And Now For Something Completely Different...
What Happens When You Get Your Birthday Present A Little Too Late?
Was it ever the case that, when you were a child, you wanted a toy so bad but never got it? And when you finally were in a position to obtain it, you no longer wanted it anymore?
The Roman Catholic Internet is abuzz with rumors that Pope Benedict will somehow free up the traditional Latin Mass. It is odd for me to hear this news. From the age of fourteen to a little less than a year ago, I was obsessed with this question. Even when I was in the Eastern Church, I always hoped that Rome would give some freedom to the Latin Mass. I remember I even recorded at the tender age of fourteen the Latin Mass as it was played over the radio said with a thick accent by Father Gomar de Pauw. I tried to learn the Latin responses even before I had ever seen a Latin Mass.
When I first came into contact with the Society of St. Pius X, I thought I had been assumed into heaven. I thought there I could be a Catholic without apologies. Soon, however, I realized that the beautiful liturgy was part of a package that was not very appealing and not at all theological. Mostly, it was a vendetta that the SSPX faithful had against the Vatican's excommunication of Action Francaise and its about-face on political issues in the French post-war era. Theology was really only an after-thought.
My time in Argentina sealed this sense: traditionalism down there is a badge of honor for those who are "more right wing than thou". In this sense, Rome's neglecting of the theology of vicarious satisfaction was not just a betrayal of the Council of Trent, it also smacked of communism, liberalism, and Freemasonry. If you want to be a good Lefebvrist, you must be for the "Social Reign of Christ the King", which means that all the "liberals" deserve what they get, whether it means getting tortured to death, having their babies stolen from them, and having their corpses thrown out of a plane over the Atlantic Ocean. Behind every Lefebvrist polemic lies the shadow of Marshall Petain or a corrupt Argentine general hiding behind dark glasses.
But that is just the Lefebvrists. What of the rest of the traditionalist movement in the Roman Catholic Church? For the more principled, the theological issue of the Latin Mass being a re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Calvary is first and foremost. The Mass is primarily a propitiatory sacrifice, and the Pauline Mass does not highlight that enough in their opinion. For some, this means that these Masses produce less grace (Cranmer is starting to sound better and better, isn't he?). The more sensible ones think that the Novus Ordo Mass is silly and just want people to behave better in church. I can't disagree with that sentiment as a High Church Anglican. Maybe, if Rome doesn't give them back the Latin Mass, these Catholics can come to our Anglo-Catholic services. Why not?
It is very difficult to milk theology out of liturgy. Liturgy is a self-giving to God by the Body of Christ. It cries, it rejoices, and it loves. I don't have the answers on how this occurs, its limits and its laws. I know what works and what doesn't, at least in my case. In my case, going to the Novus Ordo Mass that I had growing up is above all a social event; religiously, it means very little to me. To pretend that going to the traditional Latin Mass now is a profound experience would be dishonest. Really, both Novus Ordo Catholics and traditionalists are the same. One is completely passive (the Novus Ordo Catholics), the others kneel in their pews completely mystified and confused, with their noses buried in a black missal. It's taken me this long to realize it, but all Roman Catholics are alike. And I will always be a Roman Catholic, even if I decide to become a Hare Krishna. Real Faith doesn't depend on a liturgical formula. Often, it is found in spite of it.
So I will be totally indifferent if the Pope of Rome does finally let the Latin Mass free. While my aesthetic tastes will be appeased, deep down, I just don't want that toy anymore.