old Testament ceremonies of divine worship, not because God needs our sacrificial offerings, as St. Augustine explained, but because they are essential for us. They are the visible symbols by which we “cleave to God and seek the good of our neighbor for the same end” (City of God, bk. X, ch. 5). And God was indeed very particular as to how these acts were carried out.

For example, every feature of the Tent of the Lord’s presence – the Tabernacle – is prescribed in Exodus 25-30, including the dimensions of the curtained enclosure with its bronze posts and bases, the color and fabrics of the curtained exterior of the Tent, the interior veil separating the Holy from the Holy of Holies, the altars, the materials for the Temple furnishings, the sacerdotal vestments and jewel-studded breast plate for the High Priest, and the exquisite design for the Ark of the Covenant bearing the stone tablets of God’s Law. 

The rituals performed under the direction of Aaron, the High Priest, and the Levite priests, are outlined in painstaking detail. Nothing was left to Moses or Aaron’s artistic style, the subjective preferences of the Israelites, or the trends of contemporary culture. There was no ad libbing or freestyling.

When Christ offered Himself up on the Cross, the Old Testament solemnities ceased being necessary, but they didn’t become irrelevant. As St. Paul writes in Hebrews, these rites were “patterns of the heavenly originals.” Archbishop Fulton Sheen characterized Old Testament worship as a dress rehearsal for the main show – the great drama of the Paschal Lamb, which God conceived from the beginning of time. 

Sacrificial worship in the Jewish sanctuary looks forward to Christ’s passion, the Christian Church relives it, and both are a shadow of the final Act, in which angels and saints worship without ceasing at the throne of God and His Lamb in the Heavenly City. And if God was hyper-specific about how the sacrificial offerings of bullocks and goats and grains were to take place, how much more exacting must He be with regards to the sacrifice of the body and blood of the Only Begotten, made on the altar under the appearance of bread and wine, in commemoration of the Crucifixion, as Christ commanded us to do, and offered to God alone. 

In Summorum Pontificum, Benedict XVI observed from the outset that “Supreme Pontiffs have to this day shown constant concern that the Church of Christ should offer worthy worship to the Divine Majesty.” As for the New and Old rites of the Mass, Benedict emphasized that “these two expressions of the Church’s lex orandi will in no way lead to a division in the Church’s lex credendi (rule of faith); for they are two usages of the one Roman rite.” The problem here is that even if these two divergent liturgies do not ipso facto lead to different rules of faith, they are objectively so different from each other that if God does indeed desire a particular form of worship, it’s hard to fathom that He would – that he could, logically – desire both equally at the same time.

Perhaps nowhere was the juxtaposition between the two forms of the Mass more arresting during the month of May, than in France last week. In Chartres on Pentecost Monday the Traditional Laton Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Gerhard Müller for the 18,000 pilgrims (the average age of which was 23) who participated in the annual pilgrimage from Paris to Chartres.

Meanwhile on Pentecost Sunday, 75 miles north, the Bishops of Ile de France and 11,000 adolescents gathered for the annual Youth Mass in Jambville presided over by Archbishop Laurent Ulrich of Paris.

The former was, well, traditional. Solemn High Mass, ad orientem worship, sacred music, Gregorian chant, splendid vestments, Communion on the tongue, everything focused front, center and upwards, to God, through Christ, with us. As always in the Tridentine liturgy, Mass began with the moving Introibo ad altare, wherein the Priest at the foot of the altar announces his intention, taken from Psalm 42, to offer the sacrifice of the Mass to God.

The latter, frankly, was like a spoof. It’s hard to believe that rockstar processions, neon signs, flashing lights, dazzling stagecraft, stylized crosses, cartoon graphics, and the casual doling out of the Blessed Sacrament, is what the council fathers behind Sacrosanctum Concilium had in mind when they spoke of “keeping to the norms and precepts of ecclesiastical tradition and discipline.” 

But more importantly, it’s virtually impossible to find the thread linking the spectacle at Jambville, with the Mosaic tabernacle on the one hand, and the wedding feast of the Lamb on the other. The Holy Sacrifice of the one unchanging Victim, instead of being the climax of the Mass (just as the Lamb slain is the climax of God’s Pascal Drama), was reduced to a sideshow act. The whole affair was more reminiscent of a Protestant mega church worship service or a rock concert at Madison Square Garden than it was of Sinai or Calvary, or a foretaste of the New Jerusalem.

All of this might have remained a largely academic question but for Traditionis custodes, wherein Pope Francis broke with the spirit and letter of Summorum Pontificum and, instead of striving to accommodate the TLM, actively sought to persecute it, and thereby polarize the Catholic faithful. Most hurtful of all, he has allowed himself to be weaponized against the Tridentine liturgy by folks at The New York Times and people like “The View” co-host Sara Haines, who denigrate the TLM and its attendants and, scandalously, invoke the support of Pope Francis himself in so doing.

Traditionalists are not “extremists”, “DIY Traditionalists [sic],” or “backward-looking.” They are Catholics. And their ancient rituals aren’t “dead traditions.” They are the patrimony bequeathed to the descendants of Jacob, of whom Christ the Redeemer is King. The Trads’ greatest offense, and the reason the press is still raking Harrison Butker over the coals, is being, per the New York Times, “one of the most successful movements of the entire post-Vatican II era” in places like France, and, according to The New Republic, “one of the fastest-growing religious movements in [the US].” That’s not good news for the Modernists.

In any case, this so-called “religious battle” is secondary to the main concern. What matters is conforming ourselves to God’s will and worshiping Him as He wants to be worshiped, whether CNN, Rolling Stone, the Jesuits, or even the disgruntled Benedictine nuns (who apparently weren’t buying the flavor of Catholicism Butker was peddling), like it or not. As the Apostle cautions, “who has known the mind of the Lord?” But if it so happened that “the eternal dramatist,” as Fulton Sheen described Him, objected to His chef d’oeuvre – the great drama of the Paschal Lamb – being distorted into some cringey burlesque, then attending the TLM might just make perfect sense.

Photo credit.

[1] Alice von Hildebrand, “Afterward” to Dietrich von Hildebrand, Liturgy and Personality (Hildebrand Project, 2016), 126.

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