Some of today’s Roman Catholic ordained men enjoy walking around in public, in oldstyle cassocks and birettas; and delight in “celebrating Mass” in Latin. I guess they have a right to do that. Pope Benedict, the emeritus pope, made sure of that. I still wonder these days if all “rights” make certain actions “right.”
Mass in Latin is happening rather regularly in a parish not far from my home. Over the past year I have had some generally friendly conversations with some of the (what I call) Dominus-Vobiscum-Catholics. The “celebrants” are most often young men, born a decade or more after Vatican II. I have often asked why they have reverted (regressed) to a former era? What animates these young clerics? What animates their congregations? They seem so steadfastly sure of themselves. Some of them are absolutely arrogant in their self-righteous speech and behavior.
One of my former students (painful) is a reverted priest. He is an athletic, friendly, and outgoing young guy. He often walks around the neighborhood, however, in a sombre black cassock. (Young kids think he looks like Dracula.) When he processes to the altar for his “Sunday Mass,” he turns his back to the congregation and does everything in Latin, with abundant incense and old bells. Lots of incense. Lots of bells.
Why do young Roman Catholíc ordained ministers (“priests”) enjoy doing this Latin ritual? One fellow told me that Latin is a “holy” language. I laughed a bit and said it is no more holy than English, or Spanish, or French, or whatever…… Actually my working-knowledge of Latin is excellent. Superior to their’s I suspect. Four years in high school and four years in college. Nevetheless, I have absolutely no desire to experience Sunday worship in the old language. I like museums as well, but wouldn’t want to live in one.
Why do people gather behind these Latin Mass ministers?
You really can’t say that people gather around these oldtime-religion priests. They sit, stand, or kneel, looking at the sacerdotal derrière. OK I know. I came of age in the 1960s; but I really prefer looking at people face-to-face. Much more interesting. Human contact. And I really don’t find backsides ,draped in ritual attire, all that charming.
Frankly, I find the Roman Catholic Latin Mass people analogically akin to the Islamic sharia people. They are fundamentalists, stuck in a former time. Unwilling, fearful, and incapable of living in our contemporary world. I understand this, because I was once a fundamentalist. Anxious and unable to cope with a changing culture around me and confused about my own psycho-sexual development, I found stability and security (for a while) in an obedient servitude to a static theological viewpoint that said change is dangerous and deadly. I liked girls, for instance, but my spiritual director said they were an occasion of sin. Counseling me about “sexual feelings,” he told me they were a terrible burden, the result of Original Sin, which brought many a young man close to eternal damnation. Unquestioningly I believed him…..for a while.
One day (truly an amazing grace) thanks to one of my university professors, I started asking: why? He encouraged me. And I had a long list of “whys?” I had come to respect him as a man of faith; and he stood by me and said it was a good, healthy, and holy thing to ask “why?”
Today I ask “why?” when I am with these Dominus-Vobiscum-Catholics. In general they are not bad people but distorted believers, I am now convinced. I understand, because I too was once a distorted believer. I was ensconced in a nineteenth century Catholic ethos, where everything was nicely packaged. Catholicism was the embodiment of Christian truth. No need to think. The answers had been given. Just affirm obediently and say “yes.”
One young reverted-priest told me he liked the “sense of mystery”‘ that Latin added to “his” liturgy. He didn’t have to deal with contemporary people and issues. He doesn’t like to look at people during “his” celebration of liturgy because they are a distraction. I told him one of the greatest real-time divine “mysteries” in my life was being with my wife face-to-face, when our son was born. He replied that I obviously was a very secular man. I told him I thought Jesus was a very secular man as well, but the young cleric had absolutely no understanding of what I meant. (The Incarnation.)
Aren’t we more properly and more truly looking at God when we face our sisters and brothers face-to-face than when we only stare at the back wall behind an altar?
Chatting with another young-but-oldtime-minded priest recently, the young man told me that he was a priest because “priests are ontologically superior” to lesser “lay people” human beings like me. When I reminded him that in the Gospel Jesus says he is the vine and we are the branches…..a community of equals with various roles in the community of faith, he chuckled and said (rather unkindly) that “1960s old liberals” like me were, fortunately, now dying-off. (I reminded him that resurrection follows death….)
Change is a fact of life. Pentecost reminds us — reassures us — that God’s Spirit is with us in our ongoing and ever-changing human journey. That should give us ample security and stability in our lives. We are not alone out there in space and time.
Most fundamentally, the Dominus-Vobiscum-people are Catholic fundamentalists. They are religiously frigid….frozen in the past (about which many of them are terribly ignorant). They cannot fathom that people of faith live, change, and grow in their faith relationship and their understanding of our human condition and our Christian belief and practice. Each day is a new discovery. Each day we re-evaluate and re-interpret our history.
We cannot allow fundamentalists to distort the message and run the show. That would be counter-productive and ulimately destructive of what we, as disciples of Jesus, are all about. We must be strong and active. We have to stay alert and be well-informed. On the other hand, like my old professor (close to 100, when he died two years ago) we need to befriend, respect, and challenge fundamentalists — in all religuous traditions — to study, reflect, and continually ask “why?”
This week end we hear again: “Suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as a wind blowing. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, speaking of the wonderful works of God.”
And so we continue on our human journeys, amidst changes that we may or may not understand. The Spirit has not abandoned us, even when our vision seems a bit cloudy.