Sunday, July 08, 2007

Who's Afraid of the Latin Mass--And Why?

Pope Benedict XVI . . . authorized wider use of the long-marginalized Latin Mass, a move that delighted Roman Catholic traditionalists but worried others who fear the erosion of important church reforms...In a decree known as a motu propio, essentially a personal decision, the pope urged priests to celebrate a 1962 version of the 16th century Tridentine Mass when their congregations request it. Until now, priests could use the Latin Mass only with permission from their bishops, which was not always forthcoming.

At last, some good news! So, when do we get our 1928 Prayer Book back?

It's hard to understand why, instead of being completely delighted about the availability of another option, people are worried. Seems though that there are three reasons:

(1) The slippery slope. The worry is that the reinstitution of this liturgy is a symbolic gesture, signaling a larger conservative agenda that could have ramifications for clergy and theologians who are professionally dependent on the institutional church. Could be, but no reason that lay people should worry: neither their jobs nor their civil rights will be affected. They can enjoy the Latin Mass and do as they please. (2) Perfidious Jews. The head honcho of the Anti-Defamation League is in a snit because the liturgy for Good Friday includes a prayer for the conversion of the Jews. So what? Does anyone seriously believe that this little snippet, in Latin, will fuel a resurgence of Anti-Semitism? (3) The REAL worry: the Latin Mass is too religious. Here is the take of one of the commentators at this site:

I have never felt comfortable looking at priests’ faces when saying mass. It seemed such an intrusion into a totally personal experience. By the same token I would have felt incredibly violated if people watched my every expression while praying. The idea of priests facing the altar together with the congregation seems to me the most logical one since we are all praying to same God.

The focal aim of liturgical revision, the the RC church and in the Episcopal church, has been to wipe out this sort of introspective, individualistic piety--the flight of the alone to the Alone--to obliterate any sense of transcendence, and to eliminate everything juicy--anything that's exotic, fancy, aesthetically pleasing or emotionally intense and everything seriously pleasurable. Why?

First, plain puritanism: the idea that if it feels good it must be self-indulgent and wicked. Oh, we get a little bit of pleasure but only so long as it isn't too intense, has a moral, and redeeming social value. Sex is ok as long as you don't enjoy it too much and it has the redeeming social value of producing offspring, or at least "bonding." Liturgy is ok so long as it's jolly and cheerful, not thrilling or ecstatic, and promotes ecological concern and good attitudes about justice, freedom and peace.

Secondly, Communitarianism or, as the religious folk put it, "the horizontal dimension." They've been chanting the mantra for decades now: "corporate--good; individual--bad." This has been the driving force of liturgical revision for over 40 years--from the adoption of the first person plural form of the Creed, to the stinking, rotten Peace, to the priest facing the people--we, we, we, "the church is People", the church's goal is "community building." Within Protestant traditions especially this is a response to Paul, Augustine, Luther and Kierkegaard, and to popular evangelical Christianity--the sin-and-salvation religion, the idea of Christianity as a means to purification, personal salvation and the establishment of a "personal relationship" with Jesus. However liturgical reformers were locked into a false dichotomy and didn't realize that there were other alternatives to the sin-guilt-salvation you-and-me-Jesus model besides happy-clappy "community building."

Thirdly, the apotheosis of the quotidian: the idea that the distinction between the sacred and the profane had to be breeched and that religion had to be secularized--made insofar as possible to resemble ordinary life. According to the received view, religion was "escapist." By making it as plain and dull as ordinary life the Church would send the message that it wasn't just for Sunday, and that "real" religion was working for the good of the other in the secular city. Every grain of incense was bread from the mouths of the poor. Ideally churches would shut down and be sold off to finance social service projects. A righteous remnant of their members would meet in basement rec rooms to sing Cumbayah, share a simple communal meal, and plan the social service and political action projects which were what REAL religion was.

Finally, this whole project was driven by the dullness, anti-religious sentiment and utter obtuseness of liturgical reformers. They just didn't get mysticism or religious experience. The very idea that looking into someone's face when they were praying might be an intrusion or violation, as the quote above suggests, was just off their radar. They couldn't even fathom the idea that people might enjoy religion, that it might be intense, personal and blissful, a source of metaphysical thrills and the ecstasy of transcendence. These jerks don't have a clue. They imagine that the only alternative to the shit they've forced on us, the we-we-we jolly handshake mass is neurotic sin, guilt and salvation, and that their job as enlightened religious therapists is to get us out of that by making do us nicies and huggies.

1 comment:

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