It is a rainy Tuesday evening, and a large group is gathered in the parish hall at St. Paul VI Roman Catholic Church. Not just women are gathered, which is odd for this parish, but men too. And children, countless children. Very odd indeed.
An older lady, dressed in a smart looking pink jumpsuit, steps up to the microphone to address the crowd. She introduces herself as Sister Mary-Karen. Behind her stands a priest, apparently, named Father Sonny. They have urgent business to address, at the request of the archbishop.
“May the Creator God inspire us tonight, keep us open-minded, and accompany us on our journey towards unity and synodality,” she begins. “We are gathered to rediscover where our faith journey is leading us. I know that my personal faith journey has been amazing since I better followed the spirit, if I do say so myself. But enough about me and my amazing faith journey. I now invite Sonny to come lead us in dialogue.”
To the podium steps the priest. His self-assurance is enormous, as is he. “Sisters and brothers, thank you for coming. I am reminded of our parish vision statement. You’re going to like this I think: All are Welcome.”
He waits for applause, none is given, so he continues awkwardly. “I just want to reassure you that this Mass you are being invited to attend…”
“Forced!” shouts a man from the audience.
“Invited to attend,” continues Fr. Sonny, “is the Mass of the Council! It is what the early Church would’ve probably said. And it has more Scripture! So that is why you are invited to come join us in worship. Plus, our church here has air conditioning. You won’t miss your old pre-Council building at all.”
“My kids hate the new Mass!” shouts an angry mom from the back, holding two children in a headlock while two more race for the cookies at the snack table. “This is how they behave there. Just like this!” As if on cue, both children in her arms start screaming. “But! Not at the TLM! There my kids are…”
“Oh, not true!” interrupts Fr. Sonny. “The youth love the new Mass! It has everything vibrant about it. It’s… cool!”
“Oh?” says the mom. “Golly gee! That sounds great. Thanks for letting me know!”
“And further, as a priest, I can say that people are much more active at the Council’s Mass. They don’t waste time praying the rosary, or with any prayer really, but they actively participate. They serve, and read, and preach, and dance, and play guitar. This Mass is just what is needed in the modern world.”
“Are you sure?” asks a big man in the front row. “I mean, I thought the Vatican II didn’t even call for this kind of departure, much less a changing of all Sacrament Rites, the removal of minor orders, the changing of the calendar, the…”
“Uh, just hang on there sir!” says Fr. Sonny. “I assure you that this new Mass is better in every way. Did I mention there’s more Scripture? Without a doubt, if you just accept what I am saying to you right now and attend my parish re-education sessions over the next ten weeks (for a small fee), you will be right at home. Your spiritual lives will blossom. And maybe, if you do things right, some day you will become super-duper holy, like Saint Paul VI! Or better yet, like Sister Mary-Karen!”
“Wow!” murmur the people in the basement in spirit-inspired unison. “This sounds great! Thank you so much for teaching us about the new Mass and its effects. You have led us out of our nostalgic ignorance into the light of accompaniment and friendship!”
All leave the church with smiles. Tragically, many never return. Such is the small price to pay for getting more Scripture.
* * *
I hope that this little story is seen as a ridiculous piece of nonsense. I write the above fiction as I try to envision the latest masterpiece issued by a high-ranking member of the Catholic Church. This time it is a decree from Wilton Cardinal Gregory of the Archdiocese of Washington which severely limits the traditional Latin Mass within his jurisdiction. Who are we kidding? The cardinal wants the TLM to die a quick and painful death.
Before diving into any detail, I must give my first impression of the decree. That is, I was pleasantly surprised by it. In fact, it was a breath of fresh air. The Catholic Church under Pope Francis has become stale and predictable in its attempt to change Church discipline and doctrine. Everything seems repetitive and formulaic. If change is wanted, a synod is called. The synod threatens a massive heretical change. Then follows a document which walks-back the massive heretical change, though in effect it allows the change by either a footnote or through fluffy and unclear language. Think Amoris Laetitia, or Spiritus Domini. And so on and so forth.
Yes, parts of Cardinal Gregory’s decree attacking the traditional Latin Mass do have that stale, “Pope Francis says,” approach to it. However, if you were to read the decree carefully (not necessarily recommended), Cardinal Gregory would reward you with something new and, well, worthy of reflection. It says:
To this end, I have asked that the archdiocesan Offices of Liturgy, Ministerial Leadership, and Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns assist pastors in accompanying our brothers and sisters who share that devotion [to the TLM]. This assistance can take various forms, including but not limited to a pastoral implementation plan, personal pastoral visits, and catechetical resources that explain the Second Vatican Council’s principles of liturgical renewal and the beauty of the reformed Mass.
If you were able to get past the lengthy list of archdiocesan “Offices” without choking, you might notice that the quote essentially says that traditional Catholics should be re-educated to know, love, and serve the Mass created in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council.
This statement is as bold as it is unique. Clearly Cardinal Gregory has kindly offered the use of archdiocesan resources to enlighten, persuade, and rehabilitate Trads to the Mass they have so long resisted. He must be acting out of good will to be so generous. Indeed, he has talked-the-talk by taking away their Mass, and now he walks-the-walk by offering them support and re-education. Truly there is only one question that remains to be asked:
What the heck is Cardinal Gregory thinking?
Now I know of some Catholics who dabbled briefly at the traditional Latin Mass and then returned to the Novus Ordo. I am sure there are many reasons why. Maybe they didn’t understand adequately what was unfolding before them? Maybe the time of the Mass was too inconvenient? Maybe they were turned off by a self-appointed veil-police officer? Whatever the case they, at least temporarily, cease to attend.
But this is a small minority. Without question, most attendees at a TLM, many of whom grew up with the Novus Ordo, are firmly entrenched in the pre-Bugnini Mass of the Ages. For it is more than a Mass. It is a birthright. It is a rock. It is a refuge. It is even a way of living. The Mass touches all aspects of their life. A family devoted to the TLM will order themselves accordingly. Work, friendships, personal reading, daily prayer, home decor, relationships, recreation, education, sports, chores, clothing, and so forth are driven by what is imbibed though the traditional Latin Mass. Such a family lives the Sunday Mass each week, and returns to it once again for renewal and strength. It is not just a matter of aesthetic preference. It is a matter of spiritual necessity. The TLM becomes a part of their spiritual DNA. In it they become as faithful little children, seeking Christ despite the glares of pharisees and apostles.
Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come to me: for the kingdom of heaven is for such (Mt. 19:14).
Cardinal Gregory claims he will re-educate such traditional Catholics. I say he will have an easier time “re-educating” a loaf of bread to become a rock. That is, Cardinal Gregory will not re-educate them. He may belittle them. He may rub salt in their wounds. He may humiliate, infuriate, and persecute them. But he will not re-educate them. They will never say, “Golly gee! That sounds great,” to his words and insinuations. For one steeped in the timeless beauty and truth of the traditional Latin Mass, it is more powerful than any decree from an archbishop or pope. It is more noble than a universe filled with guitars strumming Gather Us In. It is stronger than any Bugnini Mass forced upon generations of disillusioned Catholics. For it is as close to the kingdom of heaven as one gets in this life. And when one finds such a pearl, such an incalculable treasure, he sells all he has, purchases the field where it resides, and rejoices.
Traditional Catholics will not be re-educated.
* * *
“This is the Mass of the Council, sisters and brothers!” explains Fr. Sonny to the crowd of angry traditional Catholics.
“No, it’s not,” interjects a man from the back, holding a dozen or so Kwasniewski books. “Never did Sacrosanctum Concilium say to create new Eucharistic prayers, have versus populum worship, remove or alter 87% of the orations at the Mass, change the Rites of all the Sacraments, or…”
“Uh, but…” interrupts Fr. Sonny, “we have more Scripture!”
“You mean you took away the yearly rhythm of Scripture,” complains an older lady off to the side, clutching her copy of Infiltration as if she might soon throw it at the priest. “Not to mention all the references to sin. How convenient!”
“No, you need the new Mass. It’s for your own good. It’s for your children!”
“Then where are all the children at your Mass?” shouts the lady with many children climbing up and down her like a jungle gym. “My children love the TLM. They hate the…”
“They’ve been brainwashed by you!” threatens Fr. Sonny. By now he is sweating profusely.
“Brainwashed?” fires a young man with a long beard, clutching some books by Martin Mosebach. “Brainwashed is the perfect word. Brainwashed to think that the new Mass was actually created at Vatican II. Brainwashed to think that imbibing the modern world has grown the Church. Brainwashed to say that the two Masses share some sort of hermeneutic of continuity. Brainwashed to say that youth love 1970s folk songs. Brainwashed to say that a bit of Latin at a Novus Ordo is the same thing as a TLM. Brainwashed to say that praying at Mass is not active participation. Brainwashed to say that the TLM can actually be banned. Brainwashed…”
By now the crowd is in an uproar. Fr. Sonny and Sister Mary-Karen drop their notes and head for the exit. But as they flee, old Sister Mary-Karen gets one last shot in:
“My faith journey is amazing! Our Mass is the way of the future!”
It seems that traditional Catholics are not the only ones who cannot be re-educated.
Dan Millette is a husband and father of five. He teaches in Saskatchewan, Canada. Millette is a graduate from Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Ontario and has a Master of Arts degree in theology from Holy Apostles College in Connecticut. His personal blog is www.bravestthing.com.