Reply to the TLM Growth and Numbers argument

More than a few traditionalist authors are making an argument for why the TLM should not be restricted: the traditional Latin Mass has seen a growth in the number of Masses and the number of attendees over the past few decades. Crisis magazine’s non-scientific survey claims a 27% increase in the number of parishes offering the TLM, and an increase in the number of persons attending by 34%. The result is a 71.8% increase in the number of persons attending a TLM. How many persons is that? Out of those parishes which responded to the survey: In January 2019, 59 TLM parishes had an average attendance of 145 persons. Then in June 2021, 75 TLM parishes had an average attendance of 196 persons. That’s an increase of 8,555 to 14,700 persons, for an increase of 6,145 more attendees at the TLM after 30 months.

But that is out of survey respondents. Crisis cites 658 parishes that offer the TLM at least once a month. According to Pew Research, there are over 17,000 Catholic parishes in the U.S. and over 50 million Catholics. That is just under 3.9% of parishes that offer the TLM (658/17000). Attendance on average is about 200 persons, according to the Crisis survey. That is not large attendance. It may seem to Latin Mass attendees that the numbers are increasing. But from the outside, the numbers are so small that the failure of TLM is clear. Most Catholic parishes do not want a Latin Mass. When a parish has a Latin Mass, only about 200 persons attend (average). That is not sufficient for the Ark of Salvation. We need to save as many souls as possible, and not only save those souls who are ultra-conservative and are willing to attend Mass in a language they do not know. “Well, they can learn enough Latin to have some idea what is going on at Mass.” That is not a prudent path of salvation.

The Gospel has been translated into nearly every language on earth. Why doesn’t the Church forbid Bible translations except in Latin? It is because we are trying to save as many souls as possible, and not convince as many souls as possible to learn a new language.

And then there is the ultra-conservative subculture that owns the TLM. You can’t attend a TLM on a continuing basis and be a liberal or moderate Catholic. You can’t be a TLM-saying priest and preach a sermon based on Vatican II or the teachings of Amoris Laetitia. It’s becoming a different religion, not Catholicism. The TLM priests, like Fr. Z., do not accept any doctrine or discipline of the Church contrary to his own understanding. He runs his own little online church, where he and his followers reject any papal or conciliar teaching they dislike, where they make up their own doctrines and disciplines. They are just waiting for Pope Francis to die or resign, so they can pretend he never existed. That is not Catholicism.

Fr. John Zuhlsdorf (Fr. Z.) says the Latin Mass is the future of the Church. But he lives in his own little echo chamber. No bishop oversees him. He has a large number of financial supporters who are essentially paying him an unofficial salary. He preaches his own version of the Faith. He disdains the Roman Pontiff and ignores his teaching, treating the doctrine and discipline of the Vicar of Christ as at best optional and at worst, as the views of a political opponent. That is not the future of THE Church. It is the future of Zuhlsdorf’s own little schismatic church.

And others, like Steve Skojec, have said that the Novus Ordo Mass is literally a grave error that is destroying the true faith. These supporters of the TLM do not merely want a return to Summorum Pontificum, they want a TLM-only Church. But out of 50 million U.S. Catholics, how many attend the Latin Mass? How many would walk away from Mass altogether if there was only the TLM available to them? You cannot save anywhere near as many souls with the Latin Mass offered by an ultra-conservative community than you can with the Novus Ordo Mass offered by a wide range of different priests and communities, from liberal to conservative.

I don’t care how great and wonderful you think the TLM is. The Mass and the Church are for saving souls. And you cannot save the vast majority of Catholics, let alone attract the rest of humanity into the Ark of Salvation, if in order to enter that Ark, they have to accept the straight jacket far right conservative subculture and its attendant highly-formal Latin-language version of the Mass. The vast majority of Catholics are not attracted to the TLM. The vast majority have no interest in attending a Latin Mass. And the vast majority would stop attending Mass altogether, if they could not attend an informal Novus Ordo Mass in the vernacular. It may have various faults and failings, but it is a better fit for most of fallen humanity.

Summorum Pontificum was issued in 2007. The TLM supporters have had well over a decade to expand the Latin Mass, and the best they could do is 658 parishes that even offer the TLM out of 17,000! And if the TLM is as wonderful as the TLM supporters claim, why haven’t they been able to attract more Catholics to that form of the Mass? Their numbers are growing very slowly. And there is a glass ceiling to that increase. A large percentage of Catholics want Mass in their own language. In my parish, we have Mass in English or in Portuguese. Those are your choices. Sometimes a holy day Mass will be bilingual, English and Portuguese. (The latter language being the most common second language here, due to immigrants from Portugal, a generation ago, and more recently Brazil.) There’s no demand for a Latin Mass.

You shouldn’t have to learn Latin to be saved. And I say this as someone who has learned Latin and has translated the entire Vulgate Bible from Latin into English. My Bible translation was completed in 2009. My Latin is a little rusty at this point. But I still know Latin better than the vast majority of Latin Mass attendees. And to me, it is just a language. I prefer Mass in my native tongue.

Stop idolizing the traditional Latin Mass. It is not Christ. It is not the Church. It is not essential to Christianity or salvation. And if the TLM were so helpful to the Faith, then why have so many TLM attendees and most of their leaders fallen into heresy and schism? You shall know them by their fruits. Not, “you shall know them by their increase in numbers”. Their fruits. And the fruits of the far right community which has adopted (or rather kidnapped) the TLM are rotten.

The leaders in the TLM communities treat the holy Father with open malice and hatred. Fr. Zuhlsdorf sells blasphemous “swag” (merchandise) ridiculing the Supreme Pontiff. Steve Skojec, after pouring out malice toward Pope Francis for 7 years finally collapsed in a pile of broken shattered pieces of what is left of his angry confused faith, and left the battle against Pope Francis. Years of being consumed with contempt for the Vicar of Christ nearly destroyed him.

The TLM supporters reject the most recent two Ecumenical Councils. They reject the canonization of the recent Popes. They accept no teaching whatsoever unless that teaching of the Magisterium is also approved by the traditionalist or conservative Catholic subculture. They have no faith in the teachings, per se, of the Ecumenical Councils and Roman Pontiffs. Those are the fruits of a schismatic far right community that has taken the holy and sacred traditional Latin Mass and turned it into an idol. Those are the fruits of a group of Catholics who have merged the Catholic religion with an ultra-conservative socio-political view. It is a type of synchronism. (This error also occurs on the far left, where Catholicism is merged with modern society and its errors.)

Why is Pope Francis attacking the TLM? He isn’t. There’s nothing wrong with the TLM in itself. It is simply not the best fit for most Catholics and for most persons whom we Catholics would like to convert to the Faith. It is a beautiful family heirloom that has very little practical purpose for most family members. The language of Latin was chosen for the Mass, centuries ago because it was the vernacular. So it is hypocritical to reject Mass in the vernacular today, as if that were a grave error. The Latin Bible is called the “Vulgate” because it is in the common language. The Church has wisely decided to have Mass in every language on earth, so that the Church can appeal to every nation and language and people. The Church has the duty to offer salvation to every human creature. But the truth is that subjection to the Roman Pontiff is from the necessity of salvation (Lateran V). And most leaders in the TLM communities have rejected submission to every recent Pope and Council. The Pope will no longer allow them to use the TLM to gather the faithful and lead them away from Christ and His Church.

It is not a question of which form of the Mass is better; it is a question of dogma and heresy. The Church is indefectible. The Roman Pontiff has the charism of truth and of never-failing faith. The Apostolic See is unblemished by any grave error. Therefore, the choice of the Novus Ordo Mass could not have been a grave error. Such claims are contrary to articles of faith. The Church has not led the faithful astray by choosing the Novus Ordo Mass as the ordinary form, and She has not led the faithful astray by the decision of Pope Francis to put an end to the TLM (which I’m certain will not happen).

When I attend Mass, all I care about is Sacred Scripture, prayer, worship, the Eucharist, and adoration of Christ in the Eucharist. I sit in the chapel and adore the Eucharist in a monstrance while praying and following the prayers of the Mass. “But sermons at Novus Ordo Mass are not good.” The quality of sermons varies. I pray the Rosary during some parts of the Mass, including the sermon.

“I will never receive Communion in the hand or standing. I will refuse Communion except on the tongue and kneeling.” At my parish, they will give you Communion kneeling and on the tongue, if you like. But I say that if you would reject reception of Christ, unless you can attend the TLM and unless you can receive on the tongue while kneeling, you are not worthy to receive Him. How dare you dictate to Christ himself the terms on which you will receive him in to your unworthy body. The Church is the body of Christ, and the Roman Pontiff is no mere official appointed to represent Him. That Christ and His Vicar constitute one only Head of the one Church is dogma. Christ gave the Keys of His kingdom to Peter and his successors. So when you reject decisions of the Roman Pontiff of doctrine and discipline, you reject Christ.

Maybe the Church should forbid reception on the tongue while kneeling. Just to put the faithful to the test, to see if they truly love the Lord. What husband would say to his wife, “I will only kiss you if you wear that dress I like” or “I will only kiss you, if you are adorned in make-up and jewelry”. Exalting the exterior points of liturgical form to become essentials of the faith is gravely immoral. Anyone who truly loves the Lord would attend Mass just as the Vicar appointed by Christ directs, that is to say, in any form, regardless of one’s own preferences. So what if the music is not to your liking. So what if the priest faces towards you instead of away from you. These are not essential elements of the Gospel of Christ.

Back to the growth and numbers argument. It is a lie. The vast majority of humanity, whom we are hoping to save, will not attend a Latin Mass. It is an obstacle to them that the Mass is in a language they do not understand. And the formality of the service is not attractive to many persons. This is clear from the numbers. I would be happy to live in a Church that offers the Mass in every language on earth, including Latin. But not when that particular form of the Mass is being used to lead a group of faithful souls away from the Church, Her teachings and Her Head.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.

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4 Responses to Reply to the TLM Growth and Numbers argument

  1. IRENE STEFANI says:

    Excellent piece of writing. Keep going.

    • john says:

      How would you react to a Novus Ordo Mass in Latin: the language it is actually written in (the Mass in other languages are, technically, approved translations of this Mass). Actually, the reformers seemed to have anticipated that the new Mass would still often been given in Latin. Or that, at the very least, the Ordinary parts of the Mass would still be in Latin.

  2. john says:

    A second question. Why do the adherants of the 1962 Missal keep claiming that they celebrate the “Timeless Latin Mass”? And why do their opponents keep letting them call this mass the TLM?

    I think it is worth a brief account of the “Latin Mass”. In the early days of Christianity, each bishop was free to choose the liturgy in the diocese for which he was responsible. While there were noticeable families of liturgies, there was also quite a lot of variety, even in the Latin west. This continued into the medieval period, and in each area the local form of the Mass gradually evolved over time and borrowed from neighbouring practise. At times the secular authorities attempted to enforce some kind of regional uniformity (think it the imposition of Sarum Use in England on the eve of the Reformation; or the Carolingians enforcing Gregorian chant). The Trentine Mass described the Mass as performed in Rome at around c.1600, but elsewhere, particularly north of the Alps, it was widely ignored (the civil authorities refused to allow the Pope to publish papal edicts in their territory without their consent, and insisted on the right to appoint and discipline their local bishops; something accepted by the Papacy). Hence throughout the early modern period there were a wide variety of different versions of the Mass throughout the Latin church.

    At the end of the 18th century, and into the 19th century, the civil authorities began to try to try to remove the church from the state. Many in the church reacted by trying to remove the state from the church and to emphasis the authority of the pope, a movement known as “ultramontanism”. It was only in the 19th century that the Papacy gained full control over the bishops, and Trentine Mass replaced almost all local versions of the Latin Rite Mass (but some variations, such as the Ambrosian Rite and Braga Rite, did survive). Once this process was complete, Popes have repeatedly tinkered with the Mass to address various faults they perceived in contemporary practise (and there are sound grounds for believing late 19th century practise differed quite a lot from earlier practise). The 1962 Mass is only one of these versions of the Mass, current between 1962 and 1965, a mere “blink of the eye” in the long history of the church. It is simply bizarre to claim the 1962 version of the Latin Rite Mass is “timeless and for all time”. The liturgy has evolved continuously over time, and no doubt will continue to do so in the future.

    • Ron Conte says:

      TLM stands for traditional Latin Mass. the TLM is not timeless. That is a lie they tell to try to take authority over the Mass away from the Pope.

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