Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Internet Trads, and what they say in comment boxes

I'm a little behind in my reading, so it was only yesterday that I read the blog post by Msgr. Charles Pope that everyone's talking about. In it Msgr. Pope raises the possibility that interest in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite may be reaching its peak in America:
Some years ago (as far back at the early 1980s) we who love the Traditional Latin Mass often said (or it heard said) that if we would just return to the beautiful Latin Mass our churches would again be filled.
At first this appeared to be happening. As many dioceses (through the various indults of the 1980s and 1990s) began to offer the Traditional Latin Mass, those churches were filled, often to standing room only. Liturgical progressives were horrified and traditionalists were joyfully pleased and felt vindicated.
But as the availability of the Traditional Latin Mass has increased, it seems that a certain ceiling has been reached. [...]
Explanations abound among the traditional Catholics I speak to about the lack of growth in attendance at the Traditional Latin Mass. Some say that it is because more options are now available. But one of the promises was that if parishes would just offer the Traditional Latin Mass each parish would be filled again. Others say there are parking issues, or that the Mass times are not convenient, or that the Masses are too far away. But these things were all true 20 years ago when the Solemn Mass was thriving.
It seems that a ceiling has been hit. The Traditional Latin Mass appeals to a certain niche group of Catholics, but the number in that group appears to have reached its maximum.
Some traditional Catholics I speak to say, “If only the archdiocese would promote us more,” or “If only the bishop would celebrate it at all or more frequently.” Perhaps, but many other niche groups in the archdiocese say the same thing about their particular interest.
At the end of the day, for any particular movement, prayer form, organization, or even liturgy, the job of promoting it must belong to those who love it most. Shepherds don't have sheep; sheep have sheep.
And once again we are back to the fundamental point: numbers matter. Groups that seek respect, recognition, and promotion in the highest places need to remember that numbers do matter; it's just the way life works. If we who love the Traditional Latin Mass want to be near the top of the bishop’s priority list, we're going to have to be more than one-half of one percent of Catholics in the pews. (Emphases in original--E.M.)
Msgr. Pope’s piece makes me think about why I never got the hang of the Latin Mass, though I was ideologically predisposed to like it. The reason was not the “ancient language” part — that was something for which I was eager — but the “largely whispered” part. I very much wanted a more reverent liturgy than what we had in standard Novus Ordo parishes, but the experience of the liturgy as mostly a ghostly silence was hard to embrace.
It’s also true, I’m afraid, that some Latin Massgoers had a way of thinking about the old liturgy and the new mass that framed the contrast in a way that posited Novus Ordo Catholics as deficient in sanctity. There was a pride there, and it was deadly. If you think that the Latin Mass is obviously superior, and those who can’t see it are aesthetically and theologically cloddish — well, it’s hard to evangelize from that stance. Plus, if someone who visits the parish doesn’t sense joy in the congregation, they’re not coming back. I’m not talking about happy-clappiness. You can be very reverent, but also radiating joy.
Here’s the thing: all these criticisms of the Latin Mass crowd could also be made of much Orthodox Christianity in this country.
We Orthodox very much occupy a boutique niche in American Christianity, and though I hope I’m wrong, I don’t see us breaking out of that anytime soon. (Emphasis in original--E.M.)
I highly recommend that you read both of these gentlemen's posts in their entirety; they are very good and very thought provoking.

But if you want to answer the question, "Why doesn't the Extraordinary Form Mass draw more people to it?" I suggest that the answer might be found in the comment boxes under both posts.

As I write this there are 136 comments below Msgr. Pope's blog post and 46 comments below Rod Dreher's blog post (I suspect there will be more there by tomorrow).  Here are just a few quotes from some of those comments--first from those below Msgr. Pope's post:

"Honestly, I think the root of the problem is that the theology of the Latin Mass and the theology espoused by the Church following Vatican II are totally incompatible..."

"With the graying of the suburban parishes where I live, we might see that the Novus Ordo only really appeals to the octogenarian niche while being suffered by those of us resigned to the oppression of beauty..."

"Conclusion: not only must the TLM be promoted, it is my considered opinion that the Paul VI rite of mass must be phased out, along with all the dubious theology and practise that has sprung up with it..."

"I admit that it can become so discouraging to be around the Novus Ordo world whom we are supposed to evangelize (due to effeminate priests, laywomen running the show, etc.), I am often tempted to move next to an SSPX community, curl up, and hide..."

"If you attend the EF with any seriousness you eventually come to the discovery that the EF is the only mass feeding your faith..."

"When the Bishop(s) individually/collectively start adhering to actually doing their primary job aka “Saving Souls” and teach the Truth, that the TLM is a defined doctrine and why, and then support with action rather than open and/or silent resistance…then a turn in the liturgy (we pray as we believe and live) will happen..."

"The novus ordo, to me, is watered down and mediocre. I don’t have time to waste on luke-warm..." 

"Peak schmeak. On the rare occasion I do have to attend the crappy variety show known as the Novus Ordo, the average age seems to hover around 60. Meanwhile, the vestibule in my TLM parish is packed with snot-nosed future traddies and their parents. If we’re the only ones to survive – spiritually, numerically, and, hence, financially, so what if we’ve peaked?" 

"I understand people who prefer the eastern or Anglican use liturgies. A lot of that makes sense to me, for the same reasons that someone might prefer Franciscan vs. Carmelite spirituality. I honestly don’t understand people who prefer the NO to the TLM. I cannot grasp it. It’s like preferring dog food to a fine steak."

Now, there are a lot of other comments too, some of them quite balanced, and some of them insisting that the only reason the Extraordinary Form is not more widely attended is simply because the bishops in the U.S. have not ordered every parish to make its main Sunday Mass an E.F. Mass, because that would fix things overnight (well, except for the part about making sure those parishes all had priests capable of saying an E.F. Mass, enough men or boys to act as altar servers, etc.). And we should take it as a given that Internet Trad Catholics are hardly representative of all Trad Catholics--that should, by now, go without saying.

But even if Internet Trad Catholics are a vocal minority of Trads who themselves are (per Msgr. Pope's post) a tiny minority of Catholics in the first place, they are still (alas) the Trads most people will encounter initially (or ever, in some cases). And the message that the sane and happy Trads want to spread, which I think goes something like this, "Hey, we have this really amazing treasure to share: the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, complete with all the cool chanting and banks of candles and incense and bells that your grandmother probably told you about, so come any Sunday and check it out!" gets diluted by the message given by the Internet Trads, which is, "By the way, the Mass you currently attend is a theologically deficient crappy watered-down lukewarm variety show that can be compared to dog food and that can never feed your faith properly; besides which it's run by effeminate priests and laywomen and attended by octogenarians and the occasional contracepting couple with their zero-to-two kids. Our Mass, on the other hand, is the Mass of All Ages prayed in the Holiest Language God Ever Gave Mankind, and if you understood theology correctly you would instantly grasp the importance of much of it being prayed by the priest inaudibly while the congregation reads along in their Missals as every True Catholic always did from time immemorial except for those trivial few centuries in which people could not, by and large, afford printed books even if they could actually read--but that doesn't matter; what matters is that if you don't come to our Mass, or if you do come and are not instantly moved to tears of joy by it, you are probably just one of those self-centered Novus Ordos who doesn't care enough about God to worship Him in the only way He really wants to be worshiped."  

As I've said before, I have family members and friends who attend the Extraordinary Form Mass, and none of them (at least, to my knowledge) would skip a Sunday Mass if they couldn't get to the E.F. Mass, or be contemptuous either openly or privately about the O.F. Mass or those who attend it. The sane and happy Trads are probably the ones who do draw others to try out a nearby E.F. Mass, and even if the guest or visitor ends up saying, "Why, this is quite nice, and while I'm still planning to stay at my current parish I'm glad this Mass is offered here, and perhaps I may visit again," the sane and happy Trads do not shake their heads dourly at the failure to "convert" the visitor to the Extraordinary Form. This is because, quite simply, the sane and happy Trads do not think that we have two Churches--the Church of the E.F. and the Church of the O.F.--let alone that there is only One True Church of the Extraordinary Form while the "Novus Ordo Church" is a false religion (something the less sane Trads are often prone to say, especially on the Internet).

Msgr. Pope, in his post, says that those who attend the Extraordinary Form of the Mass need to "evangelize," that is, they need to draw others to that form of the Mass. But if your only experience of Traditional Catholics included people who sneer at the Ordinary Form, compare it to dog food or a crappy variety show, etc., would you be anxious to go and experience the form of the Roman Rite they love?  Perhaps one of the reasons the crowds at the Extraordinary Form Mass don't appear to be growing as much as predicted has something to do with the Internet Trads, and what they say in comment boxes.

1 comment:

Sponsa Christi said...

Interesting post here! My own take on Msgr. Pope's article is that I don't quite understand why it's so important to promote a wider attendance of the TLM specifically, as opposed to just promoting better Mass attendance (i.e., of either form) in general.

I'm glad when people who like the TLM can get to it, and if the TLM is the "hook" that gets some lapsed Catholics to come back to Mass, then so much the better. But I guess I just don't see why it's such a problem if the TLM always remains as kind of a niche spirituality. After all, the Church even calls it the "extraordinary" rather than the ordinary form.