Real Deal? The Pope and the Traditional Latin Mass
Why all the angst about the pope’s recent letter, called ‘Guardians of the Tradition’?
The contents of the letter are entirely reasonable:
- Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II granted wider permission for the use of the traditional Latin Mass in order ‘to facilitate the ecclesial communion of those Catholics who feel attached to earlier liturgical forms.’ Sensible.
- The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith carried out a detailed consultation of the world’s Catholic Bishops in 2020, to assess the success or otherwise of Pope Benedict’s decision (2007) permitting greater use of the traditional Latin Mass. Reasonable.
- After hearing back from the Bishops, Pope Francis has issued new regulations to help aid ecclesial communion. Wise.
- The essence of the pope’s decision is to entrust the decision of where and when the traditional Latin Mass will be celebrated with each Bishop, not with priests. Not unusual. It is the teaching of the Church that the ‘diocesan Bishop is the moderator, promoter and guardian of the whole liturgical life of the diocese.’
Why the angst?
It has been observed in some places, not everywhere, that those who prefer to worship within the traditional Latin Mass can sometimes, not always, have a view that the traditional Latin Mass is the ‘real deal,’ while the more recent Mass (1970’s onwards) with the vernacular language, priest facing the people, dialogical manner, greater access to the word of God, etc., is not the ‘real deal.’
Why think this way?
Maybe the ‘new form’ of Mass is lacking in some key liturgical areas?
Could our music, proclamation of the word of God, preaching, ritual silence, reverent celebration be improved? No doubt.
At any rate, the pope doesn’t want the Church splintering. He is concerned about ecclesial communion.
And why not? No communion, no mission.
A little history comes to our aid.
Mass was celebrated in Greek for the first three centuries, then in Latin because it became more widely spoken.
A simple read of St. Justin’s account of how the early Church celebrated the Eucharist (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1345) demonstrates the continuity between the past and present. It is quite a remarkable piece of history.
The Mass was the ‘real deal’ in the first centuries, when celebrated in either Greek or Latin.
It is the ‘real deal’ when celebrated according to the traditional Latin Mass mode.
It is the ‘real deal’ with the Mass post 1970’s.
A final thought.
The pope touches upon the issue of liturgical competence.
Reasonably enough, he observes that the celebrant needs to speak and read Latin with a certain fluency if the traditional Mass is to effect ‘spiritual growth’ within those participating.
One might add that ‘spiritual growth’ will be enhanced if those participating also have a certain fluency in reading and hearing Latin.
But then again, surely the ‘spiritual growth’ of those of us who participate within the Mass post 1970’s would be aided with deeper preparation of the liturgical texts and more robust and faithful responses.