Good evening, everyone!
I’m not gonna be going on about Latin or English in the Mass right now, but as a background to the topic of this post, I was talking about the liturgy recently (big surprise there) and it was on the very subject of Latin vs. English. My opinion may strike some as almost being schizophrenic: I actively like the vernacular, and when I go to a Mass in Latin I find it takes an extra effort to pay attention, but as a matter of fact I don’t like the vernacular and think we should go back to using Latin.
But why in the world would I argue we should use something (Latin) other than the thing I technically prefer (English)? That, my dear readers, is an idea I want to talk to you about now.
In a word, I would say this: in the end, the Mass is just not about us. To be sure, some liturgical principles should be maintained everywhere. To be sure, any liturgical celebration should be entirely founded on the traditions of the Church (a topic open to varying interpretations itself), and to be sure, I have my own opinions and pray about them. But in the end, I think we need to remember something: it’s not about us.
Did you notice that across the whole spectrum, especially across countless Catholic blogs, there’s a bunch of opinions about what would make the best liturgy? In conversation, I’ve heard many older Catholics say that they like the reverence and feel of the Mass before 1965, but don’t miss not being able to understand what the priest is saying; so basically they’re saying that, if they could pick, they’d take the reverence and aura of the older liturgy and do it in their own language. A ton of examples could be used to illustrate this mindset. What if you like Praise and Worship in the Mass, a distinctively new thing, but like to receive Holy Communion kneeling down and on your tongue, a distinctively old thing? What if, say, you like it when only the priest gives Communion, but you like Communion under both species rather than Communion under one kind only, so you start pressing for intinction? I’m not saying you can’t have your likes and dislikes. That isn’t my point. But how good is it, do you think, if we keep picking and choosing all these different aspects, as so many Catholics invariably end up doing? At what point do we begin to see the liturgy as a great big set of opinions, with our individual opinion—rather than the countless individual opinions of other people—representing the ideal liturgy? Before the 1960s, such an idea would have generally been unheard of. The liturgy was codified in all its different parts and was viewed as something that the Church was given and meant to safeguard. Now, whether someone is labelled a traditionalist or a liberal, it seems like the liturgy is viewed as something you can tinker with at will—making the liturgy what Cardinal Ratzinger once called a fabricated and on-the-spot product.
How do we get out of this? Honestly, I don’t know. In the end there will inevitably be varying opinions about what makes “good liturgy” and “bad liturgy”, but in my humble opinion, this would be helped partially by slimming down the huge number of options for everything in the current missal, giving us instead a set formula for each part, which would be used every Mass. This would give greater stability to the celebration of the liturgy in general; then, though many will disagree with me, I think we should do all we can (to borrow from the Pope Emeritus again) to bring the “current” Mass in line with the “previous” Mass, thus, again, limiting the differences. Finally, it would be my hope that we would, after many, many years, perhaps, have once again a single liturgical form, founded soundly on Church tradition, without a plethora of options and variations. This, to me, would decrease the “mental narcissism” of many Catholics—including me!—and would allow us to view the Mass, once again, as something objective, codified, and not formed by majority opinions. And if we were to reach such a point of resignation, we could repeat the outstanding principle laid out by St. John the Baptist: “He must increase, and I must decrease” (Jn 3:30).