Pope Significantly Restricts Latin Mass – A Polytheist’s Response
When I logged online yesterday, I discovered that Pope Francis (of whom, for many reasons, I am not a fan) had recently restricted the use of the Latin mass. You can read here, here, and here about that. I am so very sorry for my Catholic friends and family members who are already suffering under a watered-down liturgy and the results of Vatican II. I found myself disturbed enough by this move from the Vatican though, that this morning I was still thinking about it and it took me a bit of time to parse out why.
Ritual and liturgy are part of a religion’s tradition. They don’t sustain themselves. These things are given to us within our own religious traditions to nourish, nurture, and protect. Traditions in general and ritual in particular are part of the alchemy that continually reifies the moment of creation, the most sacred mysteries of that tradition and thus keep our world clean of pollution and protected from evil. When one religion decides to shit on its rituals and pollute its own tradition, that affects the world’s balance as a whole – at least that’s how I and my House view the issue.
The RCC has been shitting on the very traditions that were given to it to guard since at least Trent (and that’s not taking into account the use of those traditions to encourage forced conversion and genocide, not to mention the sexual abuse occurring within the Church hierarchy and noted from at least the 4th century). Vatican II, an attempt to reconcile with protestants, feminists, and modernity by performing a hatchet job on one’s tradition in the dubious name of “progress” (someone explain to me how a fucking guitar mass is progress?) was the start of what I personally think, was an all-out, internal attack on their tradition. I may not care overmuch about modern Catholicism in particular (academically, I study its origins, which are fascinating), but I do care about religious traditions in general, because I think to some degree, what happens in one tradition has the potential to affect us all (1). Also, there’s a general rule of liturgy that I was taught ages ago (ironically by a Catholic priest): if you don’t know what something is for, don’t change it. Or, to put it another way: if it ain’t broke, don’t “fix” it. Someone should have informed the pope.
There are a few key differences that I’d like to talk about between the Latin mass (TLM) and the vernacular one. Now, I’ll preface this by saying that liturgical studies are not my cup of tea. Still, one picks up a few things here and there in the course of one’s studies. Firstly, in TLM, the priest does not face the congregation. He faces the eucharist. This may seem like a throw away, but I think it’s actually very, very important. When you face the congregation, you are, for better or worse, performing. When you face away, you are leading your congregation in veneration of your God. Psychologically, there is a huge difference here (2).
Secondly, with the use of Latin, not only are the congregants connected to a key See with all its history, but they key into a groove of the sacred by dropping into something used for two thousand years sacrally. I’ve seen Latin-English mass books and they are just as easy to follow as mass books in the vernacular. You have the Latin on one side and then matching vernacular on the other. Better yet, many religious schools would naturally teach Latin, which as far as I’m concerned only betters a person’s intellectual potential. Plus, my understanding is that there are certain prayers to ward off evil (like the prayer to St. Michael, and also at least one prayer to Mary) that were offered during TLM that were expunged from the vernacular mass (one of the things that Vatican II tried very hard to do was quash saints cultus and Marian devotion…unsuccessfully I guess, but the council did dampen it down quite a bit). I think the use of Latin and its formality increases the sense of solemnity, which is not a bad thing when (according to a Catholic relative of mine) today you have congregants on their cell phones and/or chatting as the priest is walking down the aisle to begin Mass!
Thirdly, Gregorian chant. Why, in the name of all that is holy, would anyone with any sense (not to mention an ear) replace centuries old tradition of Gregorian chant with hippy guitar masses or congregations singing off key to poorly trained organists doing abominable things to their instrument? Ritual should transport one into an altered state, creating a certain liminality of mindset wherein one has the capacity to properly and relatively safely (as much as it ever can be) encounter the Holy. It should create a sense of awe that shakes us out of our quotidian headspace. Music does this better than any other sense save perhaps smell. Now of course, I’m focusing on aesthetics because as Lo said in Art and Numen, aesthetics is cosmology writ large. I’ll take that one step farther: remove bits of the aesthetic willy-nilly and you risk shattering the architecture of the cosmology, closing any door or window by which your people can connect through liturgy, to the Divine.
I’ll leave the theological issues inherent in the newer translation of the Mass to others to discuss. The way a religion treats the aesthetics of its ritual (and its sacred spaces) is enough for me to know whether they truly value their Gods or not.
And this is one of the biggest issues I have with Francis. He doesn’t seem to care about preserving his church. He certainly doesn’t care about liturgical integrity. My wish for my Catholic friends is that he is removed from the papacy quickly and replaced with a hardline traditionalist who not only restores the Latin mass in toto but rolls back Vatican II completely. Hell, I’d roll it back to Trent.
Finally, and this is my key point: there is a huge lesson here for those of us engaged in restoring our own traditions. It doesn’t just happen and restoration once “done” will necessarily give way to preservation and protection. It is the grace and burden of each succeeding generation. If we forget that, even once, we’re likely to find ourselves facing the same challenges the Catholic Church is today: dissolution, degeneracy, and destruction. We’ll deserve it too, just like the Catholics (3).
- This is all the more so when we are still primarily a religion of converts. My whole point of this article should emphasize the need to raise children in their faith, educate them wisely, and instill in them a respect and reverence for the traditions they will inherit.
- I can’t help but remember one of the liturgies I co-officiated at when I taught at an interfaith seminary. We were just about to begin and I was officiating with a Catholic priest (he had long since left the Catholic Church and belonged now to a break away sect). I had set up the altar table in a way that allowed me to stand in front of it facing away from the group. When my back was turned, his man, thinking I hadn’t gotten around to moving the table to the correct place yet, moved it so we were facing the congregation. I turned around to begin (we were that close to the opening of the rite) and was stuck doing the ritual facing not the Gods as is proper, but the people. It was disconcerting and we had words later. Now, I’d have stopped and insisted we not begin until things were arranged to my specifications but it so took me by surprise, I didn’t respond quickly enough, and the man’s actions had been well-meaning, not intending to cause impiety.
- This is why one of the most important things a polytheistic couple can do is have children and *raise them as polytheists*. Families are sacred. Raise children in your tradition. This is the ONLY way our religions will survive, sustainably, into the next generation. Those of you who, like me, do not want children, find other ways to contribute to the long-term survival of the tradition: support your specialists, teach, pray, pray, pray, pray, do whatever is within your warrant to create sustainable communities. These are the two things we need desperately. The hostility amongst Pagans for raising their children in their traditions boggles. It is the most self-defeating thing we can do. Each child should be raised with an awareness that he or she is inheriting a great gift, grace, but also a burden, an obligation: a tradition to nourish, sustain, and protect. This is what we are here for, our birthright, but also our duty to our Gods. It’s what being an adult is all about and if that’s too difficult for some people, well, too fucking bad. Get out of the way.