In an all too frequent perusal of my Facebook “Newsfeed”, I came across a link to a traditionally focused Catholic blog, Rorate Caeli. It contains a statement made by the pope to Archbishop Jan Graubner, of Olomouc. The original of the excerpt is in Czech, but was translated by a reader of Rorate Caeli called MC:
[Abp. Jan Graubner speaks:] When we were discussing those who are fond of the ancient liturgy and wish to return to it, it was evident that the Pope speaks with great affection, attention, and sensitivity for all in order not to hurt anyone. However, he made a quite strong statement when he said that he understands when the old generation returns to what it experienced, but that he cannot understand the younger generation wishing to return to it.
“When I search more thoroughly – the Pope said – I find that it is rather a kind of fashion [in Czech: 'móda', Italian 'moda']. And if it is a fashion, therefore it is a matter that does not need that much attention. It is just necessary to show some patience and kindness to people who are addicted to a certain fashion. But I consider greatly important to go deep into things, because if we do not go deep, no liturgical form, this or that one, can save us.“
Many young traditionalists are taking offense to this statement, seeing it as a dismissal of a vital part of Church tradition, but I wonder if Pope Francis really just does not “understand the younger generation wishing to return to it.” As one of the younger generation who deeply appreciates and prefers the Extraordinary Form or Traditional Latin Mass (EF for the rest of this article) and the traditional rite of the Sacraments, it is clear that the pope does not understand. For my purposes, I think maybe a better word to explain it in English, might be “trend” (which happens to be a synonym of “fashion”). It seems that younger Catholics devotion to the EF is a trend, but many devotions start as “trends.” Someone starts doing something, and they share it with a friend, and then all of a sudden many people are praying a certain prayer. That is the way tradition works in the Church. Something becomes popularized and then sometimes it becomes universal.
However, I would not describe my own love of and devotion to the EF as a whim of my youth or an “addiction.” I would describe what happened in me as more of a revelation. Through my theological studies, I became aware of the depth of liturgical tradition that had been neglected in my cradle Catholicism. It seemed to be something so important, so a part of the Church, and no one had ever told me. I am reminded of the book of Nehemiah when the Israelites, having returned from exile, rebuild the city, and then are read the law for the first time in their lives:
And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people; and when he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God; and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands; and they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.
Also Jesh’ua, Bani, Sherebi’ah, Jamin, Akkub, Shab’bethai, Hodi’ah, Ma-asei’ah, Keli’ta, Azari’ah, Jo’zabad, Hanan, Pelai’ah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the law, while the people remained in their places. And they read from the book, from the law of God, clearly; and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
And Nehemi’ah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law.
(Nehemiah 8: 5-9)
And I did mourn after the tradition had been explained to me through various writings and through my graduate professors.
I mourned for the loss of the richness of the traditional liturgy in my life and in the Church, and for a time I could not get enough of it. I wanted to only go to it, to soak in everything beautiful about it. I encountered God in an even deeper way than I did praying at charismatic prayer meetings. I entered into a deeper, even more personal relationship through the old structure of the old liturgy. I remember liturgies where I had the care of a young infant and all I could do was sit and watch and listen, but I was lifted in prayer by the beauty of the music sung at the liturgy, written somewhere in the Church’s ancient history. I felt led by the priest, the deacon, the subdeacon and the altar boys as they did the liturgical dance of the EF. I went from pacing with a child in the very back to kneeling at the sanctuary and having God placed in my mouth. The tradition drew me to itself. It was not about me at all; it was about it.
Then I became a hard-hearted critic of everything not traditional. We attended Ordinary Form (OF, Novus Ordo, New Mass) daily masses, and I became scandalized at every liturgy that did not follow perfect rubrics or used extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion or other things that seemed to be absolutely contrary to tradition. I was wrong to think and feel this way. It was hurtful to myself and to my fellow Catholics. I now apologize to the Church, and all my fellow Catholics for passing these judgments. I ask your forgiveness and understanding.
It took five years for me to get past the shock of my introduction to the EF; five years to see beauty in the Ordinary Form. I found a way to understand others and to remember that there is much more to a relationship with God than the liturgy we attend. That we attend Sunday Mass is very crucial to our relationship with God and the Church; which Mass we attend is as universal as the Church.
And it does not bother me to think of young people, like me, as part of a trend. All of the liturgical changes that happened in parishes before, during, and after Vatican II were trends. Priests facing the congregation instead of the tabernacle started as a trend. Women ceasing to cover their heads in the liturgy started as a trend. Lay people receiving communion in the hand and standing started as a trend, but that did not stop Pope Benedict XVI from giving an example of the older tradition to us by distributing on the tongue to people kneeling. I have great hope and excitement that many traditions will be renewed, be it God’s will. And that will only happen through trends. So, if the renewal of the liturgy is the will of God, then let it start as a trend or even a “fashion”, and maybe it will help us be drawn closer to God, so that it may save us.