23 December 2007

Letter to the Editor: A Case Study


The following letter to the editor appeared in this week's
St. Louis Review:

Editor:

I wonder if the few people who are so insistent in bringing back the Latin Mass can speak and understand the language.  

If so, fine, but if not it's like when I attend Mass in another country where the liturgy is in the local dialect.  I would have no idea what's going on if I didn't know the Mass, and even then I feel isolated.

As a youngster, I served at Mass when it was in the Latin Rite.  I knew the Latin responses but had no idea what they meant.

For the last 40-plus years people in this country have been able to participate at Mass in the language they know.  So, for the sake of the young people, keep the Mass as it is.

This is really a very unremarkable and typical anti-"Latin Mass" letter to the editor.  Anyone who cares to write one will almost certainly be rewarded by the editor of the Review with the necessary space, paper and ink to have it published.  This letter is not particularly resentful, nor is it one of the least intelligible I have seen.  All the more reason to analyze it.

I wanted to post it in its entirety first, to give you the sense of it, before undertaking a critique.  The essential points of the letter are ones that those who support the traditional Mass have to be ready to refute, in charity, time and time again.  Below is the letter once more with my comments interspersed in green.

I wonder if the few people who are so insistent in bringing back the Latin Mass can speak and understand the language.  

1.  Right away, the ad hominem attack.  Those who support the traditional Mass are "few".  Thus, in the democratic spirit of many in the Church, the cause cannot be good.  I wonder if it matters that even if it were a matter of "few" wanting this Mass, that their number includes his Archbishop and, more importantly, the Holy Father himself?  

And of course every place that celebrates the traditional Mass has seen sustained growth.  The seminaries of traditional orders are bursting.  Those dioceses that are more orthodox have greater numbers of vocations--e.g., Lincoln and St. Louis.  On the contrary, liturgical foolishness, dissent and heterodoxy produce a dearth of vocations.  The statistical evidence is all on the side of tradition. Anyone who doubts the effect of the departure from tradition in the last forty years should read Ken Jones' fine book, "Index of Leading Catholic Indicators."

2.  The "Latin Mass" is any Mass said in Latin.  The ordinary as well as the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite can be celebrated in Latin.  And should be, if one wishes to follow the intention of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council in Sacrosanctum Concilium.  Every traditional Catholic knows this, but due to the success of the disinformation campaign and lack of adequate catechesis in the last forty years,  it needs to be repeated often.

3.  God understands the Latin language just fine.  Perfectly well, actually.  Isn't that the relevant audience for our prayers?  But even focusing on the congregation, as befits the immanentist mindset of the day, the insinuation that most people "don't understand what's going on" because of the language is simply false.  It assumes that the Mass attendee will attend Mass once and never again.  How can the charge of lack of understanding be maintained with a straight face when one considers that the minimally-attending Catholic will likely assist at many hundreds of Masses in the course of his life?  I mean, really, after 10, or 20, or one year's worth, can one fail to grasp that the English on one side of the his Missal corresponds with the Latin on the other side?  That hearing and reading these prayers over and over will give a working knowledge of the Latin of the Mass?

If so, fine, but if not it's like when I attend Mass in another country where the liturgy is in the local dialect.  I would have no idea what's going on if I didn't know the Mass, and even then I feel isolated.

1.  Actually, not really.  Latin serves as a language of worship-- a language set apart for the things of God.  It is not merely a less common other-vernacular, like Spanish, Catalan, German, Italian, French or any other language in which I have heard Mass.  Other world religions have their dedicated liturgical language.  Other rites of the Catholic Church have their particular language.  The language of the Latin Rite is Latin.  

And one would know what was going on precisely because a.) the language is the same the world over, and b.) the situation of Latin, in that it is not commonly spoken today, prevents the kind of ad lib liturgy that could cause confusion to the out-of-town attendee.  If the traditional Mass were the only form of the Roman Rite,  every Mass a Catholic attends, no matter the country or region, would be exactly the same, and thus he would know exactly what was going on.

2.  Furthermore, the language should not isolate him, if by isolate he means to be cut off from the Church Militant, the Church Suffering and the Church Triumphant, with whom he unites his intentions at Mass.  Jesus is present on the altar, and we receive Him in Holy Communion.  However, the traditional Mass, unlike the typical Mass at many parishes, does allow the worshiper to have a certain "space" of interior silence so that he can be alone with his God.  He does not constantly have to say something out loud.  He does not have to try to focus his prayers and intentions in competition with the music of Marty Haugen.  The din is absent-- but that is a good thing.

As a youngster, I served at Mass when it was in the Latin Rite.  I knew the Latin responses but had no idea what they meant.

With all due respect, if he served the Mass often then failure to know what the responses meant is his fault alone.  The Latin-English Missal was not invented in 1988.  

For the last 40-plus years people in this country have been able to participate at Mass in the language they know.  So, for the sake of the young people, keep the Mass as it is.

1.  The writer repeats the common misunderstanding of what "participation" at Mass really means.  It is not mere talking.  Real participation is an interior disposition.  There are so many ways to demonstrate this that I cannot do the effort justice here, but one approach that I have found successful with friends and family who only attend the novus ordo is to ask them this:  "At what point in your parish's typical Mass do you feel you are most actively participating?"  Almost always, the answer I get is either "at the Consecration" or "when receiving Communion".  At which point I ask, "What are you saying at this point?"  The answer is "nothing", or at most, a solitary and receptive "amen" to the action of the priest.

2.  The fact that the writer served the traditional Mass in his youth belies his final point that the young people will be harmed by the restoration of the Mass of his youth.  As he said, he served more than 40 years ago.  For 40 years, people (not just) in this country have been able to participate at Mass in the language they know.  With what result?  Is the Mass more well-attended than it was in his youth?  Are Churches closing because they cannot hold the numbers of the faithful, or is it because the people have abandoned the Church that offers them the Mass in the language they understand?
 
Perhaps the writer has not assisted at a traditional Mass in the last few years.  If he did, he would see the pews crowded with people of all ages, and especially the young.  Lots of young families with many children.  The traditional Mass is the future of the Church.  The Mass that nourished countless Saints, the Mass that was confirmed in the wake of the Council of Trent but which existed in its essential form for over a thousand years before Trent, this Mass is a faithful and transcendent expression of the faith we believe.

For the sake of the young people, let the traditional Mass flourish!

5 comments:

Latinmassgirl said...

Timman, I feel as if I just listened to a debate, where you left the other guy in the dust! Yes, let the traditional Latin mass flourish for the sake of the future of the Catholic Church. The future of the world.

wolftracker said...

Change but a few words and it reads much better:

I wonder if the many people who are resisting the return of the Latin Mass can speak and understand the language.

If so, fine, but if not, why are they complaining about what they admittedly do not understand? It's like when I attend Mass in another country where the liturgy is in the local dialect. If the Church made better use of her mother tongue everyone everywhere would better follow the Mass.

As a youngster, I did not serve at Mass when it was in the Latin Rite. As an adult, I know the Latin responses but have no idea why others won’t take the time I did to retrieve this patrimony for themselves.

For the last 40-plus years people in this country have been able to participate at Mass in the language they know. It has had decidedly mixed result, to be more than fair to that experiment. So, for the sake of the young people, let’s not denigrate those that want to keep the Mass as it is for centuries on end..

Anonymous said...

Please send this to the Review! Please....Its time for the Church to stand up. Why not, we have the Archbishop and the Holy Father. Merry Christmas.

thetimman said...

And Merry Christmas to you, anon!

ChrisL said...

Thank you for your efforts on this! Your explanations arm up people like me who do not always make, or have, the time to prepare for pursuasive discourse.