Saturday, May 05, 2007

Rite Turn

~excerpted from Slate...Can the Latin Mass Make a Comeback?

For those of us who grew up with Masses in English, hand-holding congregations, and such jaunty church music as "Lord of the Dance," the Latin Mass was a ritual from another time and place.

But it is precisely that sense of timeless ritual, coupled with the mystery and awe that it can evoke, that helps to account for traditionalists' affection for the old Mass.

Writing in Commonweal in 2000, Bill Shuter called the Tridentine Mass "a solemn rite of extraordinary power" that "may be re-enacted daily, but is no everyday action." Traditionalists prefer the power of Latin to what they see as the banality of the liturgy in English. And many Catholics associate the Latin Mass with the church's glorious heritage of ancient music and solemnity in worship—a heritage some say has been lost in the liturgical changes that have been enacted over the last few decades.

One of the most visible critics of the liturgical changes of the 1960s and afterward was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the man who would become Pope Benedict XVI. In his 2000 book, Raztinger wrote of reformed liturgies: "Less and less is God in the picture. … [T]he turning of the priest toward the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle. In its outward form, it no longer opens out on what lies ahead and above, but is closed in on itself." Such criticisms led most observers to assume that, as pontiff, he would make encouraging liturgical traditionalism a priority.

But for some progressive Catholics, even a limited comeback for the Latin Mass would spell a disturbing retreat to the inflexible hierarchies and what they see as the anachronistic services of the old pre-Vatican II church...

...Certainly, readier access to the Latin Mass would thrill the core of liturgical old-schoolers who have longed for its return. But how many mainstream American Catholics would be interested in attending a Latin Mass? Some of the largest and most passionate Catholic congregations I've seen have been in churches whose services have veered far from the pre-council standard and toward something more resembling an evangelical megachurch service: video screens, pop-influenced worship bands, a breezy informality in the pews.

But ideological debates aside, perhaps the most practical—and unanswered—question is this: For four decades, Latin was largely neglected in the church (and in Catholic schools). How many Catholic priests—many of them, like me, having come of age after the reforms of the 1960s—could muster enough Latin to offer a convincing Tridentine service?

Read more

No comments: