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The tactics and goals of Traditional Catholics would easily understood and appreciated by the MAGA cap-wearing Trump fans who are the president’s most ardent supporters. Like their secular counterparts, the MRCCGA crowd believes that their heritage has fallen victim to the depredations of liberals. To repair the church’s problems, traditionalists prescribe a return to the Tridentine mass celebrated in Latin.
Many benefits are ascribed to this liturgy, which first saw the light of day in 1570. Boiled down, these benefits amount to a.) it’s old and b.) it’s theatrical. A smattering of praise: “It’s the same rite used by the church fathers.”
Only if the lifespans of the church fathers exceeded that of Methuselah. Furthermore, the liturgy was tweaked multiple times between 1570 and1962. It was superseded by the vernacular Novus Ordo in 1970.
“It’s more spiritual when the priest faces away from the people.” Gee, The Baltimore Catechism, (another favorite of traditionalists) instructs the faithful that “God is everywhere.” That means it shouldn’t matter in which direction the priest is facing. There must be an unofficial doctrine which states, “God has the priest’s back. Just not his front.”
Traditionalists reject the idea that priest and parishioners are all part of the same faith community, with all the frailties and failings to which the flesh is heir.
“It was better in the old days, when the priest was different from other people.” Um, okay. But, wasn’t it that very elevation of the priesthood a factor in keeping secret the activities of pedophile priests?
“The Tridentine is more majestic than the Novus Ordo.” Few activities can equal the pomp and circumstance of a high mass in a cathedral with a history of 150 years or more. With a sanctuary capable of sleeping 3,000, the sights and sounds are calculated to excite the senses. Sunlight streams through enormous and elaborate stained-glass windows. The air is heavy with the scent of incense. A large chorus complements the rich, deep tones of a massive pipe organ playing centuries-old hymns.
And to cap it all off, the rite is conducted the aforementioned Latin, except for three Greek words which appear in the middle of the Mass. They are said to be a vestige of an ancient translation.
“It’s more reverent than the vernacular,” Latin proponents insist. How it accomplishes this feat is a matter of debate. No other subject matter regularly imparts information to its intended audience in a language in which the audience lack fluency. This is why so few public school systems in this country offer civics classes in Sanskrit, pt geography in Mandarin Chinese.
The use of Latin also has made the Vatican the target of some ridicule. The Latin Words of Institution, “hoc est corpus” was corrupted and co-opted by dotard illusionists, some of whom still invoke the phrase “hocus pocus” in their acts.
In the 16th century, Latin was used because it was universally understood. These days, its use is mostly confined to education, medicine, the law, and religion, where it can be used to obfuscate concepts that would otherwise be too easy for those outside the easy to grasp for those outside the professions.
The Tridentine Mass is a perfect symbol for a church that has relied too often to answer questions instead of revealing the why. It’s a rite that could have been designed by that noted liturgical scholar Kurt Cobain: “Here we are now, entertain us.”
Monsignor David Jennings is the Vicar General for the International Old Catholic Churches. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky.