Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Conflicts Over the Return of the Latin Mass?
As many may be aware, increasing numbers of Catholic parishes have been returning to the Tridintine Latin Mass. Although certainly not a ground swell that will completely overtake the current practice of the church (proponents of the old Latin mass, it is reported, number no more than 2% of Catholics), there is a growing push for change in some places back to older customs and practices. According to a recent article in US News & World Report, there is a rising interest in the customs and practices of pre-Vatican II Catholicism among younger Catholics, and "a movement is building at seminaries nationwide to do just that: In addition to restoring the Latin mass, young priests are calling for greater devotion to the Virgin Mary, more frequent praying of the rosary, and priests turning away from the congregation as they once did." In addition to this, the author adds, there is a controversial call for "a diminished role for women, who since Vatican II have been allowed to participate in the mass as lay altar servers and readers."
This "Latin movement," however, may create a ripple of controversy in certain parishes. Thomas Reese, a fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University predicts "a clash of cultures between clergy and the more liberal congregations as more of these conservative priests graduate and make their presence known." On the other hand, the current pope may relax restrictions on celebrating the 16th-century mass. He has cited "a new and renewed" interest in this ancient Latin liturgy, especially among the younger Catholics.
While the above trend may appear only to be a Catholic phenomenon, there seems to be a parallel experience in the church-at-large. Within Lutheranism (especially the LCMS) I have witnessed a conservative movement that has worked to draw the church back to its more traditional liturgical customs after being inundated for years by pushes for more contemporary music and less structured liturgy (or not liturgy at all), especially in the larger suburban parishes. This, of course, has not been without conflict and controversy, and more than one young pastor has been accused of dividing a church over these changes, and a few have been forced out of their churches by parishes that felt pushed too hard.
I have also read that the younger generations of believers across denominational lines are showing an increased desire to return to older customs and more traditional expressions of Christian spirituality. The Baby Boomers led a movement of their own in rebellion against established church orders and transformed the face of the church. But the Baby Boomers are aging and may be losing some of their grip on the future. It will be interesting to see if movements among younger generations that are being seen now will generate any real substantial change in the way the church worships, or if the trend established by the post-War group will leave a permanent mark.
Being of a traditionalist bent when it comes to worship and church practice, I understand the growing interest in this "Latin movement." Those pushing for these changes claim that they want to restore a greater atmosphere of reverence and beauty in worship that has too often been lacking. They also believe that greater discipline and stricter doctrines will bring renewed interest to the church among some Catholics. As a traditional Lutheran, I sympathize with such sentiments.
On the other hand, though, the push for the Tridinine Mass, from a Lutheran perspective, creates a return to certain expressions of the Catholic faith that were the original issues for dissent among the early reformers of the 16th century. The Rev. Paul McCain on his blog Cyberbrethren notes that it is this very form of the mass that Luther spoke out against so powerfully in the Smallcald Articles, one of the official confessional documents of the Lutheran faith. Unfortunately, the move toward the Tridintine Mass will not help in bridging the theological divide between these two faiths.
On another note, I found it interesting to read of the concerns of Jewish leaders to this "Latin movement." According to the article these leaders "take offense with the older rite's references to Jews as faithless, and they worry that a revival of the old traditions could foster anti-Semitism." This seems a bit over reactionary. But then, that is the nature of the days in which we live.....