Friday, 8 January 2016

A Trad Mass Ceiling?

Monsignor Pope fears so in the National Catholic Register. This is well worth reading if you love the Traditional Latin Mass (Extraordinary Form), even if you do not live in the United States.

If anyone really did, it was naive to assume that the churches would fill up again once the "Old Mass" returned. Have a conversation with an elderly lady who has been going to the same parish for sixty years, and you may discover her telling you what was wrong with the Old Mass, how the schoolchildren she taught struggled with the Latin, etc. (One wonders if she would have come up with such insights had the Novus Ordo not replaced the Mass of Ages.) And then have a conversation with a Catholic who never bothers to go to Sunday Mass. Up to 70% of American Catholics do not go to any Sunday Mass. Some of the elderly shirkers may be cranky, jilted Latin-lovers, but the vast majority are probably disciples of the television, where people almost never go to church, and devotees of the pillow--so soft and comfortable on a Sunday morning--and brunch.

Of course it is sweet the that the Trads had such a high opinion of the spiritual longings of the vast majority of English-speaking Catholics who never darken a church door. I went to school with Catholic kids who rarely went to church, so I never did. Still, I hope First Friday Mass and all the hymns we learned in music class stand them in good stead in moments of grave unhappiness.

Interestingly, there are ordinary Catholic churches in Scotland, where the only Sunday Mass is in the Ordinary Form, which attract fewer Catholics than the weekly Sunday Missa Cantata in Edinburgh. The Edinburgh E.F. community is swelled by university students--some years the students of St Andrews dominate, and others the students of the University of Edinburgh. This year we have a contingent from Edinburgh Uni--mostly male, although the girls come along sometimes--thanks to a youthful enthusiast or two who brought along his (or their) friends.

Upon seeing the "New Mass" for the first time in 1967, Archbishop John Heenan famously said that the Novus Ordo would appeal to women and children, but not to men.

The prophetic quote:
At home it is not only women and children but also fathers of families and young men who come regularly to Mass. If we were to offer them the kind of ceremony we saw yesterday in the Sistine Chapel   we would soon he left with a congregation mostly of women and children. Our people love the Mass but it is Low Mass without psalm-singing and other musical embellishments to which they are chiefly attached. I humbly suggest that the Consilium look at its members and advisers to make sure that the number of those who live in seminaries and religious communities does not exceed the numbers of those with pastoral experience among the people in ordinary parishes.[ H/T Counter Cultural Father.]

And indeed it is true that more men than women attend the Edinburgh Missa Cantata, although it is not the Low Mass. I wish the uni girls would come more often, but naturally there is much to attract them, obligations, etc. at the uni Mass.

The ideal mission field for the TLM is high schools and universities, for it is there that young Catholics are beginning to put away "childish things" and look for new ideas. (Protestant recruiters actually lay in wait at the airport for foreign students from Poland and other countries.) Teenagers, especially the ones working for a university career, love intellectual challenges, intellectual consistency and quests for spiritual realities. And naturally the best missionaries to the young are the young themselves, who can go where we oldies cannot--especially if the university chaplain dislikes competition.

Meanwhile, young Catholic couples who go to church tend to marry and have babies, who add noisily to the ranks of traddery.

As for those older, it's tricky. In many ways the young, despite their hot blood and struggle not to be obsessed with sex, are purer than the old. One could suggest to a middle-aged, twice divorced Catholic mother of two, who is deeply unhappy with her lot, that she might find solace at the TLM. However, if she were to turn up, she might find herself deeply uncomfortable with the frank admission that sin is sin and that she is a sinner and to stop sinning she will have to stop pretending her sins are not sins. (All normal young Catholic men know that their sins are indeed sins and that they are sinners, so they don't feel insulted when Tradition tells them they are.) She will find the people her age--old married people, bachelors or spinsters of decidedly counter-cultural opinions--distinctly odd. On the other hand, she might be struck by the many prayers and psalms that acknowledge that life is not a bowl of cherries and that there is a literal hell of suffering on this earth, from which we beg God to preserve us.

Perhaps some good mission work could be done among women with spiritual interests who are tempted by New Age and eastern meditation. But getting middle-aged cradle Catholics who are wedded to their routines to take an interest in travelling for an hour (at least) to the Extraordinary Form seems an insurmountable challenge. Of course, it is worthwhile praising it to them in case one day some liturgical or homiletical silliness shocks them so much, they wipe their feet and flee to tradition.

Update: Here's a trad who is scratching his head at Monsignor Pope's warnings.


  1. What if there is no liturgical or homiletical silliness?

    I went for years to an EF Mass that was really the best Mass in town with the friendliest people. Then I moved to a place where the EF Mass was even more convenient than it had been, but I only went to it twice. There were so many OF Masses in town that were gorgeous, reverent and with better preaching.

    Why do so many wonderful priests who offer the EF give either boring or terrible homilies? Homilies about sin can be great, but homilies in which the facts are just wrong are tedious. Also, fellow congregants, I do not want to have conversations that start off with, "The Jews..." Fear of Jews & related conspiracy theories are not a fine old Catholic tradition worth keeping!

  2. Goodness me! What country are you talking about?

  3. USA. It's hit or miss, with any parish.

  4. Oh, but I didn't answer your question. If there's no liturgical silliness, I suppose there will be fewer disgruntled converts looking for us. However, this is Scotland, where the Church's primary problem is the small number of priests and so churches are being closed left and right. Eventually poor Scottish Catholics will have to drive for hours to get to a Novus Ordo, so if the E.F. is nearer, then perhaps they will just buy a missal and go to that. In related news, another one of our chaps has just gone off to seminary.

  5. The TLM appeals to Catholics who want to live and love the Mass. Those people are a minority as most of the people who fill the pews today are there to just get a little religion. That explains why thousands of them keep going to places where the priest behaves foolishly and the ritual is non-existent. The point is that traddies are a minority within a minority. Anyway such reflections are really unbecoming someone of my status, what I should really be doing is writing a verbose book about the sociological shape of current liturgical practice, as that would be more in keeping with my father's legacy, as opposed to writing on your blog (no insult intended).

  6. ;-) Did he ever name your mother, or was he a gentleman about it?

  7. His radical self-giving to the lady mentioned on the Internet is, thankfully,the reason I exist today! I try not to think of the so-called irregularity but I choose instead to focus on the pure gift of the future that only God can give.excuse my verbosity I'm just overcome with emotion right now.

  8. I assumed that, like Athena from Zeus, you sprang fully armed from his head. However, I recall being chatted up by a young male religious who said he hoped it was true that your father had a mistress; no doubt he would be cheered to know of your existence. It might take the sting off the news that I tell tales out of school and in CWR, har har.