Promotors of the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) boast that more and more Catholics are attending the Mass, that the seminaries for traditionalism are full, that their subsection of Catholicism is growing — therefore, they must be in the right. Is that true?
Let’s see … what happened in the early Church? Arianism was very popular. Many Catholics took up this interesting new version of Christianity (if it can even be called that).
It was so very popular. Does that mean it’s best for the Church? No. Popularity does not equal truth or holiness.
When Jesus walked this earth, the Jewish religion was run by the conservative Pharisaical party; they were the most popular and powerful of the Jewish sects. The other two sects were the liberal Sadducees and the Essenes, who kept apart from everyone else. Does the success of the Pharisees mean they were right? Not according to Jesus (Mt 23).
Popularity and numbers do not indicate a true theological position. Look how popular Fr. James Martin is. Hypocrites. How can you claim that popularity of traditionalism or TLM indicates it is right or best, when you know that other approaches to Catholicism, which are also popular, are deeply flawed?
The Latin Mass has many good qualities. It is increasing in popularity. The problem is that this popularity has a ceiling. There is a vast number of Catholics and would-be Catholic converts who do not like the Latin Mass, do not like its obscure language, its excessively formal ceremonies, its absolute control over each point of liturgical form, and especially its association with a highly conservative view on everything.
The TLM proponents do not tolerate liberals or moderates in their midst. They do not tolerate supporters of Pope Francis or Vatican II. They do not tolerate Catholics who accept Catholic teaching, Catholic Popes, or Catholic Councils. The absolutely require those in their midst to take an extremely conservative view of everything. You can’t attend the Latin Mass and be a supporter of Pope Francis, not openly.
What percentage of Catholics today will find the Latin Mass acceptable? It is limited. This current growth in TLM has an upper limit. A large portion of Catholics and non-Catholics whom we hope to convert will not accept the ball and chain of extreme conservatism that the TLM proponents have attached to the liturgy. They will not accept the straight jacket version of Catholicism, that presents every opinion of that subculture as a pseudo-dogma. And there is no reason they should have to do so. Jesus did not come to save only far right conservatives. Salvation is offered to ALL, not only to those with the supposedly correct views on politics and society.
A vast number of Catholics and non-Catholics we hope to convert find the Novus Ordo Mass far preferable, esp. since it is not burdened by being “pwned” by the far right traditionalists. The Latin Mass used to be the only Mass, they boast. Yes, and when it was, ANY Catholic was welcome there. Now, if a Catholic supports the Roman Pontiff, a requirement to avoid schism, he is not welcome in a traditionalist community that offers the Latin Mass. They have taken the Latin Mass away from the rest of the Church. They have kidnapped the TLM and are holding her hostage, so to speak. Reject Pope Francis and Vatican II, or you can’t have her back.
What would happen if the Church only offered the TLM? First, the conservatives would lose control of the TLM, and any liberal or moderate Catholics could attend. Then the far right could not use the TLM as a lure to bring Catholics who love that Mass into the gravely immoral errors of the traditionalists (such as judging every Pope, Bishops, and Council). But the second thing that would happen is that many Catholics would leave the Church. They do not wish to attend the TLM, and they should not have to do so in order to be saved. The Church has the authority of Christ, and She has decided to offer Mass in the vernacular languages. Without the Novus Ordo, a vast number of souls would be lost who do not wish to attend Mass in a language they do not understand, in a version of the Mass that they find to be excessively formal. They do not like the widening of phylacteries.
It does not matter of the TLM is better in some respects. What matters is that a vast number of souls would be lost if the TLM were the only option. As for the question of retaining or restricting the TLM, that is a matter of prudential judgment for the Pope.
I would like to see the Pope put the traditionalists to the test, and restrict the TLM, requiring the priests to say the Novus Ordo Mass from time to time, and to concelebrate. That way, the wheat can be separated from the chaff. Those who refuse should be excommunicated and laicized. They are schismatics and heretics. They reject Pope Francis and Vatican II. They reject the very authority of the Church over themselves. Go away. Give us back our beloved Traditional Latin Mass, which is for everyone who prefers it, not only for far right conservatives, who require everyone in their subculture to march in lock-step on every open question in religion, politics, society, and even medicine.
The growth of the Latin Mass is limited. It is not an acceptable form of the Mass for many persons, especially those we would like to convert. They converts should not be burdened with so many unnecessary requirements in order to be Catholic. They should not be required to accept far right ideology, nor the distorted version of Catholicism that has grow up like weeds around the Latin Mass.
Perhaps the Pope should ban the Latin Mass for year or two, in order to remove the weeds from the Church.
Ronald L Conte Jr
Roman Catholic theologian and Bible translator
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