Skip to comments.Let Us Pray: A Call for More Orthodoxy, and Latin Mass, for the Troubled Church
Posted on 05/26/2002 7:05:39 PM PDT by ELS
| Jersey City
There was a time in the Roman Catholic Church, a generation ago, when codified rituals and whispered prayers embraced the mysterious power of God. In more recent days, the whispers have been of a more profane nature as Catholics from the occasional congregant to the Pope have wrestled with the painful issue of priests who sexually abuse children.
The ensuing scandal - which is roiling the American Catholic Church as nothing else in its history - has prompted many to call for liberal reform in the church. Yet odd as it may seem on the surface, there is another group of people within the church who are intent on reform of a very different nature, and they recently gathered in Jersey City to participate in a Mass that once united Catholics across the globe.
Traditionalists, as they call themselves, are seeking not less but more orthodoxy in issues of morality and adherence to church doctrine, and are passionate about a liturgy that all but disappeared after the Second Vatican Council.
"The old Latin Mass" said Judith Markenstein, whose husband is a deacon at Holy Rosary Parish here, "gives you a mystical sense of the greatness of God and the smallness of us."
The Tridentine Mass fell by the wayside in the 1960's when the Vatican updated the liturgy - abandoning Latin in favor of the vernacular, encouraging more lay involvement on the altar and turning the priest around to face the congregation.
In 1984 Pope John Paul II allowed the Tridentine Mass to be celebrated, but only under strict conditions. Then in 1988 he issued Ecclesia Dei, which allowed the old rite as long as local bishops gave their permission. Since then, Tridentine Masses have been increasing steadily, if not flourishing. According to the Coalition in Support of Ecclesia Dei, an Illinois-based organization that provides help to parishes interested in starting up a Tridentine Mass, 150 traditional Masses are celebrated each Sunday in the United States and dozens more once or twice a month, up from 60 a week and 40 a month in 1991.
As recently as a week ago, a spokeswoman for the coalition said, 117 of the 201 Catholic dioceses in the United States offered a traditional Latin Mass. One week ago, the Newark Archdiocese became No. 118.
The first Tridentine Mass at Holy Rosary Parish in more than 30 years attracted about 100 people from all over North Jersey. What drew them, many said, was the old rite's sense of transcendence and mystery, contemplative silence mixed with the unison voices of Gregorian chant, the pungent smell of incense and the sprinkling of holy water.
For Ron Colombo, a Hoboken resident, May 19 was a long time coming. Since moving from New York City in 1999, he and his wife, Kim, had traveled 40 minutes each way on Sundays to attend a Tridentine Mass, either back to Manhattan or to Pequannock. When Mr. Colombo heard last summer that the Rev. Kenneth Baker was mulling over the possibility of bringing Latin back to Holy Rosary, he helped the church's pastor, Msgr. Joseph Chiang, to circulate a petition, which eventually made its way to the desk of Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark, whose jurisdiction includes Jersey City.
Nine months later, with the archbishop's permission in hand, new vestments hanging in the sacristy and Latin-English missals, purchased in part with money donated by the Colombos, his legwork came to fruition.
The 30-year-old Mr. Colombo grew up in Queens, a "typical American Catholic," he said. He attended catechism classes, where he learned to "color, share and be nice to people," but little about Catholic dogma, and dutifully attended the post-Vatican II Mass. In 1997, as a law student at New York University, he stumbled by chance upon a Tridentine Mass.
"I could not believe this was my religion," he said. "For all practical purposes, it wasn't."
Crediting the old rite with making him a "true Catholic," he possesses something like the zeal of a convert, pressing to recapture "traditional Catholic culture."
Being a traditionalist, he said, "is not just Mass. It's a mind-set. It's orthodoxy plus culture, an entire milieu of Catholic living."
That milieu includes shunning meat on Fridays even though the church prescribes abstinence only during Lent, praying the rosary and saying grace before every meal.
Robert Phillips, a professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut at Hartford, said that traditionalists feel that as Catholic liturgy has gone downhill, so have the moral standards of American Catholics, both laity and clergy. "True devotees of the Old Mass are super-orthodox," said Professor Phillips, who places himself in the traditionalist camp, but does not advocate a full-fledged restoration of the Tridentine Rite. Traditionalists "go against many aspects of American Catholicism," he said.
As Kevin Flynn, the 40-year-old master of ceremonies at Holy Rosary's first Mass, put it, "I hope an attachment to the Old Mass also means an attachment to a traditional interpretation of Catholicism. Mass should be the center of your life."
Mr. Flynn, like Mr. Colombo, is uncomfortable with the dilution of the solemnity of the Mass over the past 30 years or so, and feels that it has been overshadowed by debates on church positions like abortion and contraception, which he does not believe are open for discussion.
In the newer Mass, Mr. Flynn and others said, the crucial sense of the sacred, the idea that something central to the faith takes place on the altar, has given way to a more casual approach. The priest facing the congregation "encourages improvisation," said Professor Phillips, relating an anecdote about a priest who interrupted a Mass to inform the congregation that it was his birthday. The New Mass, he said, encourages such ad-libbing because it is celebrated in English, and also because the priest is "looking at the people, and wants to tell them something."
But others find fault with blaming the English-language Mass for moral and liturgical laxity. While the Rev. Neil J. Roy, a theology professor at the Catholic University of America in Washington, acknowledged that improvisation happened more frequently today, he would like to see more reverence in the newer rite, rather than a return to the old one.
Since for most Catholics, Sunday Mass is the first, and often the most constant, component of their faith, traditionalists see the old rite as a first step on the road to a deeper understanding of Catholicism and stricter adherence to its tenets.
"If you can get people into church, and say this is what liturgy is supposed to be, this is about worshipping God, and then we can get them into moral law, abortion, homosexuality, contraception," said Mr. Phillips.
Mr. Colombo agreed. Asking rhetorically how many Catholics use birth control, he said, " I'd like to see those same numbers at a traditional Latin Mass. If we return to the traditional Latin Mass, you are going to have a change in people."
We need to go back to a time when we were taught that there were consequences for our indiscretions and sins, that fear of the Lord was a gift of the Holy Spirit.
It is what we believe - what you do, say, and how you act externally is a lead to your (internal) piety, as well as expressive of it.
The Latin phrase lex orandi, lex credendi says basically the same thing - the rule of prayer dictates the rule of belief or what you exhibit externally reflects what you believe internally. The inimitable Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, "If you don't behave as you believe, you will end by believing as you behave."
Well, he is going to have to answer for that. You are always welcome to join us.
Reverence and mystery are important in worship.
If your crisis brings about change as you posters are discussing here, it could be all worth it in the end.
This is a great thread.
I am often amazed at the poverty of Protestants when it comes to understanding the significance or forms.
Without tradition, where would we be?
It can be lovely to worship in another language, especially an older one. My children did fine with Old Church Slavonic for a lot of years.
WOW. Now I am really getting excited. Is it true that your priests used to face the altar, as ours still do?
BTW, the late Bishop Fulton Sheen used to say that he would never belong to the Catholic Church either if it was what its critics claimed it was.
Nope...you didn't get this straight. Perhaps you should wear a bigger shoe.