Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Resurrecting the Rite

Almost exactly one year ago my family drove down to St. Louis to witness an historic event, the ordination of two priests for the Institute of Christ the King in the classical Roman Rite by Archbishop Raymond Burke. It was historic because it was the first time since Vatican II, as far as I know, that priests had been ordained in the traditional Rite by the ordinary of a major metropolitan See in his own cathedral. This ordination occurred about a month before Summorum Pontificum was promulgated, so it was all the more in the groundbreaking category.

Archbishop Burke has been a major supporter of the traditional Latin Mass since his start as "just" Bishop Burke in my diocese, La Crosse, WI. When asked by one of the faithful here why he was so supportive of the traditional Latin Mass he replied, "Because it's the Mass that made the saints."

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis is extremely beautiful and was a most fitting place for this incredible event. The place was absolutely full, which had to mean well over a thousand people in attendance. The entire ceremony ran over four hours and I was extremely proud of my two older children (they were 12 and 9 at the time), who not only wanted to attend this historic event but sat through it attentively and without complaint.

Interestingly, the event was covered by St. Louis Magazine and the author happened to interview my wife Lorene, who was then quoted in the piece. The resulting article, "Resurrecting the Rite", was really quite good for a piece in a secular journal. The on-line version unfortunately lacks the beautiful pictures that accompanied the print version, but there is a gallery of great photos on the site of the Institute of Christ the King. The author was plainly sympathetic to the Latin Mass. She found my wife in the vestibule during the ceremony:

Out in the cathedral vestibule, a mother rocks an infant too young to find solace in these phrases. Lorene Palm has come all the way from rural Wisconsin with her husband and children. Why, I ask, thinking of that road trip on a weekday with kids in the back seat. “Because we love the institute,” she says. “They have provided the Latin Mass for us, and it is the joy of our life.” Tears well up. “When the world is crazy, and you don’t know what is going to happen from day to day, you have someplace that is ordered and peaceful,” she says, her voice cracking, “and you know that God is there, and you can be with Him.”

Another young woman was also quoted favorably (I love the way she deftly turned the charge of ignorance of Latin back onto the naysayer......Come on, Father, even a kid can learn this....):

“Young people are starved for this,” says Keri Frasca, who went to her first Latin Mass at 28. “I had been raised Catholic, but I really wasn’t practicing my faith. I went to the Latin Mass and—it was sublime. So beautiful, so supernatural. I had made a lot of mistakes in my early twenties. I thought this would give me self-discipline, inner peace, a higher purpose—a way to live beyond this world, with all its disappointments.

“I’ve heard the same words every Sunday for seven years, and I never tire of them,” she continues. “It touches a place inside you that nothing earthly can. I think when you have the Mass in the vernacular with the priest facing the people, it becomes more about the people than it does the real presence of God. It allows greater variation, more abuses. Some of the hymns are just so—I hate to use the word, but banal. There are a lot more distractions; there’s a greater immodesty in dress. Talking out loud. Communion in the hands.”

What about one St. Louis priest’s objection, that “most priests in the United States have not studied Latin, and it’s awfully close to blasphemy to presume to offer a Mass in a language in which you don’t understand a word”?

“We all have English-Latin missals,” Frasca points out serenely. “And when you see tiny little altar boys who are able to follow and understand, it’s quite humbling.
It is more than telling that the traditionalist Catholic was said to answer "serenely", while the feminist who was interviewed for the article "snaps" her reply:

Others see the shift as more political than psychological. “It’s a power thing,” snaps a devout Catholic with a graduate degree in theology and strong feminist sensibilities. “Only the boys who know the language know what’s going on. They’re saying the words; if you can’t answer, so what? They’re battening down the hatches.” She takes a deep breath. “Yes, the mystique of Latin takes people to another world. But it’s a world that doesn’t exist.”

[Mark Shea notes in a recent article that in the secular media dissenting Catholics, no matter how totally they reject and even revile the Church's teachings, are always "devout".]

The article restates a few common myths about Vatican II, such as that it authorized the celebration of the Mass entirely in the vernacular and authorized the priest to say Mass facing the people. And of course there's the obligatory quip that current interest in the classic Roman Rite is all just a bunch of naive nostalgia:

Now the Vatican II Mass was the universal Mass—“and that hardened the positions on both sides,” the scholar says. “The Latin Mass became the symbol of resistance to many of the other changes of Vatican II. And today, conservative Catholic families are seeing in the Latin Mass a way to protect their children from the dangers of the world. The desire is to be commended. The means, I think, is foolish. I think the archbishop is pursuing a chimera, a figment.

“I also worry that this will just further encourage the younger seminarians who are increasingly conservative, almost cultic,” he adds. “Psychologically, that is a most interesting development. There has been so much upheaval. People can take only so much of that, and then they seek solace in something they have heard was an established, definite, beautiful certainty. The bells of St. Mary’s.”
There is one quote from someone less than fully sympathetic that warrants a little bit of thought. It's a topic that I'd like to address in a future posting, that of "noble simplicity":

“What we used to talk about—but it’s a hard thing to teach—was ‘worship in noble simplicity,’” he continues. “The trouble is, instead of noble simplicity we got casual simplicity. Now those moving toward the Latin Mass are saying worship has to be truly noble. And they have lost the simplicity.”
He is, of course, referring back to Sacrosanctum Concilium 34 which says that:

The rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity; they should be short, clear, and unencumbered by useless repetitions; they should be within the people's powers of comprehension, and normally should not require much explanation.
Hmmmm. That statement has engendered a great deal of mischief. One is tempted to reply, for example, that there is no "useless" repetition in the classical Roman Rite. [Indeed, one is further tempted to point to the two-fold repetition of the Kyrie-Christe Eleison in the Novus Ordo as truly useless, whereas the three-fold set of three invocations in the traditional Rite is obviously Trinitarian and therefore very useful.] And while the texts of the classical Roman Rite are indeed already "within the people's powers of comprehension" (there is, after all, even a comicbook-format introduction called Know Your Mass especially for kids), it escapes me exactly why the Church's most sublime treasure, her sacred liturgy, "should not require much explanation". I recall a passage from the memoirs of then-Cardinal Ratzinger in which he speaks of delving deeper and deeper into the mysteries of the traditional Roman Rite as if peeling layers from an onion, with always one more layer of depth to plumb. Surely dumbing all of that down so that it "should not require much explanation" isn't necessarily a good idea. But then again, such dumbing down is probably not what the majority of Council Fathers had in mind anyway. So this topic really requires a bit more thought. I'd be interested to know, for example, what the very traditionally-minded Council Fathers thought they were approving when they read about this call for "noble simplicity". I'd value your ideas and observations in the comment box.

Anyway, back to the St. Louis Magazine piece. It is obvious that the author was very sympathetic to and even moved by what she saw and heard that Saturday afternoon and I commend her for writing a very fine article on the topic.

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